Bath

When I want something, I will work for it. At least when I see a clear path, effort to achievement, or trying a few things and seeing progress, I will. Or something. I see myself acting and achieving, and am surprised. Yvonne invited me to the Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community gathering in Bath. I would speak, and they would pay travelling expenses. So I got up at 3.45, set off on the bicycle in the rain at 4.30, and got to Bath at nine. I wore jeans to cycle, and changed into a dress and suede jacket on the train. I did not bother to put on my wig before changing. The train is quiet and I did not hear anyone’s objection. A woman who works on the railway complained about a driver who has been off sick depressed, and was brought back into light duties, no driving, but is unreliable. I listened in.

On the train I met Richard, who had a camera round his neck. I asked if he had any good shots. He has been taking photos of trains, and got out his laptop to show me recent pictures. There are several of a ginger cat not doing anything particular, on a road, taken from above, and several from his walk along a canal- a bridge, a boat. I see no attempt to find an interesting frame or angle. It is a pretty view, so he snaps it. He has had one published in a specialist railway magazine, and several on a friend’s website. He hurries to write the web address for me as we approach my station, tearing a scrap from a receipt, but I have lost the paper.

I waited in Bath Abbey, the parish church. There is a “suggested donation” to enter, which I cannot afford, so I did not meet the eye of the woman standing there; but she spoke to me and gave me a leaflet. After, I said I love the fan vaulting. She only knows of one or two other places like it, which I find strange, as it is in the cathedral of her diocese; but perhaps she means the pendant, how the arch continues down to a point in mid air, where it stops. That is in Westminster Abbey too. I noticed this altar frontal with candle holder, the decorative barbed wire woven into the Crown of Thorns. Like the Cross, the instrument of torture, is made beautiful so is the barbed wire, the instrument of exclusion. It is disturbing. Jeffrey Dean said this poem in Ministry at the Quaker Life gathering, and it makes a similar unity. I felt joy and terror, at the same time.

At twenty, stooping round about,
I thought the world a miserable place,
Truth a trick, faith in doubt,
Little beauty, less grace.

Now at sixty what I see,
Although the world is worse by far,
Stops my heart in ecstasy.
God, the wonders that there are!

I was nearly asleep on the last train, which is only 10.26pm from London. Four Chinese young women wondered if this was the train to Nottingham, but the last train there had gone. A woman told them to get off at Loughborough, get a bus to East Midlands Airport, then a bus from there to Nottingham. Or get a taxi from Loughborough to Nottingham, which would be safer. That’s 15 miles, for five people. The train stops at Long Eaton, which is in Nottingham, a rather cheaper taxi ride, but I did not know this then, to tell them.

Quaker Life

On the train, I sat down as usual without particularly considering the other people in the nearby seats. It was crowded. Then I noticed the woman opposite me is trans. She has her own hair, but the makeup, nail varnish, clothes and way of being is instantly recognisable, to me, as trans. Hair on the backs of her hands is the final confirmation. I wish we could acknowledge each other, as you might seeing an English person in Kentucky, say- but the Rules say no.

Deborah joined me, and asked how H was. I have no idea. I have not spoken to her for years. Our friendship was broken, really. I heard from Helen that she was unwell, and even more isolated. It’s an overused word, but that is tragic. I sat near someone famous, and asked an impertinent question: “Why would you be invited to the Queen’s funeral?” She had been discussing buying a hat for it, just in case; she would not get much notice. She answered stating her position rather than her achievements, and I realised my question had been impertinent. In the week since, I have thought of how I might have smoothed over my faux pas, just as more normally one thinks of witty ripostes. A few days later I saw a meme of her face on Facebook.

I had seen another name on the attendance list, and wanted to meet her. No, it’s not the famous one, she spells her surname differently. I am disappointed, but we chatted away like normal people. Another woman met me in Loughborough in 2003, when I was again making myself noticeable: that week I saw the second opinion psychiatrist about the operation. She remembered me, I did not remember her. It is a pain not remembering faces or names.

I was thinking, I must justify my presence here. I must make a sufficient contribution, though my own learning and recreation is a worthwhile benefit of my attendance too. I think I have, enough. I said that to Alan and he recognised the feeling, either having it himself or having heard others state it, or even being empathetic enough to understand immediately. I was discomposed and feeling dislocated, uncomfortable, at war inside myself, inauthentic, something. We gathered in a small group, and I thought I need to be here.

I am here.

And I was, just like that, until we left.

The way into presence in Woodbrooke is to go into the garden. I went outside, and stood with a tree, watching its leaves shiver in a light breeze. I was I, and it was it. There is so much beauty there. I turn a few degrees, and then look at what is in front of me. And Iain wound me up talking of trans issues. I may have worked that out. Anyway, I went to stand under the copper beech- the trunk is a yard in diameter with a notice saying “Copper beech”, I would not have recognised it- isolated from the rest of the garden by hanging branches and watching the leaves fall, a few every minute. So I regained my equanimity just before the sessions started again. I consulted within myself to see if I should walk out or even request help calming down, and found I could manage. He came over after to ask if he had been right to let me go or should have followed, and I was wound up again. I am still quite labile. Yes, I said, he chose correctly.

I spoke to a gay man who does ballroom dancing, and has high heels so he can see what it feels like to be led. Then he went to a workshop on women leading, and spoke to an apparent woman, no sign of transition, in sweater and jeans. He asked if she would experience leading and she/they said “I don’t identify as a woman”. That is the way ahead. We are all human.

Joy and terror

If you are insane, you might as well roll with it. There is beauty in my insanity. I will love it, not fear it.

Something good happened to me on Wednesday. I have been thinking of my friends- if I become homeless, which of them might let me use a spare room? It would be unsatisfactory, and possibly only one might, possibly not him; no, I could not ask her, and certainly not her…

if I become homeless-

and there has been a reprieve. I am less likely to be made homeless, at least for the moment, I will continue to be able to pay rent, I may even find a job I could do and support myself. The benefits system is not uniformly hostile, sticks not carrots, withdraw money on a whim, but might be a little, inefficiently, more concerned with appearance than reality but a little- supportive. And the support might be enough to get me supporting myself again.

I sobbed without weeping. I read that this is contemptible and hypocritical, they pretend to cry, these horrible people, but really, they produce no tears so they are OBVIOUSLY TRYING IT ON. Well, that was a politician who had been caught out, clearly a bad person who the journalist reasonably despised, but still. Sobbing without weeping is Bad. Except I was doing it when alone, so no-one to fool but myself. The pressure and terror had been too ghastly to face head on, and now it was slightly less, a reprieve but not a release.

It is not quite as bad as I had thought.

I feel depressed, and I feel I lack energy. After doing a washing in the morning, often I want to do no more than just watch TV in the afternoon. Might the GP help? Well, having let me down badly twice from a combination of arrogance and ignorance, and in one exhibiting a lack of care which I felt indicated dislike, and possible contempt for me as a trans woman (nothing could ever be proved), my GP practice is the last place I would like to discuss depression and lack of energy. I feel all they could do is prescribe an antidepressant. I feel my depression arises from my difficult circumstances, and when I have been depressed before because of circumstances antidepressants have done no good. I feel my GP would be at best useless.

I sat in the Quaker meeting and felt my yielding softness. How hard it is to see it as a blessing, where Manliness and strength and decisiveness and leadership are praised, especially in men. It has felt that there is no room for my softness. I will give it space. This is what I need. I will give it to myself.

Three people ministered, well, I think, and at the end I had a sense of complete Joy and complete Terror, both at the same time. I have a strong will, high intelligence, and a heart full of Love, and the World I face is not as unremittingly hostile as it sometimes seems- it is beautiful, as well as implacable. Such strong, different emotions were hard to hold in, and I shook and gasped. And I had a strong sense of my loveableness and acceptableness- by God, by me- even possibly by the world. If I can accept myself, I can accept others.

I applied for a job, as usual screwing myself up to the sticking place to do it just before the closing date, and after feeling so het up I could not go to bed. It would be difficult. It might be possible, it might be the most wonderful thing in the World.

Homes and Gardens

I went into the garden, but could not sit in my usual seat. I thought, how beautiful to be here, and wake up to this:

and how horrible. In October it might be bearable, in January it would frighten me. Not just the cold, but the possible lawlessness.

A man comes out to join me. The Quaker meeting is discerning about this use. It’s the only place in the town centre which is not patrolled by guards or wardens. The other side of the garden, a prostitute plied her trade, having laid a mattress behind the bush, and they only found out about it when she led two men in while a Quaker was there.

Now it is another bed-space. You can’t sleep in polythene bags, all the sweat condenses inside the bag and soaks you. Possibly that sock is hung out to dry, or wash in the rain. There’s a water bottle hidden in the bushes. You need access to water. Most people, he says, put cans in the waste bin.

He goes to put a large piece of cardboard in the recycling bin. It could be insulation for bedding. The council take the view that there are sufficient spaces in hostels so that no-one need be homeless, but the hostels are unpleasant, and you cannot enter under the influence of drink or drugs.

Hard exercise in Meeting again. Do I have an Inner Guide? I can discern different ego-states, but the part seeming closest to real me is the depressed and lacking in motivation part which says Don’ wanoo when the rational bit says what it would behove me to do. Someone quotes Isaac Pennington: Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.

and, she said, it is not. That is a lovely ideal, and there are tensions. And- we- can just- try- to- follow- the- Spirit.

It seemed to me that she was going beyond her leading, trying to get some hope, and the slowness with which she squeezed the words out showed the Spirit’s resistance. But that could just be my pessimism, at this moment.

I had thought, how beautiful are all the people here! I love them! And, I can be guarded, or even acting a calm, collected front; I can be present in the moment, aware of my surroundings- can I be Open?

Intermittently, perhaps. But when she quotes Pennington, I start to weep, and go out to wipe the mascara smudges from under my eyes.

Outside, there are a group of four people, in torn dirty clothes, chatting and perhaps drinking on one of the benches. I tell a local Friend, and he says they know them.

Ranting and Rebellion

How could you ever know yourself? “I am not the kind of person who” becomes “So far I have generally not”. I looked at those texts, and saw what they meant. I had not realised when I was texting. Self-conscious, I would not have done it nearly so well. Morality changes as I tell different stories: “I want to be a good person” becomes “I always wanted to find the rules and follow them, so that I would be safe”.

I have not so far ever seen myself as a rebel. Rebellion is as powerless as conformity, I would have said. You are not making free choices. It is mature to seek goals. That remains true, and now I am in rebellion. It is part of teenage, and I have to complete teenage eventually, I owe that to myself.

What do you do? she asked. I challenge authority and convention, I declared. Ha! I am rebelling! I am doing that teenage thing! In that moment I crafted a new story about myself. Well, the story seems to fit, and is good enough for the moment. I don’t like shadow motivation, not really, it is scary when I do things and don’t know why, or maybe work it out later. I do what I do to achieve my desires, even if I am not conscious of it. Often I don’t do something because I am scared of it and because I can’t imagine it working. I don’t want to do a job application as it will probably lead to interview, but no further.

On Tuesday it seemed to me that I had made a connection, that had helped me accept the world, myself and my history, better, that healed some of my resentment and frustration, or at least to see these things are possible and necessary. The Maintenance of Order in society, which enables us to develop beyond hunter-gathering, also restricts me, produces a Masculine Way of being which I could not approach and which broke me. What supports me, feeds and clothes me, is the same thing that poisoned and mutilated me. That poisoning was the best humanity could do at the time, the best I could see.

Lucy said she cannot put her experience into her performance while she is still angry. That makes sense to me. I don’t see the truth, because I rail against it. It should be otherwise. If I make that connection, perhaps I can accept my hurt and move on.

I transitioned to try to fit in and welcomed the poison and mutilation, which were a necessary part of transition. It was the best I could do at the time. So now I challenge authority and convention, I say portentously: or, I am in rebellion, in my delayed teenage.

I am threatened with expulsion from the Quaker meeting for expressing my distress in a theatrical way. If we are to know each other in the things which are eternal, it is not enough to discuss Cole Porter musicals. We must delve more deeply into ourselves, lift the covers off our feelings and expose our insecurities. My friend, though he needs the support of community, while he is bravely resisting the Arms fair and getting arrested for it, does not go to his Quaker meeting because, while they are nice enough people, they do not give him what he needs.

I do what I want to do whether I realise it or not, because of shadow motivation, the desires I cannot admit to myself, and because of my past trauma, all that pain and hurt. It controls me whether I admit it or not. The adult part of me, which has been civilised into conformity with rules and common sense, would do a better job of ensuring my behaviour was civilised if it could see that shadow which moves me.

I want to bring my whole self to the Quaker meeting, the theatrical expression of distress and disagreement, all my joy and incomprehension, all my creativity, so that I can get to know myself and that shadow. I brought all of me to the Yearly Meeting Gathering. There I made a powerful and beautiful declaration of Love to someone, which I almost wish I hadn’t, now, actually, though I don’t think it has done lasting harm. And I disrupted a session and took two hours of someone’s time while I expressed my distress, but the session proceeded and I think she is happy enough to have given me that service. It did me good. It freed me for the rest of the week.

YMG was utterly vibrant. Em came to see her friend one evening, and was bowled over by the electric atmosphere of Quakers being ourselves with ourselves.

-Are you going to form Noisy Quakers?
-It’s been done. The Ranters saw God in their inmost motivation, though as antinomians that led to disorder. They could feel moved by God to fornication or adultery. Though perhaps this was a Conservative myth, and no-one was as unrestrained a Ranter as all that; and my Poly friend has learned polyamory. She lives with her husband, and had several flings with women before starting a long term relationship with a woman. So they explored and tested boundaries and emotions in a mature, ethical and responsible way. There is the conventional rule, that we are celibate until marriage then chaste and faithful, and there are ethical ways to be outside that rule.

It’s not rebellion, it is not a breach of the way of our Civilisation, it is living in an alternative way and showing those who might see new possibilities and paths.

And I am in rebellion. Talking after Meeting is like a cocktail party. On the train home from Hull, I started talking to two archaeologists returning from an academic conference. I told them Sam had been arrested for blocking the road to DSEI, and they said how wonderful. We can be the Guardian, Greenbelt, left-liberal side of civilisation, but not anarchist or radical. The tension will get resolved one way or another. Maybe I will wind my horns in. I don’t want to just yet.

So I feel powerless to avoid being expelled from the Quaker meeting. Possibly I will cross the line again, and after mature discernment elders will sadly expel me for the good of the Meeting, because there are other people there besides me and their needs matter. If my inner adult decides I must only say what normal people would say at a cocktail party, to someone they knew only distantly, at the start of the party before their first tentative sips of wine, then my passionate inner self will rebel and take over.

I would like to speak to those who object to me, and reassure them as much as I can. I will not be physically violent. I do not want anyone to relieve my distress.

I want Quakers to hold all of me. Perhaps if I matured better from teenage I would have other communities which could meet different needs, but I have not at the moment. Perhaps I would not need this if I knew myself already, what I feel and desire, and could bear that.

Perhaps Quakers cannot cope with that. Perhaps the butterfly needs to be broken on the wheel.

Mirroring

Here’s a guy fae Glesca, and I notice wee bits of Argyll creeping into my accent. More the lilt than anything. His is a mesolect, distinctively Glasgow but clear enough for any Brit, probably any native English speaker, to understand what he is saying. No, I’m not mimicking you, this is jist- how Ah speak, sometimes.

Here’s a man, unselfconsciously, unaffectedly masculine. A solid bloke. It is rather wonderful.

-How’ve you been?
-Fighting vaguely the old ennui, I said. And we were away, on mid-20th century musicals. He was in a group singing songs from them. He went to Kiss me Kate and quotes from “I hate men”- “He may have hair upon his chest, but so has Lassie!”

“Fish really don’t need bicycles,” I said.

I am more and more uncomfortable, here, mirroring, empathising, mimicking, whatever it is I am doing. I fled in resentment thinking, Don’t make a man out of me- we are blokes, talking in a blokey way, and I don’t want to. I am uncomfortable enough with my gender at the moment. I feel I am now a bloke, talking like a bloke, except in a wig and bra and a silk skirt and sandals with delicate straps which make my feet look pretty. At the time I thought it was how he was responding to me, treating me like a bloke, and now I wonder if it was me, mirroring or whatever. I want to be a me I feel comfortable with, so go and talk to a woman in a different style and register. We are again sharing about things that please us but now enjoying the other’s pleasure rather than subtly competing, around human contact rather than Cole Porter’s rhymes and word-plays, and this is far more comfortable for me. “May I have a hug?” I ask. Of course you may.

I cycle through the town. A man gets up from a table in the street, staring at me, advancing in a sort of Sumo pose, and grunting- not like an ape, as the ape would have more dignity. Had a million years of evolution passed him by? It felt shocking and threatening, and I wondered what was going on for him then. I was cycling late at night last week when a pedestrian decided to sprint after me. I pedalled faster to get away, again threatened. It has happened before. It is a drunk, boisterous man having a bit of a laugh, and if he caught me he would not know what to do with me, probably- it is a play threat rather than serious intended violence, I hope- and I am discomposed.

We looked at the blokes at the bar, and she said how unattractive they all were, how badly turned out in that uniform of jeans and tshirts, how stupid their masculine poses which don’t fit them, and this morning I was thinking how I am not a woman, how “trans woman” is only an approximation to Be Who I Am, how I do not fit, even how I might revert, though having grown breasts makes that difficult. From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit moves. In Meeting I decided I could not tell what was Real Me and what Ego-self, what Child or Carer, what the “Image of God” as Richard Rohr calls it and what the “small self”. I kept looking at the clock, and felt uncomfortable, beside this large, friendly man- Oh! How Wicked to be writing of people at the Quaker meeting! I am not, though, only about my reaction to them- and my comforting thought at the very end was, yes, I have to let that go, but only that particular plan for getting what I starve for, I don’t have to deny I am starving or let go of the hope that I might somehow, sometime, be satisfied. Now, this mirroring or mimicking or whatever it is- my strong presumption is that my characteristics are blessings, not curses, to be welcomed, cherished, appreciated, and used ever more skillfully and choice-fully. I can mirror, and I can-

be myself???

I don’t know who I am.

Whisky, newly distilled

I drew myself as the Sun, shining. The words in my mind were Strength, Beauty, Right: I am right, righteous, I have rights, I am rightly made. This is the world I evolved in, and I fit it. Now I cannot understand the notes I took, but it was something about being the cat which low status people choose to kick: I imagine that poor transphobe thinking, “I may be going to prison but at least I’m not a pervert like that.” His attack comes from his own need, because he cannot see me as I am, only as he has been taught to see me, as a way of controlling any effeminacy in him. Because it is not about me, his attack need not affect me. I can let it go.

All my emotions are Right, or Appropriate. They are not always comfortable (here I am moving from appreciation to judgment- comfortable only for the ego, not the real self).

I trust what comes up in myself.
I trust what comes up in the World.
I do not have all the answers, but I have the ability to find them.

It is whisky, newly distilled, the first fire of it. Seeing my God-self is wonderful, and I need to learn to be comfortable in my new skin. I will reach a mature appreciation, different from this amazed delight. And it is True. I am Right, and I need merely appreciate that. That was two weeks ago, and I am building on it.

It was at Yearly Meeting Gathering, the Experiment with Light. I saw myself as God made me, beautiful and Right, without the ego-self which one creates to try to survive. Now, since then, I am seeing that ego-self more clearly, clutching its filthy rags about itself, and how poorly it serves me.

Also at YMG was a Singalong showing of Frozen. “How can she be seen as some sort of Feminist icon, with those big eyes and hair and princess dress?” she asked, and I thought, meet us half way. Those are not ideal, but seeing her characteristic which everyone else has seen as a curse, accepting it and rejecting their judgment, is strong and beautiful.

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free!

“That perfect girl is gone”- how we are taught to idolise the ego-self, which is never “perfect”, but enslaving. She has some self-doubt, wanting to do the right thing, willing to self-sacrifice rather than hurt, so inhibited from fighting back. And (spoilers) the act of true love which saves the younger princess is not True Love’s Kiss by the Prince, who turns out to be a bad lot, but an act of bravely defending her sister.

I love Top of the Lake- China Girl. Episode 4 shows how Puss, the egocentric, psychotic parasite, has enslaved Mary. She loves him, completely. He has first charmed and flattered her, fooling her into seeing him as an intellectual with an understanding of her parents’ hypocrisies by mocking them; he has convinced her that the prostitutes are somehow in the “Real World” which her parents avoid, so appealing to her teenage idealism. With mature adults he can only be a disgusting jester, his pretensions seen through, so he preys on a teenager. He rewards her servility with kindness or kisses, a facsimile of Love, and as he has reeled her in he gives less and she, desperately, gives more.

I believe in his power to degrade her. She feels he is wise, teaching her about life, and so tolerates being more and more humiliated. He says “I am going to hit you in the face” and does so, and such is his power that she almost accepts even that. I hope with the failed blow job she has realised how poisonous he is; she needed to reach rock bottom before realising that, because she now thinks herself a fool for being reeled in by him, and few people could admit that to themselves easily.

How happy I felt when you said my song was “fantastic”! And after, when you dismissed my verses, I only recited more, desperate to be affirmed again. You are no psychopath. I love your bravery, intelligence, courage, fierceness, how you can feel such fear and do it anyway. Knowing you enriches me. I don’t think you reeled me in, or have wronged me in any way; it is my own response to you. I felt it when I first saw you, so I would have to control how you walk into a room if I thought you really had wronged me, and if I controlled you you would be nothing, rather than the glorious human being you are. You used me as a confidant, making me feel valued- it is an exchange, I like to feel my listening reduces pain. And you will never meet me half way. Trans men, “biological females,” are victims. How awful that she felt she had to cut off her breasts to escape the prison of femininity. Trans women, biological males, are perverted exhibitionists, getting a sexual thrill from fooling others into thinking we are women. So you say. I cannot be a victim, only a perpetrator, for you, as a biological male, even though you claim toxic masculinity oppresses all men. You loathe my performed femininity, that way I curve my hand, though none of this is conscious. To me, it seems it is just me. Still, I tried to please you.

I am continually surprised. How can you not appreciate me? Well, you don’t. The arrogance in me made me continually expect better, and my low self-esteem, the flip side of my arrogance, made me accept the taunts. Only seeing Mary weeping in her birth-mother’s arms, surely having finally realised how damaging Puss is for her and what a fool she has been, or what a human she has been, so different from her conception of herself-

She weeps and escapes. I must follow her example.

University of Warwick

The university is beautiful. In the Arts Centre, there is a huge theatre for lectures and conferences, taking 1300 people. The lobby floors are paved with dark grey stone with bright pink veins through it, as if someone had spilled ice cream. Under a glass lantern in the roof, I bend to examine them.

Walking to it from behind, there is a passageway. I consider the shape of the buildings and the way my perspective changes as I walk through, the pale blue panels on the walls, and find it beautiful. I want to pause to appreciate it as I approach it.

The Humanities building, from the 1970s, is quite ugly, just a steel frame with concrete slabs for walls, rows of them, rows of windows from waist height to ceiling on each floor; but it is on four sides of the “Meditation garden”, with trees, a fountain, a waterfall, where two or three times I sat and chatted. It is all about the encounters, few of which are planned, really.

Not all the open air sculpture is worthwhile, but I love this:

I thought it looked like something to go hand over hand on an assault course or playground, someone thought it looked like a rollercoaster, the cage disturbed some and delighted me. I approach it from the campsite. I take a slight detour to the Arts Centre, passing three trees which seem perfectly spaced as I walk past. Studying here, one might habitually bring sandwiches to eat on that bench.

This figure was controversial, as the head is covered with a sack.

It could be a person blind to reality, rather than a prisoner.

I did not take my camera, generally. I did not want to be looking out for pictures all the time. I went into the Woodbrooke tent to find leaflets on the Vibrancy in Meetings project. They were on a table next to one with construction toys on it, and a complex model Ferris wheel, where I met Alice who was stringing sparkly beads onto plastic twine. She is six. The 5 year olds were handing out strips of fabric to think about refugees, and she gave me one. “She was handing them out, earlier,” said her mother. She wanted to glue a star to the twine, so I set to carving a groove in the back with my penknife. It did not quite work. She made me a “friendship bracelet” with sequins, and the following day demanded to know where it was. I said it had fallen off, so I used it to decorate my tent.

I met Liz, whom I met at the spiritual healing course years ago. I suggested we exchange healing, but ended up simply receiving, lying in the chaplaincy. She said I had a good strong link to spirit through my crown, and she spent some time drawing the Qi downwards through my body to my feet; and as before with her I felt the warmth of her hands, at my forehead, even though she was not touching me.

I enjoyed Clarissa’s company. She was next to me on the camp site. Our first conversation was on non-theism, and only got deeper. She told me much of her life, and of a family she has housed in her town. She cares about the children like a grandmother. On Tuesday we met for breakfast, and were still talking at midday.

I raised a laugh from the Quaker Stewardship Committee, by saying my excuse that I was too spiritual to deal with all that money-stuff did not even satisfy me. I talked to a very sharp man who told me how trustees could still be liable if a charity, such as an area meeting, was incorporated, if they were reckless or negligent.

I went to H’s self-catering flat, where I met Liz and Ellie from Manchester. I had not known they had a son, Ben, now ten.

A joyful, playful child

The compliment I treasure as much as any other is, “You can seem serious, but underneath you are just a joyful, playful child”.

On the bus, my attention is wholly on my phone, narrowed to the glowing rectangle. I am safe, scrolling down through facebook or site stats- Ooh, another page view!

A couple in their sixties get on. He walks quickly down the aisle then stands waiting for her. She progresses in a stately manner. “Will you move over please thank you very much” she says to a young man in an aisle seat. He does. “Sit there,” she commands her companion, waving at the seat. He complies. She sits across the aisle from him.

Watching is better. Later, I walk along Nupton Road, beside a park. There are mature trees growing through the pavement. There is so much beauty in this town, but from the bus I was beguiled by buildings- ordinary buildings, you might say, and I enjoyed their colours and sudden shapes as we moved past.

I sit erect, trusting, sufficient. I have dignity. I am safe in my society, even the malicious cannot easily hurt me, and I am rarely even mildly discomposed. What crush and constrain me are fearful fantasies.

At the bus stop a woman glanced over. Her “celebrity” magazine article is about Piers Morgan, and she wears bright Azalea-red lipstick. Did she show surprise at my voice? Who cares, really. Well, I do. As Lucy said and I repeat to my Aspie friend, those of us who are different should not have all the work of keeping the more normal ones comfortable. Or, we need greatly to expand “normal”, to include everyone. It could have been interest. I imagine disapproval. It may just be in my head.

Two policemen in Kevlar with sub-machineguns patrol the shopping mall. I am glad I had heard of Mr Corbyn’s rally, they would have freaked me a bit otherwise.

I reach out to caress the rough bark of the tree.

On the bus, a man in a wheelchair and his partner get on. Both are very tired. He can hardly speak, only make very quiet noises. They miss their stop, because she did not see it and he could not get her attention. The bus driver says he will drive to the end of the line then take them back, and I am surprised at how good his hearing is.

“You had a button,” she says, and he lifts his arm to show there is no button on that handrail. I see one on the other handrail, but perhaps he cannot push it with that left arm. I am a bit sorry, as I am facing him. I thought of moving so she could face him, but did not do so before she sat on the other seat.

I have just had a vile, humiliating experience. I have abased myself, and may not have done enough to avoid being wronged.

Here’s Jamie Catto. I think my dignified child needs looking after. She is not wise to the ways of the world. She will show herself off to be Not Normal, and get squished. She does not anticipate what will happen but is just enjoying the rough bark of the tree and the sudden shapes of quite ordinary buildings, on a slovenly street. Or seeking refuge in her phone. He says the thing I trust to look after her is insane and also fails to anticipate the future, simply believing wild guesses and fantasies.

The child knows what is going on and what she must do, and she is afraid and angry. Or something is afraid and angry, these feelings are inside me. Part of my brain may assert control and I am not sure which bit is best, even if the child is the bit I love, and love being.

Richard Rohr says all breathing is sacred breathing, and our true life is love without ego, which I identify with Jamie’s sane part. Wake up. Rohr, a Franciscan, is as happy with religious and spiritual language as I am.

I touch the rough bark of the tree. I am cracked open. At Yearly Meeting Gathering I walked to the Friday session in delight, loving the profusion of seeds, so many in one bundle, so many bundles in the sycamore. There are also conkers. Approaching the Arts Centre, I started to skip, because I anticipated beauty in the Quaker business meeting, and someone told me after how she had been- not sure what, now, moved pleased delighted happy- to see me skip. Others like the child.

When I became a man I put away childish things. But then, I am not a man.

Rohr gave the exercise, Sitting at a table with a pencil and a piece of blank, unlined paper, look at a nearby object (for example, a vase of flowers, a chair, a tree outside). Turn your attention to the empty or “negative” space surrounding the object. Rather than focus on the object’s contours, look at the lines and curves of the space butting up against the object, the places in between and around the thing itself. Breathe deeply and begin to draw these nooks and crannies of air and emptiness. Keep your focus on the “negative” space as you draw. And I thought, something impossible the Teacher demands and the students attempt with diligence, because they want Enlightenment. Cycling to Meeting yesterday I was a soldier, thinking of my thighs- I saw the moon and trees, some of the time, but much of the time my attention narrowed to the road, and other road users. Only one car passed terrifyingly close, most were far enough away. And I thought, there is no gap. There is always thing, even the light refracted through the atmosphere or that light marbling of almost-not-cloud in the blue. Aha! A Spiritual Lesson!

Anger rage frustration and fear, and an inability to care for herself due to being very very young indeed, and I am almost resigned to the fact that the Child really might be my best option: best for seeing reality, best for seeing people, best for deciding, best for acting.

Abraham Maslow wrote, The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. Yes. A ripe peach! The bark of a tree!

Mental Health in our Meetings

When I told a friend of that road-rage incident, she commented that I had done well to hold myself together through the Meeting for worship I went to immediately afterwards. After a strongly emotional experience, I find a measure of calm, then find the feeling welling up in me again, as with my fantasy of that man attacking me, and me thumping him. I anticipated that so was not shocked by it. The fact that he was actually unable to harm me makes me feel safe, and that feeling came to me in Meeting too. It felt like the Ministry which was for me alone. In Meeting I had sat mostly still, though not unmoving, and almost entirely quiet.

I may lose my income on Monday, and if so I am not sure what I will do. I imagined myself standing in Meeting and saying “They want to take away my fucking money. I need my fucking money.” The fantasised meeting is not the real meeting, but I wondered if that would be seen as disruptive, assuming I did not resist an impulse to share my terror. Abigail has to be managed. The meeting must not be disrupted.

I am aware that it behoves us to be silent in Meeting, and test the spirit of a prompting to speak- be accepting of other’s ministry, and questioning our own. But it seems to me that I can endanger the Meeting- I would go into my head, into that small child who knows the rules and seeks safety in obeying them, and I would merely be silent for an hour, as in a waiting room. That could enervate a Meeting. Instead, I seek to be my whole self. Rather than suppressing feeling, I seek to permit it, to allow it to flow through me. This carries the risk that it may overwhelm me. My goal is to trust it completely, so that I do not block it, because I feel the blocks cause the problems; I learn to let go of the blocks, but a block might make me- quake, is the best word I can think of for it. I would show a physical sign of the emotion within. If Friends are distracted, I may distract them further.

I don’t want the Meeting to become the Abigail Maxwell Support Group, a sort of Circle of Support and more support, rather than accountability. I would be the cuckoo in the nest, diverting the energies of the Meeting from its service to God in the world. Most of the responsibility of managing my distress is my own. And I want to take the risk of being overcome, even of appearing disruptive, because otherwise I cannot take the risk of meeting God. If we need the meeting to be comfortable, then it cannot be alive.

Privilege is not an absolute. If it were, the epitome of white, male, straight cis privilege would be Donald J Trump, and he would not be the tiny, blustering man that he is without having been repeatedly traumatised. Yet it has some meaning. My friend showed courage in admitting one of his favourite psalms is 137, Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! I love it because when I became conscious of my feelings, in my thirties, I found they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear. I have never wanted to take a baby by the ankle and smash its head open, but I am glad of that level of anger being in the Bible, because it has helped me realise I might be acceptable to God. Then again I understand that most women and the vast majority of men, like me, have fantasised about murder at some time in their lives. He and I may both like it because we are both LGBT. Not everyone understands our love for it. My lack of privilege includes an intimate acquaintance with impotent anger, and a default fear of people, even of Quakers.

I am glad that Wanstead Quakers want it to be known that our Local Meeting is a place where all are welcomed and nurtured, including people who are transgender and non-binary. It will not be true unless my high level of anger and emotional lability, arising from my trans nature and past circumstances, is welcomed. I bear most of the responsibility of looking after myself, but if I get no help from my meeting there is no point in going. Jesus take me as I am- I can come no other way. I give help, too, when I can. I dare to hope that the value of what I give exceeds that of what I take.

On the first full day of Yearly Meeting Gathering George Lakey spoke at length of his experience of the death of his son- hearing of it, travelling home, meeting family, the wake, the funeral, his feelings (though very little of his son, and only one positive fact about him). I am glad he did, as it cracked me open, but a friend commented that anywhere else there would be trigger warnings, and organised support offered “If you have been affected by the issues raised”. I blundered off, and proceeded to disrupt a discussion group by suppressed but still audible sarcastic laughter when the man leading the group shared deep, spiritual things. A woman left the group with me and spent two hours hearing my anguish.

“I am here to take,” I told her. “Sometimes I need to take.” And then when she fell on the stairs I stood and looked at her rather than going to help her up. I am not proud of this, but it is where I was at the time. I saw her later and expressed gratitude for her support and regret that I had disrupted the group. She could pass that on to the group leader, who was from her Meeting. I also feel her listening, when she held me while I plunged into my own darkness, freed to take a full, positive part in the Yearly Meeting. Many people thanked me for my ministry to the main session, which seemed to move them, from which I judge that it was worthwhile.

In fifteen years as a Quaker, I have found many shoulders offered to me to cry on, and have often taken full advantage. In a discussion group on Listening, a woman shared that sometimes she does this, and takes on pain from the other, but the other’s distress seems accentuated rather than relieved by the process. (I have also listened to others and sensed this in them, a bottomless pit of hurt which can never be dredged.) She compared such people to vampires, sucking her energy. I like to think I am not merely a vampire. Yet, from my side of the exchange, it can seem that people are very keen to provide shoulders to cry on. It makes them feel valued and valuable. It is an exchange, not a gift- we both know we will enjoy it, and sometimes we go at it for the good feeling rather than for any lasting good it will do. Don’t offer support in order to feel valued, because the outcome may make you feel insulted and wronged.

I put that too strongly when I first published this post. Being heard is unburdening for me, a huge relief. My inner critic bullies me as I unburden- I am being self-indulgent, this is not real, I should be tougher. The next day from publishing, I am not sure. Sometimes it can go wrong. I have listened, and felt I am earthing pain, like an electric charge passing through and out of me, but I have to let it go. I could do this, consciously, and move on. Once, after hearing a schizophrenic woman, the process of letting go took me two hours and involved seeking the help of a friend: that woman’s distress had evoked my own.

As this angry, labile, vulnerable, benefit-claiming, moderately depressed Quaker I want to be welcome all the time, not just when I pass as a quirky, middle-class, spiritual, highly educated and intelligent Normal-person. Please do not be self-sacrificial. Maintain your boundaries, and care for yourselves. So, tell me when you think I am pushing it, taking more support than I really need or that the meeting can offer, before Something Bad happens, and you exclude me in anger and blame me. People so often leave things unspoken, or assumed, but it might help to discuss the boundaries, to bring them into the open.

I have so much to offer you!