At yearly meeting

Yearly meeting, a thousand Quakers in one building in Euston for four days, is heavenly for me. I am with my tribe. Sitting in the sun, I said I had mislaid my lunch, and a friend bought me sandwiches. She has previously bought me coffee, dinner and champagne, and had me to stay, and shows me the weirdness of my world can be lovely as well as threatening.

That was after the Salter lecture, organised by the Quaker Socialist Society and given by Diana Jeater. She wondered why she, rather than Zimbabweans, should be considered a world expert on Zimbabwe, and spoke on how we in Britain are still colonialist. British people went to Africa, and some went to study Africans; but to explain them in British concepts for a British understanding, with metaphors we were comfortable with, which did not precisely fit. So they attempted to formulate how grammar worked in local languages, and then in schools told locals they were speaking their own language ungrammatically. People say “I have been to Africa” as if it were homogenous. We looked at them as if our technological superiority and different religion were superiority of civilisation, and imposed on them. How would it be, if we could find new words, to understand their other ways of seeing? Or let them say who they were, rather than defining them? This is so close to the idea that trans people should speak for ourselves rather than mediated by cis people that it strengthens my acceptance of myself.

I am sad to say that Quakers who spend less time with me seem to like me more- or perhaps it is just harder to negotiate ongoing relationships, and occasional encounters can give the joy of seeing and sharing without the difficulty of working together. Those who have met me before here want to talk to me, and while they care for me they also receive from me. I was glad to see someone again, though they spoke of the increasing difficulty of travelling, and dislike of being apart from their wife. If you’re ever in —-? I will look you up, I said. I may not see them again.

One observed that she had not heard me speak in the business meeting yet: um. Well, even with a thousand people there I often know I can contribute something worthwhile, and I spoke on racism later- to much the same effect as I wrote here. Most of that session was from people pre-arranged to speak, and there was only time for one person from the floor. I was moved to hear my words “Who is like me?” in the minute of the session. The meeting the evening before was a synchronicity. All worked out for good. What one woman heard was that “we are animals”- she brought her young daughter to hug me, as her daughter says the same thing.

Two years ago there were signs on the disabled loos that non-binary people should use the unisex toilets in the basement. This year the disabled loos were marked all-gender toilets. That was OK. I tried the men’s once, and though it was clean I was more uncomfortable than anywhere else- I felt my awareness shrink to my physical location, so I did not bang into anyone. I could not allow myself to be aware of anyone’s reaction to me there. I don’t know how they reacted.

We are included and heard. I heard trans folk give ministry in meeting, and from someone at Oxford meeting about the hire of a room to “A woman’s place”- she showed there was no transphobia in the Quakers hiring out the room. Quakers stood with the demonstrators outside. They only heard details of the room hire at 3pm that day, which was dishonest of AWP. If they make a statement I will publicise it as soon as I hear of it. Yet at the Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity meeting, some expressed trans-excluding views. I hope we can hear each other amongst Quakers.

Non-gendered

The toilets had signs on them saying “all gender toilets- urinals and stalls” and “all gender toilets- stalls”. Still there was a long queue in the stalls only loos, and none in the one with urinals, where I saw one brave AFAB person as I walked in. The smell there is far worse. I could use the “urinals and stalls” loos if that was normal or conventional. We sought “stealth”, where no-one would notice us, for if we were noticed we would suffer, and now we might be “visibly trans”, taking the risk, hoping we won’t come across the violent bigot; and yet I just want to be normal, going about my normal business, which includes using loos. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder, and I don’t think I should have to.

It is rare to bump into an acquaintance in London, but Nell saw me in the Tate and said Hello. She had been there drawing from the pictures, as part of her art class, and showed me a picture on her phone. An artist had painted her husband wearing a wedding dress. Of course it is the kind of thing that interests me, and it still perturbs me, still knocks me off balance. It is a reminder of my vulnerable sexuality, the sensuality which has always seemed merely weak to me, which has never given me pleasure. I am that vulnerable self which even I despise. I feel I should not be tortured by my own sexuality.

Some might call that male privilege and a sense of entitlement that I might feel I could evade comments on my looks or sexuality. I read about “non-dual consciousness”, that state of presence in the moment when we are aware of surroundings, and I know that it can be exhilarating. It makes me feel real. So avoiding self-consciousness by being absorbed in my thoughts, not noticing the people around me, so that if anyone has remarked that I am trans I would not see it, is a loss, a price I pay. People tend to look at the most attractive of us, and the weirdest. For stealth I might aspire to the invisible middle. I am as uncomfortable as anyone, walking down the street, I just deal with that discomfort in my own way. Or, I am wrapped in razor wire, so any movement is painful.

Tate had “Flux”, an evening of talks and films on gender and its subversion, aimed at ages 18-25 and with a few older trans women. Few people seemed to present as “the other” gender, but played with gendered expression. Some were particularly eye-catching- as attractive, rather than weird. “Introduce the person next to you”, we were told. I had just met Ashton, and said, “I don’t know Ashton’s pronouns, but love Ashton’s style”. Mmm. I can either assume female pronouns or imply there is a doubt. “They or she” she/they said. She wears a pinstripe suit with narrow trousers and trainers. Her hair is shaved to ear level, then frizzes out above, died blue. She plays nervously with the leather thong on a journal, and later performs for us, reading her poetry.

We did word association games in small groups, which made others but not me self-conscious- no, she/he/they does not want to say the word which came first into their head- then constructed poems from prompts. One prompt was microaggressions, and two women (?) looked at a page saying

Where are you from?
No, where are you really from?

which I find more than micro. The best line from our poem was “Gender is like a Summer hat in Winter”, but that sees it as merely oppressive or ridiculous. I feel it could be a joyous source of self-expression, if only one was expressing one’s own gender rather than someone else’s. I read the poem, and enjoyed performing it.

After, the editors of Beyond the Binary had a panel discussion, and lots of us sat on the floor to hear them, reclining on scattered cushions. Does anyone know how hard it is to get a GRC? Very few of us did. They expressed anger at the difficulty, which I could say more succinctly- I don’t need a psychiatrist to state who I am– yet with less anger. So, it’s bureaucratic- just like getting a passport is.

What were non-binary people, before the word “non-binary” was popularised?

After, I went to a fish and chip restaurant with H, got the train home, cycled from the station.

Intimate spaces

Why not, when trans women are sent to prison, just put them together in a house somewhere with one guard and an ankle monitor? Yes, he said, and if they break any rule you send them back to the general population. His use of that term for the mass of prisoners marked him as one who knows something of prisons. I recognise it but would not use it.

The thought experiment shows that the punishment of prison is not just deprivation of liberty, but the threat of violence inside. It would not work because while trans women are intensely vulnerable they are not the only vulnerable prisoners. But segregating vulnerable people should not mean putting them with sex offenders.

At Britain Yearly Meeting, after the QLGF AGM, I wanted to talk to L, who spent time in prisons in her youth. She wants women safe in “intimate spaces”, another term revealing a group. A trans woman can go in women’s space, so they change the term. I enjoyed the conversation. We stayed in the basement after everyone else had left until the janitor had to lock up, then we went for tea. She feels that Quakers with our peacebuilding skills could work on this conflict, and I do too. She was taken aback when I asked, “What is your position?” She does not have one, absolutely; yet made her points strongly for exclusion.

Women in prison tend not to be violent, yet to come from violent backgrounds. Physically scared of people larger and stronger than they, they have learned to put the interests and desires of others before theirs. They would be particularly vulnerable to pre-op trans women.

In hostels and shelters, she is concerned for such women who might have to share a room with a trans woman. The woman might not go to the hostel, rather than do that. Particularly, she does not want the woman who objects to be the wrong one, who must be corrected. There should be more hostels and shelters, she says- well, yes, but will that happen?

In toilets, she posits the case of the male-presenting AMAB person who says “I identify as a woman” and therefore enters a woman’s toilet. I agree that is wrong: we should show concern for those about us. Then she pointed out that there is only one door in a woman’s loo, and a woman might be frightened with a trans woman between her and the door. I told her of the sign on the disabled loo in Friends House, asking able-bodied people to leave them for people who needed them (not in these words) and stating there were gender-neutral loos in the basement.

I don’t want a gender-neutral loo. I found women’s loos much pleasanter, when transitioning. L said that they smell nicer, so I told her that a trans man had said he felt men’s loos were preferable, and I could only understand that by inverting my own position.

Intimate spaces, with vulnerable women frightened of men, and frightened by us. We would just be locked out. The very thought makes me feel less safe, less willing to go out and engage.

I mentioned this to two women, who thought L’s position ridiculous. I am glad. Yet I still felt uncomfortable in the large, crowded women’s loo west of the Large Meeting House. I was staring fixedly at the wall above the hand-dryer, not looking about me, and someone waved her hand in my field of vision- just to say hi, and it perplexed and distressed me.

I met Caroline, who said I was looking very well. “This hair makes me feel beautiful for the first time” I said. She said something about “after all you have been through” which angered me, possibly unfairly: I don’t know that she meant otherwise, but I wanted to shout

There is nothing wrong with being Trans!!!

only with people’s attitudes to it.

Lucas Cranach the elder, The Last Judgment, detail

Bathrooms and feelings

I did not suddenly decide I was a woman- only that I wanted to go out of my house and socialise with cross-dressers. I went to the Gay Village round Canal St. I used the loos. Then I thought I have to go where the straights go, so started to go to the Bridgewater Hall for concerts. Then I went to the supermarket, because I had to be able to do everyday things, if I was to transition. I got a card from the psychiatrist- “Clare Flourish is receiving treatment for Gender Dysphoria, and should use women’s toilets” or something- and carried it in my handbag but never needed to use it. Of course trans women who do not pass need to use women’s toilets, or they will have no chance of ever passing.

Some blog- google for the quote if you want to read the whole thing- says, By no means do I believe that transgendered people have intentions of HURTING people. I honestly believe they are just people who are hurting. But I also believe that someone who wants to hurt people will stop at nothing to do just that. If a bad woman, claiming to be transgendered, could go into a men’s bathroom and possibly hurt your son, who were in there alone, she would. Because the law gives her that right and takes away your son’s right. In the same, any man could claim to “identify as a woman” and have unrestricted access to my little girls in the restroom. She knows we are harmless, but still claims allowing us to pee causes some theoretical risk of assault.

What assaults? Here is the research. Human rights commissions from Colorado to Connecticut had not heard of such cases. Cries of “We must Protect Our Children!” are suddenly silenced when the topic of gun violence comes up.

Perverts may pretend to be trans, and assault women and girls. But then perverts may lurk in car parks and assault women and girls- or just assault women they know, in their homes and offices.

Ted Cruz is far more dangerous than Donald Trump, and his honest beliefs are popular. Scared people get more extreme. Some of the attack on us claims that we are sexually aroused perverts who are an actual danger of voyeurism or assault in toilets, and some of it is that women and girls may feel unsafe around us in toilets, and so their feelings should be protected rather than ours. Even if I am no threat at all, if someone imagines I am she must be protected from me. By physical violence if necessary, says this county sheriff candidate. If my little girl is in a public women’s restroom and a man, regardless of how he may identify, goes into the bathroom, he will then identify as a John Doe until he wakes up in whatever hospital he may be taken to. Seeking election, he calculates this will be popular.

It does not matter that we are not dangerous. They “feel uncomfortable” round us, so they will get violent. They are not ashamed of their irrational prejudice.

Caravaggio Medusa