Freeing the Spirit

If ego is wrapped around spirit like ivy round oak, how do you become spirit
naked spirit
unencumbered spirit
free spirit?

Is it by letting go of something?

I do not let go words. “Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life.” I might let go words which distract from that.

Can you stop seeking to persuade? A multitude of words to persuade that trans women are harmless amid a long scream that women need to exclude us and are entitled to.

Descriptive words- words drawings and symbols describe a Saturn V rocket, and if you followed those words you could send people to the moon again.

Words as truth. Words as poetry. Recognising that words always have a tincture of persuasion or judgment, and of inaccuracy, so I cannot set down a set of rules to follow. I get better with words.

What of Desire? Trauma? Let go of illusion and the Idol, the wish to seem.

Should I let go of fear of the future? There’s a way of thinking I don’t like- imagining a particular threat, and pleading with it, or shouting at it. That’s not fair or this is what really happened or its wrong to do that, when I feel others will not agree with me but I’m still right. Partly it’s rational, thinking through how I could be most persuasive. Partly it’s denying reality, emphasising the truth of what I say and the complete wrongness of how I believe/know/fear/am unsure about how others will see it. Partly it’s picking up a particular fear and dwelling on it without doing anything to improve things.

Possibly I only hate this habit of mind because my experience is often that others don’t agree with my arguments, when I eventually put them. I am like William Brown, desperately or defiantly but pointlessly crying “I was just statin a fact”.

I can escape that habit by making my life so simple that there are few of the threats that would engage my attention in that way. Maybe I have faced so many threats that I can’t bear them any more.

A more horrible experience of rumination is replaying incidents in the past. For those ten years old or more I have mostly distilled these to “I was right, they were wrong. It didn’t matter.” For ones less than ten years old, it’s “It was what it was. I suffered more than I deserved, perhaps. I wasn’t perfect.”

A woman who used to research and write articles for a think tank had a traumatic brain injury. Now she finds her mind is as quiet as she had wished. It is in a state she had sought through yoga before the accident. It could just be that her life of argument is wrenched from her, and all that remains is her recovery and being able to “run errands without getting lost”. The kinds of issues she was writing about no longer matter to her, so much of the content of her conscious thinking has become unnecessary. It’s not that she does not care about the homeless, it’s that she cares about them as fellow suffering humans, rather than as a topic which affects her own position.

Then there’s the experience of the divided mind. You know the quote “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?” Well, judge myself harshly, go into denial, freeze. I know I ought to X. But I don’t want to, because it will be uncomfortable, and involve admitting I was wrong, at least in the sense of making the wrong decision when full information was not available.

I am seeking spiritual enlightenment, that “inward stillness”, in order to be better able to engage with the world. Enlightenment does not mean no longer having to face conflict, loss, or error. It just might mean having a trick, or a knack, for dealing with what Kipling called “impostors”.

Calling it a gimmick is showing disrespect. I am serious now.

I want that inward stillness to be large enough to contain my fear and hurt so that it does not simply burst out of me, so that I am conscious of it, and can bear it. The law, the method, the way, seems to me to be Love. I judge myself- my fear, anger or resentment is unbearable- I deny or suppress it- it bursts out of me- I suffer. I love myself- I accept my fear, anger or resentment- I contain it, and see how best to act. I love the world- I see it better- I respond and act better.

Love is the answer. Love is the way. Yes, spirit is like the oak, and ego like the ivy- though they might look like one plant, spirit provides all the strength to hold ego up, as both seek the sunlight, which is the love of God. I am bombarded by experience and my emotional reaction to it, even when I rarely go out. The only way to bear all that is to love it all. It’s not letting go, it is accepting.

There are other spiritual lessons to learn. Accepting the fact of your death is a big one; but the greatest of anything is Love.

In praise of feelings

Is being trans just a “subjective feeling”? If so, does that matter?

Someone asked me to define “woman” “in a way that is not circular (a logical fallacy) and does not reduce it to a subjective feeling (which cannot be evidenced)”. She may be trans, asking for help in argument, but I feel she thinks this a knockout blow- once women accept her feminism, there will be no trans people ever again.

“Subjective” may not add much, describing feelings. What would an “objective feeling” be? We can observe people looking at art, and from their movements and facial expressions see they are deeply moved by the beauty, or bored. Objectively, there is a person who reports a feeling, delight or boredom, and others who observe them and believe they hold the feeling, and know from their own experience that art works can bore or delight them, perhaps depending on their mood.

Some people are frightened of spiders. Some people are not. I know the fear in my friend is real, and I want to alleviate it. I kill the spider because rescuing it would take too much time and prolong my friend’s agony. Others would, because of feelings, rescue the spider and object to my cruelty. If one person feels the death penalty for murder is appropriate, and another feels it abhorrent, there can be a decision, but not necessarily persuasion, and probably not rational argument about the issue.

It’s rare to find a feeling everyone feels. At a severe earthquake, most will feel fear, but some may feel exhileration.

Feelings are perceptions. Like the amoeba, humans are creatures drawn to what will benefit them, repelled from what will harm them. The desire may be one only one person feels, but the desire is still real for that person.

If being trans is “a subjective feeling”, it can be evidenced that people have felt it all over the world, and for millennia. Do you believe it exists? If you are not frightened of spiders but believe some people are, you should be able to believe that the desire to transition exists. It is long-lasting, often for decades. It can be more important than anything else in the world, as it was to me. This is subjective in that it is my feeling and no-one else’s, and it is a feeling, if you don’t accept there are differences in brain structure between men and women and trans women’s brains are in some objective and relevant way the same as cis women’s, but feelings should be respected. Love brings happiness and makes procreation possible- it is “a subjective feeling”. Some feelings should be acted on, others not, but even if being trans is only a feeling does not mean it can be discounted by anyone else.

Is my definition “circular, a logical fallacy”? I defined woman to include trans woman, to my own satisfaction.

What is a “circular argument”? Wikipedia tells me it is an argument where there is no need to believe the premises unless one believes the conclusion. It relates to deductive logic. But deductive logic never tells us anything new, for all conclusions are embedded in the premises. Socrates is immortal, in that as long as there are human beings we will tell each other about Socrates. Definitions are not logical argument. There is no clear line between red and orange on the light spectrum, and other cultures define colours differently and see them differently, but the word “red” still has a useful meaning. The concept of “species” comes from the early seventeenth century, before evolution was observed to exist. Now we know of speciation, where one species divides into two, and there is a moment in that process where it is unclear if there is one species or two. So the definition of “species” is clear, but whether a group of animals fits it may be unclear.

If trans excluders believe “We’re women! They’re Not!” that is a strong feeling. “Trans women are women,” say Labour MPs, equably, and trans excluders are enraged, resentful or contemptuous. They encourage these feelings in each other. It’s only a subjective feeling. They want it not to be- three hundred held a zoom meeting last week on the “materialist feminist analysis of sex”, where many were no doubt delighted by the apparent objectivity of their cause, but human beings are too diverse and strange to be crushed into such neat categories. Trans women are women. Whether we should be admitted into women’s spaces or not cannot be answered by objective definition.

Coronavirus vocabulary

Words I wish I had not had the chance to learn.

First, “coronavirus”. I had heard of colds caused by rhinoviruses, but before December had not registered the idea of a coronavirus as a core of RNA with a lipid shell covered in protein spikes which can penetrate cell membranes. A lipid is not soluble in polar solvents, like water, but soap or alcohol rips the lipid shell apart making the viral particle nonviable. Had you not studied biology or biochemistry, the word “lipid” might have passed you by, as it had me. Each viral particle is eighty nanometres across. The virus is “zoonotic”, an infection originating in other animals. There may be others, far worse, just waiting their chance.

The particular coronavirus is SARS-CoV 2, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, named after SARS, which was not only a syndrome, but a viral disease. A syndrome is a group of symptoms which consistently occur together, and I would say the viral disease should not be called a syndrome because we know the cause, one virus, and because its symptoms are hugely varied, from neurological disorders to “Covid Toe”. The disease is CoViD 19, Coronavirus Disease identified in 2019.

A “cytokine storm” occurs when your immune system, unable to contain the virus, goes apeshit. Much of the damage to your lungs, including the fluids which drown you or the substances which clog your lungs, making them like bricks, comes from your immune system rather than the virus itself. It is caused by the innate immune system, rather than the adaptive immune system which develops as you experience infections. I have read articles about T cells and B cells, but that is too much information, and I have forgotten it, even though I had heard of T cell counts related to AIDS, another syndrome caused by one virus. You can know the practicalities- wear a mask, wash your hands, limit in-person social activity, Trump and Johnson cannot be trusted to make worthwhile decisions about which risks people should take or where public money should go- without knowing about B cells.

How badly you are affected may depend on your initial “viral load”, the amount of virus you take in.

I started this post when I read that a test should be both sensitive and specific. A test is sensitive if it does not have too many false negatives. A test is specific if it does not have too many false positives. The two words together convey more information than “accurate”. Testing your temperature before you enter a building is neither. That reminded me of words I can never remember: the tolerability of a risk depends on its severity, how awful it is if it happens, and its likelihood or probability, producing a risk matrix. I hold the concept of the matrix in my mind, but not the words for its axes.

The new word I liked most was “fomite”. A fomite is an object which passes on infection: it could be a door handle, or a dictionary, any object where the virus may linger, still active, to be picked up by the next person to touch it. A huge variety of objects can be a fomite based on one specific characteristic which I never thought of before The Pandemic started. However I understand fomite transmission is unlikely, and most transmission occurs by breathing in droplets or aerosols- there is, I read, no agreed terminology– breathed out by an infected person.

The word “blog” comes from “weblog”, which was originally meaning a log of interesting pages the author had found. Here’s a page from Raphael Carter’s. Assiduous readers of my blog, who click all my links, will see that I have mostly linked The Atlantic. It’s a bit right-wing for me, and of course US-centric, but I find the range of articles fascinating, and it is at least “reality-based”, pouring scorn on the lies of the Trumpites. Would that everyone were reality-based! Lying and distraction are too profitable.

I depend on journalists. I read that initial research which showed that viral particles could remain on surfaces for days began with huge loads of virus, scores of sneezes per square inch, and the detection was based on finding the RNA, which does not indicate that the virus is infectious. As research continues, the consensus understanding will change. I am not even going to look at “pre-prints”, academic articles not yet peer-reviewed.

What new words have you picked up this year?

Language and transphobia

What’s the difference between a trans woman, a transwoman, and a transsexual?

Well, “a transsexual” could be a trans man, but that’s not the main thing, which is, that we don’t like it. We are entitled to specify how we should be described, and how we should not. “Woman” or “man” does for most purposes, “person” might be better, but if you really need to specify, “trans woman” or “trans man” is it.

Saying “transsexual is an adjective”, or that it sounds like a scientific classification, is explaining why we don’t like to be called that. There should be no need to explain. That we don’t like it should be enough.

It does not matter if someone gets it wrong, unless they intend to get it wrong. You can normally tell. Some even get it right, writing about “trans women” then saying something appalling about sexual predators. Some insist on “transwomen”- a seahorse isn’t a horse, they say, transphobically- and some use worse language.

Language can draw attention to our trans status or not, and be more or less respectful of us. There are transphobic terms designed to erase us, people who want to erase us, people who want to support us but are unsure how, and people who just don’t care. We can normally tell which of these someone is.

Trans excluders don’t like being called trans excluders. They claim they are not excluding trans women, as men should not be in women’s spaces. TERFs coined the term TERF, but now object to it. They are not “anti-trans campaigners”, they say, because they want trans people to have the human rights they are willing to assign to us. Just as I don’t think they should be called “feminist campaigners”- most feminists campaign for trans rights- I don’t think they should be called “gender critical feminists”. I am a gender critical feminist. I find gender norms and stereotypes oppressive, particularly to women. But there is no term for their campaigning which would be acceptable to them and to us. That means you can’t describe what they do with a neutral term, and so you state your opinion about them every time you refer to them. Sometimes I call them “gender critical feminists”, but always with scare quotes.

This means that we cannot talk to each other. The two sides only address themselves. The trans-excluders obsessively write about “women’s rights”, as in their Manifesto, yet every part of what they work on has to do with excluding trans women, who they do not mention there. We tell ourselves stories in order to live: we tell ourselves that we are women, that we have women’s brains, souls or personalities, as a way of plucking up courage to transition. We interact sometimes on twitter, with zingers honed on one side then lobbed at the other.

There is no sound if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no-one to hear it. There will be a pressure wave, and perhaps an animal will detect that pressure wave with its ears, but a “sound” is a human concept which cannot be divorced from human experience and understanding. Language is how we create the world, because the world of people being with each other is more important to us than the whole rest of the world combined- or we would not have damaged it as we have. You might see something without naming it, but you can’t tell anyone else about it without words, and the words are all that we know in common about that thing.

The Communist party says Truth is what is in the interests of the working class as a whole… we have to come to a correct position which serves our class. In Russia that became what is in the interests of the Revolution, then the Party, then Stalin alone. In the USSR, there were events called “elections”, or the “free expression of citizen will” where there was one candidate and the Party and state apparatus took notice if anyone did not vote for that candidate. They were not elections in any real sense, but there was no other word to describe them.

So words are powerful. When we can choose our words, we control their connotations. A “trans woman” is a kind of woman. How people think about trans people depends on the words used for us.

Here is Diana and her Companions, only attributed to Vermeer in 1901. Proust has Swann, convinced it is Vermeer, wanting to examine it at The Hague but unable to leave Paris while Odette is there.

Dinosaurs II

What could be better to distract us from covid woes- fear of infection, economic uncertainty, the difficulties of being trans- than dinosaurs? Palaeontology is a field of rapid discovery and theorising, with endless fascinating details, completely divorced from the modern world, with lots to ooh and aah at. Our guide is Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, whom you can hear here. I love his enthusiasm, though I bridle a bit at his patronising- you can find dinosaurs everywhere, “Even in Scahtland”. I did not like him referring to “a beautiful island off the West Coast of Scotland called the Isle of Skye”, rather than as I would call it, “Skye” as I expect people to have heard of it. However there he found footprints about the size of a car tyre, several sets of tracks 170m years old, of sauropods fifty feet long weighing several tons.

His description of sauropods is fascinating. How did they grow to be fifty tons like the Argentinosaurus? Well, they would need to eat about 100lbs of vegetation a day, standing still and using their long necks to strip the forest around them from tree tops to ground level, some of it no other animal could reach, using little energy. They grew to the size of an aeroplane in about 30-40 years. They had lungs like birds, with a series of balloonlike air sacs connected to the lung, which store air taken in during exhalation then pass it across the lung in exhalation. The bones of the chest cavity have big openings for these sacs, like in birds, which made the skeleton lighter so more manoeuvrable, and have a large surface area so the animal could dissipate excess heat in its breath.

Weight is estimated from the observation that it is related in living animals to the width of the thigh bone in bipeds, thigh bone and upper arm in quadrupeds.

Brusatte has written a popular science book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, in part based on his own research. He made a classification of carcharodontosaurs (shark-toothed), when he was an undergraduate. He made a spreadsheet of features that varied among species, such as deep sinuses surrounding the brain, or the kinds of teeth: 99 different characteristics. He used a computer program that uses algorithms to search through the data and generate a family tree, from which species share which features and when they were developed. This is a cladistic analysis. From that it clarified where these carnivores came from in the late Jurassic, around 150mya. They began as Pangaea was breaking up, so could spread across the world, and lasted fifty million years. The structure of their family tree reflects the motion of the continents. But they were superseded by the Tyrannosaurs, which were much cleverer.

Did you know T Rex was roughly as smart as a chimp, and cleverer than dogs? This is found from the “Encephalization Quotient”- the ratio between body size and brain size is a good indicator of intelligence. That is smarter than the dinosaurs of stereotype, who were big and stupid and became extinct to be replaced by us clever mammals. This may be colonialist thinking: just as the Imperial invaders mocked and belittled the complex agricultural economy of the Australian indigenous peoples, so the Victorian scholars saw animals less related to themselves as naturally inferior.

But what is a dinosaur? In the 1840s, it was named as all descendants of the common ancestor of the herbivorous Iguanodon and the carnivorous Megalosaurus. Before the dinosaurs, in the early Triassic around 250m years ago, there were “dinosauromorphs”, like dinosaurs but without the small changes of that common ancestor: a long scar on the upper arm that anchored muscles to move the arms sideways, and some flanges on the neck vertebrae that supported stronger muscles and ligaments. The dinosauromorphs were already more active and dynamic than the amphibians and reptiles of their time, with high metabolisms. From fossils it can be hard to tell if a species is a true dinosaur or another dinosauromorph.

Dinosauromorphs continued alongside true dinosaurs for another 20m years, with contemporaneous relatives of modern crocodiles called pseudosuchians. Brusatte studied their “morphological disparity”- how varied they were, how many different variations of each and so how varied were their ecological niches. After a year of work as a young postgraduate, he had a database of 76 Triassic species, each assessed for 470 features of the skeleton, and found that throughout the Triassic pseudosuchians were more diverse than dinosaurs. Yet with climate change at the end of the Triassic, the dinosaurs became more diverse, more abundant, and larger, and pseudosuchians nearly all died out, leaving only a few primitive crocodiles.

Why is a mystery. Dinosaurs and pseudosuchians looked and behaved similarly. Perhaps it was simple luck, perhaps palaeontologists will figure it out.

I have been reading about arcane facts, and large numbers which are not infection rates. It is a relief.

What is a woman?

Anyone who wants to be is a woman. Trans women are women. I am going to argue what the word “woman” means and what it should include, considering various conservative and feminist arguments. This is a different argument from what is true in the real world, or what is morally right, but people use these arguments to argue about truth and justice. Continue reading


What is a dinosaur?

A child could answer that question. It’s a huge animal that died out millions of years ago. As a child I could have named brontosaurus, triceratops, stegasaurus and, of course, Tyrannosaurus Rex, just as I could name nine planets in order. I would have included pteranodon. Then I read the “very basic concept” that “pterosaurs are not dinosaurs”, but birds are, so decided to look up a more scientific answer. Much of this comes from Wikipedia, which I will call Wrong.

I did not understand the first sentence, Dinosaurs are a diverse group of reptiles of the clade Dinosauria, because I did not know what a “clade” was. A clade is a common ancestor and all its descendants. The ancestor can be an individual, a population, a species, a genus, etc, as recent as you like: mammals, placental mammals, primates and great apes are all clades.

Because dinosaurs, properly and scientifically speaking, are a clade, birds are dinosaurs. To me as a child, the idea that a chirpy little thrush was a dinosaur would have made no sense at all, and as I write now I am wondering whether to still assert that common sense notion. (“Common sense” is what everyone knows, or almost everyone, even if it is wrong.) It makes sense to me to imagine a group of organisms sharing a set of characteristics, and one of those characteristics was Died Out at the end of the Cretaceous period or Mesozoic era. As a child I would have known the names of a few periods or eras, but not like my autistic friend the names of all eras and periods in order. And not the Hadean: the usage was only coined in 1972, and even now the International Commission on Stratigraphy calls it “informal”.

Still, the end of the dinosaurs, definitely the end of the Cretaceous, was the end of Interesting prehuman life for me, when I was a child. Eohippus, or even a sabre-toothed tiger, was not a patch on Tyrannosaurus Rex. I am unsure how widespread such a feeling is. I am interested in everything, but some things more than others. You can easily buy model tyrannosaurs for wee bairns to play with, and the bairns play enthusiastically, going


as loudly as they can. (“Easily buy”- I meant, in shops! How old-fashioned my thinking is!) I only recently learned that Stegosaurs were long extinct before Tyrannosaurs arose, as that fact would not have interested me. As a child they were both creatures of fantasy, and that fantasy continues in adulthood though it is less important to most adults than to children.

When I was a child the theory that the Chicxulub impact had ended the dinosaurs (even excluding birds) had not become widely accepted, and now I understand it is scientific consensus with some sceptics still challenging the evidence and the reasoning. That too, an asteroid almost destroying life on Earth, is a powerful image, widely known outside the scientific community as it speaks to people, a dreadful horror beyond all others.

Are Pterosaurs dinosaurs? If I had had a rubber toy pterosaur it would have flown in my hand over the tyrannosaur attacking the stegosaur, and I would have conceived of them as one class of animal- big, extinct. Pterosaurs were an order existing from 228-66mya. (Million years ago, but you knew that.) Dinosaurs were named by Richard Owen in 1842, after evolution, the changing of species through strata, had been observed, but before Darwin had published the theory explaining evolution by natural selection. I don’t know if Owen was aware of pterosaurs, or whether he would have called them dinosaurs, but now dinosaurs are Ornithischia and Saurischia, not including Ichthyosaurs either.

So, I use the word “dinosaur” much as I would in my childhood, from a vague understanding of time, ending 66mya, starting, I dunno, maybe 200mya. Scientists are researching the exact origin now, of the clade. Clades are clearly more important to them than to me. I find the idea of a “Kingdom” useful: plants, animals and fungi are Kingdoms. There is another Kingdom, Protists, being eukaryotes not fitting in the other three, and Wikipedia tells me Some recent classifications based on modern cladistics have explicitly abandoned the term “kingdom”. I wrongly but belligerently include ichthyosaurs and pterosaurs as dinosaurs, and find “Protist” a useful new word even if it does not describe a clade. I might even (shock!) treat “pterosaur” and “pteranodon” as interchangeable.

Classifications change as people find out more, and the research continues. If Richard Owen returned to life now, I imagine he might support the cladistic definition of dinosaur, to include birds not pterosaurs, after it had been explained to him. Common sense goes from imprecise understandings and old ideas which are now discounted. I am happy with the idea of a dinosaur as a potent myth of a terrible lizard, because I do not systematically follow the latest research. I am delighted with occasional striking ideas, such as scientists examining fossils under the microscope and postulating what colours dinosaurs were.

I take a middle position between common sense and “modern cladistics”, myth and imagery and precise classification. Both are useful at different times. A tomato is a fruit and a vegetable. I see the point of asserting that birds are dinosaurs, but I will stick with the common idea of dinosaurs as Jurassic or Cretaceous reptiles, including pterosaurs, for most purposes.

I am writing about this partly because people were worried when I did not post for four days. I had not posted because I felt a bit down: less interested in posting, and not wanting to write too many “Oh god life is awful” posts like my recent My Life, and Trans Politics, posts seemed to me. I am interested in it. I have now formed a view, that a precise scientific understanding and an imprecise general misunderstanding of the concept “dinosaur” both have value.

I wanted a cheerful Gericault to contrast with yesterday’s picture, but see Gericault was not the most cheerful painter. I notice the wikimedia file looks much better when the screen is too bright for my eyes, so I have brightened it.

Powerful words

I saw passionate, self-righteous loathing of me, everyone like me and all that we stand for, distilled into one word. It took me aback. Non-trans people may get some echo of my feeling, seeing the word; trans people should beware reading this post because I quote it. I fear quoting it because I fear that some cis people might read it and have a revelation- that is why trans women are so objectionable!

The word is “Womanface”.

I type the word and start to weep. I feel decades of agony. I have wanted to die, much of the time, since my mid twenties and now Covid bothers me less than it bothers others, perhaps, because, well, it would mean it would all be over. So I will unpack that word. It echoes Blackface- so for this campaigner, whatever I have done, hormones and surgery, facial electrolysis- hours of pain- and voice training, is the oppressor’s mockery and appropriation. I am the oppressor and must be resisted, though it does not feel like that from where I am, right now.

For some women, trans might seem repulsive because of their principled politics and personal bravery. In January I saw a woman tell a familiar story: she is lesbian, was a “tomboy” as a child, was uncomfortable with bodily changes in puberty and worried that had she been born a few years later she would have been sucked in by internet forums and had a double mastectomy, a beard and a baritone caused by T injections. In her twenties she became comfortable with who she is, a lesbian, not wanting to appear conventionally feminine. There are variations on this story: one friend told me of four pregnancies, of the paps where she gave suck, of the meaning of the woman’s body so different from a man’s. There is pain and even threat to life in uterine problems. I get it, I really do.

And, Patriarchy exists. There is male privilege: often men are heard, women silenced, men celebrated and women judged for ordinary human reactions, and feminists resist it, and others seem just to go along with it. Would all women be feminist if only their consciousness could be raised? But how? I read that for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color (and among other marginalized groups), silence has been a form of oppression that cuts us off from sharing our voice and agency and more. For me it’s complicated. In some ways I am confident, and I know that I have worthwhile things to say and skill in saying them, and I expect to be heard.

I appreciate a feminist perspective- how are women wronged?- even though I see how it skews perception. The concern of some feminists about trans people is skewed. On trans men, they hate the thought of mastectomy and mutilation, though that denies that trans men can make their own decisions or see their own interests. On trans women, they hate the thought of penises in women’s space, threatening women, so that a post-op transsexual might be more acceptable, or they fear-monger about trans women allegedly with penises.

If the trans woman becomes the symbol of oppression, trans women are screwed. Some feminists say trans women are the first and most important threat to women’s human rights, that we poison women’s space like a drop of ink in a litre of water, and negate the very meaning of woman- a woman is someone who feels like it rather than someone with a female reproductive system, and that destroys women’s solidarity, women’s rights, women’s campaigning. Though I see it differently- we are an anomaly, a few more or less ridiculous individuals, scared and scarred in our own ways, rather than a threat a potential ally.

So my solution is this. Recognise that we don’t fit gender stereotypes any more than you do, and this is our way of coping. We are so alike! We face similar problems!

I have said this before, and I don’t feel heard.

I am writing now because of sensed discomfort in yet another encounter, where my attempt at empathy may have got it entirely wrong, where our attempt at fellow-feeling may yet establish commonality of experience and interest. I don’t want to write about that encounter so I write of previous encounters. Words like “Whiteface” may make people impervious to finding that common interest, might stop them seeing my humanity, make them see me only as threat. Words are powerful. When I was at university I saw on a toilet door the most disgusting joke I have ever seen, in twenty-two syllables elegantly and expressively constructed to work like a joke. I have always remembered it, only once shared it, and felt that because I know it a tiny part of me is sullied.


Who is the oppressor here, and who the oppressed?

I saw that word used by Dr Julia Long, radical lesbian activist and academic. On self-isolation, she asked “would I be… forced to accept a man in womanface bringing my shopping?” Objecting to trans women in loos is bad enough, objecting to a moment’s interaction with a worker or perhaps another person in a mixed sex self-help group is- out of proportion? I don’t know if Dr Long originated the word which horrified me and made me cry while “Tranny!” hardly bothers me, but she uses it habitually. I saw it in a trans activist space, shared to show how extreme anti-trans campaigners can be. If I complained, they might tell me to spend more time in support groups and less in activist spaces.

I could make a fair case that Dr Long is the oppressor. She is highly articulate, with a number of platforms including at times the Guardian and Channel 4, and she devotes a great deal of her time and energy to monstering trans women with speech and writing at all registers from academic to dehumanising mockery, in alliance with Rupert Murdoch and the Heritage Foundation. And at the same time she is oppressed- I do not know her or her history at all, but am quite sure she will have experienced unwanted sexual attention, probably sexual violence, and may reasonably believe that her career has been held back by anti-lesbian or sexist prejudice.

I have no wish to recite the arguments why I would be seen to be the oppressor, but it does not feel that way from where I’m sitting. As Dr Long says, “Even while isolating yourself in the midst of a global pandemic, it seems there is no escaping this shit.”

Any way of escape has to involve seeing the oppression of the other. All oppression has to be recognised, as well as all the good in it: the cleverness in its creation, the comfort that it brings.

Moulding reality

Something to look forward to changed to something to dread. “What do you fear?” she asked. That I lose my shit completely, and collapse in a puddle on the floor.

But my worst fear won’t happen.

My friend said it was a good thing F was speaking, and I should on no account answer her. My friend’s hope was that people would get sick of her stridency, and not of mine. I hope for something more: for unity including her, and me.

I said, I am going as a contributor, then, misunderstood, had to qualify that. I am a participant without a particular time for speaking, but intend to contribute, not merely listen. Everyone who shares a meal with me will rise blessed by the experience. Another said, that’s a tall order. Take care. But, the risks are what might make it worthwhile! No progress can come without risk! And the intensity I bring is my contribution.

It might actually be too much to face. I would be sitting quietly in an audience while intolerance was presented as rational argument and concern for vulnerable women and children. I find persuasive falsehoods particularly horrible, particularly prone to wind me up. While I know much of what to expect, something might surprise me, and I might get riled. I can relax in the dentist’s chair, letting the discomfort wash over me, but might try to suppress anger and just blow up.

The whole will be good. I can’t decide what to do with that part beforehand. I must be open to my feelings then. And the stress of anticipating it, and that other thing, is making it more difficult for me to face anything else.

I thought of how I mould reality with words, and how that might be good for me, changing the world for the better, and how it might not. The worst example is Rumination, where the same obsessive thoughts go through a mind, unchanging. I know I was right. I know I was bullied for it. Years later I have stopped running through that story. I might convince someone else with it, I might not. It does not do anything for me, now. It might reassure me about my good qualities, but really, it is escaping the present for the past. It is a self-soothing mechanism, perhaps. I am a Good person! That would be escaping reality for a reassuring fantasy, where being a Good person kept me safe.

Or I mould reality by persuading others. I come up with argument, or a different way of seeing the world, which achieves good ends.

And words help me understand, if my words can get as close as possible to my perception. A good parent (or counsellor) can help a child (adult) understand their emotion, by mirroring it. Similarly an internal state, a feeling, or an external reality, might be more meaningful for the word-using part of me if I have words for it. (There is a part which is not word-using, but- it is not conscious; I need a bridge to the word-using part; not sure. Something.)

Living in past and future does a lot for me. I reassure myself. I gird myself for possibilities. And it takes me away from the present; and not all my thoughts do me good.

Here’s a columnist saying what she most hated in 2019: we endured the increasingly shrill demands of Greta Thunberg, the Duchess of Sussex putting ‘changemakers’ on the cover of Vogue, Jo ‘identify as whatever you want’ Swinson, Extinction Rebellion, the Marks & Spencer LGBT sandwich… These are things I like, and my objections to Jo Swinson are that she is too right wing. That her most objectionable aspect should be her trans-acceptance twists the knife for me. Or, possibly, it doesn’t. That columnist hates all goodness in the world and all that I stand for. Still I exist.

Ha! There it is!

Still I exist!

I will not be crushed into nothingness by Sarah Vine, or indeed by a talk on the evils of “transgender ideology”.

Transsexual v Transgender

Do the words we use to describe ourselves stop us being truly ourselves?

For me, the word “transsexual” was permission. I wanted to transition male to female. This was a recognised phenomenon: something that people did, often successfully, so I could too. And it was also definition. It involved hormones and surgery, and after going full time I found myself wanting surgery. I waited a year before seeking surgery, and had it ten months after that, privately. More than ten years later, I started to regret it.

The concept allowed me to transition, which made me much happier, which was the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. Now, I believe that I wanted surgery not because I was innately that sort of human who is really of the other sex so needs surgery, but because of how I understood who was allowed to transition, and what transition meant. I could not get the gender expression without the physical alteration.

So the word was permission, but also constraint. How can I explain this? I wanted surgery, and listening to the psychiatrist dictate a letter recommending it is one of my strongest memories of complete happiness. And now I regret it, and believe that I wanted it as a symbol, the price to pay for transition, not for it itself. Not for how it would make lovemaking different. It altered how I saw myself, but I saw myself as “post-op TS”, having completed the process, rather than “pre-op TS”, having a way to go.

It is possible that there are people who need to transition to be fully ourselves, and a smaller number of those who need surgery to be themselves; and it is also possible that people want surgery to convince themselves and others that they are truly transsexual.

Chest masculinisation is different. It affects how you are seen. I thought the questions were, “Am I transsexual? Will I be happier if I transition?” Now I think breaking it down is useful.

  • Who am I, really?
  • What will enable me to be most fully myself in society?
  • Do I want to change my name?
  • Do I want to change my presentation?
  • Do I want to change my body, and if so, how?

It would not be a box marked “transsexual”, and possibly another box marked “transgender”, but a whole mass of individuals. Changing the body by facial hair removal, taking hormones, surgery, would be assessed according to what they gained for the individual, rather than whether the individual fitted the one box. One change would not mean that another was inappropriate.

The words are permission to do what we want to do, and also a moral goad, to encourage others to treat us in particular ways. I am not some sort of pervert man wanting to ogle women, I am a trans woman, who should be accepted in women’s space. That makes some people enforce the boxes. A “transsexual”, who has had surgery, is tolerable in women’s loos, but a “transgender” M-F who does not want surgery would not be. I hope most people don’t think about it that deeply. I am “a trans woman”, so I can be expected in women’s loos.

I want the acceptance as a woman to go with presentation as a woman, without physical changes. It would be humiliating to endure groin inspections, even if that meant I was admitted. But transition does not necessarily mean acceptance by others, or even by yourself. We can call any objection to our presence in women’s spaces “transphobic” if we like, and a lot of women are on our side, but some still object.

The words we use can make some ways of thinking possible, and others more difficult. Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, wrote, Seeing then that truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise truth, had need to remember what every name he uses stands for; and to place it accordingly; or else he will find himselfe entangled in words, as a bird in lime twiggs; the more he struggles, the more belimed. Now, we create new words when we need them, but they should not constrain our acts. And I came across this quote in relation to faithfulness in sexual relationships, but it applies to much more than that: We should be aware that these behaviours are incredibly complex, and are likely to be influenced by many factors, including social and cultural effects, personality, genetics and life experiences.