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

Dinosaurs

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

RWAARRRH!

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.

The Real Self and the Inner Light

Quakers have the concept of the Inner Light which comes from God and which shows us the Way, which we then follow. For example early Quakers had a thrawn determination not to admit anyone as their superiors, just because the authorities called them such: removing their hats in court would have been showing respect to the judge, and Quakers were imprisoned for refusing to do so. Most people then would have removed their hats before a judge without thinking about it. It was just what everyone did, the societal expectation unconsciously obeyed. The Quaker refusal could be called monstrous egotism, asserting onesself over society. Alternatively, it is selfless, because it involves considerable personal risk and suffering in prison, and righteous, a stand against false authority coming from power rather than consent.

I can create a selfish and a selfless explanation of it. And the selfish explanation does not necessarily make it bad- though here I am analysing a corporately discerned campaign of many Quakers, so biased to see it as worthwhile rather than as, say, subversive of social cohesion and threatening a new civil war.

The analysing gets in the way: words make judging the rightness of the action more difficult. From a Quaker perspective, “hat honour” is clearly from our inner Light, the Spirit, God, because it was discerned by so many and carried out for so long. Most people do not wear hats now, and we have different ways of showing respect or a sense of equality.

Identity is a series of constructs dependent on specific circumstances. My friend said that is a quote from Patrick Marber- perhaps he paraphased it. After I committed to transition, the things I would have said about my identity changed. If I say I am “Scots”, what I mean by that depends on circumstances.

Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst, may help explain. The role of the analyst is to hear the voice of the unconscious, which makes itself audible through the censorship of consciousness in riddles, allusions, elisions and omissions, explains Caroline Belsey in Poststructuralism aVSI. In the same way, Quakers sit in silence listening to the inner light. I write poetry, sometimes: writing prose I seek to make sense, which involves using the meanings my society has adopted for words having their common use. That common use guides my thought, making some ideas unthinkable, like George Orwell’s Newspeak: The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. That works with English, too. Audre Lorde:

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

So we create new words, to name new concepts. “Slut-shaming”, for example: it is no longer just the way of the world that single men and women who have sex are treated differently. We can point it out, argue and protest, assert different values.

Speaking in order to make sense to others within my community, I am trapped by my community’s unspoken assumptions. It is a continual struggle to escape those assumptions. I do not even see them, for they appear to be mere reality, the way things are/should be. In the same way my self-concept is bound up in words, ideas of how I should be or am, which get in the way of seeing my true nature.

Winston Smith escaped stultifying convention in sex with Julia, where the brain escapes its linguistic analysis in the moment of release.

The organismic self, spontaneously relating to its surroundings, responding to stimuli, is restrained by convention. Thinking differently is a huge struggle. Quaker practice can break those bonds. We sit in silence, attentive to the inner light. We speak from that light. Together, we can decide to go against the culture, led by something so powerful we call it God.

The language-animal, classifying and conceptualising with words learned from others, will fear that light. The light is unbearable to it.

Masks III

The greates reason for transition is that you can be your true self. Of course, you can never not be your true self, or anything other than You, but you will admit it, and be happy with it, and freed from that dreadful act of pretending to Be a Man. (Or a woman in the case of trans men- I never want to exclude anyone, but as gender is so important to us inclusive language is cumbersome. And the experience is analogous, but different.)

It might seem that the Man is a mask, a painful one like the Iron Mask which could not be removed, and when its rivets are finally broken there will be only freedom.

Yet the Real Self is elusive. It is important to maintain a professional attitude, including professional detachment. We have a job to do in whatever place of work, it is usually defined by others- unless you are an Artist, and extremely fortunate- and the part of you you express is that professional person. I wondered whether you might be your real self with a partner. Not before transition, in my experience, possibly as I approached it. But then even in those Spiritual Growth workshops where I am told to look into the eyes of another, and hold their gaze, I know the rules of the situation, I follow the rules, my face is calm, the time passes. Whether there is any real contact or communication I don’t know.

Though I judge myself harshly, and do not want to claim anything which may not be true.

Possibly we can be ourselves when we escape words. Words might trap us in our masks, words to explain ourselves to ourselves or to others, words to reach a common Understanding, words to define what we must do in this moment. Then again words are how we are with each other, and I found myself forming a connection even as I spoke to someone. I was aware of the subtext later. The words may have some part in that.

Can you be yourself by yourself? We are made real by others. Possibly when outside, where there is life and unpredictability. There is the moment of the task, which is using yourself to some end, and the moment of perception, which is receiving rather than being.

Or, we are not made real by others, we have been forced into masks through childhood with continuing reinforcement so that a human face is an impossibility, there are only masks.

I said,
I am this person
This individual
Myself, and no other
and felt I was looking out of my own eyes. It is a particular state. I can ease myself into it, then I go to sleep again.

You put your arm round me, and I reacted in an instant, I felt and knew what I felt, I could see myself and be seen without a mask. There was a moment when one aspect of The Real Me was visible to me, and possibly you- No! Not a habitual response! You put your arm round me and I relaxed into your shoulder, and felt intense misery. I hate my sexuality. I am ashamed of it. It merely humiliates me, it distances me from others rather than bringing me together with anyone, it is weakness, I do not know what to do with it. It would not be so hard for a woman- as vulnerable, as fearful, but not as ridiculous, or Impermissible. So I lay back on your shoulder, needing the contact, a few drops of water in the desert. And on stage a woman conducted a woman’s piece, Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia. She was professional, as an artist perhaps her true self, sufficiently in control of the orchestra. One of those white shirts in the audience is mine, but I can’t quite be certain which.

Labels

At first, you just are. You are immediately aware of your needs, and state them. You are made happy when your needs are met. You express your feelings when you feel them.

Then you are moulded and socialised. Some things are not OK, and are restricted with labels, or names- “bad” or “good”, and more specific words. “Stupid”. “Lazy”. We need to be socialised. We are part of a society and cannot live well on our own.

We pick up labels from our parents then the wider society. Labels can be used best for the good of all including us. Other labels are used for the good of the dominant individuals, or for the group but not for the individual labeled. Ostracism is the most terrible punishment. A label like “awkward teenager” might goad a person into trying harder. You seek to fit in. With practice, you actually do. You find you like it.

Or, it is too much and you find a label to free you from that coercion. I am an “introvert”, you say: not bad, not less than others, but with different desires and gifts. You do not need to crave the label “party animal” which always seems out of reach. Labels can liberate. I am “introvert”, so it is OK for me to feel or behave this way. I am an “introvert”, so behaving that way will be genuinely difficult for me. It is not “my fault” and it does not mean I am less than others. I will find difficulty, and still it may be worth my while practising behaving that way.

Labels control, goad, punish. Sometimes they get someone to behave in a different way, and sometimes they simply immiserate them- incorrigible, incapable, I hide away. And labels liberate. Saying I am “transsexual” allowed me to do and feel as trans women do.

Labels can help me learn to navigate society. I am socialised in a particular way, coerced and constrained by labels, and other labels permitted me to be. Feeling that is OK because I am X. Wanting that is OK because I am Y. Others are not like that, so feel and desire differently.

Labels which liberate can still constrain: my understanding of “introvert” can make me imagine myself differently from my true nature. At best, I can understand myself without words, and then create the words to understand better. The words are a scaffolding to build understanding, yet for freedom I must be willing to build higher.

Possibly I have no “true nature”, I am a creature of words, in society, moulded by others and by the ideas I take in through words. Possibly I have an essence or being in some things and not others; but possibly I cannot know. That in me which others have most desired and enforced might be the part of me which I most cling on to, terrified of their sanctions. Of course it is Real Me!

Sometimes the words fall away, and like in infancy I simply am. Aware of my needs, desires and feelings, I do what I do without conscious analysis, flowing like water, following the Tao.

Yet still I use words, to communicate with people on the other side of the world. People here I can communicate with more directly, and yet still use words to communicate as I have learned to. More learning is possible.

Sometimes I choose a picture particularly for a post, sometimes I just go through a series of pictures with little relevance to a post, and sometimes going through my series I happen upon a picture which fits perfectly. Here’s one: