Catherine Bennett

What do you do when you like a transphobe?

Catherine Bennett, who writes in The Guardian, is a transphobe. Consider this article, which claims entirely reasonable women with reasonable concerns about men pretending to be trans- not about trans women at all- have sincere political meetings, and activists demonstrate outside. She wants the concept of transphobia limited to hate-crime. Trans people and “veteran campaigners for gay rights” support LGB All Liars and WPUK. Trans people campaigning against transphobia are “disturbingly undemocratic”.

The article is deliberate distortion, with half-truths used to pretend the reasonableness of transphobes, and ordinary trans women demonised.

Here’s another, in which the word “transphobe” is called bullying, an “imputation of backward irrationality”, “the progressive way of telling women to shut up”, and “hate speech”, and transphobes are called brave people who think, wonder or have reasonable concerns. Her article comparing trans activists to incel murderers I discussed here.

I have no wish to defend her, but as a lawyer come up with some semblance of a counter argument. She is proudly feminist, aware of male privilege and hostile to any sense of women being silenced. Her instincts are with other feminists. She sees WPUK campaigners as feminists- indeed, many of them have made names for themselves as campaigners on feminist issues- and stands with them. However, she sees trans women as men, and spreads the myth of predatory men patiently waiting on a change in the law to pretend to be trans in order to attack women.

I found three articles in four years. There may be more, and she may allude disparagingly to trans rights or trans people elsewhere, which my search has not picked up. I have no wish to go through her twitter for the last ten years. She is a committed transphobe, but not an obsessive one, thinking about nothing else.

Then I read this. I like it. It is a strong attack on the Tories, who, having caused tens of thousands of extra deaths by their mismanagement, as if they did not have any conception of what good government could look like, now show little concern about the covid deaths. It is selective and unfair: she writes of the health secretary’s elation over horse racing: “wonderful news for our wonderful sport” (30 May, 215 more deaths). That sounds worse than it is: I knew he was MP for Newmarket, actually his constituency is West Sussex which includes that town, famous for horseracing, but checking this found he trained as a jockey.

She is not a writer to give a balanced, even handed account of anything. Her word “disgusting” of government attitudes brought me up short. I want balance, and I love her style. I thought of adjectives for it: “Attack dog”, “stormtrooper”- don’t compare her to an animal or a Nazi, but those had the right shocking level of bite. “Tribune”, perhaps, the fearless defender of the people. I think she is right about the government. So she marshalls facts against the Tories and expresses them acidly. She arranges them in a melodic way- she takes us through different emotions, so notes of sympathy and sadness make our righteous anger stronger. I noted a sign of lack of self-belief: “For once… I may have some vaguely relevant experience”. I read this as disparaging her own style, a sign of female lack of privilege, and feel sympathy.

I could be sad because she, with her writing, has made me sad, with tales of heartless Tories interspersed with stories of death, bereavement and loss. Or because of her self-deprecating line. I want to deny it, saying “That doesn’t matter. You’re brilliant.” I am a fan of her writing though I cannot imagine writing like she does. But really I am sad that one of the battles she fights is against people like me.

I have been sharing pictures of Athena, or Minerva. It is striking how few of them make her look like an actual goddess, with power:

Jennifer Saul

Professor Jennifer Saul is a philosopher and trans ally who writes about how language works, for example when used to explain, obfuscate or oppress. She expresses concepts clearly and accessibly.

She argues that we should not call people TERFs, because many of them are not radical feminists. Radical feminists oppose sexist ideas about what men or women are like and how they relate to each other, and not all anti-trans campaigners do. Nor is the term “gender critical” useful- all feminists are gender critical. “No feminist thinks gender is just fine as it is,” even if feminists disagree about what to do about it. There is a battle over the rights of trans people, and whether our opponents allege falsely that “predators” could use our rights, or that our rights should be curtailed, they are “anti-trans campaigners” and that is the word that should be used.

I generally use the term “anti-trans campaigner”. I loved the lucidity of her argument, and went in search of other articles. In The Independent she analysed what Donald Trump was doing when he said Mexicans are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Why that last bit about “good people”? She says it’s a figleaf, so that Trump’s supporters can doubt that he is racist. A racist would not say that, they say. I don’t doubt Trump is racist, and neither does she. The figleaf “serves to just barely cover what one isn’t supposed to show in public”. It’s different from a dog-whistle, such as talk of “inner-city crime”, which does not explicitly state that the criminals are Black, though racist hearers will assume that. The fig leaf makes it easier to be explicitly racist: when Trump talked of “shithole countries” he used no figleaf.

On Medium, she discusses how people say things whose meaning is clear even if not explicit. “It would be a terrible shame if something were to happen to your family” is clearly a threat, as in context sending someone a photograph of their children can be. So when Trump said to poor dupe Michael Cohen “there’s no business in Russia,” which both knew to be false, Trump was telling Cohen the party line he should insist on. Most of Prof. Saul’s Medium posts are about the shocking scheme to cut down half of Sheffield’s trees, showing the heavy-handed way the city council responds to protests and activism. They might interest anyone whose activism ventures beyond our computer screens. She also established a blog where women in philosophy could anonymously state their experience of sexism.

My interest took me to an academic paper, “(How) should we tell implicit bias stories?” A google search led directly to a pdf download. She writes, Implicit racial biases are largely unconscious and largely automatic racial attitudes, which have been shown to influence behaviour toward members of racial groups… these may be at odds with genuine deeply-felt egalitarian commitments. This makes implicit biases especially puzzling and uniquely disturbing to the self-conception of anti-racist whites like me. I might pick something up about internalised transphobia. The paper is written for a different audience.

Racist, sexist and transphobic results can arise from explicit bias, where a person is happy to be racist etc; from implicit bias, where they want to be anti-racist but act on unconscious beliefs imbibed from the wider society, and from structural injustice.

Prof. Saul quotes Sally Haslanger: Critical Social Theory begins with a commitment to a political movement and its questions; its concepts and theories are adequate only if they contribute to that movement. Fascinating. We have a purpose- to subvert the Kyriarchy. We judge understanding on whether it furthers that purpose.

One might reject stories blaming implicit bias for racist outcomes if the stories make people less likely to take action to avoid those outcomes, either action on themselves or against structural injustice. The stories might, unless the hearers are already committed to seeking social justice: it might reassure them that everyone was like that, so there was no need to change, or reduce their belief that improvement was possible. So our stories should motivate action towards social justice, and offer a road map for such action. They should show that implicit bias arises from and perpetuates structural injustice- such as the “institutional racism” the Macpherson report describes- and that both need combatted.

Melanie Phillips

Nothing excites Melanie Phillips more than the chance to be transphobic. She is a tedious writer, repetitively hyperbolic, whose prose soon revolts anyone who does not agree with her or is not addicted to pointless moral outrage. If you don’t want to get high on rage at the “culture wars”, she will bore you silly. Here’s a representative sample:

At long last, an English court has struck a blow against the cultural tyranny of thought-crime and in support of freedom of speech, reason and sanity. Well, that’s not what the court said. Harry Miller tweeted in a way a judge called opaque, profane, unsophisticated and abusive, and sought to have the police hate crime guidelines declared unlawful. He failed, but the judge said the police had not, on the evidence shown, demonstrated it was right to pay him a visit about his transphobic tweets.

I’ve just watched a video in which Phillips claims that she can’t say “I’m a woman” in case it offends someone. Don’t watch it. She speaks in a weird, enraged monotone, and her words are divorced from reality. The issue was how to make the census more accurate when recording trans and non-binary people. The video was posted by some right-wing nutter, who thinks Phillips won because he’s too blinkered to listen to opposing views, but Dawn Butler MP skewers them: Every time we talk about someone’s equality rights there’s an uproar- when it’s about women, or people of colour. Now it’s about transgender people, and we just need to take it with care and compassion as we talk about these issues.

When it seemed like the last Conservative government might reform Gender Recognition law, Phillips screeched This is why the Conservative Party has lost its way. For her, it’s not just a government she basically agrees with doing something she does not agree with, it’s proof that the government is no longer conservative.

This ‘binary’ distinction is accepted as a given by the vast majority of the human race. No matter. It is now being categorised as a form of bigotry. No-one is saying you can’t say you are a woman or a man, or even that you can’t say a trans woman is a man, only that trans women exist and are generally treated as women by reasonable people. I now find I can’t read her prose without hearing her hectoring voice in my head. She is careful to distance herself from Germaine Greer- a baffling skirmish on the wilder shores of victim culture has now turned into something more menacing.

She uses words to evoke a sense of threat- the Conservative government will legalise lying, enemy, battleground, enforceable orthodoxy, the crime being committed by society, their prime target will be children, dangerous frivolity, supine surrender, hijack, totalitarian- and to ridicule- bizarre, scoff at your peril, obsessed, logic doesn’t come into this. She claims, contrary to evidence, that trans people are the bullies.

She indulges paranoia freely. The intention is to break down [cis] children’s sense of what sex they are and also wipe from their minds any notion of gender norms. She supports gender stereotypes: Gender derives from a complex relationship between biological sex and behaviour. And nature and nurture are not easily separable.

She generalises from the particular transphobic moan to the general: Indeed, you could say the West is very much on a journey. From divorce and lone parenthood to gay marriage, what was once regarded as a source of disadvantage or category error has been transformed into a human right. In the process, compassion has turned into oppression. She reads something she does not like, and immediately screeches “Help Help the sky is falling!”

Don’t read Melanie Phillips if you want to be informed, as all she does is rant. Recently she has ranted about Trump’s ending the Iran nuclear agreement- she argues that Britain supported President Obama’s treaty though its effect was to target Israel, and complains of sneers about an Israeli warmongering agenda from people for whom the threat of another Jewish genocide occasions at best an eye-roll. She stands up for Jews, though does not want mere “equality rights” but the collective punishment of the Iranian people. Trump’s reneging had the effect of encouraging further Iranian work on nuclear weapons, but Phillips is merely a propagandist, uninterested in facts. Decriminalising abortion is, she says, a grim elision between abortion and infanticide, ignoring the reasons for abortions, and the fact that late term abortions don’t happen.

I hope in ten years we can watch Phillips’ rants and laugh. Now, they are too threatening. Don’t get wound up by them, because she makes her money out of people being enraged, and she does not care on which side they are.

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And yet, I envy her. I watched her on video in this strange rant, enacting rage and righteous indignation about the ridiculous vileness of trans people, and it was so articulate! It came out in complete sentences, even complete paragraphs. You could take it down and it would almost be publishable as it was. I love the practised way her words flow.

The people who communicate professionally learn, practise and craft their words, not from the heart but from the bank balance, as professional writers. Some produce articles and books at a rate of knots, about anything, convincingly. Phillips has a simple shtick, making culture war issues out of news, and it gets her publicity and a good income, however much harm she does.

Comment thread debate

Remainers are responsible for no-deal Brexit.

That argument surprised me. Could anyone believe that? It is put thus: Mrs May made a reasonable compromise deal on Leaving, but the Remainers in the House of Commons blocked it. They could have had a deal, but they sabotaged it, and no deal is the result.

Well. I disagree. I replied that Mogg’s European Research Group had sabotaged May’s hard-right, hard Leave deal, because their demands got continually more extreme. I wrote “Mogg’s little coterie” and that was his way in:

The key word in that quote is “little”. If you only read the Graun perspective on this you’d easily believe that the ERG consists of over 150 MPs. Must you be reminded that Labour who are much larger than the ERG rejected the deal just to score points and get rid of May.

It’s 55 subscribers to the ERG right now, plus one who resigned in April. More than enough to overcome May’s fragile majority.

There are always others to blame. I don’t know whether that commenter believes it, wants to put an alternative view for the joy of debate, or is a mere troll, but blaming and hating others seems the greatest harm of comment threads, even in the Guardian.

I wrote,

Nothing should be produced that is not recyclable, biodegradable or intended to be useful for a hundred years. As for experiences, what matters is relationships, which can be built in a walk in a local park, not needing a trip to another country. Wonder at the art of Egypt on the telly, not by going there. With Michael Leunig savour the “Joy of missing out”.

I was putting a position for the sake of argument. It is arguably an extreme one, hard to reach from where we are without great disruption, and without major corrections to inequality. But the criticism was poor:

-Out of curiosity: Do you have no idea what amount of pollution a steam- or internal combustion engine built 100 years ago cause? Or do you just not care? I replied that metal is recyclable. Someone said recyclable is too low a bar, we should reduce, or reuse, first.

Possibly there should be no motor vehicles other than public transport. It is not a fully reasoned argument, only a comment, which usually involves no original thought whatsoever.

I am pleased to get “Guardian Picks”, though. They get me attention, and often up votes.

Do people believe such Brexit arguments? I was not out demonstrating about the Parliamentary shutdown, though I thought of going- I needed to rest and do more self-accepting. Do we need anger and action, or more thought? Will Leavers and Remainers ever get over our Great Difference and enjoy each others’ gifts again?

Possibly I need righteous anger against Spaffer Johnson’s manoeuvrings, but only if I could do something about them, which is more than moping or commenting. I shared my friend’s story of the effects of pervasive racism and privilege, to increase awareness:

Three friends, young men, two Black and one white. They are out together having a great time when they see a white woman fall over in front of them. They want to help but the Black men hold back and the white man goes up to help, because the Black men fear the white woman will feel they are threatening and object, even be frightened and call out.

I know the Black men are wise to fear that and hold back, and a Black friend who told me of the incident knows it too; but how sad, that they should want to help a woman in need and feel unable to?

So I have shared it again. We need to be aware of these things.

And I liked the Brene Brown quote: “When someone spews something really hurtful don’t pick it up and hold it and rub it into your heart and snuggle with it and carry it around for a long time. Don’t even put energy into kicking it to the kerb. You’ve got to see it and step over it or go around it and keep on going.”

Wise advice. That’s not always my automatic reaction, but her naming the alternatives might help me see their stupidity. It helps to remember why I might “snuggle with” it- because it refreshes and tops up my introjects, which seem like reality and morality to me. See what is hurtful and damaging.

We ended the Queer Spirit festival with hundreds of us in a chain holding hands, singing

Dear friends, Queer friends
Let me tell you how I feel
You have given me such pleasure
I love you so.

Singing in the sunshine with smiles and human contact. Remember that. Hold on to it. Or dozens in a circle drumming and dozens more in the circle dancing, some of us naked. That joy. That connection. That sanity.

We spend ourselves

She left school aged 15, and went to work in the mill, just like everyone else did. She was unhappy there, nervous, uncomfortable, and her mother took up the habit of walking her there, and being there in the evening to walk her home. Then she did not want to go, and eventually stayed at home. When I met her, she was in her mid fifties, still living with her mother. She had been getting benefits as unfit to work, but the system had stopped them, so I had to prove she was entitled. She was like her mother- both the same height, around 5′, medium build in proportion, but as if the flower, never fertilised, had wilted and dried rather than become a seed pod. She was still an adolescent, looked after by her mother.

We established that she was entitled to benefit, and after the tribunal hearing I caught the eye of the presenting officer for the DSS, one of those who acted as if it were her own money that would be paid to the claimant- but the woman had touched her heart. I said to her, “You’re glad that she got the benefit too, aren’t you?” and she nodded.

(I will add- “Not trusting herself to speak”. She said nothing. It is an assumption, pushing my observation into the realms of imagination, but one the fiction writer feels justified in, telling this story which is part fact. It rings true to me. Did the steely presenting officer’s eye gleam slightly, was it moist, or is that a trick of memory in the service of my fiction? Heightened reality, just slightly heightened-

We spend ourselves, says the stern moralist in me. The claimant had not, but guarded herself in her bower, and therefore stopped growing. It was an existence, just stopping at home. She was unrealised, possibly because the society was such poor soil, with mill work the only work.

Every day I feel the lack of my testicles, and resent it, for what it bars to me, that way of relating to another, and I am alone. The fat person might know he cannot run for a bus, his joints will be damaged by his weight, it would be better in some ways if he were lighter, and he is doing all he can to be in the world. Losing weight is another’s priority, however rational-seeming, and not his. My testicles were the price I paid for self-acceptance at the time, and keeping them would have been harder. I had them removed, and my depression lifted.

I hide myself in my bower, except when I go to London, or the Labour party. Or these daily cries for help to the ether. We spend ourselves out in the world, joints ruined by weight, testicles sacrificed to Womanhood, and even hidden away the days tick by and I have had more than half of mine. I spent as I had to, to achieve what I needed. Society was such poor soil for me. My writing may have value, an easy grace sweated over, generous, expansive and an invitation to question.

The best writers change how we think and see, and Siri Hustvedt’s essays in “A woman looking at men looking at women” challenge me. She dances around the truth, making connections and seeing from different angles, as scientist and artist for she is both. She has an exercise for the patients in the locked ward- write “I remember” then keep writing; what you write may surprise you.

Hustvedt: writing blocks are symptoms. Why have I shut out the truth?
Inactivity is a symptom. Why have I shut out the truth?
Can writing help?

Out in the world I suffered and spent myself, and now at home, in my bower, I suffer and spend myself. The consolations may not be enough. I am glad that I see things, glad that I write and speak the truth. Though I have just remembered the presenting officer’s eye glinted or gleamed, or not, in another case: that of a woman of limited intelligence, who could not calculate how many bank notes to hand over for her shopping, so trusted the checkout woman to tell her, yet who lived independently, married and brought up a daughter, who had not realised she had ceased being entitled to carer’s allowance for that daughter and might have had to repay an overpayment: a woman I admired, for achieving so much despite her difficulties, and possibly the presenting officer did too. I had sympathy for all of the claimants, but the presenting officers’ sympathy was rare.

People

He tells us a paedophile targeted his daughter, and after that what he says is confusing. He put the man six feet under. He told some biker mates of his about him, and they dealt with the man, and he won’t say what they did. So I wonder if he did start off saying he killed the man then walked it back, or if I misunderstood. Is anyone else as uneasy as I am? Helen says you would do anything to protect your child. I consider that depends on how immediate the threat is, and how certain you are of the wrongdoing. I don’t trust the police in every circumstance, but that is a matter to refer to them. I thought of challenging, perhaps even telling my meeting a paedophile story, but fear it might be misconstrued. I remain silent. I thought of complaining about him. Talking nudgingly about murder is not right. I was glad when he was not there next day, but he was forty minutes late.

Before, he needed help filling out the forms. He says he was sent to a special school, and they did not get taught anything. He tells how his “work coach” mocked him, saying he was not doing enough to find work, so he complained and got a new work coach.

“So you dealt with the problem,” says Helen, who after all is here to instill confidence.

“We’re not here to help you. Go down to Evolve,” they told him. I feel there should be help for people with literacy difficulties. Evolve is an adult education centre, I am not sure about their funding or what advice or help they provide. He says he will be pulling his kids out of school, it is the worst in the county. “They hide when they see me walk through the door”. This series of stories of confronting enemies successfully disturbs me. I would like to think of schools as potential allies. I can’t tell his age, he looks too old to have teenagers. I do not like sitting beside him, he manspreads into my space.

Jill and Zoe (she does not use a diaeresis) are friendly enough, chatting away. Others are guarded. We did an icebreaker, saying something about ourselves no-one would guess, and that has not opened us all up. Helen says Newcastle people chat at bus stops, and no-one does here. I protest we do. Maybe not in Corby, where she is living. “Corby is different, that’s Scotland,” says someone.

One man when younger wrote a play, produced it, made money from it, got good reviews, thought he was The Boy. Here he is, in the town where he was born, trying to write a novel for 25 years. He went to the pub Jill worked in, and she saw him working hard in the bookie’s. None of our lives have gone as we might hope. One woman is in hostel accommodation, always noisy, not clean, not safe. She had been living with her mother, and looking after her sister’s children. She had a sales job. She seems bright and articulate.

Jill was on benefits for twelve years as a single mother. Now, you cannot claim as a single mother if your youngest is five. So she went to the jobcentre, and asked if she could go on any courses. No, because then she could not claim any benefits. That seems stupid to me, too. Perhaps she could have done courses while eligible as a lone parent, but I feel people are wasted, where a little help would let them fly. Let us fly, something.

Helen thinks English people are generally not touchy-feely, but E who likes horses is a huggy person.

I have just discovered Joan Didion, and might not have written this but for this line: “People tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. This is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.” Her italics.

There are lots of posters on the walls about the armed forces. “Ten questions you might have about Army Jobs”. They are all about training, pay and roles. “Will I have to shoot anyone?” and “Will I get shot at?” are not on the list.

Why I write II

In cases of profound and permanent unhappiness, a strongly developed sense of shame arrests all lamentation. Every unhappy condition among men creates the silent zone alluded to, in which each is isolated as though on an island. Those who do escape from the island will not look back. -Simone Weil

A hard hitting essay in The Boston Review- too many people writing have nothing interesting to say and no interesting way in which to say it– and I wonder if it condemns me entirely. All my personal reflections here: are they too thinking about some stuff then thinking about some other stuff that kind of relates to the original stuff you were thinking about but not really, like that of Durga Chew-Bose, into whom the reviewer Merve Emre sticks the boot into so enthusiastically?

The tag at the top gives me a way out. “Feminism”. Aha, this is women resisting patriarchy and refusing “femininity”, first kicking the feminine essayist who reveals her feelings then praising the more muscular feminists who follow, and their insistence that we disentangle ethics from empathy…[which] We see in Weil’s “painful clarity”: her simple, yet brutal, prose style that stressed concrete detail over abstraction in her descriptions of factory work, and thus extended neither sympathy nor empathy to laborers but a far greater form of compassion: attention and intellectual honesty.

Mary Gaitskill: I think this is the reason every boob with a hangnail has been clogging the courts and haunting talk shows across the land for the last twenty years, telling his/her “story” and trying to get redress. Whatever the suffering is, it’s not to be endured, for God’s sake, not felt and never, ever accepted. It’s to be triumphed over. And because some things cannot be triumphed over unless they are first accepted and endured, because, indeed, some things cannot be triumphed over at all, the “story” must be told again and again in endless pursuit of a happy ending. To be human is finally to be a loser, for we are all fated to lose our carefully constructed sense of self, our physical strength, our health, our precious dignity, and finally our lives. A refusal to tolerate this reality is a refusal to tolerate life. Am I one of those boobs? I would love nothing more than getting on a talk show, my essays are in print celebrating my Feelings- often resentment, anger, fear and sadness, caused by circumstances which I lament as a toddler does, loudly demanding someone remove them.

There is one more problem humans, and writers, have: we live in a world of illusory shared experience, ready-made identities, manipulation, and masks so dense and omnipresent that in this world, an actual human face is ludicrous or “crazy.” Every human experience is pretense, and most attempts to write it down,or  to explain it to yourself or others, are continuations of that pretense. Not all: the best art illuminates the cracks in our inexhaustible social performances, lighting our way through “the maze of personality and persona” so that we may, if only for a brief and fragile moment, forget who or what we are playing at.

Unless I am Simone Weil or Virginia Woolf, there is no point in writing at all.

I appreciate the aims of these women, and they are not mine. I treasure a compliment from 2014: I also like this writing. There’s something Proustian about it. If you can get through the thirty pages on a goodnight kiss without throwing The Way by Swann’s across the room, you might suffer through the boredom of the narrator’s paranoid speculation about Albertine’s lesbian affairs. It is him, in his wrongness and humanity, his petulant childish idiocies stripped of all masks. This is me, attempting to understand, or self-justify, or formulate so I may communicate, or cover things up because I find them too frightening.

I am still tempted to read Merve Emre’s essay for rules on writing, so that I might obey them, and evade her criticism- though even if I obeyed them to her satisfaction, someone else would find my writing wanting. The only way forward is to do what I do, and keep doing it- or to do other stuff- in fact the way will be as it will, exploring and excavating, not necessarily a way forward at all. I write because I want to, and find it worthwhile.

Review.

Truth and narrative

“True story” is an oxymoron.

I phoned the Tax Credits helpline for advisers, and got nowhere. “You’re being very condensating,” said the man I was referred to, and after half an hour my brain was so cabbaged that I knew he meant something else, but did not know the word for it. Thank you, you don’t need to say it now, I worked it out for myself later.

In the nineties I knew a man, still the most boring man I have ever met. I can’t remember his name, but it ended in an í sound, a contemptuous diminutive, Nicky or Ricky or Donny or something- anyway, he got very drunk on whisky, and ever thereafter could not drink it. He found a sip nauseating. Dismissively contemptuous, Neil said he probably had had no head for it anyway, he got drunk on a couple of glasses.

I associated those stories. “Condensating” was the moment I got nowhere with the benefits authorities, that I could not take any more. I cannot bear it. I could not bear another such conversation, it nauseates me.

Another myth. Margaret saw me as Clare for the first time, and said, “It’s as if you are acting when you’re Stephen, just you when you’re Clare”. Aha, I am a woman really, I am right to transition. The story becomes my conclusive evidence that I am right, the judgment of another person which I cling to, and take out for reassurance from time to time. It is my self-image: I know who I am, and “you’re just you when you’re Clare” is part of it.

Then about a year ago, I took off my wig and put on my cycle helmet, appearing androgynous, but continued talking, and H said “You have this lovely male energy”. Her beliefs, her politics, or her individual judgment of me need have no bearing on me, but have had. I could if I wanted call that comment on Wednesday 2 March 2016 the decisive moment

where my lies came apart
where my truth was undermined

Several times I have picked on particular dates where all changed, changed utterly for me. H has changed my view of the world. I am not sure if I have ever been entirely sure that I am a woman- I joked “I don’t know, and neither does my psychiatrist”, and said “I’m both and neither and in between”. Her word “lovely” just makes the blade sharper.

Either it is liberating- yes, I am a man, I need no longer assert a falsehood that I am a woman- or terrifying and destructuring, and I try to piece together the shards of my framework, world map, understanding which lets me navigate the world. “I am a man, but transition was the best I could do,” I say. “Bad things happen to good people.”

Or I create a new narrative. “I am a trans woman”. I have the right to be this way.

Brexit and Trump, and possibly this year Fillon and AfD, change my comforting narrative, one which is probably yours too. It is a debased Whig version of history: just as the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 was a decisive moment of progress, which changed the way of doing politics in England from battles to individual murders, a clear improvement, so Obergefell v Hodges was a step into the light, which could not be reversed. A Tory version of history, that there are random events with no broader significance, is reasserted, so that Trump’s Muslim ban is not a pathetic attempt by the failing forces of reaction, but a random event of quite as much significance as Obergefell.

We need to change our stories. Since 2016, our stories have not been the Truth, but a comforting lie to help us get through the day without collapsing on the floor, screaming. The words “male energy” are a stake through their heart, as is the Muslim ban. “Do your duty, Republicans,” says the New York Times. “Prosecute him!” Trump meanwhile promises a new Muslim ban which will be less vulnerable to judicial scrutiny.

I have been reading of stories. Here’s Rachel Cusk in the NYT:

In psychoanalysis, events are reconstructed in the knowledge of their outcome: The therapeutic properties of narrative lie in its capacity to ascribe meaning to sufferings that at the time seemed to have no purpose. The liberal elite are in shock; they fall upon the notion of the victors’ regret as a palliative for their mental distress, but because the referendum result is irreversible, this narrative must adopt the form of tragedy.

And, writing of her mother

She didn’t care what she said, or rather, she exacted from words the licentious pleasures of misuse; in so doing, she took my weapon and broke it before my eyes. She made fun of me for the words I used, and I couldn’t respond by threatening her with death. I couldn’t say “I could kill you” because it wasn’t true, and in language I had staked everything on telling the truth. I have had that experience debating Creationists: I try to persuade, using truth, they simply assert their Beliefs. “It cannot be so, because of Genesis.” It was bad enough debating a blogger on the other side of the world- how much more terrifying, to face your own mother’s assertions?

Thus saith the LORD.

There is no answer to that. Tim built an impenetrable wall of language to shield him from- the truth? Or just, my understanding of the World? The defeated liberal is abashed, so less confidently assertive.

Anna Blundy, in a completely different essay- a short column not a hefty work like Rachel Cusk’s- also addressed making sense of truth with words. Language distances us from our real thoughts and feelings in an almost defensive way (the fact that it makes us feel better to have named something, perhaps is even indicative of that)… we’re trying to repackage something into a digestible form that will make the symptom of the sufferer more bearable.

Surely it is better to face the unvarnished truth? This essay says that news broadcasts and advertising alike end up telling stories… the mastery of danger, the satisfaction of desires and the ultimate restoration of morality. But here, an effort is made to lead people to believe that the story accurately depicts people and events. As a result, all end up profoundly falsifying what they portray, once again mixing faithful and manipulated images, and fact and fiction in seamless ways so that it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The attack is mitigated by the fact that the essay itself has a similarly comforting structure, where the restoration of morality is us all becoming more sceptical about the media.

It is not at all reassuring to say that I can’t bear another phone conversation with the benefits authorities. I could say, well I had hundreds before, many of them successful, or simply that I should eschew predictions of the future, which may just be paranoia, and concentrate on the actual task. I know what the task involves. Fear of what bad things will happen and how I will respond when I fail just get in the way.

This is my two thousandth post, on a blog about me, truth, trans, the world, and everything that interests me. I do it to be read, and achieve less of that than I would like. Joanna wrote a short post recommending one of mine, and I am grateful for the recommendation, because my post got more than three times the views from it, than 75% of my posts get from all sources. This is my least worthwhile goal, to see that I have had more views. Writing of Donald Trump stretches my writing, but gets fewer views, as most of my readers come from a Trans site, so I restrict my choice of subjects to get more views. Posting daily gets more views. I get a tiny dopamine hit when I see my page-view numbers have increased- nearly 198,000 views in five and a half years.

I might be better to write longer essays. I could develop an ability to analyse an idea in greater depth. This is not that: I have quoted undigested screeds from three essays and some of my own thoughts on truth, rather than explained the essays, created a satisfying narrative argument in my own words, and polished it. Writing around 500 words a day is good practice, but I want to edit and structure something more satisfying than these short pieces. I have published just one 2000 word article. I love Rachel Cusk’s essay- how I would love to write something like that!

I blog to tease out my understanding, as well. It is psychoanalysis for me, repackaging reality into that digestible form. So I have written how transition or surgery was the best thing I could have done, and the worst, in separate pieces, and wonder how to unite them.

St Clare

Haiku

The writing discussion group I led went well. The exercise was to write Haiku, which I deliberately simplified. The only requirement was to create a scene in three lines, 5,7,5 syllables. I started by quoting some, and discussing how the same idea could be expressed in different words. The aim is to express as much as possible, and make each syllable count.

Diane James had just been elected leader of UKIP, and the country was amused by pictures of her with the horrid Farage putting his arm around her; and then attempting to kiss her cheek on stage. This makes a great scene for a haiku: an unpleasant person, with unpleasant views, nevertheless wins sympathy. She shows discomfort then outright disgust. How much of Nige and Di can you put into three lines?

Or- a man got chatting with a woman, much younger than he, and they were quite friendly. Then she stops answering his texts and phone messages. Then he finds out where she works- should he visit?

Or- it was very hot, so I went outside and looked up at Cassiopeia. I had crafted this a bit for a facebook share: Too hot to sleep, I lay outside on a recliner, eating grapes and looking at the stars.

Would anyone like to give these a try?

Advice to writers

My friend is working on her latest book. She has published several. Advising others on their writing, she found that they assumed the reader knew too much. You need to guide the reader from the beginning. Writing, she finds that she needs to check herself: she lives with certain ideas, and moves on from them; so she might lose her readers. Don’t tell your conclusions without your premises.

That’s one of the advantages of the internet. We can go into our hugboxes, where we agree, generally, and one word can allude to many complex ideas we have thrashed out together. Like “hugbox”, an internet forum where all agree, where conformity is rewarded with agreement and extremism may fester. WordPress is not quite like that, but readers may return to my blog when they share my understanding.

And, she says, the life is in the writing when she is developing ideas as she writes; she has provided a synopsis for the publisher, but finds her ideas firming and changing, her arguments strengthening, new words and modes of expression coming to her. She balances writing that with what was promised.

(I did not take notes at the time. I had had two glasses of wine. Her ideas are filtered through my understanding and expression.)

I was low on Wednesday. On Thursday I was energised with a task: I had an article to write. It is a response to one in a magazine far above my league. I have emailed it to that magazine. They don’t bother with rejection letters:

We welcome submissions from journalists and others and will get in touch if we are able to use your piece. Unfortunately, due to the high amount of correspondence we receive, we are not able to respond to all submissions individually.

They might glance at a sentence or two of it. Unless it immediately grabs the attention of probably a fairly lowly employee, it has little chance of proper consideration. There is a great deal of luck in this. There are no submission guidelines on their website, so I did a brief cover saying “I write for The Friend, the Quaker magazine”. It is my best boast, writing so far.

After I emailed it- I wanted a quick response- I read it again and found I had not sufficiently explained the links to the article I was responding to. It is not a free-standing article on the matter, but a response.

It is gone. There are other things I can write, which may mean I have to make less effort here.

A man who had succeeded in angling competitions said he sometimes walked around the lake and showed the anglers their mistakes. He would tell them how to hold the rod, etc, and their technique would improve; then he would see them a week later, all their previous mistakes restored. I read wonderful articles on maintaining a relationship- communication is important, apparently- from men several times divorced and currently single. Seeing you are not taking the Good Advice is a first step.

My generous published writer friend had a look at my piece, and said I should use more interesting verbs and less careful, lawyerly exactitude. Oh dear, could I be seen as pedantic? I have to sit with that for a time if I am to learn from it.

Renoir, the two sisters