Tuesday, 28 October 2014

One Year Ago - My Parents Visited Newcastle For the Last Time

A year ago my parents came to visit us for what turned out to be the last time.

We knew my dad was ill of course.  His symptoms had got worse since we had visited Sussex in the Summer.  But he was still driving everywhere and got on with everything we did when my parents were here.  Nobody knew how quickly his health would deteriorate or that barely six months later he would be living in a care home.

But my mother was still full of life and the excitement of finding new things to do, to experience, to photograph.  We had a packed few days and she had so much zest for everything we saw.  Nobody would have guessed then that her cancer would return so aggressively, that just ten months after arriving to visit us, full of life, she would be dead.

I will treasure those days for the rest of my life.  My dad never got to meet Clare when he was healthy - even in the summer his health problems (and I suspect his upbringing too) meant he couldn't fully deal with his son becoming his daughter.

But my mother got to meet Clare when she was healthy.  Last summer when Kit and I were in Sussex for a few weeks I was in the early days still, experimenting and finding my way and lacking in confidence.  Everyone knew I was Clare, but it was very scary for me - as it turned out more scary than it needed to be.  Even so, she could see the changes in me - the new light, the new joy, the release from so much of the past.  And the difference in the less than two months between then and my parents' visit was quite astounding.

So the visit a year ago was the only time my mother got to experience not just her daughter, but her confident daughter.  I treasure those days.  And I know she treasured them too.

My mother wrote a lot about that visit.  I'm not going to say much more - just link to her blog posts.  There are short ones she wrote when here and then posts with lots of photos that she wrote after the visit.  Sometimes it is good to look back.

To be honest I'm putting my mother's posts here for my own benefit so I can find them all easily in one place.  If you want to take a look - and there are great photos of family and the local area - then do.  Regular readers of my mother's blog will know that they did all sorts of things and the blog, before the sad endings, is filled with descriptions of lives well lived.

People who have only met me in the last eighteen months should be warned against scrolling back in the blog.  I know many actively don't want to learn my old name.  And there are some photos that are quite scary.  There are some relatively decent photos of me - but not many.  Yes, I know I'm biased in my opinions of pictures of me!  But I can see the darkness, the sadness in my eyes, behind even the best of the smiles I gave when living as a man.

First the diary posts during the visit:






It's a good thing they didn't take Isaac given how things developed.  And Isaac himself got ill and died during the summer when I was in Sussex.

And then the posts after the visit with lots of photos.  The posts between these ones make for much sadder reading - many of them deal with stress and anxiety about my dad.  Even on days out to places they loved such as Nymans Gardens or the Bluebell Railway there is still the anxiety in evidence.

Newcastle residents may enjoy the pictures in some of these, especially of our walk through Jesmond Dene, Armstrong Park, Heaton Park, and Jesmond Vale and then to the Biscuit Factory.  That was a great day.  To think that a year ago my parents were both up to doing so much.  My dad needed encouragement but he could still do it all.









No photos of the fourth and final day.  On that day we went to Tynemouth Market, satisfying the urge to buy things for my mother's antiques dealing.  And then to North Shields for the market there and for lunch at one of the cheap pizza places on the fish quay - three courses for £3.95.  Many photos taken of the boats and the river with interesting lighting effects thanks to the weather.

Such wonderful days.  There will be more wonderful days.  I feel joy that we had those days together.  And still much sadness because we cannot have more days together.  I'm still grieving for my mother and unfortunately am not able to help my dad at this time in all his problems which have been far worse than anyone could have expected.

But for today.  Looking back to better times.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Surprise! A Reconciliation with God and with Church.

Some of you may have noticed that in much of what I've written in the last year I've had lots of bad things to say about traditional views of God and about much of what goes on in churches.  I've not been shy about being outspoken in my rejection of a personal God and my embracing of a nontheistic belief.  I've not been shy in talking about how painful attending church services has been and about the causes of that pain.

Things in my life seemed to be sorting themselves out.  I was coming to know where I stood with my non-personal god of being, god of wonder.  I was settling into worship with the Quakers, The Religious Society of Friends.  And I was settling into worship in a very different service style with the Unitarians.  And I was actively planning my departure from Northern Lights MCC - the only place I've attended recently in the last year where the majority of people have some kind of traditional notion of a theistic god.  In fact I knew I was leaving.  Every service was painful no matter how hard I tried to ignore it.  I was only staying for the sake of a particular friend who I knew would be upset if I went.  She's moving away from the area soon so I'd done a deal with myself to stick around at MCC until she goes and then leave the place.  I'd miss the people.  That's true.  But I'd be glad to get away from the pain, from the parts of the service that stung my wounds and the parts I just couldn't participate in at all.

That was the plan.  Leave MCC.  And then possibly join the Unitarians.  Or stick with the Quakers and consider joining them in the future - Quakers don't just take anyone into full membership on a whim so it would have to be the future.  And the plan included going elsewhere too, seeking spiritual light wherever I thought it could be found and wherever my nontheism would fit into whatever was going on there.

That was the plan as a confirmed nontheist.  No personal God.  Just wonder and awe in being.  Which is an exciting, massive thing in itself.

Yes, that was the plan.

Plans sometimes change.

There has been a lot going on recently in my spirituality and spiritual practice.  Much of it - the meditation, the writing, the listening, the work with chakras, and so on - I'm not going to write about here.  So much going on that I can't just write off and blame on a bit of oestrogen.  Minor transgender update: I've officially started the HRT treatment.  Hey, this is me.  Gotta get the gender issues in somewhere!

But of God I write ...

Imagine my surprise to notice that my meditation language was becoming firmly Biblical - from that book I hadn't picked up at home for a year because just the idea hurt too much.

Imagine my surprise when some of what I "listened to" pointed out verses from the Bible and said they applied to me.

Imagine that surprise when messages from that "listening" told me that Christ is still my way, my path, and that in reality I never stopped loving God.  I'd blog all that I've written down but I think that would remove any doubts people may have as to my sanity.

Imagine how I felt when I sat down at church two weeks ago and everything suddenly clicked inside.  I knew I could sing the songs.  I knew I could pray (most of) the prayers.  I knew I could receive communion for the first time this year.

And imagine what a shock it was to me, committed nontheist, to find myself later that evening at the back of the church (I'm not keen on pews for these things!) falling to my knees, lifting my hands, singing words of thankfulness and being very lost in worship of a personal God.

There had been many surprises that week.  That one out surprised them all.

Yes, me and God have had something of a reconciliation.

I won't say much more now.  There is a lot to say.  I've watched myself recently and seen someone doing, saying, thinking things that she would never have said before.  It's been very nice to observe her.  And it's been very nice to be her and break out of some old ways.

The strange thing is that I am still a nontheist.  I am just a nontheist who happens to worship and sing and pray to a personal God.  I know full well that this is some kind of contradiction.  But I'm fine with that.  The Real is often beyond contradictions.

Much more to say.  People have seen the changes.  I know this.  They've commented.

Oh, and those church plans?  I am leaving one of the churches I thought I might be joining.  I'm staying with the other at least for now, because it is good for me.  And the church I was leaving in the near future?

I am officially becoming a member in the near future.  And I find that I am very pleased about that.  That place, those people can do me good.  And I believe I'll be able to do good there if I allow myself to become the person who is becoming free.  I've deliberately kept myself on the outskirts of that community because I believed I wasn't staying in it.  Now is the time to being to pack up and move into the church's city centre.

It's all good.  It's where I'm meant to be.  And as our pastor pointed out once, through all the trials and pain and spiritual problems and doubts and fears and struggling to find a healthy spirituality, through all of that I never stopped believing in Northern Lights MCC and her reasons for seeking to do what she does.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Responding to "The Toll of Our Christian Theology on the LGBT Community"

Last night I found a link to a Christian blog post about the way LGBT people have suffered at the hands of Christians.  That's not news to me but the blog post touched me greatly.  I wept about it last night.  I wept about it again this morning.


It's worth reading.  I urge you to read it. 

John Pavlovitz hadn't expected to write this post - it's a direct response to the hundreds of people who wrote to him following another post, hundreds of people each with direct experience of suffering at the hands of Christians for their sexuality.  If I'd written the original post I wouldn't have expected that outpouring either.  But sometimes these things just happen - such as with a post elsewhere on "Post Traumatic Church Disorder".

The biggest of my tears this morning were when I read again the sentence "It certainly doesn’t look like love to the sweet, 12-year old middle school girl in your church whose been repeatedly told she’s an abomination; that God already despises her."

Now I've been told by a church minister that I am an abomination.  But I was 42.  I was totally sure of myself as a transgender woman.  I was totally sure that being transgender was not any kind of a problem for God - whether a "God of the Bible" (I'd already gone through the "relevant" verses) or any other God.  But I thought of this girl.  She was 12 not 42.  She didn't have all the adult experience or two theology degrees and the ability to research more theology.  She didn't have the wonderful support of a church like Northern Lights MCC here in Newcastle.  So I thought of her and what this perfectly "Biblical" treatment would have done to her.  And I wept.  I wept over other stories too.  I am very close to tears again now.

John Pavlovitz's post from two weeks previously is also worth reading.  It's about what he would do if he found that his son or daughter was gay.  To sum that up in a few words: He would love them.  That's what caused the outpouring of response.  Just that.  That a father would love his child.

I posted a link to the blog on a friend's facebook status asking whether she had seen it.  Part of my response to a speech by a Catholic Archbishop who said that "Homosexual relationships are destroying our human identity."

The report about the speech was posted by a good woman.  A Catholic who posts things from either side of the moral arguments currently raging in the Catholic church and expects responses and discussion - from both sides.  And she's good enough to put up with a lot of non-Catholic words from me which to be honest is quite impressive at times as I'm not exactly toeing the party line!  She's doing her best in life and seeks to walk in love of people and in devotion to her God.

Someone responded as follows:  "Hang on a second, acting on being gay and physically attacking others, are both sins in Christian Theology. So because others sin by attacking, it must be the fault of the Theology? That reasoning is beyond moronic..."

You can always tell a loving, rational person by the way they descend to calling someone's intelligent writing "moronic" within three sentences!

I responded to that.  Because yes, I believe it is the fault of the Theology.  It's a theology I once promoted too - much to my shame.  One day I'll write about that.  A post along the lines of Mea Maxima Culpa!


Sorry - this is long.  A length borne of passion.  A length borne of seeing people hurt, again, again, again by Christians and so-called Biblical views and of Christians turning away again and again and saying "It's not OUR fault, our ways wouldn't hurt anyone."  I am so utterly sick of seeing LGBT people destroyed and then being blamed for their own destruction by the Christians who killed their spirits.

Acting on being gay is NOT a sin in Christian theology.  It is a sin in SOME Christian theology.  Get that right.  "Christian theology" is not a blanket term.  It's certainly not a sin in my theology.  Nor in the theology of a local minister who leads Bible studies on the subject covering every possibly connected verse in great detail, solely relying on the works of highly respected scholars.  Nor in the theology of a great many Christians and a great many skilled theologians and Biblical scholars too.

When the theology is that a dignified human being, made in the image of God, beautifully and wonderfully made is also an abomination merely because of who God has made them to be, then yes the theology is at fault.  Or to be more exact, the people who have such a theology and refuse to look beyond the preconceptions of the centuries of homophobic abuse into a more enlightened age where human beings are accepted for being who they are.

I have so many friends who know what the effects of homophobic theology are.  It's not just a matter of people attacking them but also a matter of the beliefs guiding that action.

So many scholars now have accepted that the anti-homosexual clobber verses don't in reality have anything to do with Christian homosexuals.  More will follow.  And in the end the churches will accept that this is a normal, and completely healthy, part of the range that makes up human beings (and many other species too - if like the Archbishop we want to bring in what is "natural").  

That day cannot come too soon.

A day when I as a transsexual married lesbian will never risk encountering a church where I am rejected, told to repent of being who I am, told that it is impossible even to be Christian unless I at least want to repent, told I'm abomination, told that the God of mercy will make me burn in pain for eternity if I don't stop being who I am.  I will never again encounter a Church where my very existence is said to be anti-God (such as the Catholic Church and the certain articles written on major Catholic websites as a perfectly logical result of the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI)

Jesus accepts me.  He accepts LGBTQIA people.  He loves us as we are and has called us to be who we are.  He made us this way.  Yes, God created gay people to be gay people.  He created transsexuals to be transsexuals.

It's just a shame that Christians turned the love of God for gay people into a sham.  The love they show is not love.  No matter how many flowery words are used.  No matter how much Christians try to justify themselves.  It's not love.  It's closed-minded, bigoted, hatred justified by years of doing the same thing.

And yes, I am a Christian.  And I firmly believe God called me to live the life I lead - as a happily married transsexual lesbian.  My wife would agree with that.  And I know the hell it was to believe what other Christians taught - that all these things were evil, disordered, unnatural.  That I should be someone else - and indeed I tried to do it for decades.  Misery.  And to my shame I believed the lies that my gender and sexuality were disordered, evil.  And I believed the same thing about the gender and sexuality of others.

The theology needs changing.  Precisely because the theology leads to the attacks.  The theology directly leads to a hell on earth for innocent people.

The theology needs changing.  Precisely because the theology leads to thousands and thousands of wounded, crushed lives, and not uncommonly even to suicide.

The theology needs changing.  Precisely because the theology forces people to run from Jesus because the Jesus of the theology does welcome people with open arms.

The theology needs changing.  Precisely because the theology gives a church that is not a place of safety but instead a place of death for people against whom other people have a prejudice that has no basis whatsoever in reality.

I see the results of the theology.  Regularly.  It is heart breaking.  I am so thankful for a better theology.  One taught by some of the churches here.  And I am so thankful for the MCC congregation here and for the way crushed people are healed there and enabled to find peace and fall in love with Jesus again after the pain caused by well-meaning Christians.  So, so thankful for the light and love in that place.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Something Wisely Removed From The Funeral Address For My Mother

A while ago I posted the address I wrote for the funeral of my mother.

I'd written the first draft four days before she died.  Thoughts had been circling my head while sitting with her in the hospice.  That morning the plan had been to go to the local church but people going in looked too happy and they had a big baptism in the service so I decided I couldn't face being there so walked back to my parents' house and found myself writing, getting some of these thoughts into a written form.

In the two weeks between that day and my mother's funeral I edited and amended what I'd written frequently.  And I lost the whole section that I'd initially written to begin the address.  It just didn't seem to fit or to flow and I couldn't find a conclusion for that section which seemed good enough or real enough or in any way wise enough.  So I just deleted the whole thing from the address and began where I began.

I think that's a good thing and the final article was improved greatly by not including the original starting section.  Those thoughts had come to me first and were almost written before beginning to type but I felt they had to go.

What follows is that section and it still lacks any coherent conclusion and still wouldn't lead into the address as it was spoken.

But it's here anyway and the question of "What is good and what is bad?" is a valid one even if I couldn't find the words to ask it about the death of my mother.  I still can't find those words.  I know it's not a grand global tragedy for a seventy year old to die and I know it is a source of joy that she didn't die twenty years ago when death was the most probable result.  But I find, a month after her death, that I still can't really contemplate the question in relation to her passing.

Anyway, here's what was lost from the funeral address, still in the form it was written on that Sunday morning when writing the first draft.

I'd like to begin with a story told by a Taoist teacher.

Many years ago a man lived with his family on a mountain road in China. It was a hard life and the man had to work long hours growing enough food for his family.

One year the roof of the house was leaking. This was a bad thing.

The man gathered the tools to repair the roof and climbed up to do the job.

The job proved easier than expected. This was a good thing.

But that meant the man relaxed too much.

He fell from the roof and broke his leg. This was a bad thing. The family would struggle to hire someone to harvest the crops.

The man and his family spent the night fretting about everything.

The next day a contingent came from the Emperor. Every able-bodied man in the area was to be conscripted to fight as cannon fodder in the latest pointless war. Probably nearly all of them would be killed by the enemy.

The man, with his broken leg, was left.

Suddenly his accident – the bad thing – became a good thing.

What is good? What is bad? Can we tell. There are hundreds of stories like this from Taoist teachers and all ask the same questions. What is good? What is bad?

Today as we remember Paula we can only feel it is a bad day. We feel the pain of our loss.

Paula and her family have felt that pain before. My nan died young, also of cancer. She didn't get the chance to see her grandchildren grow. I never met her as she died several years before I was born.

At that time Paula, her brother Roger and her family could look and say it was a bad thing. Indeed their sorrow was very real and an early death is always tragic.

But looking at things today, 45 years later, we can see the good that came out of the bad.

My granddad, Harry, remarried. Jenny is here today. And they had children who in turn have children of their own. Of course I can't say what would have happened had not my nan died young but I can say that had she not died Matt and Ruth would not now exist and the world would not have been given all the things they have brought to it. Certainly the childhood of myself and my brother would have been poorer had not Jenny, Matt and Ruth been a part of it.

The last months of Paula's life would have been very different too had not her mother died young. I'd like to publicly thank Jenny and Ruth at this time. They are busy people but have been able to give so much time, energy, comfort and practical help to Paula in her illness. I know they take it for granted that this is just what you do for someone you care for, but that in itself is an amazing thing. Without Jenny and Ruth the last months of Paula's life would have been much harder. Thank you Jenny. Thank you Ruth. 

So what is good? What is bad?

At this time of grieving and loss it's hard to look at Paula's death in the same way as we can look at her mother's death. We are in pain. It's right that we should know that we have lost someone important, who brought light and love into our lives. And it's hard to see that any good may eventually come.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Pressures on Women. The Extra Pressures on Transgender Women.

I am blogging this for my own benefit.  Don't any of you feel under pressure to read it.  This was a post on facebook and I decided to post it here so I don't lose it.  It's a picture of some of my thoughts as they are at this time and I find I can look back at these posts and see the developments and changes in my life, generally as related to transgender issues or to spirituality.

There are things here that I could not have written a year ago or even six months ago - things about my own body and the physicality of a "real" woman.  To be challenging the narrative of "I was born in the wrong body" has consequences, not least in that it allows greater freedom and changes the reasons why I choose to do the things I do.  What follows is not the complete picture.  And it's a view that's still in development.  Bear with me but feel free to constructively criticise if there are massive errors.

A couple of days ago I posted this on Facebook:

Laser treatment today for the first time in ages.
So it's a no make-up day, something that can add extra idiot encounters to life followed by an obvious burnt-black stubble ten days which can also add to the level of idiocy encountered in the streets.
Being transgender in public is only easy if you don't look transgender - if you've spent loads of money and time in order to conform to what society says a woman should look like.
And don't any of you say the same pressure is there for all women. It really, really, really isn't. But someone usually says it anyway.

Perhaps that was an over-negative and irrational post.  A post that came from a view that what happened in the past would inevitably happen again.  A throwback to the events of last year and the memories of common abuse.  But last year was different in part because I was different.  I didn't have the confidence and self assurance that I have now and that changes how I walk in the streets and so changes how people react to me.

Of course there were responses from friends.  All of them came from women and they're all women who support me and completely affirm me as Clare.  But the responses were mainly saying the same thing:  "I have to wax/shave/laser too because there is pressure." See, I was right.  Someone says it anyway even though it isn't the same thing.

And so I accidentally wrote this response on the pressures women face in our society and the pressures transwomen face in the same society:

Oh God forgive me! This is long. It was meant to be short. If I didn't need to find food it might have got even longer. You don't need to read it. Nobody needs to read it. Writing these things helps me greatly in working out more of what I think and feel and how I want to live or need to live. It might not help anybody else in the slightest. But at least it ends positively. And all because this isn't just about facial hair. It's about the question "What is a woman?" It's very tempting to delete it all or just stick it as a document only on this machine. Tempting to blog it too in some form and annoy even more people. I wish people would challenge some of the things I've written on that blog - some of them are quite radical if not outrageous. And some may even be ludicrous.

Here it is anyway:

Yes. I agree. Of course I agree. Society pressures women to wax/shave/laser and do much more besides and presents a view of women that everyone knows is illogical and unrealistic but which most women below a certain age and many women above it follow anyway because it's a heck of a lot easier than experiencing the consequences of rebellion. Yes, we live in a society where to be a natural woman with natural hair, skin, fat, wrinkles is portrayed as being some kind of disgusting, horrific freak rather than as being a wonder to be celebrated. "40 year old star has cellulite. The shame! The shame!" We live in a world where every other advert encourages women to eradicate their so called "imperfections" and "blemishes" and where every other photo is photo-shopped into an image of a near impossible creature. A world in which we are told to make that image our aspiration and dream. Is that over-stating the extent of the lunacy?

It's awful really and I hope that one day we'll all wake up and crush this insane system rather than going the other way and starting to incorporate men more and more into the same madness. And I say that as someone whose armpits were lasered this morning which in a way shows the level of my own conformity - although due to a printing error it made the morning cheaper than just having my face zapped and that's my genuine excuse.

But all of that is not the same thing as the pressure on a transgender person.

If you don't wax/shave you don't get people telling you every day that you've forgotten to bring your trousers or get called a tranny bastard or get jeered at as the cissy in a frock. I know what my life was like when, pre-laser and without make up, I began to wear the clothes I like and head out alone dressed pretty much as I still dress. I got abuse pretty much every single time I left the house on my own and wondered how the hell I'd ever be able to get through it all. At no point was I tempted to give up being who I am but the obstacles seemed vast. Thankfully there was much support around me.

The abuse only lessens if you're cis-normative or perhaps if you develop a thick skin, massive self belief, and a far from average style. This is 2014 - such admiration for those who walked this path in previous years when it was so much harder and the abuse more frequent. But we still have that dialogue - in the media, in the NHS, elsewhere - where the transgender person gains social validity and Brownie points by striving to appear cisgender and by how much success they achieve in that quest. Rebels against that inspire me. I'm not such a rebel - but mainly perhaps because I happen to like embracing this look. It's part of who I am - but I've not deeply analysed why.

With or without a bit of facial hair you all still look like what society says is a woman and society treats you accordingly. As a woman. Perhaps as a woman suffering from frequent societal pressure to be hair-free, but still as a woman. My life isn't about being treated as a hairy/non-hairy woman. Me, I'm not wanting to be treated as Kate Moss, not even as a woman of "average" appearance, just as a woman. To never be insulted for not looking like a "real" woman. And never to be congratulated - by friends and allies - for looking like a "real" woman, with the not so friendly implication that I'm not real. To never be called out if I let my genitals hang naturally instead of forcing them into unnatural positions. To never have been told in different ways for 42 years and so come to deeply but erroneously believe not that I have too much facial hair but that I'm in entirely the "wrong" body. Because objectively my body (and of course yours) is not wrong. It's the society that is wrong.

Of course there are pressures in being a woman - that we can either succumb to or ignore depending on how we want to live our lives - but it really, really isn't the same pressure. In the transgender world we call it cisprivilege - something most people only notice when they lose it, and which too many people argue doesn't exist. One day we'll all move beyond that - and much progress has obviously come already - but the day is most definitely not here yet. And I have it much easier than some because I'm so comfortable in one of the binary camps. Much harder for those who don't happen to fit in what is really just an artificial box.

Help! At this rate I'll turn into some kind of gender theorist/activist which has never been the plan for someone who just wants to get on with life as best she can. I never thought I'd be typing anything along the lines of any of the above but then I realised, at least intellectually, that I am not a woman stuck in a man's body. I am a woman in my body, which is thus a woman's body. On other levels I haven't grasped that and perhaps never will because the effects of the last 42 years run so deeply.

But enough moaning - most days now are fine. Such a massive contrast to a year ago. Today was fine.

Actually today was good. And I didn't even have to spend hours repeatedly slapping on the aloe vera post laser. And a possibility of some good laser news for the future. And someone was very apologetic for not stopping for a chat when they passed me on Saturday. No need - I hadn't even spotted them! And a 90p cheese and onion toastie was enough for lunch in town. I've even had a visitor, which is almost an annual occurrence.

Tomorrow will probably be good too. And if there is abuse that's normally fine. Most days I just ignore it now. It's verbal not physical so unless I'm having a bad day it doesn't really wound. Yes, tomorrow will be good.

If you've read all that and are wondering, the next day was good.  Time spent with a friend.  And zero incidents of transphobic idiocy in the three miles walking to and from her house.  Stubble is more obvious today but intellectually I know that I notice it far more than anyone else does.  And I'd forgotten just how sore it can be to shave in the days after a laser treatment and how black the burnt hair under the skin looks.  Ouch. But it's worth it.