Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Self-Redemption and Art

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz

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A few days ago I attended an art and writing workshop at Broadacre House in Newcastle run by Launchpad.  The subject of the workshop was stigma.  The day was very good.  Lovely people.  Lovely conversation.  And we all enjoyed ourselves.  After some exercises to get our creative brains working we were told to write something about stigma with a view to creating a piece of art related to the subject by the end of the four hour session.

We were given a whole twenty minutes to write.  Later in the day our writings were taken and typed up.  I wish I'd proof read the typing on the day.  There are mistakes in it.  That's a shame because all of our writing and art from the day is going on public display in two locations through mental health week.  I may have to go along on the first day with Tippex and a pen!

Twenty minutes.  I spent the first five of these minutes boiling a kettle and making a much needed mug of spiced tea.  So fifteen minutes.  Here's the result.  I finished before the fifteen minutes were up too!

Self Redeeemed

Don't speak to me and I won't speak to you.
Won't mention it, imply it, talk it out.
It's a private thing you say, too much for you.
“Why don't I just stop?” you say.
“Stop being autistic, difficult, so bloody selfish.
Snap out of depression you ungrateful bastard.
And if you mention a personality disorder again?”
But I didn't mention it. You did.

And yet, the biggest stigma was in my own head.

Autism? No way. Can't be true. I'm not one of them.
Not shut in. Not melting in the street.
Not much anyway.
Not some mono-focussing idiot savant,
The local Rain Main equivalent,
Or as socially inept as a Sheldon.

BPD? No way. Can't be true. I'm not one of them.
It's just wrong, like all the other diagnoses were wrong.
I'm not like that.
And they only ever said I was because of the cuts.
It's bull. Stupid psychiatrists.
BPD? Nonsense. Just like the rest.
I'm not bipolar, schizoid, schizotypal, schizophrenic. Or any of them.

Yeah, I received stigma. Internalised it. Just another reason for self hate, calling myself a monster.
Couldn't accept the truths because I was raised proud, raised pure, raise to not be disordered.
No ASD or BPD. No Ds at all. Or they'll see me for what I am and hate me just like I deserve.

Freedom is worth fighting for.
Coming back to what I thought false myths and accepting the facts. Facing down the myths I believed and rejecting them.
And now?
ASD, BPD – and my queerness, my irreligion. So what? Inside I will broach no stigma.

I will stand. Out and proud. Out. Public. Self-accepting. Self-believing. Under no illusions.

No. Less illusions. There are still stories I tell.
Lies I kid myself with. Lies of the old monster kind.
Lies. Stories.
Can't write. Can't sing again. Can't hope.
Lies. Stories.
And they will fall too.

Now is the time to live. Free. Self-redeemed.
No matter what they say.
And they do say.
But less than I ever believed they would.
I believed they would damn me.
Because I stigmatised myself more than the so-called society ever could.
I am out and proud.
Free and self-redeemed.

Then it was time to do some art.  I can panic at art.  Panic at paint.  To be given paper or canvas and some paint and be told to create something is a thing of dread for me.  And yet.  I made something.  We all did.  Each piece arising from the honesty of our own situations and experiences.

The words in the red sections represent words that have spoken to me.  The words in that strange looking face are questions I've asked and stories I've told myself.  The words round that face are positivity.  In the midst of all the rest I am determined that those words are part of my truth.

It's not an artistic masterpiece.  But it's mine.  And I'm proud to have done something without guidance, without help, and without having a meltdown.  That's a joy for me.  Seeing the work and hearing the words of the other people in the workshop was also a joy.

As for that exercise to get our brains loosened up.  We were given a sentence to free write from.  As it turned out we were given just enough time for me to fill a page.  What we came up with was great, each person happening to go in a completely different direction.  Here's my direction.

Reluctantly, he handed over the key.

She looked at him in horror.
"C sharp major? You've got to be kidding me.  I can't play that."
"Well that's going to be a problem, isn't it missy?  I've paid for you to play and you're going to play.  Don't think I won't report you if you play it wrong."

Life as a music slave was not the worst way to survive in the new world.  At least there was food.  At least there was the transfixing joy of playing from your own soul when you weren't working.  Kate wondered.  Was this difficult, angry customer really a music expert from the old world?  Or was he just being harsh out of cruelty?

She decided to risk finding out, risk playing in a way she knew her rendition of the piece would be perfect.  Kate liked playing Bach, even with difficult intervals.  But even the master himself would never have chosen a key with seven sharps.  Kate wondered what he would think if he knew his music was being played by slaves on another world, what kind of sonata or cantata that knowledge would inspire.

She decided.  The risk was worth it.  Even if discovered the punishment wouldn't be much worse than that for playing badly.  The thought of being separated from her precious piano for a day, a week, longer, was almost unbearable.

Kate looked at the man.  He was sweating in anticipation of hearing.  He looked more a fool than a musician.

C sharp major.  No thanks.  Kate knew she would be playing the Goldberg Variations in C.  Just a semitone out.  And no sharps.  He wouldn't notice would he?

She placed her fingers on the keys, took a deep breath and began her performance.

The Flying Monkeys of Oz - Shattered Earth And Panic

The Flying Monkeys Of Oz

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I have written some happy words recently.  Some strange little tales and some poems.  I've written songs too which is a new experience and one that's meant a lot to me.  One of those songs is in a show next week and that is something that amazes me.

The following lines though were free written on a bad day.  This is catharsis.  The day began difficult inside.  It ended more difficult with a level of panic in which being able to do any of the good self care activities I've been learning was impossible.  Or seemed impossible.

On this occasion the winged monkeys seemed to steal me away.

They're not real though.  Only in my head.  And today though I am feeling the effects of the panic and am exhausted, everything seems possible again.

The bad times are not forever.

These lines were written in a song writing workshop.  I was not able to write a song.  Instead I could only go off on my own, find the quietist corner, and write fragments.  I haven't changed a single word.  This is almost as bad as it gets.  The writing is poor.  Another little bit of writing happened in that workshop.  I'll include it at the end because it's not so distressing.  It's almost a proper poem.

Shattered Earth

Can't see the truth through black burn inferno.
Every comfort twisted to lies,
Each non-existent betrayal clue believed.
This shattered earth will not bear life.

Desertion fears, expectations of love turned vile;
Screams of unfaithfulness though nothing is heard;
Squeals of pain upon pain upon agonised illusion
And waterboarded neurons.
It's a brain ripped, reordered, disordered,
Darkened. Opened to its imperfections as criminal offences.
Poisoned by the habitual thwack, thwack, blood-beating
Of the post-traumatic Scorpion King.

And the sky falls. No sun. No moon. Starless.
Until all is black. Then even the infinite vastness crumbles
Into one room. Walls of knives.
Moving. Enclosing. Threatening the end.
Hearing the imagined voices of loved ones, laughing, hating,
Sneering. Spitting. Turned backs. Deserved loss.

In one moment the smooth, calm sea
Was stirred, hurricaned, maelstromed,
As even the molecules burst into atoms
Releasing the energy of all the hurts of a damaged mind,
Absorbing the impetus of the hopes it failed to receive.

She cried.
Tears spent. Nothing left to do.
She rocked.
Until she died.
At least, one more bitter burn ingredient of fatality.
Not the ultimate, no grand mort.
Just a petit mort. Another scar sign.
Just a strong woman endurance feat.
A desert marathon.
Just another normal day.

Kneeling In The Key Of Life

Stevie Wonder knelt.
The President, racist,
Named him a traitor.

In frightening times
These people of colour
Give me cause to hope.

As they disobey
In simple, silent protest
We witness justice.

But Trump's pastor says
They're lucky they don't get shot.
And I fear again.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

On Leaving Behind The Influence Of The Bruderhof. The End of An Affair

A fabulous piece of art I found on this page.

Until tonight I have continued to try to like and affirm the Bruderhof, a Christian community in the anabaptist tradition.  I have tried for years. I used to succeed.  At one point their literature saved my faith - although I honestly wish now it hadn't.  At that time I was going through a very difficult period and was finding Christian faith hard to accept.  Someone in a support group - an atheist of all people - pointed me to the Bruderhof because they were giving away a few free books.  Without those books I would almost certainly have left Christianity behind in 2001.  It's fair to say that for some years I loved their books, magazines, articles.  From works like Inner Land by their founder, to works by the Blumhardts, to writings about war, and their publications by other people such as Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit peace campaigner.  I treasured those books.

I liked the Bruderhof especially for their pacifism and love of justice.  They say many things that people of good will can agree with and even, sometimes, aspire to.

On the other hand though they love injustice too and call it Biblical. Hence this article, published today. It's an article that calls LGBT+ affirmation a "plundering" of marriage from our society, an "extinction crisis," and a "looming disaster" that we mustn't forget when dealing with flood victims. (Really. It says that.)


I've just come back from Greenbelt, a mostly Christian festival attended this year by more than 11,000 people, a festival that's affirmed LGBT+ people for a long time, a festival where I am safe to be transgender and my married gay Christian friends can celebrate their love for each other as well as their love for Jesus and the Bible too.

If I prayed, my prayer for the Bruderhof following the death of their long-term leader would be that the next generation of it could embrace the justice of accepting people just as Greenbelt accepts them. I hope too that their founder, Eberhard Arnold, would have managed to walk in acceptance by now. But given that the article is by the son of the leader I doubt it will happen. (The Bruderhof leadership tends to run from father to son.)

Because to discriminate against queer people and then proudly quote the Beatitudes when anyone says you're wrong is something that I think Jesus himself would have been disgusted by. I'm convinced that he would have said that if you're persecuted for acting unjustly then you bloody well deserve it! Sorry guys but any persecution arising is because of religious bigotry rather than because you're some imagined heir to an Old Testament prophet.

And when you call the idea of accepting people like me an "extinction crisis" you don't deserve to be supported by people like me. Yes, you stand against war and for much that is good. But so do many other groups who have learned not to use and misuse an ancient religious text as an excuse for such homophobic and transphobic statements.

I've enjoyed much that the Bruderhof have published. At one point I had an entire shelf of their books. But it's increasingly hard to own Plough Books knowing they come from an organisation that hates what I am while proclaiming they love people like me.

Perhaps, and with reluctance too, it's time to move on. To chuck out many of those books, especially those written more recently, in an age where homophobia is - at least in the countries in which the Bruderhof operates - a negative counter-cultural statement rather than any kind of societal assumption.
Perhaps I must say goodbye.  It shouldn't be that hard.  I'm no longer a Christian of any variety and as I look at Christians around me a great many work hard for peace, fraternity, love, justice and all manner of spiritual and physical fruits while at the same time embracing the queer communities.
Not just perhaps.  Definitely.
Because I don't need to have my "transgender self-conception" forgiven and overcome.  No thank you.  And when you say that my very existence as myself needs to be forgiven, ultimately that's a statement not of love.  It's a statement of violence, of rejection, of hatred of my very person.

I would say that to any Christian who tells me I need to be forgiven and healed for being transgender.  You hate me.  Pure and simple.  No matter how many fine words you speak about love and truth.  You hate me.

Humbly, people of the Bruderhof, I would ask you to seek new light.  I would ask you to consider whether there are other ways to interpret your holy book and the society and people who wrote it.  Many other Christians have managed to do so and some of those are staunch and unswerving in their great devotion to the texts before them and to the saviour they believe in.

If they can do it, take the risk of having been wrong, can you do it too?

My own love affair with the Bruderhof has been waning for some time.  It is now over.  I can't be in love with those who see me as part of a potential end to the human race just for existing and daring to stand up and be who I am.  I can't be in love with the haters who are too proud to admit they intentionally fail to walk in the love their Jesus speaks of.
Life is too short and too precious to waste more of it in even quiet support of the Bruderhof.  Wisdom must prevail in this case.  When there are Christians like the ones I met at Greenbelt this weekend, who could ever need the Bruderhof?

A couple of follow-on posts for today.
The first concerns a response to the Nashville Statement by a denomination of which I was a member:

The Nashville Statement on "Biblical Sexuality" was recently published by a coalition of conservative Christians. Last night I read the response of the Bruderhof Communities to the statement and it prompted a regretful blog post.

This is the response of Metropolitan Community Church. Until I quit church totally I was a member of this denomination.

I no longer believe in God but I see in this response a far greater witness to all that is life, love, wonder, and compassion. Here's a short section:

"WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives transforming power, and that this power enables a follower of Jesus to put to death the siren song of the sins of legalism, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and willful ignorance. We affirm that to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord is to walk in the full embrace of all of God's children."

I'd like to thank Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Denomination and Northern Lights MCC for continuing to be beacons of love and inclusion in our communities.

I'd like to thank too all the other Christian groups and individuals who have taken the step of accepting LGBT+ people, sometimes very bravely and with the real risk of total rejection by other Christians.

I'm glad that many such Christians remain my friends. Some of you are LGBTQIA+. Some are not. Thanks to all of you for being you and embracing people like me.
The second concerns the response of a wider group of Christians:

Another follow up to my post about the Bruderhof and the homophobic, transphobic statement released this week by various evangelical Christians.

Here's a response to the statement by a collection of LGBTQIA affirming Christians, some evangelical, some more liberal.


I don't share their faith but I applaud their response. And I see the names of people I greatly respect among the initial signatories.

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Saint Of Oz - Thomas, Apostle of Doubt

The Surprise Doubting Saint Of Oz

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Saint Thomas, Apostle of Doubt

John 20:29

Jesus said to him, Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Matthew 13:16

Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

I did not expect to meet an apostle on the road to the Emerald City. Yet he was there. We walked and talked. A secret passage behind the gods of a shrine in India had led him to Oz.

From grey half-born light
Thomas approached. His face worn
of anxious wrinkles.

Seeing me, he smiled.
Held out his hands in welcome. Said
“Come, Wander with me.”

He showed stark wisdom.
Taught the virtue inherent
In my doubt wrecked life.

Thomas, the despised.
Through a thousand stern sermons
Stoned for his thinking.

But Jesus blessed him
Just as much as men of faith
Who fail to question.

Pronounced salvation
On evidence and emptiness.
Valued the contrasts.

I learned to lose guilt.
Let go the religious critic.
Accept my well-lived way.

Then he turned to leave,
His weight held by trusted staff.
He did not look back.

Consider this: What if the sermons are wrong? What if Jesus was congratulating Thomas for wanting evidence? What if he was pronouncing that faith has to be intelligent and can't be based on nothing – not even a well loved book or its social acceptability.

What if Jesus said, “Well done. You've tested to see whether something is true rather than turning your brain off and being a dumb slave to a Gospel message.”

What if the blessing he gave to those with that unseeing faith arose from his toleration and acceptance of all?

What if he said, “Your faith is a bit silly but I walk the way of love so bless you anyway?”

What if Jesus doesn't want anyone to take statements, especially religious ones at face value?

What if he wants us to test everything in the book about him? Through science. Through history. Through the evidence of our own lives. Through plain common sense.

What if he wants us to let go of everything in our lives, religious or otherwise, that doesn't make sense?

What if Jesus wasn't bearing with the weakness of Thomas but the weakness of his other followers?

I too taught that Thomas was a doubter. I preached it.

But he is not a doubter. He's a questioner. And questioning faith, assumptions, the media, politics, motives, our own souls, and the whole of life is a good thing.

Plato said that the unexamined life is not worth living.

What if Jesus pointed to Thomas and said, “Look, here is an example of the examined life. Follow this example.”

What if the churches got it all wrong? What if the New Testament writers got it all backwards too in the very worship of Jesus rather than the greater light he pointed to?

These are just questions. Do with them what you will.

Embrace me. Condemn my heresy.

I don't mind.

But will you walk with me on the yellow brick road of the examined life and on a road where evidence leads to the risk of rejecting many things we would love to believe in?

I took the risks. Life is now harder. Far less certain. But it is more worthwhile.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Views Of Newcastle Upon Tyne From The Top of Grey's Monument

A week ago today I was fortunate to be able to climb to the top of Grey's Monument in central Newcastle.  At this moment it's raining.  It's grey.  A week ago the weather was perfect.

Through the summer months Newcastle City Guides offer trips to the top of the monument for a few hours on one Saturday a month.  They offer a wide range of guided walks in the city too based around a variety of historical, architectural, and cultural themes.  For more information about the walks or to book your own visit to the monument click this link.

I hadn't been planning to visit.  I'd been hugging people nearby and noticed that the little door at the bottom of the monument was open and people were outside.  I asked one of them how I would be able to go to the top.  I'll be totally honest here.  I didn't even know that tours were offered to the public.

The guide told me about the tours and the website and said that tours were always booked up well in advance.  At that moment the other guide said she had just realised there was one unbooked space.  In ten minutes time.  They wondered about this, because it never happens.

It happened to me though.  So would else could I do?  I paid my four pounds - all city tours currently cost four pounds for adults and two pounds for children - and said farewell to my new friends who had been sharing in the experience of hugging strangers.  Two recent posts on this blog are related to that experience.

Photos were taken.  Many photos.  Some of them were attempted selfies.  Newcastle Upon Tyne is an amazing city.

Grey Street

Grey Street

St. Nicholas Cathedral

In the distance, The Baltic & Millennium Bridge

Looking East


In the far distance, Byker Wall

Towards Newcastle Civic Centre

Emerson Chambers

St. James Park

St James Park & Eldon Square

Emerson Chambers Roof

Part of Eldon Square Shopping Centre

Over the roof of Grainger Market

The steps leading back down

Grainger Market

Grainger Street to Newcastle railway station

The Baltic & Millennium Bridge

55 Degrees North with The Sage beyond and All Saints Church

Grey Street. Theatre Royal on left

Grainger Street

Eldon Square

Good to see one of these flying at Monument

Newcastle Castle Keep, St Nicholas Cathedral
Grainger Street

Theatre Royal

Friday, 11 August 2017

Haiku For Those Who Say My Wearing Skirts Perpetuates Stereotypes

This is another single phrase written on Facebook that turned into a short post here.
The phrase became haiku dedicated to that section of society for whom a trans woman can't win no matter what she wears, how she acts, or who she is.  These are the people who tell me I'm living according to gender roles set down by a repressive patriarchal society and that I'm a backward thinker standing between women and progress.

They're wrong of course!  Totally wrong.

I don't give a damn about enforcing gender stereotypes.  I don't believe in gender roles.  I don't even believe in gendered clothing.  I think the societal rules about genders and pieces of cloth are all a bit stupid.  I believe in people wearing what they want - as long as it doesn't cause too much offence.  I believe in them doing what they want and breaking glass ceilings and

Thankfully I don't meet these people that often. I didn't meet them today. Or if I did they were kind enough not to say anything out of place.

Thankfully it's not often I'm attacked for my dress sense or for my interests. Thankfully, most of the time I meet the same kind of broad acceptance as I did when I lived outwardly as a man.

Thanks everyone for the support and safety that's been generally offered to me since that very scary time four years ago when I spoke the truth. Thanks for making it much easier than I thought it would be to be me. Not easy, especially earlier in transition. But much easier.

You perpetuate
Gross gender stereotypes
By being yourself.

That's what's said to me.
That I stand for man's sexism.
My crime: I wear skirts.

They've no right at all
To dictate what I should wear.
They are the sexists.

Proud, they stand between
A woman and her free choice
To wear what she wants.

No apologies!
I like my clothes. Honestly,
I look good in them.

No point arguing,
Or changing to satisfy
Their pointing fingers.

If I dressed less "femme"
Their fists would keep on shaking
New accusations.

You're not trying hard
Enough. This proves to us you're
Not a proper woman.

With no victory
I will point out their error
And rest. Just be me.

Following The Yellow Brick Road - An Art Project

Welcome, welcome.

I am the wizard.  I am the witch.  I am Dorothy too.  Welcome to my world, to my crazy meandering yellow brick road through a land not unlike the land of Oz.

I should explain.

Some of you will have found this page by chance.  Some through links I'll have placed on social media.  And some of you, all being well, will have taken a piece of paper from a box in an exhibition and typed in a web address.  Hey presto, through the hokum of magic you are all here.

This page and those that follow arose from an art project undertaken at the Recovery College Collective in Newcastle, an amazing place for people attempting to recover from all kinds of different mental health problem.  I am one of those in recovery.

The idea was simple.  Take a box.  Take a fairy tale.  Transform the box into that tale, or at least into a version of the tale that reflects the teller's life and journey and message.

A simple idea.  But I'm not great at practical arts.  I can't draw and I'm not ever going to be the world's foremost expert at making things or at producing visual wonderments.  I'm neither going to create the reality or the sham of an Emerald City.  I'm also not great at fairy tales.  I spent weeks trying to decide which one fitted my life the best.  Difficult when I didn't grow up among such tales.  I grew up with Asimov, Bradbury, and lots of other sci-fi and fantasy writers.  I didn't spend my time with Grimm or Anderson or the other workers of fairy stories.  Eventually I decided in a moment of jest that I could focus on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and all the ways I looked outside for answers that could only be found inside.

The box is made.  The box is, or will be, presented at an exhibition alongside boxes made by other participants in the course.  There may be dancing too.

I realised early on that I am far better at building with words than with crafting materials.  So I began to write.  The pages that follow are the result of my writing about different parts of my journey along the yellow brick road towards some kind of freedom in myself.

I hope you find some enjoyment in it all.  Or some challenge.

Come, walk with me on the Yellow Brick Road.  Let's go and see the Wizard together and see what he can do for us.  Let the journey begin.  We'll be following the movie closer than the book.

Before you start the journey I'd like to invite you to take a look, or another look, at the decorated box.  You can find descriptions and photos of box underneath this link.

Each chapter can be found by clicking on the title.  Each chapter will contain a link back to this page, to the previous chapter and the following chapter.