And What Am I?

So, following on from  this post:

https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/15116

I want to ask the following question; who or what decides who we are?  Who or what is the ultimate arbiter of identity?  I guess in previous generations it was decided by factors such as social class, occupation, nationality and so on: Kwame Appiah gave a series of talks on this as the 2016 Reith lecturer called ‘Mistaken Identities’ in which he covered culture, nationality, colour and creed.  He could easily have covered gender as well: there’s certainly enough debate going on about this at the moment.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00729d9/episodes/player

Although ‘debate’ is perhaps something of a misnomer for what is basically a boxing match.  On one side we have the traditionalists who think men should be men and women, women: in the same corner are the TERFs  who believe that a trans woman is not a ‘real’ woman.  And in the opposite corner stand the trans community and their supporters who maintain that a trans woman is, and always has been, a woman.

So how does this work?  In what sense is a person born with male sex and reproductive organs, who develops chest and facial hair along with other secondary sexual characteristics, a woman?  Explanations are not readily forthcoming: neither is it easy to have respectful debate, with those on one side saying often very rude and hurtful comments and those on the other stating that anyone who doesn’t accept them is effectively denying their right to exist.

But what makes a trans woman a woman?  Explanations are long on what a trans person isn’t and very short on what they is.  Basically they throw out biology and genetics as indicators of gender and seem to say ‘I am what I feel I am.’

I can’t go along with this.  Quite apart from my own issues with what gender dysphoria can do to a heterosexual marriage, I cannot simply throw out biology and agree that your gender is whatever you decide it is.  (And yes, I realise this is not done on a whim, but still…)  This makes no sense to me – and neither, I suspect, does it make sense to most people.

And there’s the rub: because what concerns me is that an orthodoxy is emerging in academic circles, where one view is being promoted and debate is not encouraged.  Some speakers (notably Germaine Greer) have been banned from campuses for expressing certain views, including anti-trans opinions:

http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/campus-censorship-an-epidemic-at-uk-universities-as-aberystwyth-edinburgh-and-leeds-named-among-most-a6818896.html

Free speech or hate speech?  Is expressing anti-trans views to a mixed audience, as some have claimed, like shouting fire in a crowded room?

What do you think?

 

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

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Wish I Was Here

Am I here?  Are you here?  Are any of us actually here?

No, that’s not a philosophical question about the reality of this life; it’s a comment on the fact that many of us are, for much of the time, not fully present.  We are distracted.  We are talking to someone and a text arrives.  ‘I’d better get this,’ we say.  Why?  Or we are looking at a terrific view and our first thought is to take a photo and upload it to Facebook.  Why?  What could be better than just appreciating the view?  Or we are walking to work past a magnificent magnolia tree (it’s that time of year right now!) and we don’t notice it because we’re in a hurry or thinking about that meeting or phone call or email.  It’s spring, people!  But do we notice?

I first started to change my bad habits when I lived in Madrid.  It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be there forever; so I made a conscious effort to notice things: the architecture, the sky, the light, the art; everything I came across.  There is beauty everywhere, even if you live in a dump, as the film ‘American Beauty’ shows in that scene with the carrier bag.  Carrier bags are not considered to be beautiful, but they can be: look at the picture above and try to get past your feelings of disgust at the way plastic pollutes the world.  Is it not beautiful?  It flies in the wind with its own grace.  There’s beauty in everything if you want to see it.  But in order to see it you have to stop and look.

Much has been written about the desirability of doing one thing at a time.  If I was having dinner with someone who was continually on their mobile, I’d walk out: similarly to arrive at a beautiful location and just take photos is an insult to the location.

When I began to study yoga I was introduced to the idea that happiness comes from concentration.  By concentration I don’t mean a ‘Rodin’s Thinker’ style screwing up of the attention but an unbroken flow, like when you’re completely absorbed in a book or film (or person).  This, I learned, is the reason why new things make us happy – because we focus on them completely.  They absorb us.  But that soon fades and if we’re not careful we seek the next new thing, instead of learning that it’s the focus that matters, not the thing.

So in order to be happy we merely have to be present.

Are you here?

Kirk out

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The Church of the Frightened Male

Yesterday I listened to an item on PM (radio 4) about a new church initiative.  It will come as no surprise to learn that most churches are concerned about falling attendance: what did come as a surprise was to be told that attendance is now predominantly female.  This does not accord with my experience; and according to at least one survey I found, more men than women attend traditional churches:

http://www.singlechristians.co.uk/p/2.9.1http://www.singlechristians.co.uk/p/2.9.1

But even if the statistic were true I would question the attitudes of CVM or Christian Vision for Men.  They claim that to many men the church has been ‘feminised’.  Doyleys were mentioned; flowers were cited as reasons why these men do not feel comfortable in the modern church.  Leaving aside the question of doyleys (and haven’t flowers always featured in churches?) the idea of ‘feminisation’ is highly questionable.  We’ve had two millennia of the church being dominated and run by men.  The God of the Bible is male.  Yet barely a quarter of a century after the first women priests, we find that some men cannot cope.

Of course I want everyone to feel comfortable in church – but every place I’ve attended has managed to make that happen without needing to establish a separate space with hog-roasts and other male-bonding exercises.  The CVM website also endorses patriarchal ideas about the man as the head of the family (‘if you get the man, you get the family’ – in other words, women and children do not make their own decisions.)  Maybe there is an argument to be had about whether men need to hang out together and do stuff without women, the same as there is about women doing stuff without men – but come on guys!  If the mere presence of a doyley can put you off going to church, you need to examine your faith.

Here’s the programme anyway – it’s about 20 minutes in:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08hl5wl#play

 

 

 

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Beware the Ideas of March

I’ve never been quite sure what an Ide is, but I am told that today is the Ides of March – or at any rate one of them: other Roman days include the Nones and Calends, and I don’t know when these are.  But! today’s post is about ideas, not Ides; the word just comes in handy for a silly pun.  And I’m afraid it’s yet more trans stuff because the Ideas just keep coming.  (See what I did there?)  Because I seem to be coming round a little bit to the TERF position (if you don’t know what that is, see this post:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/free-speech-or-hate-speech-terf-wars/)

As I understand it, the position of TERFs is that transgender women are not real women and that their existence ‘invades female space’.  Now I wouldn’t go that far – and especially I wouldn’t be as rude as Germaine Greer – but I know what Jenni Murray means when she talks about men retaining their privileges when they transition, in that they attained positions of power as a man which they then keep, or that like Lauren Jeska the athlete recently in the news, they win races with the physical strength they were born with as a man.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-39266777

The trans position is generally that the trans person was ‘always’ a woman (or man, but I am focussing on female-to-male here).  As my previous posts have shown, I am struggling to make sense of this: I don’t believe you can simply throw out biology as a determiner of either sex or gender.  (I’ve gone into this quite recently – just scroll down a couple of posts.) It seems clear that those ‘born’ male often retain characteristics thought of as male, such as muscle bulk and a prominent jaw: in particular when they have a certain degree of physical strength, it seems unfair that they are then able to take advantage of this by competing in sports as a woman.

Why is there such an explosion in transgender stories at the moment?  Is it simply an issue of the day?  Have there always been the same number of cases?  Is it because surgery and therapy are easier to access?  Is it because society is more tolerant than before?

I remember the odd transgender story from my youth, notably Jan (formerly James) Morris – but nothing like we’ve seen in recent years.  Why is that?  It’s tempting to wonder whether some of it is due to the rise in women’s rights.  If you can live as a woman without losing caste, why not?

Hmm.

Kirk out

 

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Lady of the Rings

When I was getting married, my mother-in-law to be decided to give me an engagement ring.  She meant well, but I really didn’t want an engagement ring because we’d never actually got engaged so, although I was very pleased with the plain gold wedding band, I didn’t like the engagement ring with the huge rock on it, and pretty soon I broke it.  I think it probably lasted about three weeks.  This may have been some sort of Freudian slip on my part, or it may just have been that I am about as delicate as an elephant and don’t deal very well with fragile things.  Give me something robust – something that can stand up for itself.  Give me things that will put up a fight.  I can’t be doing with the fiddly, the filigree or the frangible.  Give me solid.

So my mother-in-law, who was probably quite upset by my trashing of her family heirloom, gave me another ring – this time much smaller and neater – and I promptly bashed a hole in the middle of it.  This time it wasn’t replaced: and every time I look at it I feel a stab of guilt at my clumsiness.

When I was at school I got a name for being cack-handed.  This may or may not be connected to my left-handedness in some actions, notably writing; though I was spared the torment of previous generations forced to write with the right hand.  Later in life I developed a little more poise: yoga helped, as did an increase in self-confidence.  But it’s hard to get over your early experiences, and one day when I met those ex-classmates whose idea of me was a klutz, I instantly dropped what I was holding and crashed into the table.  This of course caused a collective rolling of the eyes – a reaction which at my school passed for an uproar.

It’s hard to get out of dynamics which have been laid down in early life.

Speaking of rings, it has come to my attention that George R R Martin (of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame) was born with only one R.  Do you think he might be trying to ape Tolkein?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out

 

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Trans Stuff

Yesterday being International Women’s Day, I went to a women’s event at Loughborough University.  It was quite a feat getting there as there was no signage at all: fortunately a couple of security guards who (though very politely) nearly ran me over, pointed me in the right direction.  The event was called ‘From Sex to Gender: a Biological and Cultural Journey’ and as usual with these things I was seeking some kind of enlightenment.  Or explanation.  Or whatever.

Did I get it?  Well, yes and no.  Any discussion, however waffly or fruitless, can move your thought-processes along if you let it – and this was unwaffly and sort of fruitful, if you think a tomato is a fruit.  OK I’m being abstruse.  Let’s get to it: there was a talk by a Professor (male), suggesting that gender is a spectrum and quoting a book called ‘The Five Sexes’ by Anne Fausto-Sterling:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2326-1951.1993.tb03081.x/abstract

The five are, apparently, ‘perfect’ male, ‘perfect’ female, ‘masculine female’ (me, probably) ‘feminine’ male (OH, in my view) and intersex.  Fine: I don’t have a problem with the idea that most people don’t fit entirely into neat boxes labelled ‘male’ and ‘female’.

So I don’t disagree that gender – ie what you are expected to be and do as a man or woman – is socially constructed.  So far so good.  But the second half of the event was a video by a trans woman claiming that sex is also socially constructed; in other words, that we can throw out biology – chromosomes, sexual organs, hormones, etc – as a determiner of sex.  Hmm.  She claims that transgender women are not biologically male; but I’m sceptical: in trans women (including her, incidentally) you can often see features which often occur only in males, such as a pronounced jawline or a tendency to put on weight round the middle rather than around the hips.  And that’s not even to touch on ethical issues such as trans women using the strength or power they had as a male to their advantage – retaining positions of power, winning cycle races – which is what Jenni Murray was getting at in her recent remarks:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/05/jenni-murray-transgender-not-real-women-sunday-times-magazine

While the video was long on what gender isn’t, it was very short on what gender actually is.  The idea seemed to be that you are what you say you are, or what you feel you are – and the rest can go hang.

I don’t buy it – and neither did some other people there – but when I tried to raise the issue of what gender actually is, it wasn’t dealt with.  And the problem I’m finding is not that some people have certain ideas, but that disagreement is difficult.  There’s an orthodoxy emerging: the facilitator of the discussion, though perfectly pleasant, was not open-minded; she had a view and seemed to be trying to convey that view as correct.  The idea seems to be that the rest of us should just accept unquestioningly what trans people say; and as a sceptic I’m not prepared to accept anything without question, no matter where it comes from or who says it.

The video was called ‘No, Transgender Women are not Biologically Male’ and you can find it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWVRzGMVXbM

(unfortunately it’s one of those where all the pauses have been edited out, which I find makes it almost impossible to take in.)

In short, just because you can’t be precise about sex doesn’t mean we should just throw the whole thing out.  And debate ought never to be off the table.  We must have debate.

Kirk out

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Are You a Closet Christian?

It is generally assumed that if you’re a white Northern European, you are Not A Christian.  Anyone who’s educated, enlightened and forward-thinking is automatically presumed to be either atheist, sceptical or at the very least agnostic: with Richard Dawkins preaching on every (virtual) street corner, it’s not a good time to have faith.  And yet according to the Guardian last year 43% of the UK population identify as having a Christian faith

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/23/no-religion-outnumber-christians-england-wales-study

and according to a Gallup faith survey in 2014 30% of the UK’s population identified as ‘religious’.

https://faithsurvey.co.uk/uk-christianity.html

However we unpick these figures, the trend continues to be downwards; and the assumption is still that if you have a brain you believe in science, and that if you believe in science you cannot possibly be religious.

If you do declare a faith you are likely to encounter one of two approaches: either people may edge away from you and regard you as a freak who is likely to jump on them and start speaking in tongues; or they come at you with a barrage of questions such as ‘what about homophobia in the church?  How can you believe in god when there’s so much suffering?’ or ‘look at all the terrible things done in the name of god!’  In other words, you become an apologist for religion, expected to answer for all the evil committed in the name of God, as well as being expected to have an answer to all the big questions.

As I have previously said I think ‘do you believe in God?’ is the wrong question.  I have developed an answer to this which I have outlined here:

https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/13771

Interestingly I’ve found it much easier since I’ve become a Quaker.  People seem to have different associations with Quakers than they do with Christians in general, so the usual response is one of interest, not fear or hostility.  But it remains difficult in certain circles to ‘come out’ as a Christian.  Tracey Ullman has perfectly captured this in a series of sketches in her latest show (it’s 16 minutes in:)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08h0cl1/tracey-ullmans-show-series-2-episode-5

This in itself is interesting.  I don’t know whether Tracey Ullman has a faith or not, but for a mainstream comic to do such a sketch may indicate that the tide is turning, at least in favour of more tolerance.

Kirk out

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