This is the occasional joint blog for Dru Marland and Richard Beard. Here are links to their own blogs


Dru’s, Upside Down In Cloud (click on image)

Richard’s blog (again, click on image)

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And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?

Oh post-Anglican muddling, somewhere between the unpleasantly excessive certitudes of the God-botherers and the atheists. We have our quietly spiritual moments, and model them in the trappings and half-remembered rituals of the faith we were raised in; one populated by a blond, bearded Jesus and assortment of goodies and baddies, dresssed as for the Nativity play. And somewhere in the background, an urbane God, moving in a mysterious way, but almost certainly On Our Side. Even though we ruefully acknowledge, in quiet moments, that we have left undone that which we ought to have done, and done those things which we ought not to have done. Oh yes.

Reading Richard Beard’s Lazarus Is Dead was like returning to the village I was brought up in, but now being included in the grown-up conversations, and finding that there was much more going on than I’d previously noticed. Lazarus and Jesus are childhood friends; the core narrative of the book describes the last year of Jesus’ life, and the last year of Lazarus’ first life, as it were. It examines the difficulties you face when your best friend turns out to be the son of God, and therefore either less or more than human; and how disruptive it can be to your life when you’re just trying to get on with things and suddenly find yourself part of a divine plan. If that is what it is.

There are layers and layers going on here; the story is true to the biblical narrative, as far as that goes and as far as that is consistent; beyond that, there are historical records, and artistic and literary interpretations of a story that we thought we knew but (in my case at least) turn out not to know that well. And, of course, Richard’s own telling of the story. Romans and Sanhedrin work hard at <span style=”font-style: italic;”>realpolitik</span> to shape events in a manner favourably to them. Points are missed. Wrong is got, in a darkly comical way. Lazarus tries to make sense of it all. Does he succeed? Read the book, and maybe you’ll find out.

The story is vividly told; the past is brought to life. And there’s enough space in this book for any shade of belief or unbelief. I enjoyed it hugely. Go and do likewise.

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Bodies of thought

elevated thoughts

Julian Baggini‘s new book The Ego Trick arrived unexpectedly on the doorstep yesterday; thanks, Julian! He sent me a copy because I feature in it, in a small way. We met two years ago, to discuss ideas of self and identity. I described the meeting here, and Christina Alley wrote a considered response which became a post of its own here.

Reading it, I was interested in the thoughts of Jñanamitra, who also transitioned, though not before moving back to a male role for some time, as she was following the path of Dharma, and the Buddhist Order that she followed had ‘a rigid view that your gender is determined at birth and that’s it’.

This is of particular interest given the recent discussion of talking therapies as a ‘cure’ for gender dysphoria. My bold in the final sentence.

‘About three or four years after I was ordained, I began to notice more and more that I’d have a sort of gender dysphoria episode about every month. And I had to finally acknowledge that this was something I hadn’t really dealt with at all.’

It all came to head on a mindfulness retreat. Part of the practice involves observing what thoughts and feelings arise in the mind and considering what such thoughts depend on. What stimulated it? What was the trigger? ‘So there I was, mindful of this arising, that arising, and then I realised that underneath all that was an absolutely steady thing, my gender dysphoria, which wasn’t arising in dependence upon anything- it was just there. And when I spotted that, I had a most cataclysmic spiritual experience. I’ve never had anything quite like that since. The whole superstructure of my motivation for pursuing meditation just disappeared like a pack of cards thrown in the wind, and I realised that there was absolutely no point suffering and I might as well go back and see the doctor again. The whole thing that was putting the brakes on was the idea that I could transform this with insight. I did get an insight, but the insight proved that I couldn’t transform it with insight.’

Ch. 1 (Bodies of Thought) , The Ego Trick Julian Baggini

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talking about Teh Trans

the RCPsych Lesbian and Gay Special Interest Group have a natter

The idea behind a balanced discussion is that you attempt to weigh up contrasting views of a subject that are of roughly equal weight. The trouble with discussions about transgender matters is that, all too often, the discussion is disrupted by some shouty person coming in off the street insisting that you use their scales, and then dumping a great pile of rusty old iron on one side of them and a bucket of frogs on the other. Crazy thing, that bucket of frogs, let me tell you.

Thus the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ proposed conference “Transgender: time to change.” Concern was expressed by trans people over the basic premise of the conference, and the choice of speakers. Then Charing Cross GIC pulled out of the conference, saying

…it now appears that the conference comes at trans issues from a very specific agenda, namely, to explore the validity or otherwise of gender diagnoses as medical and psychiatric phenomena. So long as this is the case, we feel we can’t support it.

And in very short order, the RCPsych announced that the conference was cancelled, citing poor ticket sales as the reason.

It seems odd that the RCPsych, and more particularly their Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group whose conference this was to be, should have intended to give a platform to people who question the reality of transsexuality and who believe in reparative therapy for transgender people, while at the same time condemning the use of reparative therapy in the ‘treatment’ of lesbian and gay people:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.

Thus Az Hakeem, one of the invited speakers, who first came to my attention as a signatory of this letter to the Guardian in 2002, deprecating the  European Court’s judgement on the Goodwin case:

Many psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists find that their trans-sexual patients are individuals who, for complex reasons, need to escape from an intolerable psychological reality into a more comfortable fantasy. By attempting to live as a member of the opposite sex they try to avoid internal conflict which may otherwise prove to be too distressing.

It is a measure of their urgency and desperation that they frequently seek surgery to make their fantasy real. By carrying out a “sex change” operation on their bodies, they hope to eliminate the conflict in their mind. Unfortunately, what many patients find is that they are left with a mutilated body but the internal conflicts remain.

Through years of psycho-analytic psychotherapy, some patients begin to understand the origins of their painful feelings and can find ways of dealing with them other than by trying to alter their bodies. The recent legal victory risks reinforcing a false belief it is possible to actually change a person’s gender

I was surprised to find, on further reading, that Az Hakeem is actually a psychiatrist, working at the Portman Clinic. Though I’ve never heard from anyone presenting as transsexual  and under his care. Reading Dr Hakeem’s opinions in his essay “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, I suspect that the condition of any such person may be complicated by incidences of masochism and Stockholm Syndrome.

And then there is Julie Bindel, whose qualification for appearing at the conference is her ability to say something very simple, very loudly. That thing being her core premise that “In a world where equality between men and women was reality, transsexualism would not exist.” Fair play, I can see how this argument might be attractive to students and people who enjoy the heady intoxication of a simple Big Idea. The Big Idea  in question being that gender is a social construct. But surely the conference could have found a more intelligent speaker on the subject? Cordelia Fine, for instance, a psychologist whose Delusions of Gender covers this ground rather more honestly. I can only agree with Cordelia when she says

“There are sex differences in the brain. There are also large sex differences in who does what and who achieves what. It would make sense if these facts were connected in some way, and perhaps they are. But when we follow the trail of contemporary science we discover a surprising number of gaps, assumptions, inconsistencies, poor methodologies and leaps of faith.”

Maybe Cordelia was busy. Perhaps the RCPsych Gay and Lesbian SIG just fancied a mass chanting of “Four legs good two legs bad,” conducted by Our Julie.

Oh well. After a few weeks in which some trans people have attempted to talk with the conference organisers- Natacha Kennedy and Jane Fae, mainly, as far as I can tell- and been stonewalled for their troubles, it’s all off anyway.

So now we can expect accusations of bullying and no-platforming. Oh, look, there’s some already, in the comments section of Natacha’s CIF column in the Guardian. It seems somehow ironic; people are so used to talking about Teh Trans without bothering to talk to Teh Trans; and then get uppity when they find that Teh Trans do have a voice of their own, akshly. I still fondly recall Bea Campbell’s stern admonishment in the Guardian, that us uppity trannies should give her mate Julie Bindel a respectful hearing. Which kind of missed that Julie’s already had loads of chances to air her opinions (and to be corrected where she was in error) (as described here, here and here ) …and revealed that, rather than describing a narrative arc, her take on transsexuality appears to have come to a full stop. Delenda est. Delenda est.

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dashing round in circles

…is what the hares are doing. Me, I’m getting on with all sorts of stuff and feeling guilty that I’ve not been blogging about Things Of Great Weight And Import. Because there’s all sorts of suckiness going on in the world that needs to be addressed. Even though I sometimes call to mind this exchange….


Meantime, I’ve been adding to the seafaring diaries (up in the menu bar there, see?)- and have now got as far as the Bit Of Nastiness that brought my seafaring career to an end. Just saying. Because John (waves. Hello John!) mentioned that he’d only just noticed that section.

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the versatile Peter Kay changes race: a song, a dance, a merry quip

It’s been an interesting week in television land. Brian True-May, who is the producer for a show called The Midsomer Murders,  got into trouble for describing the fictional location of the show as the “last bastion of Englishness …we just don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them. It just wouldn’t work. Suddenly we might be in Slough.”

No such narrow-mindedness over on Loose Women, though, where they welcomed their first transsexual woman as a guest. The transsexual woman in question being Peter Kay, a self-identified comedian, in his alter ego of Geraldine McQueen. Obviously, after Channel 4’s historic signing-up to the MoU last week, the transsexual community is thrilled at this evidence of assimilation into the mainstream.

Basking in the glow of goodwill generated, we’ve come up with an elegant remedy for the apparent parochialism of Midsomer. It will introduce its first ethnic minority character. And that character will be Peter Kay, as a negro minstrel.

It will be a grand arrival; Peter will come chugging along the Midsomer Union Canal in his showboat, and entertain the masses with his banjo magic and jolly songs. And then presumably die horribly, to be found washed up in a stagnant backwater. Or possibly become a detective in Midsomer, which may well amount to the same thing.


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I’m working on a guide for Dundry, a hill to the south of Bristol. I did this pic yesterday, and as it feels quite summery I’m putting it here. At last, spring! -Every morning is like Christmas used to be; that feeling of happiness that something that seemed impossibly distant is finally happening.

The local foxes have been getting rather flirty in the garden;playing boisterous games of Are You There Moriarty, then taking a quick break with the vixen lying legs akimbo under the weeping willow, while the dog fox dashes around pissing on things.

Quite chavvy, foxes. I felt rather voyeuristic, I must say.

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