How to live

I’ve just moved house, and I’m surrounded by boxes, towers of boxes, my whole life in boxes – and not just mine but my family’s, too. Shit in boxes. [side note: all language serves a function and is legitimate for use, effective most according to the context. This is important.]

Shit. In boxes. The first rule I offer you today is:

1. Unpack Your Boxes

How do you know what you’ve got unless and until you take the time to open those boxes up and take shit out. Good shit and bad shit. These are the byproducts of your life, from birth to now; and it’s not healthy to cart them around from dwelling to dwelling, house to house; relationship to relationship, age to age, crisis to crisis;

weighing you down like an overloaded SUV blocking traffic. Life is traffic.
Unpack your boxes.

What I do is, I imagine my life as a series of book titles (novels, but they don’t have to be; an instruction manual would do). It takes time and effort to imagine yourself back to an occasion or situation you’ve maybe worked hard to forget. That’s baggage, that is. Those are the boxes. You need to unpack them in order to put them away. You need to remember in order to forget.
Here’s a way:

This is a book. It’s called The Girl Who Disappeared; and it’s about a girl – me – who was born with a lot of skin, which she filled out; and, because she was fat, she tried to make herself small, and her loud voice quiet, and her clever self shine less brightly; and she knew she was different because everything hurt all of the time; her neck, her nose, her ears, her stomach, her fingers and skin; very much her skin; and then, one day, when she was seventeen, she woke to find her skin had shrunk, tight as a drum; and she had to rip her skin [that’s the second rule: Rip Your Skin]; rip her skin behind her knees, and across her thighs, and around her waist, and the inside of her elbows, and her armpits. And it’s the only time in my life I’ve fainted; and when I came round my skin was on fire, and I soaked myself in a bath of warm water and olive oil, and cocoa buttered myself three times daily;
and for years I never told a soul.

That’s a story I have no intention of writing. But I’ve unpacked the boxes, and examined the baggage, and I know the story; I can forget the trauma and use the experience; and put that title in its place on the shelf.

2. Rip Your Skin

Scleroderma can fold you up like paper and laminate you. It can have you eating soup from a spoon hooked over your wrist, dribbled into a too small mouth.
It’s a painful, deeply uncomfortable condition that reduces your movement bit by bit, until you just. Can’t. Move. Unless. Unless you rip your skin.

I know it’s painful, but rip your skin. I know you’re afraid: Rip Your Skin. You don’t feel ready? You don’t feel ready to live?

Rip your skin before it sets your limits to the tip of your bones; before it turns you to stone.

Rigid thought patterns; merry-go-round behaviours that land you right back where you started; bad habits; comfort zones; appetites that need redirecting; echo chambers that could use a good airing; no debate disguising a lack of cognition; political tribes and majority thinking; a moral superiority:

It takes courage and determination to go against the prevailing tendency to fold, and there will be pain to bear, but the freedom! The freedom to really, finally, move, no longer a puppet, no longer a prisoner.

3. Stand on the Truth

I feel I’ve been running on empty for a while now – illness, pandemic, moving, responsibilities. I’ve had little to nothing to give for weeks. All I can do today is stand on the truth. This isn’t a personal truth, although I accept it. The truth isn’t subjective. The truth doesn’t reside in me.

The truth exists independently of the words I might use to obscure or illuminate it.

Here’s a truth: I was born. Reality attests to it; and, even tho’ the whole world might conspire to wipe me from existence, as in a Stalinist purge, so that all evidence I existed is lost; in truth, the effort will all be on one side, trying to make the appearance appear real. I wouldn’t have to do a thing because the truth is, the truth remains: I was born.

Some things that are independently, verifiably and objectively true.

Only Women have a Cervix

Transwomen are Male pretending to be Female

(I don’t mean to be cruel, I mean to beg you to do the work and unpack your boxes, rip your skin and stand on the truth. Language serves a function, it can’t remake reality. It’s legitimate for use, but most effective used in context. Just that simple truth – that stings and hurts and burns – that’s real life.)

Transwomen are Men
Transmen are Women
Transgirls are boys
Transboys are girls

and lying to children, about people, about reality, about their bodies, about yourself, is not freedom: it’s a trap; it’s calcifying skin, it’s turning to bone; it’s slowing down, seizing up, retracting, invaginating; folding over. Constantly, constantly living a lie.

Because the truth isn’t something inside us we carry round to keep us warm. It is external to our reality; it doesn’t depend on your words or my words to continue being true.

And that makes it solid ground.
You can stand on that.

So it turns out I’ve been running on full this whole time.

4. The Curve of the Turn

When my daughter’s biological father left, I was in a bad way. Yes, I could breathe more freely, undeniably; but there was a whole side of me exposed where someone used to be, and that’s what I was used to, so now I felt bereft. I wanted normal back, even if normal wasn’t working, even if normal was bad. He had a new girlfriend, a new life; I was living in the woods with a generator and a three-year-old.

My sister said to me: You have to turn your face away.
I can’t, I said, I don’t know how.

She said:

You have to turn away from who he’s with and what he’s doing. You have to turn from his choices, his actions. Do something else, she said, do anything, do new things. Do something new.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about him and her. Him with her. Not me. I was torturing myself – that was my pattern – not good enough! not fit enough! not White enough! And I could feel that I had nowhere left to go. And I began to turn:

I started psychotherapy, and went to the gym, volunteered around the village and hosted get- togethers; it was really hard work for someone who’d specifically chosen to live in the middle of the woods.

I had to turn my face away, mentally; physically, turn my head away; breaking the bones in my stiff neck and resetting them, my age-old, arthritic attitudes; balls scraping sockets as long seized-up joints creaked back into service. And it did hurt, psychologically, but it was worth it. It was the difference between myself and my self. I was thinking, finally caring about, and working on me.

I think of it like being in a speeding car, careering into a bend, and you don’t think you’re going to make it; and you’re up on two wheels, the hubcaps are coming off, you’re down to the rims and sparks are flying; and you don’t think you’re going to make it; but still, you hold onto that wheel:

And it’s only when you look back through the rear view mirror that you see you’re on the straight, and that was a hell of a turn you had to make; that was a hell of a turn;

And all the good things that happened; the people you met, and those who helped you, and the lessons you learned; the skills you picked up; the discoveries made; the knowledge you gained, and the stand you took

that all happened in the curve of the turn.

We’re in the curve of the turn right now.

And it really does feel like the forces of every institution has come out in favour of gender ideology: Church and State, Big Tech, Little Tech, from education to entertainment, medicine, the judiciary, the police.
Sparks are flying and the metal is on the road.
But hold on.

Genderism is an out-of-control juggernaut right now, smashing through all long-standing rules and understanding of safety and fairness: women’s rights, children’s rights, LGB rights, and everyone’s right to object.

This is the curve of the turn.

Maximum effort, maximum stress, fear and doubt and a lot of learning on the fly; and after this curve, another one; and after that curve, another one.

But I promise you, as surely as day follows night, this will all end.
Time, like the truth, exists outside of our bodies, and that can’t be silenced.

And so to my final rule which, again, you don’t have to follow or accept. These are my rules, my speech, my words, my voice; and I offer them; but I own them.

5. Maintain Your Boundaries

You can’t tell children anything, not even the most conformist; you can only show them, by example, and hope they’ll be okay.
When you lie to children, even if you think you’re being kind, you teach them to lie. If you lie to them outrageously, you teach them to lie outrageously.
If you lie to them about the fundamental building blocks of their bodies, and how that fits into the world, and what that means about the world, and what that means about themselves; you show children how to disconnect from the world around them, how to disconnect from real life; and how to retreat to a world they can control, which you can’t disorder around them.

But we live in a world where people try to control other people when they can’t even control themselves. Unhappy people, dissatisfied people, people who are scared, angry, damaged or just mean. People who want power, money, status, or just a job.

People who hate you; people who need you; people who love you, and people you love.

People will try to control you when they have least control over themselves.
Don’t let them.

Teach your children, teach your selves, to construct and maintain healthy boundaries. Everybody. We are communities of autonomous individuals. Sometimes we have to breathe in so that others can breathe out. But absolutely you have to breathe out sometimes; so if somebody doesn’t breathe in for you, isn’t making space for you, is only taking space from you: maintain your boundaries in that direction.

Maintain healthy boundaries between you and your partner, you and your children, you and your parent, your good friend, your sibling, your doctor; the world.

Know where you end, and another individual begins; where your inner world ends and shared reality begins. This knowledge is crucial. Do the work. It will be uncomfortable. Unpack your boxes, lose the baggage, use your experience. Make every effort to rip your skin so you can move. So you can grow. Stand on the truth so you’ve got a good grip in the curve of the turn; something that’ll still be there when you’re back on the straight. And maintain your boundaries when faced with outrageous lies. You don’t have to defend the truth; the truth is independently real. You can just say, No. No, thank you. Language serves a function legitimate for use.

And, above all, live. Live the life you have, and make it count.

So, here’s to the women who stand
The women who take their lives in their hands
Who hold to the truth on point of pain
Who are told they’re insane
And to stay their lane
Here’s to the women who still speak out
The women who say speak scream and shout to make their voices heard
I know there’s safety in silence
But you know that doesn’t protect you from violence
Here’s to the women who fight
The women with foresight
The women who teach
And each of you expounding, expanding her reach so that
Others may fight
Here’s to the women who know their worth, and what their sisters are worth
Who birth daughters for warriors with only their words
And who step down from pedestals
Who rise up from doormats
Who hang their full weight from barred windows
And count reps while making their plans
Here’s to those women
Here’s to the women who stand.

Merched Cymru and LGB Alliance Cymru are working together to respond to Welsh Government’s LGBT+ Action Plan. See our page here.