I have known Tina, the Reverend Dr Christina Beardsley, Church of England priest, since the very early 2000’s. From that beginning I was conscious of her leaning in to comfort trans people, help them with her highly developed spiritual heart, inspiring the creation of the Clare Project, which supports trans people to this day. To me she is the living goodness of heart that comes with the best of Christianity. She is also very smart, light and funny, and actually quoted me in her book; Transfaith: a transgender pastoral resource. I am honoured.

So when I began to create this podcast, The Masks of Gender, Tina was at the top of my list, and, in fact, I made the first recording of the all episodes at her flat in London last year. Always best to begin with a professional, I thought, and I was right. We talked from our own, parallel spiritual paths, which, I feel are, at the heart one and the same, what gender is, what it is to be true to ourselves, and how we can change the world, one step at a time. I hope this podcast is one of those steps.

I was educated in intersex matters to a degree way past my previous, limited viewpoint, at the Trans, Non-binary and Intersex Conference held here in Brighton in 2018. A panel of intersex people talked of their life experiences. They were hugely varied; no story was the same. And all of them were horrific in what had been done to them, mostly by the medical profession. Their stories resonated with my own trans story, because we shared some element of being treated as the other because we didn’t match up with the strict assumptions and expectations, the rules of how a human should be, and were punished for our transgressions, for being outside the strict, unconscious stereotypes that rule our gendered world.

But for the intersex folks it was far worse. I could hardly bear to stay in the room and hear yet another tale of abuse, pain, disrespect and more. It all resonated with my own past far too much for comfort and went far further. But stay I did, because I needed to know, and I’m so glad. Because I met and listened to a group of remarkable people who taught me about another way of being, strength and integrity. And it was clear that their bodies were not the problem so much as the unconsciously gendered minds that judged and acted on some socially constructed ideas of a perfect way of being, like one of those immaculate apples in the supermarket that deny the nature of much varied apples.

One of the members of that panel was Susannah Temko, Suz, and listening to her made it obvious that she should have another place in which to have her remarkable voice heard. What a story, what a woman, how privileged I felt to spend time with her in library of the RSA in London, sharing, listening and learning. Listen to her bright intelligence, her insight, her voice that speaks from a depth of experience that tells so much of our shared humanity. As I once wrote; there ain’t no them, it’s all us.

I met Vikram during my recent trip to Kolkata, also known as Calcutta, in West Bengal, India. I’ve been visiting India since 1979, and have spent many years studying meditation and contemplation with an Indian spiritual path, and from this have developed a profound respect for the wisdom that has developed over millennia, bringing a completely different way of seeing ourselves and the world around us than that my own psyche developed from, the European Christian paradigm.

Vikram’s conversation with me, in my hotel room near Kalighat, the temple to the Goddess Kali, I chose to put sat the front of this podcast series, because he tells a perfect tale of the power and significance of the masks of gender than are imposed on us all. So many of us, including myself, have had our own talents and the life of our own being denied by the unconscious application of one of two available masks, personas, and their offspring, such as expectations and assumptions, that we are obliged to live our lives through, as a kind of performance. There it is; the theatre of the world.

How much grief at the loss of our own selves has this brought? Becoming conscious of what is unconscious is the way we can become free of the shackles of the unconscious mind, and the conversations I am having with such remarkable people as Vikram show us the way to be truly aware and free.

Before the actual podcast episodes began I put up some audio of my own voice and life to see if could actually handle the new technology and get a post up and functioning. This recording is of a chapter of my book The Choice, in which I talk of the enlightening experience, the satori, that changed my life on a beach in Formentera in the spring of 1970. This experience is the foundation of everything I do.

Even though it’s not a conversation around gender and more, I’m going to leave it here for a while because some friends said ‘why not?’ It’s about the fundamentals of where I’m coming from after all; the spiritual and the personas, the egos, the masks we take to be ourselves, denying who and what we are behind them. A tragedy, until we wake up and find ourselves.