Sam Hall is one of the inspirations of the Masks of Gender podcast. Last year I began to take photos of inspiring trans people; I was so tired of the vitriol being poured on our vulnerable and highly self aware, profoundly conscious community that I wanted to show what we really are by showing their eyes, and with it their hearts and souls, to the world.

In time my aim changed from a photo with a little card of words telling us about them to a little photo and their own living words. When I took the picture of Sam which is on this page, we talked, and he told me of the shift that had taken place in his medical career, or vocation. In his previous persona, labouring under the gender mask of the feminine, he was a consultant anaesthetist, with limited relations with patients. After his transition he re-trained as a general practitioner, face to face with patients, as an expression of his expanded compassion.

When I went to his house the other week to record the wonderful words of this man, this human, this good heart, this Catholic, I had the chance to delve deeper into his observations, his insights and wisdom. Listen, everyone, here is yet another great trans heart and intelligence. What wonderful people we are, I thought as I listened to it, what a privilege to belong to this extraordinary sector of humanity.

This recording comes from an RSA (Royal Society of Arts) sponsored event in November 2017. It’s one of the inspirations for the podcast. As this track was plucked out from the whole evening, it starts and finishes a little abruptly, but it’s OK, the essence of the Conversation is clear.

Andrea Cornwall was, at the time, the head of the International Development School at the University of Sussex. She was, in essence, an anthropologist who had been involved over time with women in developing countries. And when she heard my trans insights into gender, the outsider’s view which had been honed and developed over many years of meditation and awareness training, her ears pricked up.

This conversation, in front of an audience, was unrehearsed and unplanned. I am, however, pleased to this day with the sequence that evolved. It’s about power, feminine power in essence, and how it can be developed. More than once I’ve talked to trans women friends about our perception of women unconsciously denying themselves power in this male dominated world. It’s explained in this way. A woman once said to me that she thought I had personal power, even though I’d not only transitioned into being a woman to the world, but I was trans as well, another assumption of powerlessness. Was it because I was brought up a boy? The strange assumption was that my lost place in the power hierarchy was maintained despite it being lost. No, I told her: it’s because I wasn’t brought up a girl. I hadn’t learned to deny myself in that particular way. I’d found ways of my own.

I met Lisa a few years ago now, when a successful event I hosted at the main library in Amsterdam failed to create the crowds I was promised would be beating down the doors to see me again. In the end only one person came, and that was Lisa. It was worth the trip.

In that way I met a great Friend, someone who is, in many ways, a reflection of myself. As she says in our Conversation, she knew people who had expertise in spiritual matters, people who had expertise in gender matters, but in our friendship found a shared deep interest in both, and this is what we talked of when she came to visit last month.

Without spiritual insight, wider and deeper awareness, our view of anything is limited, and this means gender as much as anything else. As gender is the foundation identity of our lives, this insight is critical. If we don’t see who and what we are in a deeper, wider way of seeing, we are destined to go round in circles, reading the same story every day, working hard but moving little, trapped in the mask we thought was who we are. But being awake brings light and choice to everything we do. It’s made a huge difference to my life, and the underlying intention of this podcast is to share this with you.

When I went to India, the state of West Bengal, the city of Kolkata, in January this year it was the first time I’d been back to that tumultuous country for almost 28 years. Before then I’d been all over the North, spending a lot of time in an ashram in the West, but never in the East.

Pawan Dhall was the first of the new Indian, Bengali friends that I met in Kolkata, or Calcutta as it is still called by many. Nothing in India is clearly bordered, everything is in flux with varied possibilities, so gender too has its complications and uniqueness in that country.

One aspect of society that exists in India as nowhere else I know is that of the caste system, the named and historic way of classifying people which goes way past the class system in the UK. After talking with Pawan, when he brought up the caste system and how it affects all aspects of Indian life, including, of course, gender, I decided to talk more with him, to mine some of his well worked wisdom.

This fresh angle on social class, privilege, power and so on shines a light on our own ways of division and hierarchies, the masks of gender we impose on others. And ourselves. The outsider from the comfort of our own little worlds has much to tell.