My time with Emily Brothers seems to have opened yet another door, something special for me. Her openness, determination, walking her life through her disability and trans identity into politics and activism, touched me deeply.

I am pleased to be able to give you a taste of my afternoon with her, someone I feel we can all learn something from. I find myself thinking this – you got something to complain about, Persia West? Or is it time to stop any form of whining and sense of lack of power, and make some real difference to the world around you? In this way Emily touched and inspired me; she’s so worth listening to; not just for the words but the spirit behind them.

So many times I wonder, as I am recording another of these fine conversations that are this podcast, if this person I am talking to is just the best of all. This happened a couple of days ago when I spoke to Jess and was confirmed when I listened to it before I give it out to the world. I just loved talking to Jess in this deep way, penetrating into the heart of our experience, and me having the joy of learning from her insights.

I feel that here we have true wisdom, profundity of awareness, practised over years into a compassionate maturity, working with young people, and the young person we all still are – as she does. Here is evidence of the wisdom that lies within all of us, when we have the good fortune to live from Presence.

What more can I write? It’s all in what has been spoken. This, folks, is what The Masks of Gender is all about. How deep can we go? Who knows, I’ve only just begun.

?You can see more of the remarkable Jess, more about the artist, the painter, at jesswoodpainter.co.uk

Since I started creating The Masks of Gender podcast, I’ve spent hours in deep conversation with a range of remarkable people, none of them rich and famous, all of them profound and real.

My first object in creating the podcast was to tell another narrative about gender and its zillion variations. I intended to give voice to real people, not just giving them space to tell their story, their past, although this has real value, but in their insights, their wisdom and experience.

This was not just for trans people like myself, though the focus on my community is often there, but on everyone who has, or has had, or might have had a gender, and thereby suffered from its limitations. And we trans people need to be known for the remarkable people we are, so distinct from the ghastly narrative being told about a fiction of horror that has us as fictional demons. How this hurts us, in the same way that the narrative about women, or gay men, or black women, or disabled trans women hurts.

I’m keeping these comment post short and accessible. Please comment, in this way the conversation will grow wider.

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Fox is a film-maker, an artist and a relentless advocate for trans and non binary people everywhere. It’s a tough game they play, one that I have played myself so I know how hard it can be.

In this recording Fox and I talked of being between two identities, such as gender and race, and the word that emerged more than once was gift, in terms of both what we receive and what we have to give. Within this idea is the essence of The Masks of Gender; behind the roles we play, which always diminish, is a wonder, something privileged we receive and then give. Then, towards the end of our conversation they came up with the considered words the lighter self which is, to me, a beautiful way of stating what we become, we trans people of the world. So there’s the title of the episode.

The point we are trying to put over is not that it is just people like us who have the gift, that something special within us, it’s everyone, and it lies deep within the heart of us all, behind all the limiting masks we wear.

There have been two major threads that formed the essence of the quest of my life; gender and spirituality. Gender only exists in our social world; it’s a primal form of identity, which creates relationships, then our entire social world. Spirituality lies behind the world we live in, it’s the world of the intangible, the spirit, feelings, awareness, which is all the invisible hand in the glove that creates our lives.

I have now been a meditator for almost fifty years and have come to value the awareness, the insight, sense of being that this has brought. It is my conviction that to experience who and what we are in our hidden depths some form of spiritual practice is essential. It’s also necessary to have a guide, someone who has walked the tricky paths of self awareness before us and can guide us along our own camino, our own way.

In this episode I am quoting from the Karmapa, the head of one of the great traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, because his wise, concise words from his book The Heart is Noble, precisely match my own experience, with a special quality of humility and humanity that make them truly noble.

I then comment on what he has said from my own specific gendered experience, to share my own insights that parallel the Karmapa’s.

The image on this post, by the way, is of a sculpture that greeted me as I entered De Tropen, the cafe in the Tropenmuseum – the museum of the tropics – in Amsterdam just a few days ago. I find this high art sculpture entitled ‘Rhinoceros, father and son’ to be extraordinarily beautiful and powerful; it magically brings together the spirit of the animal and the human into our shared essence, full of love, beyond gender or species. The artist was from Zimbabwe, which has a magnificent tradition of sculpture. I am searching for their name right now.

Just before I started to publish this podcast, The Masks of Gender, I thought it might be useful to begin with me talking to someone who knew me well, asking me about my intentions, my inspirations, my hopes and dreams, what I value, what are my ways of seeing, and so on.

Fortune favoured me; Claire Doran agreed to be that person who held the conversation with me that inspired me to tell it all, or as much as I knew at the time. She works for the RSA, the Royal Society of Arts, of which I am a fellow, and she supports this podcast both personally and professionally, which I feel privileged to receive.

For reasons I’m unsure of, I didn’t put it up first, even though in the beginning of the recording I lead with a welcome to the whole series. Perhaps I wondered if I had to create some conversations before I really knew what I was doing. In fact, when I listened to it again, and although I’ve definitely learned a lot about my podcast game, the content holds up well, and I think it’s a good time to post it.

Claire really is a wonder; clear, open, sharp, with a wonderful background to bring her own particular insights into identity, gender and more. She agreed to be the contributor to her own episode, it’s in the recording, and I am going to chase her to talk to us all soon.

I don’t have the right picture of Claire as yet. When I do I’ll insert it. The image shown is of a small part of a garden sculpture I made some years ago, when I was a garden designer and maker. Another identity which has come and gone, as they do. Podcaster; there’s another.

My book The Choice is a kind of summation of what I learned over the decades of my spiritual practices, meditation, study and self examination, twenty five compassionately short chapters to fit in between stations on the commuter train, or fill in time in the bathroom during the release after breakfast.

As the tricky and profound matters of gender and identity was also an underlying theme of my life – and still is – my spiritual practice gave insights into my gendered conundrums.

First the Stomach is, I think, the most personal and direct chapter of the book. It’s about truth and loss, revelation, compassion (which comes up time and again) and what we are when all of what we think we are is stripped away. Who are we when our gendered tales are removed? What am I without all what I think is me? When I have no gender, what am I?

When I sat and listened to the recording of the conversation I had with Molly, in the library of the RSA in London, I thought: what a privilege to spend such an intimate and profound time of the heart with such a woman as this. In fact, this podcast project is a great way to do what I love; sharing a space of intimacy and heart with remarkable people, then sharing it with you.

Molly was introduced to me as she is the mother of a trans child, also a feminist, a lawyer and musician. Seems to me that she lives and expresses these diverset aspects of herself in a fine balance, to me a rare attainment in our world.

This is one of the longer conversations, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of it so cut nothing out at all. Her straightforward honesty, her eloquence, her recognition of the masculine in the deep identity of her dear child, and with that the encouragement for him to flourish, made me wish all trans kids have such a mother as this. Or maybe simply all kids; after all, every one of us needs recognition and the nourishment of love to become all we are and can be.

I’ve been thinking about masks, image and reality for many years. Shifting identity from the masculine which was assigned to me, and considered to be real, to the embodiment of my inner feminine being opened my eyes to the power and significance of masks, the presentation of our being we light up for the world.

The Eye in the Mask is a chapter of my book The Choice. It comes from my understanding that there is always a single choice to be made in our lives; to come from the mind and all its illusions, or to come from the Centre, the core of our being, the mind-free Self.

This chapter neatly states what the Masks of Gender is all about, or at least the principle behind it. I decided to insert some readings of my own words, mostly from The Choice, to give added depth and spice to the lovely conversations with remarkable people.

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.