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.

Ugla in Icelandic, Owl in English (I prefer the name Ugla, I relish their Icelandic-ness) has given me, a trans warrior from way back, fresh insights into who and what I am. Our deep and sweet friendship transcends – as they say in our conversation – the great age difference between us, and with that there is a lesson for all of us, a reminder for me, that the aim of the game is to get past the smaller, shifting identities such as age, or gender, and go to the heart of who and what we are. In the end it’s all about love, folks, which begins with loving ourselves for who we are, which then turns outwards to the rest of the world.

At the end of our conversation they say ‘the future is trans’, with some humour, but also a foundation of truth. I am profoundly aware, being trans myself, of the created gender distinctions which work to diminish and deny on one hand, and bestow dubious privilege on the other. The boxes work for no-one when we look deeply The tide may be turning, with the sparks of fire that are gathering now, to transcend this smallness and move on into the reality of our common heart.

Ugla gives me great hope for the future, along with wonderful non-binary people I’ve been meeting recently, from Macedonia, India and the USA. After dithering for some time, I’ve joined them. The future is trans, transcendent.

For some years now I’ve been listening to and reading the virtuoso words of Eric Page, ever since I came to live here in Brighton. Eric. How could I miss sharing this great champion of gay, lesbian, bi, trans and anyone else’s rights and safety that needed protecting? What would he come up with if I let him off the leash and tempted him with an audience?

It’s done and recorded, after we ate the lovely cakes he brought up to my little flat, my eagle’s nest high above the city, and I feel privileged. The unexpected bonus to making this podcast is spending powerful and intimate time with the remarkable people who give colour to my world. It’s an excuse to go deep and then deeper, to the places where the gold lies. As I once said recently, my friends are my treasure, and Eric’s one of them.

We began by talking of language itself, the nuances of the ways of speaking we learned as kids, Eric in South Wales, me in Liverpool, and how we shifted our accents and ways of speaking to merge with the duller but safer ways English is spoke in this South East of England where we live. It’s one way we create our masks to fit in with the masqued ball of the world. Then we moved on to other insights and wisdom, which is what this podcast is all about, the light the outsiders shine on the insider’s worlds.

Mariam is a bright spark of individual life, quirky, fast and sharp with a high femme presentation and a logical, some may say masculine mind within it. To me she is yet another way of expressing the power that comes with combining the two primal aspects of humanity in one person, the contradictions that make us who we are.

I am very much at home with this merging of the masculine and feminine. It’s something we all do; in the Jungian sense of every woman having their animus, every man having his anima, but some perform this essence of human existence more openly than others. Maybe that’s why Mariam and myself are such good friends.

But, of course, gender is just a part of any of us, and on top of this primal identity are all the rest of the identities we assemble to live our lives. Mariam talks about gender, race, power which affects countless millions around this human world, and so much more from her wide life, so she talks for many.

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.