Responsible Freedom

Responsible Freedom

I’m a great believer in freedom of speech, and not just in the sense of vocalization: I include all forms of self expression. It is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

This right, like all other rights, comes with an unspoken duty: the duty to ensure to the best of my ability that anything I do express does not harm others. That it does not curtail the right of those others to live free from fear, oppression and abuse.

That is where my own sense of morality comes into play. I must judge for myself whether my words and actions are appropriate and in alignment with what I believe to be right. I must put myself in the position of those people affected by what I say and do, using my sense of empathy to imagine how they might feel.

I have a very strong aversion to conflict and confrontation, and I’m sure this plays a role in shaping my behavior towards others. But there is also compassion which causes me to feel hurt by others’ pain and anguish. This suggests there might well be a degree of self-interest involved in what I refer to as my morality, but I’d argue that this is no bad thing. It gives me an honesty of purpose to understand my own motivations rather than simply label my behavior as intangible belief.

Freedom as a concept is both shockingly simple and overwhelmingly complex. Simple in that it may be expressed in very few words and applies equally to all. Complex in the effects and ramifications of that simplicity. Freedom is not a license to do whatever you want. It is a contract between an individual and the society she lives in, a tacit acceptance of a framework of rights and responsibilities.

I believe any society, any situation involving two or more people living together, requires some set of rules governing behavior. I’m not necessarily referring to formal laws and such like. But complete, unfettered individual freedom inevitably conflicts with the well-being of the group as a whole. If one member of a group hoards all the food then it hurts all the rest, so a rule gets developed for fair distribution of resources. Those who don’t conform, who don’t live within the societal restrictions on their individual freedoms, are cast out of the group. What in former times were called “outlaws”: those who are outside the the set of rules and protections offered by the group.

Some use the idea of individual freedom to justify bullying and oppression: if I’m stronger than you and physically able to take from you then I’m free to do so. I want your land so I’ll force you out and take it. Freedom becomes associated with strength and aggression, with a lack of restraint.

Human rights are not the same as freedom. Accepting universal rights requires accepting restrictions on individual freedom, accepting that some actions are not acceptable behavior since they deny those same rights to others. It’s not about strength but empathy, compassion and respect.

Craving Some Human Connection

Craving Some Human Connection

Social media is both blessing and curse. Without it I’d have very little contact with people; I’d not have gotten to know some wonderful, supportive friends. I’d not have been contacted by my daughter. But unfortunately it can’t substitute for physical proximity, the joy of sharing some activity with another.

Sometimes when I’m feeling lonely, craving some human connection, I notice photos of people I know on Facebook out with their friends having a good time and it makes me melancholy, too aware of what I rarely experience. It’s not jealousy: I’m not envying their enjoyment. It just reminds me of the past.

There are only a couple of times in my life when I have had that kind of friendship. Hanging out together, going places and doing things–sometimes crazy things like running through Aldershot town center spraying silly string at each other, or driving halfway across the country just to see where a particular road would take us.

As I’ve written before friendship is something that I struggle with. I can talk to people and often enjoy socializing as long as the environment is something my senses can comfortably handle. But I’ve never understood how to progress from acquaintance to something more, to the point where I don’t feel the need to second-guess every interaction in case I say or do the wrong thing.

My experiences growing up taught me to be reserved and wary around others, to sit back and wait for them to initiate every interaction. Because when I tried I made mistake after mistake and suffered ridicule. I learned to hide how I felt in case it was used against me.

Another obstacle has always been the difficulty I have reading people. I never know how they feel about me which makes me tread carefully, unwilling to cause offense. By the time I feel I know someone well enough to feel confident opening up around them our relationship has settled into a routine casual acquaintance.

The number of people I’ve seen over the years, at university, in the workplace and in social settings, who have that magical self-confidence and the ability that allows them to rapidly construct friendships while I’m still stuck at the level of saying good morning and talking about the weather.

It can be painful sometimes when people I like move on and I regret that I never managed to build a degree of closeness with them, a platonic intimacy. When it hits me that I know so little about them. Ah, the mysterious arts of small talk and conversation about personal matters.

Out To Lunch

Out To Lunch

I went out for lunch yesterday. It struck me later that this was the first time I’d eaten out since before I began my transition, more than 18 months ago. But that didn’t even occur to me until hours afterwards: I was far too preoccupied. You see, I was meeting a young lady.

11742805_10203708980319697_4483407513116153502_nI wanted to make a good impression. It was a lovely, sunny day so I wore this new red dress (rather daring for me because it barely comes down to my knees) with a pair of red heels and spent nearly 30 minutes doing my face and hair. Excitement wrestled with nervousness as I drove into town.

I felt good; I felt confident as I walked from the car to the restaurant. It was five minutes of twelve: I was a little early which suited me. I would have time to get settled and make myself comfortable. It was early for lunch so the place wasn’t too busy and I could choose where to sit: I decided on a small two-seat table by the window where I would be able to watch for her arrival.

A waiter brought a menu; I explained I was waiting to meet someone and just ordered a sparkling water. I browsed Facebook to pass the time while keeping one eye on the passers-by. Nervousness crept in: what if she was late? What if she didn’t come at all? Would we get along face to face? We’d only chatted online before this.

I needn’t have worried. She arrived just a few minutes later and saw me through the window. She smiled and gave me a little wave; I reciprocated. She joined me at my table, ordered a water–still to my sparkling–and we started to talk. Somewhere during this we ordered food and ate but the meal was definitely a sideshow to the main event. Not that we didn’t enjoy it, it’s just that we were deep in conversation. Quite something for two people who are usually uncomfortable in social situations.

It was over too soon. She had to head off to work shortly before three, so after paying the bill we walked back to our cars. We hugged before parting and it felt wonderful. We will meet again.

I’m still working through my memories of yesterday: such a wealth of images, impressions and emotions. The pleasure of building a relationship with my daughter after so many years, the many ways in which she reminds me so much of myself. It’s difficult for me to connect the young woman I met with my memories of her as a baby and infant.

More than anything I feel so happy and grateful that she contacted me and that we are becoming friends. I feel a bond that I did not expect, a reawakening of the feelings that had languished, forgotten, in the dusty attic of my mind. I’ve missed so much of her life that I’m not sure I deserve to be invited back in with such welcoming acceptance. She is open, honest, caring and intelligent, and I am so proud to have her as my daughter.