Get Real!

It may seem counterintuitive (that’s academicspeak for downright daft) to take as the main topics of the same book such diverse debates as those over transubstantiation and transgender – and metaphysics? How could that ever leap off the shelves!
So why do it? Why write 40 thousand words on distinctions between levels of reality, on shifting patterns of value and conflicting hierarchies of morals – including a 6 thousand word science fiction story to illustrate the point?
I wrote Trans/Substantiation: The Metaphysics of Transgender because I’ve had the benefit of decades of pondering the truth, and the helpfulness, of our common views on reality (they are various). Although this book started life as an academic essay I wrote for a university RE Department when I was a doctoral candidate, I’ve increasingly felt impelled to share the insight I’ve gained into the potential for a more ecumenically acceptable philosophical framework for the Eucharist – because it might help limit the ridicule, exclusion, confusion, bullying, rejection, pain, scarring, sterility, and suicide, faced en masse or piecemeal by so many vulnerable people in the furious current controversy over trangender.
‘Vulnerable’ is a key word in this book, which portrays no-one as villains. I quote Susan Jeffreys and I quote Judith Butler, Kate Bornstein and P. Califia. They all have wisdom to impart. So many people are both hurt and angry, and angry about others like themselves getting hurt – not just by people like their opponents in this debate (like each other, basically) but principally by nontransgender men. Like me.
So I’m very conscious of my privilege in writing this book, I acknowledge the fact that my ease with academic sources and languages has come from years of tertiary education in the UK and abroad (where I learned the languages) and that my White face has been welcomed by some who would not welcome others – and if I can pass as an assumed middle class heterosexual of Caucasian ancestry that assumption is no less potent for being in error.
Mostly. Because things change. Panta rhe said the pre-Socratics: everything flows. Even mountains. They just do it slowly.
The problem with metaphysics isn’t that it’s unreal, it’s that it’s invisible. How we believe reality to be constructed is so fundamental to our mindset as individuals (actually, as groups) that we fail to see it as a belief at all. Life, the world, the universe – it just is! It is what it is! Where’s the mystery in that?
For a start, that New Agey quote currently mouthed by sharp-suited managers did not originate in some MBA programme (although it’s probably included in several) but in the patient perception of an Ottoman mystic named (in the West) Rumi. The names means Roman, which meant European, which meant (in his case) Turkish.
Things aren’t always what they seem to be. Or are they? That’s a metaphysical debate in itself. The reality of experience, of private perception. As compared with some abstract mathematical public dimension that we, vaguely, imagine to be the realm of empirical science. It’s not. Empiricism isn’t actually theoretical at all. It’s just a measured way of gathering data. Which just gives us data. Not theory, not truth. Data. Then more data. That’s it.
Theory happens when scientists fall asleep, when they take baths, when they are so bored, lolling about their mother’s kitchen as boys that the only thing that draws their attention is the movement of the kettle lid as the steam comes out.
Robert M. Pirisg, the greatest and most misunderstood philosopher of the 20th century (one that actually philosophised, rather than simply repeating the ideas of others, cleverly) provided great clarity in his roman-a-thèse novels. I just shoved that bit of French in to impress you – and I bet it worked. The French wouldn’t be impressed, as roman means novel and thèse is just thesis. So these books tell a story and also teach. Clever. Entertaining. At the same time. It’s called rhetoric and academics (who do it all the time) officially hate it.
There’s a lot of rhetoric in this book because it’s a social pattern of value designed to combat the resistance of static quality (inertia, basically) to new ideas. Because new ideas don’t just force us to confront new perspectives – they force us to confront the ones we already have. The ones we take as self-evident. Like empiricism being theoretical. And we can really resent being told that we may only be partly right. And that they, our utter avowed enemy (because if there’s one thing we’re not it’s one of them!) might be partly right too. Then we might have to give our identity badge back, leave the club, stop giving the handshake.
Don’t read this book if all your online friends and followers agree with you about gender. According a value to voices outside of your echo chamber may be too much for you at this point in your life. Do read it if you are at all concerned that perhaps your views on gender might be hurting someone else and if you’ve recently disagreed with someone on a topic dear to your heart but still respect them. Do read it, also, if you’re fed up going to interdenominational weddings and funerals and seeing the sad sight of half the congregation sat in the pews at communion – or humbly going forward for blessing rather than bread.
Things change. Reading this, you might.

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Trans/Substantiation: The Metaphysics of Transgender is on Amazon, in print & Kindle version with a free online sample (click on my name to see the other version if they aren’t yet linked) and in various formats on Smashwords (premium quality) and many national and international online retailers.

Thanks to Piotr Siedlecki who has released his photo, ‘White Snowflake 2’, into the Public Domain on: www.publicdomainpictures.net

How Not to Introduce Characters

Don’t introduce characters like this:

Lesbian transsexual Orcadian Konstantina Fulbright-Lebowski (KFL for short) swinging single and sole proprietor of Deli Smelly, San Francisco’s waterfront’s latest and tastiest locally sourced organic Wiccan charcuterie – because, hey, meat may be murder but business is business – backflipped her perfect twentysomething bubble butt into crouch position and then exploded into a bençao capoeira kick that sent the head of her android Sensei, Maximilian 3PO-Boombox, spinning off into the corner of her small but lavishly decorated cave dwelling on the far side of Ganymede. Where all earthlings and earthcities were now located. Cos of the Pulse.

Readers won’t know whether they’re reading Anna Karenina, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rotary Spokes or a Culture novel. Mostly they’ll just be confused. The author of this kind of fiction is generally the graduate of a creative writing course whose enthusiastic teacher has encouraged the class to ‘create diverse characters’. The result is like one of those toys that switch heads, trunks and legs – and what is supposed to be entertaining ends up as incoherent. Add to this confusion a method of direct exposition from narrator to reader similar in style to the rapid reading of T&Cs on adverts, and enjoying this style of writing takes a lot of hard work.

I admit that the opening scene of the first book of the Bruno Benedetti Mysteries throws a lot at the reader all at once. However the reader is in the mind of the protagonist, and narrators are always unreliable. Tricks of the Mind is driven by a frustrated libido that makes Bruno mad, bad and dangerous to know. So when he enters, to find the object of his affection exercising on the hearthrug, his erudite consciousness is trying to focus on anything but the cheekily handsome face, glistening hard muscle and skimpy shorts of his cocky Cockney flatmate.

Readers hardly ever need to know a character’s surname, and the practice of varying between first name and surname (very common in thrillers) can cause them to lose the plot. Readers also don’t need to know everything at once. Let’s slow that example paragraph down:

Konstantina backflipped her perfect bubble butt into crouch position and then exploded into a kick that sent the head of her Sensei spinning off into the corner of her small but lavishly decorated cave dwelling on the far side of Ganymede.

Now it’s recognisably Sci-Fi girlpower chicklit. Let’s add some indirect exposition.

“Nice bençao!” rasped a metallic voice from the corner, “I told you the Terran martial art of capoeira was worth mastering.”

“Max it’s so creepy when you talk with your head off! Reattach!”

“And it’s very disrespectful when a student addresses her Sensei by its first name during training.”

“I mean no disrespect, Sensei 3PO-Boombox, I guess my mind is on the opening of the Deli tonight.”

The android reattached its head before replying. “Konstantina Fulbright-Lebowski, your ancestors from far-flung Terra did not colonise this moon for the sole purpose of the provision of charcuterie!”

Etc.

I still don’t want to read it because all it’s giving me is information. When I care (marginally) more about the Yodayadda of a robot than the preoccupations of a lovely young lady, something is clearly wrong. Let’s try another tack:

Konstantina was almost afraid to touch the shimmering green fabric. The fragile tunic, gift of her Orcadian grandmother, was one of the few remaining articles of clothing made on Terra. There were no silkworms on Ganymede. A silk tunic belonged in the Hall of Memory. It should not be worn by the sole proprietor of Deli Smelly on her opening night. Not even if Ivanya would be there. Not even if she would be sure to notice that the colour, exactly, matched Konstantina’s eyes.

She glanced at the chronograph, sighed, and replaced the garment in the alcove at the back of her cave. She just had time to fit in a combat training session with Max. It would clear her head.

Okay, now I care. I want to bomb the deli, for its silly name, I want to know how this tunic is expected to survive (in an alcove, in a cave, on a far-flung moon) and I also want to know what happened to Grannie and if there’s life on Earth. And more about Max. Cos he’s probably dead fit and I’m going to be terribly disappointed if I find out he’s made of silicon and not carbon. Maybe. I’m not that bothered about Ivanya (I mean why does our lovely girl have to work so hard?) but I might be if she’s Max’s fiancée. And he’s secretly planning a sex change but is kidnapped by the besotted Tyrant of Ganymede. I want to know now. I know it’s got silly but, admit it, so do you!

Don’t chuck everything at the reader all at once. You are the creator of this world and of these characters. Take the reader gently by the hand and lead on, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs as you go. Remember, if you write, you’re a writer. Even God put in the best part of an intensive week of practice before creating human characters. Let yourself make mistakes, and above all enjoy it.

I have to sign off, I’ve suddenly developed an interest in Sci-Fi…

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Thanks to Dawn Hudson for releasing her ‘Re digitized public domain illustration of a black and white human hand writing with a pen’ into the Public Domain.