The eye, not the spreadsheet

Penny Catterick writes.

16 June 2022

It’s a Sunday morning and I’m doing research for an essay towards my Psychology MSc. I’m distracted. A letter in the June issue of The Psychologist mentions a quote from Sir Christopher Wren, which expresses the view that ‘Mathematical demonstrations, being built upon the impregnable foundations of geometry and arithmetic, are the only truths that can sink into the mind of men, void of all uncertainty.’ I suppose my professional engineering background should cause me to herald that sentiment, but my developing psychological mind quivers at the cold, unequivocal and masculine nature of it.    

Let me introduce myself and explain why I feel this way. I’m a 63-year-old transgender woman, who transitioned in 2018, 55 years after realising I was different to my childhood friends. Then, I would have been seen as no more than a statistical data point close to the mean, rather than a young boy struggling to understand him-Self. But no-one was looking closely at me, not my parents, nor my wider family or my teachers. Despite some unusual gender manifestations, nobody saw anything to be concerned about. Jiddu Krishnamurti, philosopher, speaker and writer said, ‘once a parent tells a child the name of the bird, the child never sees the bird again.’ In my context, it meant no-one took time to look at what was causing the boy dis-ease. In the intervening 55 years, neither psychiatrists or psychologists looked deep enough to see who I was, what lay behind my troubled life. 

I suppose the question for psychologists in 2022 ought to be, am I now seen as a statistical outlier in a transgender out-group, or hopefully embraced within the bosom of an increasingly accepting society, the in-group, seen as an authentic individual? My lived experience is one of being unseen for 55 years and today, I continue to experience the poor psychic-hygiene familiar with transgender people going un-seen. When the BPS participate in the London 2022 Pride parade, it should be with meaning and an intention to be seen. To be seen to understand the psychological care needed by the LGBT+ community. William Blake expressed the gift of sight most beautifully in his poem, Auguries of Innocence, he says ‘We are led to Believe a Lie When we see with the eye, not Thro the Eye’. The formulation of analysis and theory is helpful in psychology, but the gifts of sight and curiosity are surely the most precious tools for all psychologists?

Penny Catterick

West Lothian