Alex has stopped taking her medication. The other Alex–male Alex– lives in her mind, constantly jibing as fourteen-year-old Alex transitions.

9781922079237I’m reading a review posted at Lambda Literary about a young adult book called ALEX AS WELL already published in Australia and due out in the UK in May. Alarm bells are ringing. This is compounded by a PR release from the UK publisher in which the blurb states “ALEX AS WELL follows the story of Alex, whom doctors described as ‘sexually ambiguous’ when he was born” and then goes on to say that the author, Alyssa Brugman, “is not transgender, she doesn’t personally know anyone who is, so there’s no ‘expertise’ on her side, but she wanted to write a story about a teenager trying to find their identity and Alex As Well just ‘flowed’ out of her.”

The purpose of this blog is mainly to canvas opinion. I am transgender. I am not diagnosed intersex. I am also aware that intersex covers a wide variety. Below are my concerns but I would really like to hear from others … intersex, transgender and indeed cisgender.

The first concern I have … leaving aside the way the PR has conflated intersex and trans … is about the way Brugman has conceived Alex’s gender identity. Reading the first chapter I was immediately struck by how she has imagined Alex almost like Jekyll and Hyde so, while female Alex is buying makeup and being complimented on her bone structure, she is simultaneously bickering with male Alex inside her head, who is making dismissive jokes about boners:

The Clinique girl lays out the different products she has used on my face …
“You have really great bones,” she tells me, handing me my receipt.
One great bone, says Alex. I snort because it’s not a great bone, is it Alex? No, it’s just a teeny, weeny, noodle, you loser.

This device continues through the book. She writes of male Alex as a separate person who accompanies her wherever she goes:

Alex and I are waiting in the office …

My own view is that this may go to the heart of the profound dissonance in the way trans and cis people conceive gender transition. It’s perhaps the case that cis people with no familiarity about trans can only conceive trans in Jekyll and Hyde terms which would explain the endless fascination with transition, before and after photos and names … and indeed with the whole essentialist argument that you are always the gender you are assigned at birth and can only ever either present the ‘opposite’ gender by consciously acting or experience it as some form of dissociative identity disorder. I also suspect that it is this perception which drives the common cis assumptions that trans children will change their minds about their gender identity and those who transition with hormonal or surgical intervention are likely to regret as the result of some internal struggle between two conflicting genders.

Of course we all create alter egos to some extent in different circumstances. One of the major revelations during my own transition was the degree to which I discovered my identity belonged in the minds of other people. We present different faces to different people in our lives. But I think we’re pretty conscious of doing this and at heart we know who we really are.  Before transition I most certainly had a voice inside my head but not in the sense of having a split personality between male and female. It was a voice channeling warnings about the dangers of expressing my gender identity in the way that felt comfortable to me while not presenting in a way which cis society would find legible and socially acceptable.

I would welcome the views of intersex, trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) people on how their gender identity manifests. I’d also welcome the views of cis people on how they imagine a trans gender identity must be and whether familiarity with a trans* person has changed their perception.

My other concerns are specifically to do with how Alex’s intersex diagnosis and treatment are described.  Alex’s mother says Alex was “Sexually ambiguous” at birth.

The baby had a penis, but not a normal sized penis … They said the baby also had no testes, but ovaries, and we could have them removed later …

She goes on to say:

He had injections to replace his hormones … Then when he was four they changed from the injections to oral hormone medication to make sure he kept growing as a boy.

I profess no specialist knowledge about endocrine therapy in such cases but I have never heard of a child of four being prescribed what I assume are imagined as sex hormones. I don’t think it’s ethical even in a work of fiction to promote misinformation … if that is what it is … in an area already surrounded by so much ignorance.

I’d really welcome thoughts on this from anybody with bona fide information.

Finally authors of first person fiction of course invariably write from the POV of somebody quite unlike themselves. There’s also a very long history of writer’s co-opting trans and intersex as a metaphor for other things from Greek mythology through to Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Jeffrey Eugenides made a conscious decision not to meet with any intersex people before writing Middlesex, saying he:

… decided not to work in that reportorial mode. Instead of trying to create a separate person, I tried to pretend that I had this [physical feature] and that I had lived through this as much as I could.

However awareness has moved on and I cannot for instance imagine any white author today deciding to write about the experiences of a black teenager in our society without either having a lot of familiarity with the life of at least one black teenager or making sure they acquired this by research and then consulting constantly during the writing. This should surely apply to all marginalised groups although it never surprises me when people co-opt the experience of others without thinking to check their own privilege. There is much discussion in the trans community at the moment over Jared Leto’s role in the Dallas Buyer’s Club.  The character Leto plays was introduced into the plot as a dramatic device and neither he nor the makers of the film seem to have seen any reason to concern themselves in advance with how the characterisation would be viewed by the trans community. It’s this lack of awareness which of course we are doing our best to combat in a project I helped to create called All About Trans.

Alyssa Brugman is an established young adult author and, from what I’ve read so far the book is well written. The central transition device has been well received so far by cis reviewers describing it as “an amazing story, I was really impressed with how realistic and compelling this story was.” I do not imagine the author’s intentions in writing this book were anything other than good but even the best intentions can cause problems if there is not awareness.

 I’d welcome views on how to react to a novel such as this which may be dramatically satisfying but appears to have co-opted an intersex experience and in my view at any rate is far from realistic in its conception of the identity of a transitioning individual.

I am so thrilled to see Paris Lees top the Independent Pink List 2013 … and Jackie Green also in the top ten at number 8. This is exactly what we need … young possibility models (the term inspirational American actress, Laverne Cox prefers to role model).

The doyenne of UK trans activism, Christine Burns, pointed out recently that the older generation of out trans people were by necessity focussed on challenging the law in order to gain basic human rights. In the UK now … though sadly there’s a long way to go in much of the rest of the world … the focus has moved on towards effecting change in social attitudes. Paris and Jackie epitomise the way a new generation have been enabled by Christine and her contemporaries to emerge from under that smothering cloud of institutional discrimination and to demand the same respect as everybody else in an equal  society … in Laverne’s words, to live out their dreams publicly.

This to me is THE change which trans kids and teenagers, growing up now, and crucially their families need to see. I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of demonstrating to the parents of trans and gender non-coforming kids that … not only can their children be safe … but the door is now open for them to go on and lead fulfilling, indeed enviable lives.

I was particularly struck by a passage in a recent blog by trans activist and author Julia Serano on Transadvocate entitled Considering trans and Queer Appropriation. For me this sums up the assumption Paris, Jackie and other young volunteers have been working on with the All About Trans project:

The more highly stigmatized a group is, the less likely it is that the dominant/majority group will even attempt to appropriate aspects of their identity or culture, as doing so will only lead to them becoming tainted by said stigma. However, if the marginalized/minority group becomes more accepted over time, there will be less of a social price to pay for associating oneself with that group. Thus, as acceptance of the group increases, so do the chances that others will engage in non-EED (erasure, exploitation, and denigration) appropriation.

Paris and Jackie are smart, bright, admirable human beings who are not only living out their dreams but who enrich the lives of everybody they meet … by which I mean everybody … not just trans people (though maybe not the bigots who are on the wrong side of history). They don’t suffer bigotry and will complain when necessary but primarily the focus of their existence is positive … breaking down barriers and I’d go so far to suggest, winning over large numbers of people who want to know them, to associate with the trans ‘group’, even to appropriate a part of our magic.

There’s others on the list who are on the same path … for example Raphael Francis Fox and Lewis Hancox whose inspirational film company Lucky Tooth Productions is starting to attract attention … also musician and inspirational blogger CN Lester. None of them could be leading the lives they are without the work of previous generations of trans activists. There’s plenty to do yet before things are perfect but these are  not just the buds. They are the blooms of a new trans generation. I think it’s hugely appropriate that this year the Pink List celebrates this. There’s a place for handing out medals for long service but, as in any field, the winners of such medals are seldom heard of very far outside their own trade association or field of activity. Paris, Jackie and their generation are already making waves in the wider world and I am in no doubt that we are going to hear so much more from them.

Some are mentioned in the Pink List some are allies but, if I could make my own list of those who are doing the most to encourage the the next generation of trans kids, it would certainly include …
Mermaids (particularly chair, Susie Green, Jackie’s Mum),
Jay Stewart of Gendered Intelligence,
Sue Sanders and Tony Fenwick of Schools Out
Natacha Kennedy, who is dramatically changing perceptions with her papers such as:  Transgender Children: more than just a theoretical challenge

and the best allies ever Nathalie McDermott and Alana Avery of On Road Media whose innovative work with young trans volunteers on All About Trans is truly breaking the mould.

Originally posted on don't buy transphobia:

Don’t Buy Transphobia is a campaign for anyone who thinks ‘enough is enough’ about the way the transgender community are treated by the national press.
For many people that point came last week with the sad death of Lucy Meadows, a primary school teacher in Accrington, who was hounded by the local and national press.
Their interest in her was soley for being transgendered. Admittedly she was a teacher doing something not all teachers do, she was transitioning but her school were supportive and mostly she was just getting on with her life. It’s not really national news is it?

But the national press thought it was.

They thought it was such important news that they hounded her, opinion formers like Richard Littlejohn at the Mail poured vitriol on her life, and the press pack sat outside her house and hassled parents for comment… but only negative comment. They weren’t…

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Yesterday David Allen Green spoke powerfully on the World Tonight   [at 25mins in] about the tabloid monstering … as for example by Richard Littlejohn … and the subsequent apparent suicide of Lucy Meadows . He also wrote about Lucy on his Jack of Kent blog.

I felt a dull familiar thud at the news. In my own acquaintance I’m aware of two similar circumstances and cannot help being reminded of Christine Daniels’s suicide in 2009. I’ll make no apologies referring to her as Christine because that’s the person I first became aware of.

Unlike Lucy, Christine had a high public profile as a sportswriter for the LA Times. She decided to announce her transition publicly because … what other option did she have other than ditching her career and disappearing to begin from scratch anonymously in a new location? So she began to write a diary column about her transition. Here’s how she began:

“I am a transsexual sports writer. It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words”

As with Lucy, the hope that she would be allowed respect and privacy for the more intimate details of her transition was denied by a salacious tabloid press. There’s one aspect of this which I haven’t seen touched on by other commentators … the extent to which tabloid monstering can destroy the delicate process of renegotiating your identity with your nearest and dearest, for whom your transition can already resemble a bereavement, and with workmates and acquaintances, who may already imagine it is a big ask for them to let go of your old persona:

” … How do you go about sharing your most important truth,” Christine wrote, “one you spent a lifetime trying to keep deeply buried, to a world that has grown familiar and comfortable with your facade?”

I think many people, whose natural instincts never present them with the possibility of full-on social rejection even by those they thought were closest, have little concept of how intensely devastating this can be. To put it baldly we are social animals and you don’t have to look far in nature to understand how little chance of survival a social animal has when faced with rejection by the herd. In humans, real or imagined, it’s probably THE major cause of suicide.

There are certain commentators in the tabloid press whose stock in trade is to stoke the fires of social rejection against vulnerable individuals for no reason other than prejudice. They instigate witch hunts. That we tolerate these individuals and give them a platform in the 21st century is a poor reflection on our claim to civilisation.

In her Advocate.com Op-Ed: Transgender Dinosaurs and the Rise of the Genderqueers, Riki Wilchins writes:

… in 10 years, the entire experience we understand today as constituting transgender—along with the political advocacy, support groups, literature, theory and books that have come to define it since transgender burst from its closet in the early 1990s to become part of the LGB-and-now-T movement—all that may be vanishing right in front of us. Our memories, our accomplishments, our political movement, will all seem to only be historic. Feeling transgender will not so much become more acceptable, as gayness is now doing, but logically impossible.

I hope she’s right because all the advocacy, support groups, literature, theory and books she describes occurred as a reaction to cisgenderism, defined by Y.Gavrial Ansara as: “the discriminatory ideology that delegitimises people’s own designations of their genders?”. Transgender as a state can only seem less while cisgenderism is embraced by society as being more … just as a particular race can only be perceived as less when another race is embraced as more … ditto gay/straight … female /male … disabled/abled etc. etc..

I think it is unfortunate that Riki takes as her starting point an idealised ‘lovely 13-year-old girl’ and then seems to fall victim to her own cisgender expectation by suggesting “She didn’t cross gender lines or even rub up against them.” At first sight the experience of children on blockers may appear straightforward but evidence from the children and families themselves suggests otherwise. Even with committed parental support there is still a social transition … for the parents too. There is a period of ‘sexlessness’ when their peers’ hormones are raging. There is the dilemma of concealment or not in adulthood. Danger may still accompany openness.

Intersex people seem often to suggest that the most difficult aspect is the concealment and the secrecy concerning their body sex which is so often imposed upon them from childhood. Concealment and secrecy have long gone hand in hand with being trans for the very good reason that opprobrium and danger may well accompany openness. A very large percentage of the ‘diagnosis’ which the American Psychiatric Association DSM has now formally labelled ‘Gender Dysphoria’ is clearly a direct reaction to ideological cisgenderism in society to the extent … as Riki acknowledges of herself … that it frequently forces us to compromise our own identities.

So perhaps the better question is not will transsexuality go the way of the dinos, but rather, are we entering a new age of “Born This Way” public genderqueerness that very much exists alongside it?”

Maybe there is a paradox in Riki’s conclusion which we should embrace. But I do not believe now is the time for us to be looking to define or justify new identities in reaction to cisgenderist expectation. It is for the rest of society (including the APA) to truly embrace diversity and equality and accept us whoever/however we are.

I’m really impressed by the clarity with which The Leveson Report has swept aside the bullshit and so clearly identified the abuse of basic human rights in the sections (pages 666-668) on Trans Media Watch’s submission. The Report has not felt it necessary to go into any long involved explanation about who the trans community are or what complicated labels we are said to travel under … just people and human rights. I think the whole community could take a lesson from this.

Whatever future regulatory body we end up with I believe this will come to be seen as a moment in history when the UK trans community stepped up in the right place, at the right time, turned on the bullies and said ‘Enough!’

laura-vandervoort_Supergirl

You can’t say it much clearer than this:

8.32 On the basis of the evidence seen by the Inquiry, it is clear that there is a marked tendency in a section of the press to fail to treat members of the transgender and intersex communities with sufficient dignity and respect; and in instances where individuals are identified either expressly or by necessary implication perpetrate breaches of clause 12 of the Code. Parts of the tabloid press continue to seek to ‘out’ transgender people notwithstanding its prohibition in the Editors’ Code. And parts of the tabloid press continue to refer to the transgender community in derogatory terms, holding transgender people up for ridicule, or denying the legitimacy of their condition. Although the Inquiry heard evidence that parts of the tabloid press had “raised [its] game in terms of transgender reporting”,393 the examples provided by TMW of stories from the last year demonstrate that the game needs to be raised significantly higher.

8.33 The press has shown itself quite capable of doing so: 30 years ago, an Inquiry into the culture practices and ethics of the press was likely to have seen a deluge of complaints relating to the representation of homosexuals in the press.394 The fact that only a very few such complaints were received by this Inquiry may reflect the press’s ability to put its own house in order. Alternatively, it may simply reflect that society had changed and the press has been forced to keep up.

According to Rolling Stone ‘a major rock’ star is planning to transition.

I’d never heard of Laura until today and don’t know how high profile she is but I’m keeping all my fingers and toes crossed for her.

Historically transitioning in the public eye has been a horrible experience. Perhaps it’s a good sign that Rolling Stone seems to have removed their hideous 2006 hounding and speculation about a very well known film director and writer from their website. There was also a high profile US sportswriter in 2007 who had a tragic end after much lurid speculation in the media. Since Jan Morris, the most high profile transitions [as opposed to outings] I can think of in the UK were an apparently well known cyclist and one lees-distinguished member of a famous rock band, who both took the wise decision to transition well away from the public eye … although equally why should this have to seem to be a wise decision? One of my own early memories is of Jan Morris being cruelly pilloried by bishops and establishment ‘worthies’ on the BBC for being a delusional crank.

I say ‘as opposed to outings’ because once one has transitioned to a place where one is comfortable with one’s gender and hopefully been fortunate enough to repair and rebuild one’s social support network, the self-doubt and questioning are over. The undermining shit the world can throw at you becomes just that … shit.

Despite the negative impression those who read the Trans Media Watch Facebook may get, I find it astonishing how the media has changed even just over the last five years in response to a public, which is now far more accepting of an individual’s right to seek self-fulfilment. I desperately hope Laura’s privacy is respected. Transition is such a vulnerable period. Transitioners can so easily be  traumatised by the reaction of those around them as if growing up aware of being trans yet feeling unable to acknowledge it were not already enough. A common feature is to start out with optimism and faith in humankind only to have one promise after another broken by those who swore they would always stand by you no matter what. It’s not entirely their fault. They are often as innocently unaware of the possible bigotry they may be subjected to for supporting their loved one as the transitioner themself. Perhaps they still want to give love and support but find they are struggling to keep afloat themselves through their own coming to terms with external social pressure … that pressure can sometimes prove unbearable.

I so hope that Laura’s transition can be a gentler, kinder journey than for those who have gone before. If we can look back in five years time and say that it was, we will have truly made some progress. By then Laura will be well established in her target gender and in a far better position to take on the world … and I will long before have removed this blog from google’s tentacles. My heart goes with her.

Originally posted on Support CeCe!:

To the many of us who have struggled, being of the GLBTQ community, this is for you. To those who have triumphed over the idea of conforming to this fascist, hateful society, this is for you. But most importantly, this is for all of our loved ones who have become victims of hate crimes and domestic violence being of the GLBTQ community, specifically Trans men and women, who are singled out and have the highest percentage of victims of hate crimes and domestic violence. My love and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those who have lost a friend, a brother or sister, a mother or father, an auntie, uncle or cousin, or a partner or spouse to this epidemic. To all those unfortunate cases, this is for you.

 

In the memories of those who we have lost, it is our duty to put an…

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Is transition TRAPPED IN THE WRONG adult ‘before and after’ narrative by the media and/or by trans people themselves who comply with cisgender ideology?

Is the Huff Post undergoing a tabloid-change to become a Daily Mail? It’s hard to believe that Huff, who used to post well-informed and useful pieces on trans issues … such as this by Diane Ehrensaft …, has recently admitted to always liking Daily Mailish things and begun dressing himself in tabloid clothes which are anything but … viz: this astonishingly inept and crass ‘hermaphrodite’ blog by Peter Martindale  … and now this piece:

Former Big Brother Contestant Reveals He is Leading Life As A Woman

The cheeky Huff’s story comes complete with trans drinking game cliches such as big glossy before n’ after photos and excited reference to the ‘surgery to change his gender’.

BEFORE

A big worry for Huff must be whether he will be accepted by his parent Arianna Huffington. It’s unclear yet whether he’s broken the news to her.

At first Huff wasn’t sure but, after seeking advice from some old hacks, he seems to have decided to look into trashy trans story therapy and try living as a tabloid for a year before undergoing the full tabloid change operation which will make him into a Daily Mail.

Am I being cis-broadsheetist in worrying that Huff may never pass successfully as a Daily Mail and come to regret this change?

 

AFTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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