Archives for posts with tag: transgender

There’s two things I’m noticing in reactions I’ve read from individuals in the trans community to Laurie Penny’s New Statesman piece: What the “Transgender tipping point” really means …

The first is a self-defeating kind of trans nativism. Quinnae Moongazer made a rather brilliant analogy in her blog, Words, Words, Words: On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism, quoting the inestimable Edward Said on Yeats’s poems about Ireland and Irishness that held

…a good deal of promise in getting beyond them, not remaining trapped in the emotional self-indulgence of celebrating one’s own identity. There is first of all the possibility of discovering a world not constructed out of warring essences. Second, there is the possibility of a universalism that is not limited or coercive, which believing that all people have only one single identity is… Third, and most important, moving beyond nativism does not mean abandoning nationality, but it does mean thinking of local identity as not exhaustive, and therefore not being anxious to confine one’s self to one’s own sphere, with its ceremonies of belonging, its built in chauvinism, and its limiting sense of security.

 

Second is what I consider to be a failure to recognise that appropriation, which does not involve erasure, exploitation, and denigration, is becoming a reality which I for one consider an extremely welcome development. This is well explained by Julia Serano in her piece Considering Trans and Queer Appropriation:

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.

I’ve seen seriously suggested that Laurie has been engaged in appropriation to make money by writing about trans for the New Statesman … Ha! It is of course only a matter of time before Cameron and his cronies turn their attentions from finding ways to carpetbag the NHS to siphoning off the massive wealth daily accrued by the New Statesman money making machine. Let’s ignore the fact that Laurie has  been writing supportive and super aware pieces about trans for a good five years to my knowledge often being subjected to poisonous stigma and bigotry as a result. Let’s … why not?

As we know biology is destiny and trans almost certainly has a biological basis so, if somebody is born cis, they can never empathise with or understand or be allowed to write about the trans (This is intended to be sarcastic). Are we witnessing the birth of 2nd wave Cis-Excluding Radical Transgenderism (CERT)? Sad, depressing and pointless if we are.

Six national newspapers agree that “sex swap” headlines and inclusion of transgender status were inappropriate in a landmark negotiation with the Press Complaints Commision and Dr Kate Stone.

(Below is the press release we sent out today about the resolution of a number of complaints to the PCC which I’ve been helping Kate Stone with. Kate’s priority and my own has not been to demand meaningless apologies but to try and establish agreement with the newspapers concerned that the Editor’s Code, notably the guidance issued by the PCC on Reporting and researching stories involving transgender individuals, means what it says. All About Trans are already working with two of the papers concerned. We do not expect the culture of unthinking discrimination, which has for so long existed in the UK press, to vanish overnight. Once the issues are understood however we do often find a real will among  journalists and editors to improve representation.)

 

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Dr Kate Stone

On 31st December 2013 Dr Kate Stone, a Cambridge academic, owner of an innovative electronics company and TED speaker, suffered a horrendous freak accident while on holiday in Scotland.

A cornered stag charged the group of people she was with, goring her in the neck and leaving her comatose and fighting for life.

Her family, including her three children, had no idea if she would live or die.

Almost every national newspaper in England and Scotland reported the incident.

When Kate eventually regained consciousness it was to headlines such as: “Deer spears sex-swap Kate”, “Sex swap scientist in fight for life” and “Sex-swap scientist gored by stag”.

Although papers such as The Scotsman saw no relevance in Kate’s transgender status, six nationals – the Daily Record, The Mirror, The Scottish Sun, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail – all included this detail, some with more prominence than others.

This constituted a direct breach of the ‘Discrimination’ clause in the PCC Editor’s Code which states that details of an individual’s transgender status “must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story”.

For decades journalists have been in the habit of pointing to the transgender status of an individual as being sensationally newsworthy in itself.

As the PCC notes, epithets such as ‘sex swap’, invented by and exclusively promoted by the tabloid press, can trivialize the complex medical processes of gender transition.

It is therefore extremely welcome that the papers, who got it wrong, have acknowledged that Kate’s transgender status was not relevant to the story and agreed that ‘sex-swap’ was a highly inappropriate term to use.

“If Apple CEO, Tim Cook, were involved in a car accident tomorrow, you wouldn’t get headlines: ‘Homosexual CEO in Car Accident’ and you certainly wouldn’t get: “Pansy (or Faggot) CEO in Car Accident,’” says Sarah Lennox, an advisor to All About Trans, a project that encourages greater understanding between media professionals and trans people.

She adds: “We’re living in the 21st century and the press have rightly moved on from that kind of finger-pointing and name-calling. ‘Sex-swap’ headlines are not OK”.

In his report in November 2012, Lord Justice Leveson, expressing hopes for better press representation of trans people, remarked how representation of gay people had improved and wondered whether this reflected “the press’s ability to put its own house in order” or “that society had changed and the press has been forced to keep up.”

We applaud the newspapers concerned for their acknowledgement that they got it wrong and look forward to far better relations in the future between the press and the trans community.

Kate Stone, Paris Lees and Sarah Lennox can be contacted through All About Trans info@onroadmedia.org.uk

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Extract from the Leveson Report:

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… 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…

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.

 

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PCC RESOLUTION STATEMENTS 

The Scottish Sun

Dr Kate Stone complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant considered the use of the term “sex swap” in reference to her transgender status to be pejorative, in breach of Clause 12 (i) of the Code, and, furthermore, that the references to her gender status at all in the articles were irrelevant to the story, in breach of Clause 12 (ii) of the Code. She considered the reference to her former name intruded into her private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

 The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the removal of the references to the complainant’s transgender status from the online articles, as the newspaper acknowledged that her gender status had not been relevant to the story and that the use of the term “sex swap” in the articles had been inappropriate. (Cl 3 and 12)

The Daily Telegraph

 Dr Kate Stone complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant considered that the reference to her transgender status in the article was irrelevant to the story, in breach of Clause 12 (ii) of the Code.

The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the removal of the reference to the complainant’s transgender status from the online article, as the newspaper acknowledged that it had not been relevant to the story. (Cl 12)

 

 The Sun

Dr Kate Stone complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant considered the use of the term “sex swap” in reference to her transgender status to be pejorative, in breach of Clause 12 (i) of the Code, and, furthermore, that the references to her gender status at all in the articles were irrelevant to the story, in breach of Clause 12 (ii) of the Code.

 

The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the removal of the references to the complainant’s transgender status from the online articles, as the newspaper acknowledged that her gender status had not been relevant to the story and that the use of the term “sex swap” in the articles was inappropriate. (Cl 12)

 

Daily Mail

 Dr Kate Stone complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant considered that the reference to her transgender status in the article was irrelevant to the story, in breach of Clause 12 (ii) of the Code.

 The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the removal of the reference to the complainant’s transgender status from the online article, as the newspaper acknowledged that it had not been relevant to the story. (Cl 12)

 

Daily Record

Dr Kate Stone complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant considered the use of the term “sex swap” in reference to her transgender status to be pejorative, in breach of Clause 12 (i) of the Code, and, furthermore, that the references to her gender status at all in the articles were irrelevant to the story, in breach of Clause 12 (ii) of the Code.

The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the removal of the references to the complainant’s transgender status from the online articles, as the newspaper acknowledged that her gender status had not been relevant to the story and that the use of the term “sex swap” in the articles was inappropriate. (Cl 12)

 

Daily Mirror

Dr Kate Stone complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant considered that the references to her transgender status in the articles were irrelevant to the story, in breach of Clause 12 (ii) of the Code. She also considered the reference to her former name intruded into her private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the removal of the references to the complainant’s transgender status from the online articles, as the newspaper acknowledged that her gender status had not been relevant to the story. In light of the above, the newspaper also acknowledged that in these circumstances disclosure of the complainant’s previous name without her consent was an unjustified intrusion into her private life.

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.

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.

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.

I’ve never really been a political activist until I accepted and addressed my trans experience which has become something of a single issue for me and which this blog has been exclusively about. I’ve tended to keep my professional and social life in a rather separate box which is the way I prefer it for now anyway.

As a previously more or less apolitical and pragmatic person I’ve been amazed since I began proselytising for teh trans at the rigidity of certain people’s ideologies … whether this is religious, political or cisgenderist. I’d always tended to stay clear of the religious and the political because my experience suggested and still does that trying to change people’s beliefs in these areas is unproductive and thankless. The only message I would really wish to convey is that both religious and political ideology become stultifying if they are ever embraced as ‘the only way’’ and I do not believe history is on the side of those who do so. A respect for basic human rights and an open mind make for a happier, more innovative and more efficient society.

In this analysis I think I would more or less agree with Steven Pinker’s as expounded in his book The Better Angels of our Nature . This in itself is a demonstration of quite how pragmatic I am because, in respect of the unexamined cisgenderist ideology he espouses, I view Pinker as being pretty close to the devil ;)

Cisgenderism however is an ideology which I feel must be confronted if future generations of trans people are ever to be allowed to flourish from their earliest childhood. I do not propose any ideology to replace it other than granting all people freedom from the oppression of gender expectation.  While making my modest contribution to this mission, what constantly strikes me is how even potential allies with the very best intentions … and I would imagine Stephen Pinker to be one such … find it so hard to get their head around this unless they are offered an alternative ideology. If this is not forthcoming they frequently take it upon themselves to identify the destruction of the binary as the new threateneing ideology and then become upset because they feel themselves under attack.

One common symptom of this is the way the trans experience is often referred to as ‘gender confusion’. I would maintain it is anything but and that it is cisgender inability to embrace diversity in gender which is the source of confusion. I sympathise with this blindness for perhaps poignant reasons. All my life I knew I was trans, then I transitioned and found myself at last able to embrace heteronormativity. I love the binary. It makes my world go round and brings a smile to my face every morning when I awake. I frequently experience a shiver of schadenfreude when I imagine what kind of a blinkered cisgenderist asshole I might have turned out had I not been born trans … yet upon entering the world of trans activism I found myself beset by pesky genderqueer/bigender/androgynous/other people (pace the inestimable CN Lester for this, I hope, fairly inclusive list). At one point I even found myself raging against the venerable Kate Bornstein when I attended a performance she gave because she insisted that I and my partner, as part of her audience, were also part of her ‘neither-a-man-nor-a-woman twibe’. I still feel it’s a mistake to engage with this kind of cis terminology when whether you are a man or a woman is irrelevant to personal wellbeing if you are comfortable in the way you present your gender. I’ve got to say also that I still think back to her performance as having the atmosphere of a revivalist meeting or a radical political rally.

And this is where the error so often lies to my mind. Gender is not political. The only reason for it to become political is to the end of making it not so. And it’s certainly not a religious belief. It’s an experience. My trans experience is different to the experience of others. Mine happens to meld rather nicely into our existing binary culture but when I think back to the years I spent trying to find the courage and resources to move from one side of the binary to the other, I can only see that binary as oppressive when we impose it onto those it does not fit against their will.

I love Susan Stryker’s analogy of gender being a sea we swim in. We all swim differently and we all must learn to swim as best we can … but there is no excuse for pushing others under in our own efforts to stay afloat or for the herd to stampede in blind panic because some people have found themselves drowning if they continue to swim with the same stroke or in the same direction as the majority have always insisted.

I should perhaps make clear, if it is not already so, that there is a world of difference between an individual experience which is cis or trans and espousing a cis (or even a trans) ideology. The best explanation, which I know of concerning Cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege is Julia Serano’s and can be found here 

Y. Gavriel Ansara also writes brilliantly on the subject of cisgender ideology in a number of publications available here

 The standard narratives:

Currently in news and documentary reporting on the transgender community tends all too often to fall into three main categories.

  • The midlife Crisis: This is the predominant narrative. A middle aged man  announces he has been ‘trapped in the wrong body’ and begins dressing as a woman. This is usually the subject of hilarity involving previous name, before and after photos and emphasizing the ‘inappropriateness’ of somebody with such a manly physique and occupation ‘pretending’ to be a woman. Prominent and prurient emphasis will be placed on very personal surgery which it is asserted will make him ‘become a woman’. In this transition stage many trans people are extremely vulnerable and may have lost their social support network. The media tend to take advantage of such vulnerability often in highly unethical ways.
  • The deceiver: Again nearly always somebody born male but who in this case is able to ‘pass’ as an attractive woman. The focus will inevitably be on her hyper-femininity and how she has deceived men into believing ‘she is really a woman’ or has engaged in sex work. A double standard will usually be imposed which ignores the typical behaviour of other women.
  • The trans child: Again nearly always a child born male. Great emphasis will be placed on the child’s preference for playing with Barbie dolls and wearing pink. Concern will be expressed that the child may be influenced in this behaviour … even suffering abuse from a manipulative mother. In almost every case, whether medical therapy is involved or not, there will be major inaccuracies in the article and ‘experts’ will be quoted whose work has been largely discredited within the medical community or who have a religious agenda which is not disclosed.
  • The pregnant trans man: Until recently trans men have been almost invisible in the news and their rarity exagerrated despite the likelihood that those transitioning now will soon achieve parity in numbers with trans women. The narrative which has suddenly leapt to prominence is that of the trans men who, in the words of Ralph Fox, have ‘got creative with their bodies’ and born a child. The callously opportunistic fashion of most news reporting is starkly exposed in such cases. Unlike that of trans women who were born male, the gender identity of the protagonist is never questioned as this would invalidate the ‘MAN HAS BABY’ headline.

If trans people object to such narratives, asking for balance and for their own voices and experience to be heard, they are routinely accused of demanding censorship. Such narratives are characterized by assertions that trans people are demanding things which they are not, by setting up straw man arguments and by an assumption that the lives and medical histories of trans people are public property.

The narrative which is erased:

The trans deficit  - As Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, makes clear:

The human rights situation of transgender persons has long been ignored and neglected, although the problems they face are serious and often specific to this group alone. Transgender people experience a high degree of discrimination, intolerance and outright violence. Their basic human rights are often violated, including the right to life, the right to physical integrity and the right to health.”

  • The attitude of trans people – According to research by Trans Media Watch, 95% of trans people feel that the media do not care what transgender people think; 78% feel that the media portrayals are either inaccurate or highly inaccurate, 21.5% have experienced verbal abuse and 8% violence associated with representations of transgender people in the media.
  • The reality of trans lives – Research commissioned by the Equalities Review reveals that 73% of respondents experienced harassment, with 10% being victims of threatening behaviour when out in public spaces; 47% of trans people do not use public social or leisure facilities for fear of discriminatory treatment; 64% of young trans men and 44% of young trans women will experience harassment or bullying at school. Over one third have attempted suicide at least once. Research in the US produced an even more shocking result: 41% had attempted suicide compared to 1.6 in the general population. Accurate figures are hard assess but it’s clear that  around the world the risk to a transgender person of being murdered is very significantly greater than in the general population.
  • Lack of balance:
  • It is frequently assumed by those who cannot imagine undergoing gender reassignment themselves that those doing so will be likely to regret the surgical outcome. This is often accompanied by an assumption that transitioners must have been coerced into medical therapies by evil psychiatrists which ignores the well-documented origin of requests for therapy  from transsexual people who have constantly battled with the psychiatric profession for the authenticity of their condition to be recognised.   For many years the media have searched for such imagined regrettors. The handful they have found out of the tens of thousands who have undergone such surgery have invariably made front page headlines and the same few individuals periodically still do. Nothing could be further from the truth. Studies reveal that as high as 98% express no regret and that, in the case of those who do, regrets concern poor surgical result rather than any desire to detransition. For any other medical procedure this would be an astonishing success rate.
  • Special concern rightly surrounds the treatment of trans children. In newspaper articles such children are frequently described as undergoing a ‘sex change’ while still pre-pubescent. Child psychologist, Diane Ehrensaft, highlights this problem well in a recent article When talking about children’s gender, words matter.  The reality is that no child would be treated with anything other than puberty blockers before the age of 16. Blockers have a well-documented safe history in treating other conditions and they are totally reversible so that normal puberty can be resumed if the child changes their mind concerning their gender. In reality the children who are prescribed blockers will have been monitored over a period of years following careful and well tried guidelines and, in the two major clinics in the Netherlands and Boston, 100% of those who decide then to go on to oestrogen or testosterone at age 16 not only remain happy with their target gender but are likely to be higher achievers than their non-trans peers. In the UK gender reassignment surgery is currently not performed before age eighteen. There are now about two hundred children who have passed through these programmes. Some are now in their thirties. Again a 100% success rate as a result of any other medical therapy would be considered astonishingly successful.
  • Statistical nonsense and inaccuracy:
  • The trans population of the UK may either be portrayed as being so vanishingly small that it can be safely ignored or, if you read the Daily Mail, there is apparently a trans person lurking behind every lace curtain! Best estimates suggest that there are in fact at least half a million people in the UK who experience some degree of gender variance.
  • Claims are frequently made in the media equating gender reassignment with cosmetic surgery and suggesting that those undergoing ‘sex-changes’ are costing the NHS a disproportionate amount of money. Figures are frequently inflated and no account is taken of how succesful the outcome is in combatting the depression and suicidality in individuals which has prevented them from leading fulfilling lives and making a full contribution to society.
  • The Erasure of Trans History:

As Christine Burns MBE, a patron of LGBT History Monthhas pointed out, since transgender people first began to make headlines as a result of prurience and sensationalism, activists have travelled a long and arduous road in pursuit of the basic human rights which should be enjoyed by every citizen.  From early individual acts of courage to the campaigning which led eventually to the Gender Recognition Act to Trans Media Watch’s current submission to the Leveson Enquiry, the abuse and discrimination which trans people have faced has gone largely unnoticed and unreported by the mainstream media. This is apparently not a story they imagine their readers wish to hear.

Conclusion:

It is long overdue that cisgender society turned a mirror on itself and its attitude towards trans people. Trans people have always existed, just as gay people and left-handed people have always existed. There is no history of trans people to be told … only the history of mainstream social attitudes and behaviour towards trans people which, as with other marginalised groups in the past and present, has been largely characterised by erasure, abuse and ridicule. Having no familiarity with the issues, those who write the news tend to lose perspective, feeding on the stereotypes created as dramatic devices by cis-gender writers of fiction and drama. Trans people are too frequently described in terms of being ‘other’, ridiculous or occupying a dangerous demi-monde on the fringes of society. We are seldom consulted about this. As with all people there are many human interest stories in the lives of trans people which do not involve either prurient personal detail or ridicule. All readers and viewers can perfectly empathise with such stories when told with respect and accuracy. Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and Waterloo Road have all featured popular storylines concerning trans characters. All of the UK soaps have discovered that diversity in storylines leads to increased viewing figures. In UK society diversity is the reality of most people’s lives. They wish to see this reflected in the news and to see examples of people living respectfully alongside others who may appear to be different but who in reality share the same wishes and desires, strengths and weaknesses as all people. It is time news items and stories reflected this in respect of trans people.

Dear Bel

This morning I woke up wishing I lived in another country instead of the one which seems so foreign where I constantly still find myself living … as in  “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.

 

The event which immediately prompted this thought was a news story concerning a transgender man who has evidently given birth to a child in the UK. This story flashed in headlines across the pages of the Telegraph, The Daily Mail, the Sun etc.. Various people whose views were framed so as to seem important were quoted as being appalled. None of these views were evidence based. All had a religious agenda which was not declared except of course in the case of Ann Widdecombe, who we know about.

 

It was the Sun however which acted in a way so barbaric that I was left stunned. They published a prominent panel alongside the article which read as follows (full contact details blacked-out):

 

I should declare an interest. I myself have a trans history. Mainly due to my involvement in Trans Media Watch, a charity which tries to ensure trans people are accorded respect and their basic human rights by the media, I’m also acquainted with a number of trans men. The three million viewers of Channel 4‘s My Transsexual Summer may also, I hope, feel they have some acquaintance with the charming Fox, Lewis and Max who featured in that programme. I have no idea if any of these guys plan to have a baby one day but, if they did, I know they’d all make fantastic parents …

 

… and that’s where the disconnect exists which frankly frightens me. As a result of The Sun’s barbaric invitation to the general public to find ‘the man’, every single trans man in the UK whether they’ve had a child or not is today that much more insecure. Anybody who knows of their trans status may shop them to the Sun for a bounty. The hacks will be phoning them and staking them out  faster than you can say ‘Dominic Mohan’… … just in case they might be ‘the one’. Suddenly they are no longer the personable Fox or Lewis or Max or any of the other trans men I know  – people with faces, positive, life affirming, the same insecurities and strengths as all of us. They’re suddenly faceless, without emotions –  ‘the man’, ‘the quarry’ ‘beyond the pale’ ‘other’ ….  God alone knows how the actual family with a baby child must be feeling.

What century are we living in? This isn’t the bloody liberal Britain that I … and  you too, Bel, I hope … have patiently willed to emerge over the course of our lifetimes.

 

… and yes, I was referring to that Dominc Mohan … the editor of The Sun who admitted to the Leveson Inquiry a couple of weeks ago that his newspaper had “crossed the line” of the PCC code on reporting transgender issues in the past, but blithely asserted: “We’ve raised our game in terms of transgender reporting”.  The very same Dominic Mohan who allowed this witch hunt to be promoted by his newspaper in contravention of at least four sections of the PCC Editor’s Code – ‘Privacy’, ‘Harassment’, ‘Children’ and ‘Discrimination’. And speaking of Leveson, if you want to read more of the monstrous outrage which the press have for so long inflicted on the trans community, try reading the evidence given by Helen Belcher which accompanied Trans Media Watch’s more detailed confidential submission … confidential because those who gave the evidence are so scared of being monstered again. This is real news. This is news of ruined lives, ruined careers, attempted suicides, harassment of rape victims and … can you believe this? … children whose families were forced to move school, move to new neighbourhoods after being besieged in their homes and having the neighbours encouraged to harass them speak out against them.

But what preoccupies the press? The prurient, disgusting witch-hunt for an ordinary family with a baby, whose trans status should not be relevant according to the PCC.

 

I’m not a complete idiot. I know not to expect anything much in the way of humanity from The Sun but what sent me over the edge, Bel, was your column in the Mail Online. I remember when you and your then husband, Jonathan Dimbleby, used to be left-wing when left wing meant being on the side of the angels and confronting gratuitous nastiness in our society wherever and however it manifested.
I’m a liberal – but a man giving birth is freakish and beyond the pale,” the headline screams over your column.

 

You lay out your liberal credentials which include accepting that “there are some people — a tiny minority — who are unfortunate enough to feel profoundly unhappy within the gender that nature gave them.They can feel so lost and disturbed that they go to great lengths (often very bravely) to have a sex change. But I can’t help wondering why a woman who wants to be a man would leave her womb in place and functioning.

Bel, you have no idea how much I hate being called called ‘brave’ by the very people whose constant unexamined prejudice is the only reason why I should ever have needed to be brave. The actual state of being trans and any medical treatment it might incur are a doddle by comparison. I’ve found myself celebrating the happy outcome of my transition every single day for a good few years now. Finding yourself finally at ease makes you more appreciative, you know.  And regarding the baby, the point is, Bel, you can wonder all you like but it’s not about you. It’s not your experience. You were privileged to be born at ease in your body and to bear children without anybody ever questioning your right to do so. Would you answer me this question if I ask you? … How dare you question another human being’s right to do the same because their gender configuration happens to make you feel a little queasy? What gives you the right?

Most people” you continue “will surely regard this as just plain weird — even revolting. This is not prejudice. Such a reaction speaks from an innate feeling about men and women, their roles, family life — about what is ‘natural’.

Well, are you sure it’s not prejudice, Bel, because most people used to think many physical illnesses, mental illness, gay sex and even having dark skin were revolting and weird? It’s called DIVERSITY and an imagined revulsion to diversity is nothing which a little familiarity with the same cannot cure.

You mutter about “having your cake and eating it”. You assert that “the idea of a 14-year-old discovering Daddy is really Mummy is bound to cause stress” without a shred of evidence or understanding of the reality of such a situation. What do you imagine? At age fourteen the precious darling is called into father’s study where the anxious patriarch and hysterical Mama stand wringing their hands, their faces contorted with anguish:

“Darling, dearest, we have a terrible, terrible secret we’ve been keeping from you … more terrible than any you could possibly imagine. It will ruin your life! … Your Papa used to be a woman!”?

Let me put you right on two things:

  • Firstly, such a scenario is far more likely where trans people are forced so deep into denial by a society, which all but erases the trans experience, and consequently enter into an inappropriate heteronormative marriage or relationship in adulthood.  It’s not so far removed from the frequent “Daddy (or mummy) is gay” scenario after an inappropriate marriage which hopefully is becoming less common with greater acceptance of young gay and bisexual people and civil partnerships.

 

  • Second, especially if a child learns of their parent’s transsexualism from an early age, available evidence does not support concerns that such knowledge directly adversely impacts on the children. And I’m going to have to add this, Bel, … this holds true so long as there are not too many people who hold views such as yours, in the child’s immediate social circle or teaching in their school, insisting that it must surely have an adverse impact.

… but it’s your last sentence which I find the most chilling of all:

 

And it matters because the welfare of adults and children alike depends on a collective acceptance of what is proper, fitting and right. Which is why most of us will regard the freakish idea of a ‘man’ giving birth as simply beyond the pale.

 

Frankly this is no more nor less than a charter for The Sun’s cohorts to indulge in witch-hunts. At various times in our history ‘we’ have considered it not ‘proper, fitting or right’ for people of different races or different classes to have children together. Frequently the children from such unions were given up for adoption because of the consequent social pressure. It was not considered ‘proper, fitting or right’ for children to grow up gay so they were institutionalised and subjected to electroconvulsive therapy. It was not considered ‘proper, fitting or right’ for children to write with their left hands. It was not considered ‘proper, fitting or right’ for dyslectic children not to be able to read or write.

 

Bel, I simply cannot believe I’m telling this stuff to you of all people. When it comes down to it. There is a simple truth here and it is one we , as trans people, have to deal with every single day of our lives. We come across people in your situation daily. You have no familiarity or understanding of how our lives work. It’s not good enough to behave like some ancient mandarin whose opinion … based on purest speculation … trumps all others because you’re “a liberal … but …”

 

I’m looking at a recent piece from your Daily Mail agony aunt page where you give sensitive advice to a woman who feels she has betrayed her husband. I’m sure she is perhaps somebody you can empathise with more easily:

 

As I grow older, I find it harder and harder to make judgments,” you say. “I suggest you Google a poem by Mary Oliver called The Journey and reflect on her last lines:

‘As you strode deeper and deeper,

Into the world,

Determined to do,

The only thing you could do —

Determined to save,

The only life you could save.

Choose happiness. I would.”

… and yet you would deny the happiness of a family to a trans person with whom you can feel no empathy because I suspect you have never met a trans man or certainly not developed any kind of long term acquaintance with one. Apart from which, every trans man or woman is an individual with individual hopes and wishes like everybody else. Some may desperately want children. Others may not. So knowing one trans man in no way means you know all trans men.

 

But I’ll close with an open invitation to you. I’d be more than happy to arrange for you to meet with a group of trans men … to spend time with these great people who will have so much to offer if they chose to become parents. I would like you to see how natural the way they are is to them and even how the adversity they have faced from society for being trans has made them better, more sensitive, more determined people … people whose love for their children would be secure and unconditional because they so often have experience of lacking unconditional love in their own childhoods … And the reason? Because their own parents struggled with the prevailing view in our society of what is ‘proper, fitting and right’ and in too many sad cases came to the view that their own children were NOT.

Events over the last week or two … attending the Leveson Inquiry, this witch hunt business … have filled me with righteous anger. I have probably seemed harsh. I have a very good understanding how little the great majority of people understand about the real lives of trans people or experience any necessity to improve this understanding. I hope I have given some indication of why I believe such a necessity is urgent. I don’t for one moment believe you are a monster which is why I’ve written this.

Wishing you health and happiness

Sarah

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