Archives for the month of: November, 2011

Life can seem very complicated for adult transitioners. I have certainly sucked a huge amount of air out of rooms in the past, while trying to come to terms with my own transition. As a result of social pressures or anticipated social pressures, we frequently seem to turn our adult transition into a baroque edifice of unnecessary complication. In this we have historically been eagerly encouraged by the psychiatric profession. But here I wish to focus on trans children and on an article by Alice Dreger in which she seeks to impose her subjective prejudices on such children and their families. 

 

I’d urge everybody to read Natacha Kennedy’s blog about Dreger. Her exposure of Dreger’s cisgenderist ideology and the non-evidential basis of the ‘arguments’ put forward by the ‘invisible college’ is important. The disingenuousness of Dreger’s locomotive analogy ranks with Ablow’s ‘farm animals’ accusation of delusion and Hakeem’s ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ analogy in its specious dismissiveness … however much she attempts to frame it otherwise. 

 

Dreger is not a new kid on the block. She has been around quite long enough to have descended from her ideological pedestal, familiarised herself with the evidence objectively and shown she was capable of empathy if she had it in her to do so:

“The whole tone of Dreger’s piece seems to me to position any outcome which involves transsexual surgery as worse than any which does not. In reality an outcome which includes surgery is a very good outcome if you are a transsexual,” writes Natacha. I know families who have been routinely accused of child abuse for supporting their children through such medical therapy. These children have all had a ‘very good outcome’. There are over a hundred such children and young adults around the world who have undergone such therapy with more than ‘good outcomes’. One parent described his child as being ‘thrilled with life” which about sums it up for most. If the world and my upbringing had been different, I should have been one of these children.

There’s a short video about one such named Valentijn, who went through the Dutch programme, here. Jackie Green, whose Mum and Dad made sacrifices to take her to the USA to obtain blockers has now, at the age of 18, felt it hugely important to speak publicly about how her life was saved by this course and how she has emerged from the depths of despair to become a fulfilled young adult.
And once again it is important to repeat Natacha’s assertion: “… an outcome which includes surgery is a very good outcome if you are a transsexual.” This is not a spur of the moment abstract decision such as Drefer seems to imagine. This is something parents live with for years from their child’s earliest awareness of gender. The reality is there is no doubt when this is a suitable course for such a child. As one Mum said: you need to walk a mile in such parents’ shoes before questioning the truth of this.

 

I can only ask for understanding therefore if I go ballistic at any suggestion that people like Dreger should be accorded any credence whatsoever or if any part of the trans community should be criticised for not granting such credence. I will also state what I consider to be a truth which I think is poignantly illustrated in the television series My Transsexual Summer. Transitioning in adulthood is seldom always a bed of roses even in your twenties. If we do not conceal our non-conforming gender as children, we are bullied with sometimes fatal consequences. If we do not receive the support we need in childhood and/or conceal our non-conforming gender, those of us, for whom it is part of our journey to congruence, will face expensive medical therapies and possible social exclusion in adulthood. 

 

I am hugely impatient for the trans community to arrive at the point where many gay and lesbian people are now. Their coming out in adulthood has been relatively smooth compared to previous generations and, as the slogan goes, ‘It gets better’. Now many feel strong enough to look back at their childhoods and to decide ‘It must be possible for this to be better”. For all that Stonewall UK may not always be the best friend to the trans community, I really admire their focus in this area supporting lesbian and gay pupils. Of course Stonewall was founded in response to Section 28, which specifically made illegal the ‘teaching of acceptability’ … of homosexuality in schools so it seems like a natural focus. I hugely admire Schools Out who have always included the ‘T’ in their work. 

 

It is my strong belief that  all of us in the trans community, who can, need to move beyond our own problems as adults and direct our focus towards trans kids and schools. That is where the future lies and where the whole culture of our society can be changed for the better.

“For the kids!” is the motto of Kim Pearson, a hugely energetic director of of Trans Youth Family Allies in the US. The support group for trans children and their families in the UK are Mermaids. I urge everybody who can to support them in whatever way you can.

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One thing I’ve noticed is the way many of the commentators onMy Transsexual Summer from within the trans community have bemoaned the fact that the experiences of the participants do not reflect their own. Similarly some of the participants have bemoaned that aspects of their characters such as their non-binary identities or otherwise have ended up on the cutting room floor in favour of the clichés such as putting on makeup and genital surgery. This is all quite understandable among people who find it hard in our society to establish their individual identities.

For that matter not much in MTS has anything to do with my own experience,  a good while post-transition. A week or so before the first episode aired I retweeted one of Patrick Strudwick’s tweets, in which he said: “Oh Channel 4, why call your new documentary My Transsexual Summer? It sounds like gender tourism, a fun little trip to the other”. I like his writing and was pleased that a gay man should make such a perceptive remark. Initially I totally agreed with him. I felt it was only slightly better than the working title of: “Boys Will Be Girls and Girls Will Be Boys” which was dire and totally inappropriate to that part of the trans community who have always felt a certainty about their experienced gender. To be fair the producers did consult about titles and ‘to be fair’ I did suggest some myself via Paris Lees which were all rejected, as I think were all hers.

However now I’m starting to think My Transsexual Summer is about as appropriate a title as you could pick … and that is in no way an implied criticism of the great Patrick Strudwick, nor do I think the producers or C4 were conscious of how apt when they plumped for it. Think of movies like My Favourite Year, Absolute Beginners, Stealing Beauty … oh there’s hundreds  … and perhaps you start to get the picture. Coming of age is what I’m on about.MTS like nearly every other documentary programme on a trans topic before it is about transition. Here are seven people, some of who have never met another trans person before, spending a great few weeks together last summer while transitioning. It may be a fun part of a longer trip but it totally will not be tourism. There’s long been arguments in the trans community about how long transition lasts? How do you know when you’re done? But undeniably there is a period when everything is in total flux and at some later point hopefully everything will no longer be in flux and you will have arrived at a place where you are comfortable with the way you present and experience your gender. At this point many will meld back into society and their trans history will cease to be visible. The story documentary makers always want to tell is the fairy tale romance of transition, which ends at the alter of surgery, and nobody is very much interested in the happy ever after and/or relatively uneventful life which follows unless it spirals into melodramatic disaster, which thankfully very few transitions do. The great majority of people who transition travel to a place where they are comfortable with their gender and, even if society continues to treat them badly, they are still happier that way and get on with their lives. Anybody want to make a documentary about the rest of their lives? Thought not. But what we do need is to be aware that such lives are being lived in society all around us, just as lesbian, gay and other lives, which were once considered too different to be safely visible, are being lived.

So what does this have to do with some members of the trans community bemoaning the fact that MTS does not reflect their personal identities? Perhaps not much directly but it does introduce us to a group of engaging and lively characters who are trans. Most of them will probably not be heard of in the media again once it has aired … although I suspect one or two will because they are talented people. Some will say they have been used by the media. To an extent … yes. But MTS has already been viewed by well over 2 million viewers and I suspect that figure may be considerably higher by the time the series ends. This is unprecedented for a programme about real trans people. What they will have achieved by letting us view their transsexual summer is to show a pathway to an estimated 60,000-90,000people in this country who would follow a similar transition path if they felt it would not make them social pariahs. It shows to parents with trans children that there is such a pathway which is both-life affirming and viable. That will be no mean achievement.

I think perhaps we in the trans community need to see a bit beyond the single minded desire to establish our own peculiar and individual identities which so often sucks all the air out of the room and destroys any chance of practical discussion about how to do that. Isn’t it a far more powerful outcome that, although the programme makers undeniably made some compromises to draw in viewers, millions will have enjoyed the company of these seven, shared in their lives and learned a lesson in diversity … that they will now have an entry point to broadening their understanding of the rich and joyful diversity  of gender experience, something which has always existed but of which they were previously unaware … and if they they thought about it at all, they thought of as just being sad? I certainly think so.

Amid the brouhaha surrounding Channel 4’s My Transsexual Summer, many may have missed ‘Models, Misfits and Mayhem’, episode 5 of which went out at the same time on ITV2 on Tuesday 8th November and is now available on itvplayer. This features a trans woman named Toni, who up to this point seems mainly to have served in the role of ‘The Misfit’, the butt of jokey innuendo in the voiceover and apparently well-meaning indulgence from Debbie who runs the grand sounding ‘The London School of Modelling’.

Well, this week featured the brilliant Jackie Green as one of the contestants. Jackie is doing an incredible job with her mum Susie to raise awareness about trans kids, the lack of acceptance in schools, in society more generally and the denial of the medical therapy from which a percentage could so hugely benefit.

In one touching scene this week  Jackie sat down with Toni and revealed that she herself has a trans history, something which left Toni with her mouth hanging open in astonishment. However at first hesitantly but then in a rush a transformation came over Toni as she realised Jackie was in earnest. Her armour of jokey self-deprecating humour, designed to combat the years vulnerability and hurt, dropped away and we were left with a lovely, genuine young woman who felt safe to talk about her life on totally equal terms with another young woman.

I couldn’t help feeling that Donna in MTS could gain something from watching this exchange. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing but admiration for Donna. Donna is a force and she has dealt brilliantly with the world which as a result seems not to have hurt her too badly. But when Donna proudly announces that she is ‘reclaiming’ the term ‘tranny’, I have to ask myself: Is that really what you are doing? From where I’m sitting it looks very much more as if those who say they are reclaiming this word are in fact most usually saying:

“Look, I’m calling myself ‘tranny’ so you can’t dismiss me with that term first because I’ve already put myself in a place where you don’t have to worry about asserting your own cis-privilege … certainly not questioning it. I’ve already accepted my ‘otherness’ and asserted it for you.”

To me calling yourself ‘tranny’ is and will continue to be the verbal equivalent of a submissive rictus … totally understandable, sensible, sometimes quite charming and even admirable in a world which is often hostile and frequently dangerous for trans people but it’s a game I feel we should be refusing to play any longer. It’s a difference in attitude between Jackie who, with the self-confidence and self-esteem gained from her gender-affirming upbringing, demands to be treated on equal terms and Toni, who has faced a far greater challenge establishing acceptance of her gender and has perhaps up to now gladly accepted toleration and indulgence where she can find it. I hope Toni will have learnt a lesson from Jackie because Toni is fantastic and should be very, very proud of herself … as should and is Donna.

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