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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