Archives for the month of: March, 2012

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

I am proud of my friend Paris Lees. She is a hugely gifted writer for whom I (and quite a few others) predict great things.

Paris is editor of META magazine an ambitious project which has set out to do what many might describe as impossible … produce a magazine for the trans community. It’s no accident that the first question asked on the cover is “What does ‘the trans community’ actually mean?” while one article inside by Roz Kaveney discusses the problems associated with ‘Cat Herding’ and a debate between Dru Marland and Natacha Kennedy on whether the term ‘tranny’ is acceptable or not.

Also featuring are interviews with Justin V. Bond, Tomboy director Celine Sciamma, Lewis from My Transsexual Summer, Dian Torr and articles by Del La Grace Volcano, Jane Fae, Jennie Kermode, CN Lester and much more

For many years a magazine like META would have been anathema to me. I saw the trans community as something fractious … a hydra which ate its own. But META captures a new zeitgeist of confidence and assertiveness. More and more of those who make up the trans community are developing the sense of entitlement which has been so lacking in the past when most of us were grateful if we could achieve a place where we were free from constant opprobrium and just left alone to live our lives. Finally we are becoming sufficiently confident in our own identities as individuals not to rage at the mirrored image of ourselves we see in others of our kind.

I firmly believe that if things are ever to change for succeeding generations of trans people, it is essential that we stand up and are proud. Parents of trans children growing up now need to know that transition is a viable pathway whatever form it may take … binary, non-binary, gender variant. Hopefully all such terms will disappear before too long and we will all be just people.

It’s beginning to happen but until that process is complete, META is the mast we can all pin our colours to. Please buy a copy now. Apart from anything else it’s a really good read.

 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.

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