don't buy transphobia

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

But the national press thought it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

laura-vandervoort_Supergirl

You can’t say it much clearer than this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support CeCe!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

BEFORE

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

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

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

 

AFTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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