Discrimination from Stagecoach

07/02/2014

Tonight I witnessed a shockingly casual act of discrimination against a man in a wheelchair from an employee of Stagecoach Warwickshire.

I was heading home from the University of Warwick campus, where I’d been to watch some fantastic live music. I arrived at a bus stop absolutely crammed with students and the odd academic – many intending to head to Leamington Spa for an evening out, others heading home from the night.

busesThis crowd caught the (slightly delayed) 22:50 bus – the last one due for an hour. Students pushed and shoved in order to ensure they wouldn’t be left standing in the cold wind and rain. This isn’t an unusual situation; the bus service is frequently abysmal during university term times. Passengers boarding at the Arts Centre bus stop can often expect to miss several buses due to overcrowding. This isn’t such a problem in the early evening when services are more frequent, but is unacceptable at a time of night when only one bus is running every hour.

One of the people waiting at the bus stop was a wheelchair user. A large number of individuals pushed in front of him, but eventually he found his way to the front of the queue – only to be turned away by a Stagecoach employee who was managing the flow of people onto the bus.

I witnessed the argument that took place as the man was turned away. The Stagecoach employee informed him quite firmly that he was not allowed on the bus. When pressed for an explanation, he stated that there was only one wheelchair space on the bus, and that this was already occupied by another wheelchair user.

The man and his friends pointed out that there was actually space for more than one wheelchair on the bus. They put several options to the Stagecoach employee. These included placing the second wheelchair alongside the first (upon later alighting the bus, I observed that there was clearly space for this), putting the wheelchair in the space normally reserved for pushchairs, or otherwise temporarily storing the chair whilst its owner moved to sit in one of the chairs set aside for disabled users.

The stagecoach employee rejected all of these suggestions. He insisted that this type of bus could only carry one wheelchair at a time, for insurance purposes. This was because the law requires that certain things should be present: e.g. a specific amount of space, a handrail etc. There was only enough of this for one wheelchair. The crux of his argument was that by taking the wheelchair user onto the bus, Stagecoach would be breaking the law, invalidating their insurance and endangering lives through overcrowding.

Eventually the wheelchair user and his friends left, quite understandably frustrated.

The Stagecoach employee then proceeded to let abled people onto the bus until it was completely rammed. The official limit for individuals standing (according to a nice big sign on the bus) was 17, in the case of no wheelchair and minimal baggage being present. I noted plenty of baggage, a wheelchair, 28 people standing and three people sitting on the stairs. The bus was quite clearly over capacity, and dangerously so.

The hypocrisy and ableism of the Stagecoach employee was utterly blatant. It was clearly more than his job’s worth to break a rule by asking some people to move around a little to allow a wheelchair onto the bus, potentially leaving a small number of abled individuals at the back of the queue unable to board. Instead he turned away a disabled man and his friends, choosing to break a whole load more rules by allowing abled individuals to cram on board.

There are also a couple of wider issues here. The first is that Stagecoach services between the University of Warwick and Leamington Spa are not fit for service.

It is not good enough that people at the main bus stop on a university campus are regularly left standing as already (over)full buses drive past.

It is not good enough to run one service an hour late at night when existing services do not have enough room for existing passengers (many of whom have bus passes, meaning that they have already paid for the service that is not being provided).

It is not good enough that Stagecoach buses have room for only one wheelchair, particularly given the above issues. If two people using a wheelchair happen to turn up to catch the same bus, then one of those people won’t be getting a bus. This is absolutely unacceptable.

The second issue is that legislation supposedly written to ensure that disabled individuals have fair access to public services is being used to actively discriminate against people. It takes a very special kind of ignorance and privilege to officiously cite equality laws when refusing someone a service on the grounds of physical difference. Of course, disabled activists have been writing about this kind of thing for years. But it’s about time more of us paid attention.

DSM-II

15/01/2014

On Monday we released the second Dispute Settlement Mechanism EP, DSM-II. You can listen to it below. I perform on lead vocals, and also play clean bass guitar on our cover of Seven Nation Army.

NHS Vulva may be of particular interest to readers of this blog. It deals with issues of medical malpractice, transphobia in the legal system, and cultures of transition.

Provisional English Protocol for Gender Reassignment, 2013-2014

18/10/2013

NHS England Interim Gender Protocol CPAG Approved 12-7-13 (released 15th July 2013)

Key changes to current treatment, and other points of interest:

  • GPs may refer patients directly to Gender Identity Clinics (GICs). It is not necessary for GPs to first refer patients to another specialist service (e.g. a psychiatrist). This is important because until now most GICs in England have required patients to be referred by a mental health specialist.
  • Facial hair removal will be available on the NHS. The Interim Protocol describes facial hair removal as “essential treatment for MtF patients” (p.10). It is funded by NHS England, rather than CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups: these replace Primary Care Trusts). Patients are (in theory) guaranteed nine facial hair removal treatments: one test patch, and nine sessions. Funding can be sought for further treatments but is not guaranteed.
  • Hair removal prior to genital surgery will be available on the NHS. Funding for this service is provided through NHS England in a similar manner to facial hair removal for MtF patients.
  • Adult treatment is available to trans people from the age of 17. The Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust will continue to provide services in London, Exeter and Leeds for trans people under the age of 18, according to its own guidelines. This means that trans people aged 17 may choose between “adult” and “young people’s” services.
  • Breast augementation, facial feminisation surgery, lipoplasty and sperm/egg storage may be funded. Breast augementation will only be funded if “there is a clear failure of breast growth in response to adequate hormone treatment”. All of these procedures are funded by CCGs rather than centrally through NHS England, which means that GICs must apply to CCGs for funding. They will be funded (or not) according to CCG policy, which may vary.
  • Patients require only one assessment from a GIC team member in order to be referred for psychotherapy or speech therapy. This is important as it has the potential to speed up access to speech therapy and additional psychotherapeutic support.
  • Patients must recieve assessment from two GIC team members in order to recieve hormone therapy. This is important because until now, some GICs in England have required assessment from more than two team members. Conversely, it reinforces the position of those clinicians who argue that two opinions is necessary before treatment can begin.
  • 12-24 months of “real life experience” is required prior to the provision of genital reassignment surgery. This is important because it means that patients can (in theory) access genital surgery within a year, in line with WPATH guidance. However, it is likely that clinics will continue to demand at least 2 years of “real life experience” prior to surgery.
  • A wait of at least 6 months is necessary prior to the provision of chest surgery for FtM patients. The guidance on this is somewhat vague, which should allow flexibility but may be exploited by more conservative GICs. The Interim Protocol states that patients who qualify for chest surgeries “may have engaged in a social role transition” (emphasis mine), and that a referral will “typically” be offered “around 9-12 months, but no less than 6 months, after the patient’s first consultation”.
  • Surgical providers are supposed to inform primary care staff (i.e. GPs and nurses) of procedural details and post-operative needs. We’ll see how this one pans out in practice!

Overall, this Protocol should result in a broad improvement in transition-related services for trans people living in England and Wales. If all goes to plan, more services will be available to more people, who will have to do less waiting for them! I offer a more in-depth discussion of these changes – and comparisons to the Scottish Protocol – here (please note that there have been changes since I wrote that post – e.g. GPs should now be able to directly refer to GICs, and facial hair removal should be provided on the NHS in England and Wales, just like Scotland) .

However, GICs may yet resist some of the measures in this document. The protocol was meant to come into force for all trans patients access transition-related services from 1 October 2013, so now is the time to hold medical providers to account.

Statement of trans-inclusive feminism and womanism

17/09/2013

Several individuals have been working hard over the past couple of weeks to put together an international statement supporting trans inclusion in the struggle for women’s rights. The publication of this statement comes as the inclusion of trans people within feminist and womanist groups is once again under question, and as trans concerns gain an increasingly public profile.

I was honoured to be asked to sign this statement. I feel it provides a timely response to the aforementioned issues, as well as a recent radical feminist statement on trans exclusion, and the forthcoming publication of Sheila Jeffreys’ new book.

I stand fully behind the statement, and am also heartened by its international scope. As I write this post, the statement has been signed by 150 individuals and 8 organizations — from 13 countries.

However, I feel it is worth noting the anglo-centric nature of the statement. That is somewhat inevitable given that this is a debate happening largely within the English-speaking world. Still, it would have been good to see signatories from the United States and United Kingdom note their country of origin; at present, I feel that signatories from outside these countries are singled out as unusual through the highlighting of their national location. I hope that this disparity and US/UK-centrism might be addressed in future efforts.

I have reproduced the statement below, and encourage others to disseminate it further.

 

A Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism

We, the undersigned trans* and cis scholars, writers, artists, and educators, want to publicly and openly affirm our commitment to a trans*-inclusive feminism and womanism.

There has been a noticeable increase in transphobic feminist activity this summer: the forthcoming book by Sheila Jeffreys from Routledge; the hostile and threatening anonymous letter sent to Dallas Denny after she and Dr. Jamison Green wrote to Routledge regarding their concerns about that book; and the recent widely circulated statement entitled “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Critique of ‘Gender,’” signed by a number of prominent, and we regret to say, misguided, feminists have been particularly noticeable.  And all this is taking place in the climate of virulent mainstream transphobia that has emerged following the coverage of Chelsea Manning’s trial and subsequent statement regarding her gender identity, and the recent murders of young trans women of color, including Islan Nettles and Domonique Newburn, the latest targets in a long history of violence against trans women of color.  Given these events, it is important that we speak out in support of feminism and womanism that support trans* people.

We are committed to recognizing and respecting the complex construction of sexual/gender identity; to recognizing trans* women as women and including them in all women’s spaces; to recognizing trans* men as men and rejecting accounts of manhood that exclude them; to recognizing the existence of genderqueer, non-binary identifying people and accepting their humanity; to rigorous, thoughtful, nuanced research and analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality that accept trans* people as authorities on their own experiences and understands that the legitimacy of their lives is not up for debate; and to fighting the twin ideologies of transphobia and patriarchy in all their guises.

Transphobic feminism ignores the identification of many trans* and genderqueer people as feminists or womanists and many cis feminists/womanists with their trans* sisters, brothers, friends, and lovers; it is feminism that has too often rejected them, and not the reverse. It ignores the historical pressures placed by the medical profession on trans* people to conform to rigid gender stereotypes in order to be “gifted” the medical aid to which they as human beings are entitled.  By positing “woman” as a coherent, stable identity whose boundaries they are authorized to police, transphobic feminists reject the insights of intersectional analysis, subordinating all other identities to womanhood and all other oppressions to patriarchy.  They are refusing to acknowledge their own power and privilege.

We recognize that transphobic feminists have used violence and threats of violence against trans* people and their partners and we condemn such behavior.  We recognize that transphobic rhetoric has deeply harmful effects on trans* people’s real lives; witness CeCe MacDonald’s imprisonment in a facility for men.  We further recognize the particular harm transphobia causes to trans* people of color when it combines with racism, and the violence it encourages.

When feminists exclude trans* women from women’s shelters, trans* women are left vulnerable to the worst kinds of violent, abusive misogyny, whether in men’s shelters, on the streets, or in abusive homes.  When feminists demand that trans* women be excluded from women’s bathrooms and that genderqueer people choose a binary-marked bathroom, they make participation in the public sphere near-impossible, collaborate with a rigidity of gender identities that feminism has historically fought against, and erect yet another barrier to employment.  When feminists teach transphobia, they drive trans* students away from education and the opportunities it provides.

We also reject the notion that trans* activists’ critiques of transphobic bigotry “silence” anybody.  Criticism is not the same as silencing. We recognize that the recent emphasis on the so-called violent rhetoric and threats that transphobic feminists claim are coming from trans* women online ignores the 40+ – year history of violent and eliminationist rhetoric directed by prominent feminists against trans* women, trans* men, and genderqueer people.  It ignores the deliberate strategy of certain well-known anti-trans* feminists of engaging in gleeful and persistent harassment, baiting, and provocation of trans* people, particularly trans* women, in the hope of inciting angry responses, which are then utilized to paint a false portrayal of trans* women as oppressors and cis feminist women as victims. It ignores the public outing of trans* women that certain transphobic feminists have engaged in regardless of the damage it does to women’s lives and the danger in which it puts them.  And it relies upon the pernicious rhetoric of collective guilt, using any example of such violent rhetoric, no matter the source — and, just as much, the justified anger of any one trans* woman — to condemn all trans* women, and to justify their continued exclusion and the continued denial of their civil rights.

Whether we are cis, trans*, binary-identified, or genderqueer, we will not let feminist or womanist discourse regress or stagnate; we will push forward in our understandings of gender, sex, and sexuality across disciplines.  While we respect the great achievements and hard battles fought by activists in the 1960s and 1970s, we know that those activists are not infallible and that progress cannot stop with them if we hope to remain intellectually honest, moral, and politically effective.  Most importantly, we recognize that theories are not more important than real people’s real lives; we reject any theory of gender, sex, or sexuality that calls on us to sacrifice the needs of any subjugated or marginalized group.  People are more important than theory.

We are committed to making our classrooms, our writing, and our research inclusive of trans* people’s lives.

Signed by:

Individuals

Hailey K. Alves (blogger and transfeminist activist, Brazil)

Luma Andrade  (Federal University of Ceará, Brazil)

Leiliane Assunção (Federal University of the Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil)

Talia Bettcher (California State University, Los Angeles)

Lauren Beukes (novelist)

Lindsay Beyerstein (journalist)

Jamie “Skye” Bianco (New York University)

Hanne Blank (writer and historian)

Kate Bornstein (writer and activist)

danah boyd (Microsoft research and New York University)

Helen Boyd (author and activist)

Sarah Brown (LGBT+ Liberal Democrats)

Christine Burns (equalities consultant, blogger and campaigner)

Liliane Anderson Reis Caldeira (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil)

Gloria Careaga (UNAM/National Autonomous University of Mexico)

Avedon Carol (activist and writer; Feminists Against Censorship)

Wendy Chapkis (University of Southern Maine) – “I don’t love the punch line ‘people are more important than theory.’  More to the point, it seems to me, is that feminist theories that fail to recognize the lived experiences and revolutionary potential of gender diversity are willfully inadequate.”

Jan Clausen (writer, MFAW faculty, Goddard College)

Darrah Cloud (playwright and screenwriter; Goddard College)

Alyson Cole (Queens College – CUNY)

Arrianna Marie Coleman (writer and activist)

Suzan Cooke (writer and photographer)

Sonia Onufer Correa  (feminist research associate at ABIA, co-chair of Sexuality Policy Watch)

Molly Crabapple (artist and writer)

Elizabeth Dearnley (University College London)

Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus (University of Brasilia, Brazil)

Sady Doyle (writer and blogger)

L. Timmel Duchamp (publisher, Aqueduct Press)

Flavia Dzodan (writer and media maker)

Reni Eddo-Lodge (writer and activist)

Finn Enke (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Hugh English (Queens College – CUNY)

Jane Fae (writer and activist)

Roderick Ferguson (University of Minnesota)

Jill Filipovic (writer and blogger)

Rose Fox (editor and activist)

Jaclyn Friedman (author, activist, and executive director of Women, Action, & the Media)

Sasha Garwood (University College, London)

Jen Jack Gieseking (Bowdoin College)

Dominique Grisard (CUNY Graduate Center/Columbia University/University of Basel)

Deborah Gussman (Richard Stockton College of New Jersey)

Dr Sally Hines (University of Leeds)

Claire House (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Brazil)

Astrid Idlewild (editor, urban historian)

Sarah Hoem Iversen (Bergen University College, Norway)

Sarah Jaffe (columnist)

Roz Kaveney (author and critic)

Zahira Kelly (artist and writer)

Mikki Kendall (writer and occasional feminist)

Natacha Kennedy (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

Alison Kilkenny (journalist and activist)

Matthew Knip (Hunter College – CUNY)

Letícia Lanz (writer and psychoanalyst, Brazil)

April Lidinsky (Indiana University South Bend)

Erika Lin (George Mason University)

Marilee Lindemann (University of Maryland)

Heather Love (University of Pennsylvania)

Jessica W. Luther (writer and activist)

Jen Manion (Connecticut College)

Ruth McClelland-Nugent (Georgia Regents University Augusta)

Melissa McEwan (Editor-in-Chief, Shakesville)

Farah Mendlesohn (Anglia Ruskin University)

Mireille Miller-Young (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Lyndsey Moon (University of Roehampton and University of Warwick)

Surya Monro (University of Huddersfield)

Cheryl Morgan (publisher and blogger)

Kenne Mwikya (writer and activist, Nairobi)

Zenita Nicholson (Secretary on the Board of Trustees, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination, Guyana)

Anne Ogborn (frightening sex change)

Sally Outen (performer and activist)

Ruth Pearce (University of Warwick)

Laurie Penny (journalist and activist)

Rosalind Petchesky (Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, and Sexuality Policy Watch)

Rachel Pollack (writer, Goddard College)

Claire Bond Potter (The New School for Public Engagement)

Nina Power (University of Roehampton)

Marina Riedel (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil)

Mark Rifkin (University of North Carolina – Greensboro)

Monica Roberts (Transgriot)

Dr. Judy Rohrer (Western Kentucky University)

Diana Salles (independent scholar)

Veronica Schanoes (Queens College – CUNY)

Sarah Schulman, in principle (College of Staten Island – CUNY)

Donald M. Scott (Queens College – CUNY)

Lynne Segal (Birkbeck, University of London)

Julia Serano (author and activist)

Carrie D. Shanafelt (Grinnell College)

Rebekah Sheldon (Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis)

Barbara Simerka (Queens College – CUNY)

Gwendolyn Ann Smith (columnist and Transgender Day of Remembrance founder)

Kari Sperring (K L Maund) (writer and historian)

Zoe Stavri (writer and activist)

Tristan Taormino (Sex Out Loud Radio, New York, NY)

Jemma Tosh (University of Chester)

Viviane V. (Federal University of Bahia, Brazil)

Catherynne M. Valente (author)

Jessica Valenti (author and columnist)

Genevieve Valentine (writer)

Barbra Wangare (S.H.E and Transitioning Africa, Kenya)

Thijs Witty (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Groups:

Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ (Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia)

House of Najafgarh (Najafgarh, India)

House of Kola Bhagan (Kolkatta, India)

Transgender Nation San Francisco

In solidarity with Julie Bindel against rape threats.

12/09/2013

Some things are more important than existing disputes, regardless of how deeply-felt and powerful those disputes are. I fully back the press release from Protest Transphobia (see below). No-one should ever, ever be threatened with rape or violence and we should stand by those who receive such threats.

Press Release from Protest Transphobia:

In solidarity with Julie Bindel against threats

Members of Protest Transphobia were shocked and dismayed recently to read that the commentator Julie Bindel had been threatened with violence including rape, allegedly by a transgender person, in relation to the University of Manchester debate on the pornography industry next week in which she had planned to take part as a panelist.

A protest at the event had been organised by a group of transgender students in Manchester, due to legitimate concerns about her writings on matters related to transgender identity and transition-related healthcare, and the impact of providing a platform to a speaker with a known history of making transphobic statements.

We understand rape and threats of rape as a vicious form of torture and a patriarchal weapon for the preservation of male dominance in society, and with some exceptions, an overwhelmingly male crime against women, both cisgender and transgender.

Regardless of the source of this threat, we fully support Ms Bindel’s action in reporting the incident to the authorities. Whilst transgender people may be directly endangered by certain points of Ms Bindel’s ideology, we unequivocally condemn the threats she has received and regard threats of rape to be categorically reprehensible.

We wish to take this opportunity to offer solidarity to Ms Bindel against any and all threats of violence.

Scottish protocol for Gender Services (largely) adopted in England

16/05/2013

It appears that much of the widely-lauded NHS Scotland Gender Reassignment Protocol will be adopted in England from 1st June 2013.

This will be a temporary measure, taken as the result of “inconclusive feedback through the consultation exercise on specifications and policies” for the English Protocol. Last year, the draft English Protocol was criticised by many trans people for failing to live up to the progressive standard set by the Scottish Protocol. I wrote about this here.

This information comes from a letter written to stakeholders in the Gender Identity Services Clinical Reference Group.


What will this mean for English patients in the short term?

As the Scottish Transgender Alliance noted in July 2012, the Scottish Protocol “is not perfect but it is an important step forward for trans people in Scotland“. It incorporates a number of clauses that ensure relatively swift access to services (including hormone therapy and surgeries) for those already “in the system” and on the books of a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC).

Key features of the temporary Protocol for England would therefore include:

  • that psychotherapy/counselling, support and information should be made available to people seeking gender reassignment and their families where needed.
  • that two gender specialist assessments and 12-months experience living in accordance with desired gender role are needed for referral for NHS funded genital surgeries
  • only one gender specialist assessment is needed for referral for speech therapy, hormone treatment and FtM chest reconstruction surgery and that these can take place in an individualised patient-centred order either prior to starting the 12-month experience or concurrently to the 12-month experience.

(Bullet points from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. Emphasis mine.)

All of these provisions should (in theory!) entail a more rapid, efficient access to services for patients at many English GICs.


Exceptions

Unfortunately, several particularly progressive aspects of the Scottish Protocol will not be adopted in England. According to the letter sent out to stakeholders, these include:

  • Referral to Gender Identity Clinics (access)
  • Facial hair removal
  • Breast augmentation

Discussion on these areas” is being “deferred” because “it is recognised these need further discussion and also because England’s health service is structured differently and therefore a slightly different approach will be necessary

The first point (“referral to Gender Identity Clinics”) is somewhat ambiguous, but appears to mean that provisions made in Scotland for self-referral and referral by GP to GICs will not be implemented in England, at least in the short term. Most English GICs currently only accept referrals from mental health specialist such as psychiatrists, so this looks set to continue.

The letter further states that:

“[...] decisions relating to direct access, facial hair removal and breast augmentation being deferred by all NHS England Area Teams until after the June meeting when further work can be undertaken to reach the interim NHS England Policy and Specification for adoption. Where an individual has already had agreement for any of these procedures then these would go ahead, the deferment relates to decisions not yet made.”

This would appear to imply that no new referrals will be provided for facial hair removal and breast augmentation on the NHS in England, at least for the time being. In most parts of the country this is the norm, but in some areas this will effectively be a step backward.


What about young people?

A final significant aspect of the Scottish Protocol is that it provided for the provision of better services young trans people:

  • that young people aged 16 are entitled to be assessed and treated in the same manner as adults in terms of access to hormones and surgeries.
  • that children and young people under age 16 are entitled to child and adolescent specialist assessment and treatment as per the relevant section of the WPATH Standards of Care.

(Bullet points from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. Emphasis mine.)

It’s not clear whether or not this part of the Protocol will come into play in England, but I suspect that this counts as “access to Gender Identity Clinics”, meaning that nothing will change – in the short term at least.


Analysis

I would suggest that this development is, on the whole, a positive one for the majority of trans patients in England. It will hopefully ensure a number of improvements in access to treatment, particularly for individuals seeking hormone therapy and individuals on the transmasculine spectrum seeking chest surgery (including for individuals seeking chest surgery prior to hormone therapy, or chest surgery without any accompanying hormone therapy). It should encourage GICs to acknowledge trans diversity and provide treatment more adequately tailored to individual circumstance.

Moreover, the implementation of this Protocol means that some of the more regressive elements of the draft English Protocol (such as the requirement for GPs to undertake a “physical examination” ) will hopefully not see the light of day.

Of course, there will continue to be resistance from some of the more conservative GICs. However, the existence of the temporary protocol should empower patients who wish to make the case for better services from these bodies.

It is important to note once again that this is a temporary measure, and that the new English Protocol that is eventually implemented may not necessarily reflect the Scottish Protocol to such a great extent. A meeting will be held in June for members of the Clinical Reference Group to discuss what might happen next. We can only hope that the outcome will be a positive one for trans patients.

However, this move sets an important precedent. A set of relatively progressive new rules are being put in place, meaning that it should be harder for GICs to justify inadequate service provision. This is a new benchmark which health campaigners can use as a starting point for future campaigns.

Finally, the “inconclusive feedback” from “consultation” suggests that pressure from trans health advocates is actually having an effect, particularly as many GICs will no doubt have been pushing for a continuation of the status quo. Credit is due to all those individuals and organisations that responded to the consultation on the draft English protocol a year ago, and members of the Clinical Reference Group who are pushing for positive change.

This space left unintentionally blank

16/05/2013

It’s been quite a while since I last updated!

That’s not to say that it’s been quiet in the world of trans politics – quite the opposite, in fact. In the UK alone we’ve seen #transdocfail, the furore over cissexism/transphobia from Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill, the tragic death of Lucy Meadows, the publication of various interesting reports and the creation of various worthy campaigns…in the last few months we’ve seen pain, misery and hope.

I’d like to be writing about all of this. But, as always, the update schedule on this blog is less about what I necessarily think is interesting/important, and more about what I have the time and/or motivation to write about. In recent months I’ve been very busy, and I think I’m likely to remain busy for some time to come.

Much of my energy has been focussed on my PhD research, which looks at discourses of trans health. You can read about there here.

I’ve also been busy with playing music in bands (particularly Not Right) and organising academic events (including Spotlight on: Genderqueer and the Emergence of Trans seminar series).

I suspect there will be a time when I update this blog more regularly once again. Until then, feel free to keep checking back – I’ll be here occasionally!

Laura Jane Grace subverts MTV with style

05/01/2013

Having previously written a little bit about Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s recent appearance on MTV’s House of Style, I finally got around to watching it.

And, you know what, I really am impressed.

Grace makes the most of every moment of air time: she seems determined to convey a whole series of positive messages. It seems like the editing team who put together the short were pretty respectful of this. The whole programme is also largely free of the usual transphobic tropes, which is an achievement in and of itself.

I’m not normally a fan of this kind of thing. I don’t care how celebrities dress. I don’t care how they “choose” their “style”. I associate such programmes with shallow consumerism and damagingly limited ideas about how people should and shouldn’t express themselves.

But the messages that come from Grace are powerful, important and – to my mind – broadly feminist. Be true to your tastes and interests (“You can see like the texture of it? That’s real dirt”). Dress in a way that makes you feel good. Passing doesn’t need to be an end in and of itself. If you’re a young trans people, it’s okay – other trans people exist, in public!

Grace is self-consciously making herself into a role model. That’s not always a good thing, but the message here isn’t “be like me”, it’s “be yourself”. Sod the naysayers: this is punk as fuck.

Video embedded for readers who (like me) aren’t based in the US, and hence can’t watch this on the MTV website.

The ‘West’ has much to learn from India’s anti-rape campaign

29/12/2012

I’ve seen a lot of blatant racism around anglocentric portions of the Internet in the wake of India’s horrific rape scandal (if you haven’t read about it already, there’s plenty of information on this Wikipedia page – trigger warning for graphic description of sexual violence).

There are those who attempt to thinly disguise their racism by expressing a generalised horror at things that happen in other parts of the world. There are those who are more honest in their bigotry, suggesting that countries such as India are necessarily savage and backward. I even came across one sickening comment from an individual who suggested that the human race would be better off if most of Asia, Africa and the Middle East were simply wiped off the world map.

This kind of blinkered claptrap suggests a divide between “us” and “them”, the civilized “developed” world and the barbaric “developing world” – a divide in which the so-called West sets the agenda for women’s rights.

Of course, the reality is far more complex. This is not India’s problem – it is an international problem.

Yes, rates of sexual violence are horrifically high in India, but things aren’t exactly rosy in the rest of the world either. For instance, in a study of 33 countries it was found that the United kingdom has the lowest rape conviction conviction rate: only 6.5% of reported rapists are convicted, with an estimated 95% of rapes going unreported. By contrast, in India around 25% of rape cases that go before a court result in a conviction.

(It’s worth noting, of course, that these statistics don’t exactly match up – e.g. the UK figure of 6.5% rape conviction is so small in part because it takes into account that many cases do not go to court. The Times of India reports that police file chargesheets in 94% of reported rapes, but of course this does not mean that all of these cases go to court. Moreover, there are no doubt many more rapes that are never reported, just like the UK. Nevertheless, the implication is that – once a case eventually gets to court – a rapist is somewhat more likely to be convicted in India than in the UK.)

In the aftermath of the latest high-profile rape victim’s tragic death, Indian newspapers are highlighting the intersectionality of rape: the way in which individuals from marginalised groups are more likely to experience rape and less likely to experience justice, the fact that perpetrators are most likely to be family members rather than mysterious men on the street, the idea that consumer culture and political indifference play a role in enabling rape. Campaigners and journalists alike are suggesting that rape can be best addressed through cultural change. It’s utterly tragic that this discussion is taking place in the wake of a horrific attack, but it’s difficult to imagine a similar level of introspection in the UK mainstream media. Instead, victim-blaming remains the norm here.

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Of course, the wealth of thoughtful articles in the Indian media can’t simply be attributed to the individual initiative of journalists. The issue of rape came to mass attention and retained mass attention over the last few days because of ongoing protests for change. Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators have remained resolute in their demand for an India free of rape, a non-sexist police force that consistently supports women, and a political class who actually give a shit.

In the West we have so much to learn from the power and tenacity of this movement. The mass  protests have continued as politicians promise change and police respond brutally. The sheer unyielding resolve of those involved is incredibly inspiring.

In spite of this, I’ve seen some discomfort amongst Western commentators in response to a demand for the death penalty for rapists from many protesters. To this I have two responses: firstly, it’s not our job to tell campaigners in India how to fight their battle. And secondly, the Indian anti-rape campaign speaks with a plurality of voices, not one voice – see, for instance, this argument against the death penalty from a number of women’s groups.

I’d like to finish this piece by quoting a powerful article from The Hindu. Urvashi Butalia argues that rape culture is all-pervasive, and that in order to destroy rape culture we need to make changes on every level of society.

It is important to raise our collective voice against rape. But rape is not something that occurs by itself. It is part of the continuing and embedded violence in society that targets women on a daily basis. Let’s raise our voices against such violence and let’s ask ourselves how we, in our daily actions, in our thoughts, contribute to this, rather than assume that the solution lies with someone else. Let’s ask ourselves how we, our society, we as people, create and sustain the mindset that leads to rape, how we make our men so violent, how we insult our women so regularly, let’s ask ourselves how privilege creates violence.

It is important we raise our collective voice for women, but let’s raise it for all women, let’s raise it so that no woman, no matter that she be poor, rich, urban, rural, Dalit, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever, ever, in the future, has to face sexual violence, and no man assumes that because of the system and people’s mindsets, he can simply get away with it. And let’s raise it also for men, for transgenders, for the poor — all those who become targets of violence. Let’s not forget that the young rape survivor in Delhi was accompanied by a friend who too was subjected to violence and nearly killed. Let’s talk about him too.

Butalia’s approach reflects that of intersectional Western feminism: in particular, some of the ideas popularised through the Slutwalk and Reclaim The Night movements. This does not mean that Western ideals are the “best”. Instead, it suggests that rape is an international problem to which we must seek international solutions. We in the West would therefore do well to listen more to our sisters in India and beyond.

There’s more to (public) life than being trans

22/12/2012

A news feed informed me the other day that Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace had appeared on MTV’s House of Style to talk about her, uh, style. On one level, I suppose this is pretty typical of the vapid programming you’d expect from MTV – celebrity turns up, talks about her wardrobe, nobody learns anything of value but some mild entertainment supposedly takes place.

Except this is a big deal in one sense, because Grace is trans, and transitioning. By appearing on this kind of programme talking about her favourite clothes and showing off her collection of obscure punk records, she normalises transness.

There’s part of me that feels a bit uncomfortable about this – social inclusion is a worthy goal, but should it really come at the expense of a dull assimilation into corporate cultural mediocrity?

Still, I went looking for the video. I didn’t manage to find it because MTV really aren’t keen on British people watching American video content (and I can’t be bothered with proxies, at least not over this). However, I did come across a bunch of punks arguing about Grace’s participation in the programme. Some of them were unimpressed, arguing that the singer was engaging in shameless self-publicity. Others pointed out that Grace has stated before that she’s being public about her transition entirely so she can help young trans people who are struggling with their feelings. I sympathise with that latter position pretty strongly.

And so Laura Jane Grace is all over the media, talking to MTV (in a variety of contexts), Rolling Stone, newspapers, webcasts and suchlike about being trans. Like other prominent LGBT people who have come out in a high-profile way, she’s taking advantage of celebrity culture to talk about something real and important for a change.

So I feel okay with Grace being on MTV, and I feel okay with these appearances currently centring on her transness. But there’s still a danger of her becoming a one-dimensional public figure, and the rest of us have to take responsibility for this.

If you look at pretty much any Against Me! video on Youtube or read any piece about the band’s current musical plans you’ll find comment threads filled with people talking about Grace’s transition and/or arguing about her pronouns. No-one, even Grace’s supporters in this context, seem bothered with the idea that there might be anything to talk about other than her gender identity (obviously the rest of the band don’t get a look-in!)

You could blame Grace’s current media presence for this. But it’s not like she doesn’t have plenty else to say. She’s written songs about economic inequality, war, love, solidarity, terminal illness, drug abuse and the death of good friends. None of them have magically disappeared just because she’s since come out.

I realise that arguments over gender in comment threads are a somewhat inevitable consequence of the ongoing cultural contestation of transness. I’m also probably contributing somewhat to the issue by writing about it on a trans-oriented blog. Still, when I’m singing along to I Was A Teenage Anarchist I tend to think about what that might mean about youth, personal growth and political affiliation – stuff that’s important regardless of how the songwriter might define her gender. I hope others are able to keep sight of this.


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