Archive for February, 2012

In a gender liberated world…there would be no moral panic over trans parents or trans children

21/02/2012

And so the Bizarrely Busy Month of Trans News rolls on.

On the subject of trans parents, the Daily Mail has effectively outed a trans father; on a slightly brighter note, Green MP Caroline Lucas has tabled an Early Day Motion condemning the ongoing media witch-hunt that’s currently targeting pregnant trans guys. Kudos once again to Trans Media Watch and Jane Fae for their ongoing work on this. Meanwhile, bookmakers Paddy Power are under fire for a transphobic advert, and today saw a five-year-old trans girl splashed all over the tabloids (including front page stories in the Metro and the Sun).

Paddy Power will no doubt defend their advert (basically a “spot the tranny” competition themed around Ladies’ Day at Cheltenham) on the grounds of humour: it’s just a laugh, right? Meanwhile the tabloids will continue to defend their almost fetishistic obsession with the private lives of trans people on the grounds of “public interest”. Both actions serve to dehumanise and objectify trans people even as they build public interest in the queer freak show we supposedly offer.

This is all, of course, of massive concern to the so-called trans community. But we’re not the only ones who are affected.

In today’s front-page article, the Metro quotes “social commentator” Anne Atkins (who?) Atkins – clearly a great expert on gender diversity – says:

“Between the ages of about five and eight, I wanted to be a boy more than anything in the world. Acute though my longing was, it was relatively shortlived. I am grateful to say that there was no one around at the time to diagnose me with GID [Gender Identity Disorder]“

If I had a pound for every well-meaning cis friend who’d told me this at the beginning of my transition…well, I wouldn’t have a huge amount of money, but I’d definitely be able to afford a better toaster. But my problem with this isn’t one of cis privilege. It basically runs as follows:

What’s intrinsically wrong with a kid spending part of their childhood as a “boy” and part of their childhood as a “girl”?

What’s intrinsically wrong with the idea of a man having a baby?

What’s intrinsically wrong with (or, for that matter, funny about)  gender being complex or fluid or aligned with their body in a non-normative fashion?

I’ve not come across a single answer to any of those questions that isn’t inherently sexist in one way or another. We shouldn’t have to subscribe to an ideology of gender difference that necessitates people being placed in boxes that restrict their self-expression. We shouldn’t have to rely on old-fashioned gender roles. At the same time, we shouldn’t have to demand that “gender” be obliterated altogether. Why can’t five-year-old Zach live as a girl? Why couldn’t Anne Atkins live as a boy for a few years before settling into womanhood?

In a gender liberated world, gender expression would be free and fluid. Adults could be men, women, genderqueer, polygendered or non-gendered as they desire. Children could be children, and explore gender as one set of social possibilities amongst many. And everyone benefits, not just trans people. We’d all have more space to be ourselves.

If you think this is hopelessly utopic and ultimately impossible, try dropping by spaces such as Genderfork and Wotever, where users/attendees are pioneering gender liberated approaches to language and social interaction.

We don’t need to do away with gender, but at the same time we don’t need to subscribe to fixed, binary ideals of gender in order to live in a decent world where people value one another’s work and care for one another.

In a gender liberated world, neither the media nor the medical world would care about five-year-old trans girl, a pregnant man or a trans person at Cheltenham because it simply wouldn’t be a big deal.

The trans girl could live out her childhood as she desired and privately transition physically – or not! – at an appropriate point in her teens. The man could access appropriate care during his pregnancy without fearing the consequences of doing so. And at Cheltenham…well, isn’t the very concept of “Ladies’ Day” totally regressive?

New title for this blog

16/02/2012

I’m re-titling this blog ‘Trans Activist’. This has been coming for a while because – whilst I’m still rather young for an ‘out’ trans person – I’m now in my mid-twenties and no longer such an active part of the UK’s trans youth communities.

I’ve updated the header accordingly and intend to also update the “about” page soon, but ultimately it’s the same blog. Don’t expect anything much to change any time soon!

Whilst I’m writing more generally about the blog, I’d like to thank everyone who has started to follow me or has shared one of my entries over the past couple of weeks. A lot has happened and I, like so many others, am very cross about it all; I’m therefore really glad we can come together and discuss massive media failures in a productive way.

Finally, massive kudos to those who have been piling pressure upon everyone from the Press Complaints Commission to The Sun in the last few days! You’re my heroes.

Student medics push for trans on the curriculum

15/02/2012

We seem to be quietly creeping towards a better situation for trans health.

There’s clearly a major problem. The Home Office’s informal e-surveys of trans experience indicated that the realm of “health” is a key concern for a great many of us, with almost half of respondents saying that they did not think their GP was doing a “good” or “excellent” job in addressing their health needs. Meanwhile the 2007 Engendered Penalties report (created by Press For Change for the Equalities Review) notes that 1 in 6 of respondents reported experiencing discrimination from medical professionals.

Issues of health access aren’t limited to those problems created by the referral and treatment process for medical transition. Many of us are still being treated inappropriately because we are trans, regardless of what treatment we’re seeking at any given time.

It’s heartening then to (finally!) see increasing willingness to do something on the part of medical professionals. Zoe O’ Connell describes the positive outcomes of a recent meeting between trans activists and the General Medical Council. And at the other end of the professional “scale”, last week saw the publication of an article in the Student Lancet calling for teaching on trans issues within the medical curriculum.

The Lancet article isn’t the intervention of one isolated student medic. Its author informs me that there is widespread anger (yes, anger!) about the lack of LGBT material on the curriculum amongst her peers at Warwick Medical School. They’re particularly unimpressed with how trans people are treated. The students in question feel they should be taught properly about all issues they might encounter as doctors, and are taking action to ensure this actually happens.

The staff-student liaison committee reps in my year have decided they want to push having teaching on LGB and especially T stuff added to the curriculum,” explains my informant. “I bashed out a quick petition over breakfast and floated it round my lecture theatre to collect signatures for them so they had a bit more clout – so they now have a petition signed by over half of my cohort telling them they should be teaching trans stuff.

Of course, this is just one small step towards the provision of appropriate health services for trans people. As the Student Lancet article concludes:

“I feel that this is a change which is urgently needed at an institutional level rather than at the level of individual medical schools. Only by taking a unilateral approach will we ever manage to change the perception of the NHS as a discriminatory institution. In order to effectively treat transgender individuals we need to prove to them that we are worthy of their trust.”

It’s about time we listened to intersex people

14/02/2012

An article posted yesterday on The Intersex Network highlights intersex erasure* at a recent House of Lords event.

Report on the intersex inclusive House of Lords LGBTI event ‘Human Rights for Sexual Minorities’ on 24th January 2012

Activist Anis Akhtar explains how this “LGBTI” event focused almost exclusively upon the “LGBT”, with LGBT groups speaking and topics of discussion including LGBT History Month, homophobic and transphobic hate crime in the EU, the forced sterilisation of trans people in countries such as Sweden and the complex intersection of LGBTI experiences and religion/faith.

Akhtar concludes:

“I was not surprised that the focus was LGBT but glad that a few people did say LGBTI on the day. What is paramount is that intersex people in the UK now have a voice – the use of the acronym “LGBT+” by the Liberal Democrats may be a good start.

It is extremely important to spread the word of what intersex is and what we experience due to society’s ignorance, negligence and outright discrimination towards any person who supposedly differs from the “norm.”

Intersex people stand up for LGBT and it is time that LGBTs include us as LGBTI, or intersex people stand alone and continue to fight for our own equality globally.”

Akhtar’s experience reminds me of a “trans youth” (25 and under) consultation at the Government Equalities Office during the autumn of last year; part of the process that eventually led to the creation of the trans action plan. A few of us asked why intersex issues were not also on the agenda. We were told that intersex people are “not on the [current government's] agenda” and the Government Equalities Office did not intend to tackle intersex issues until (at least) 2015.

This is quite frankly unacceptable. Intersex people aren’t about to magically disappear, and people aren’t about to start magically respecting intersex rights.

So how can those of us who aren’t intersex provide solidarity? There’s a long history of the people within the trans rights movement co-opting intersex issues for their own ends or erasing intersex experience by claiming that trans and intersex issues are “basically the same”. This is totally unacceptable and has to stop.

What we can do is be there for intersex activists when they ask for help, just as trans people would like cis allies to stand by us without telling us how we identify or how to run our campaigns.

When UK LGBT organisations attended the House of Lords LGBTI event, why did they not join intersex activists in asking the Government Equalities Office to get its act together? When a conference that promoted infant genital mutilation was held in London during September, where were the trans people, the queers, the feminists who should have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the intersex activists who called a demonstration?

We need to get our act together and support others as we’d like to be supported ourselves.

*Edit 16/2/12: I today recieved the below message from a correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous, and have appended it to this post for the sake of balance. I should also clarify that whilst Anis Akhtar’s blog was not my sole source, I was not present at the event myself.

Having read your blog about the UNA House of Lords event, I must point out that intersex identities were not erased, far from it. Intersex was included in the event rationale/publicity, intersex activists were suggested and considered as potential speakers, Oii was included in the mailing list, Anis was in email correspondence with the UNA Chair (David Wardrop) and the speakers before the event, Anis spoke at the event after the Q&A and got a very appreciative thanks from the Chair and a big clap from the audience, and two of the three international speakers explicitly mentioned intersex issues in their addresses. Do you really think that amounts to erasure? I see how you might reach that conclusion if Anis’s report was the only source, so I understand why you might say that, but to be fair I do not think ‘intersex erasure at the House of Lords’ is accurate or helpful. Erasure implies an absence or at least an attempt to censor, which is the opposite of what really happened. It’s a pity you were not there to see for yourself.

I have discussed this with the UNA Vice Chair who assures me that he will support my suggestion of a follow up event where intersex issues are discussed more fully and we get an intersex activist to be a main speaker.

In the meantime, I wonder if you would be so kind as to insert a correction into your blog or remove the ‘intersex erasure’ claim? Anis’s speech was brave and important because of what it took personally for him to get there and speak despite social phobia and visual impairment, and it deserves attention on it’s own terms, not because of some spurious claim that Anis stood up to people who wanted to erase the existence of intersex people. They didn’t – Anis was welcomed and applauded wholeheartedly.

The Sun’s hypocrisy laid bare

13/02/2012

The Sun is in trouble. Years of journalistic malpractice are finally catching up with the venerable tabloid, with employees arrested en-masse on “suspicion” of corruption and bribery.

Associate editor Trevor Kavanagh is upset about this.  “Witch-hunt has put us behind ex-Soviet states on Press Freedom”, his editorial thunders. It goes on to detail the humiliation experienced by Sun journalists and their families:

Instead of being called in for questioning, 30 journalists have been needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids, arrested and held in police cells while their homes are ransacked. [...]

Wives and children have been humiliated as up to 20 officers at a time rip up floorboards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents. [...]

Nobody has been charged with any offence, still less tried or convicted.

Yet all are now on open-ended police bail, their lives disrupted and their careers on hold and potentially ruined.

How awful! And it’s not like Sun journalists would ever do such a thing to others, is it?

But wait! what’s this we see next to Kavanagh’s article in the online edition?

(click image for full size)

That’s right, it’s the Pregnant Man! Let’s take a look at his story.

Don’t forget kids, private lives are for News International employees, not for proles! Particularly queer proles.

Of course, it could be that the Sun is simply asking for contributions because all their journalists have been arrested…

(For more constructive commentary, see this powerful post by Ralph Francis Fox, as well as analyses from Jane Fae and Christine Burns.)

“Pregnant Man” story isn’t racy enough for The Telegraph

13/02/2012

Yesterday, I noted a number of issues with the reporting of a British man’s pregnancy and the subsequent birth of his child. It seems, however, that the story simply wasn’t exciting enough for The Telegraph, who have revised their article somewhat overnight.

(click above for full-sized image)

The story itself remains largely unchanged: there is no new information. The only difference I could pick out was the introductory paragraph, which has changed one phrase in order to turn this somewhat inaccurate but broadly inoffensive sentence:

The man, who is believed to be in his 30s, was able to carry a child after taking female hormones to reverse the effects of his female-to-male sex change treatment.

…into something which takes that extra step to question the subject’s gender.

The ‘male mother’, who is believed to be in his 30s, was able to carry a child after taking female hormones to reverse the effects of his female-to-male sex change treatment.

Somewhat bizarrely, the original story remains online, possibly because The Telegraph wouldn’t dare offend the hundreds of readers who took time to comment on how disgusting it is that trans people want to mutilate their bodies.

Yesterday I was prepared to concede that Telegraph journalists were content to merely be stupid and lazy on trans issues. It turns out, however, that they’re actually prepared to put effort into their transphobic bigotry. Well done all.

British media in a tizzy over pregnant man

12/02/2012

It’s finally happened: someone has noticed that a trans man in this country has had a baby. Of course the mainstream media, who between them seem utterly incapable of the slightest act of research, are responding in a predictable storm of inaccuracy and mild hysteria.

The facts appear to be as follows: some fellow – who quite understandably appears to desire anonymity – decided to have a child, and contacted the Beaumont Society for advice. The Beaumont Society don’t have a lot of knowledge in this area as they predominantly help out MtF spectrum individuals and their families, so they quite sensibly referred the individual in question on to GIRES. The grateful father later got back in contact with the Beaumont Society to thank them for their help, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Of course, that really isn’t a very exciting story. So the British media have taken a few steps to spice it up a little:

1) Exoticise trans pregnancy. Apparently this is the first British man to ever give birth. Except, of course, he isn’t. He’s just the first one they’ve noticed. There are a great many trans men in this country with children, but I suppose if you give birth before having a “sex change” (by which I believe the media mean taking hormones and/or having chest surgery) it doesn’t really count. I mean, you’ve got to be covered in hair to be a “real man”, right? There are probably also several trans guys who have had children prior to transition (at least one guy I know is planning this) but if the media doesn’t know about it, it ain’t happened. Even Pink News fall foul of this one.

2) On a related note: emphasise the international significance. Only around two or three men in the world have ever given birth before! I say “around” because there’s some confusion over this. The Telegraph uncritically quotes the Beaumont Society’s Joanna Darrell, who (purportedly) stated that one trans man gave birth in the United States (Thomas Beatie) and another in Spain. Meanwhile, the Metro states that an additional American and a guy in Israel gave birth after Beatie.

3) Highlight the risks. There is no evidence that trans children are in any particular danger from being born to trans parents, but gosh-darn it there might be! Right? According to the Telegraph: “Last night medical ethics experts called for a full inquiry into the issues surrounding transgender births, saying the interests of the child should not be risked to ‘fulfil the rights of an adult’.” At the heart of this is a very topical concern with trans fertility.

4) Finally, think of the children.  A number of sources are citing Trevor Stammers, Director of Medical Ethics at St. Mary’s University College. Stammers clearly isn’t a fan of queer families:  “The fact that the medical profession is facilitating and encouraging this is a serious problem. You are hardly going to end up with a baby that’s going to have a happy, productive and optimal childhood.

Of course, Stammers himself doesn’t appear to be a medical doctor. Now there’s a surprise.

Trans Media Watch at the Leveson Enquiry

09/02/2012

Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch provided an impressive array of evidence in relation to transphobia in the media during the Leveson Enquiry yesterday. Video footage and full transcripts in .pdf and .txt formats can be found here. Trans Media Watch’s full submission to the enquiry can be found here.

Unfortunately – if unsurprisingly – Belcher’s strong performance warranted little comment from the mainstream and “pink” media alike. Notable exceptions included the headline story in Gay Star News (Trans people victims of ‘horrific’ press coverage) and a comment piece in Pink News (Does today mean change for the trans community?). There have been just brief summaries of Belcher’s evidence (with little or nothing in the way of analysis) within articles that tackle Wednesday’s events more widely in The Guardian, The Telegraph and on the BBC website. Even the #Leveson hashtag on Twitter went relatively quiet as the majority of cis commentators lost interest.

Still, this was to be expected, and we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Trans Media Watch’s role in compiling and presenting evidence to such a major inquiry. Belcher powerfully outlined a number of very important issues:

  • The consequences of negative media coverage can be extremely serious for trans people: examples include loss of work, death threats, and the necessity of relocation in order to avoid prejudice.
  • Dehumanising and Othering language is routinely used within news stories: “The Sun is basically saying trans people elicit horror, trans people are frauds“.
  • Stories (and pictures) are often published without any consultation with the subject, let alone permission.
  • Newspapers often rely upon false information, such as inaccurate figures about the cost of medical transition on the National Health Service.
  • The Press Complaints Commission is considered useless and toothless as complaints are regularly ignored: “The Press Complaints Commission is regarded as a useless joke by trans people”.
  • Victims of negative media coverage tend to let the issue slide: “[...] we find that individuals rarely want to pursue the case because they then become afraid of future
    harassment“.
  • There tends to be no real justification for most articles about trans people on the grounds of “public interest”.
  • The Sun continues to run transphobic pieces (contrary to the claims of Dominic Mohan during his evidence to the Leveson Enquiry on Tuesday).
  • The Daily Mail publishes six times more stories on trans people than any other UK newspaper(!)

Trans Media Watch also identified a number of common themes in confidential complaints they’d received from trans correspondents who had suffered negative media coverage:

“In each case, the subject of the story had their right to privacy grossly breached, often at a very vulnerable time, with no public interest being served whatsoever.

Was put in danger of public abuse and/or violence.

Is left with candid details of their personal affairs, including previous names, pictures, home or work, available on the Internet.

Often these details, including photographs, were acquired without the subject’s permission. Had to fight the press to force them to exercise restraint — often with no effect.”

Finally, Belcher made a number of recommendations:

  • That it should be possible for organisations to issue complaints on the behalf of vulnerable individuals.
  • Anonymity should be granted to all who pursue complaints; we shouldn’t have to rely on the limited protections offered by the likes of the Gender Recognition Act.
  • The complaints process for media malpractice should be free:
    A lot of trans people lose jobs, find it difficult to get jobs. There is evidence that the earnings of a trans person is significantly lower than they could expect if they weren’t trans. That is a further deterrent for them to seek any recompense. It actually pretty much prevents any trans person from pursuing any action against a newspaper in the courts.

10-year-old trans girl launches petition as Leveson Enquiry tackles transphobia

08/02/2012

Jane Fae wrote a powerful post
today
highlighting the connection between two important events this week for trans people in the media.

The first of these events is the launch of a petition that calls upon the press to stop using dehumanising and othering language to describe trans people. The petition was started by the family of Livvy, a 10-year-old girl who became one of the most recent examples of trans children hounded by the news media.

They argue that transphobic language can ultimately kill:

People with gender identity issues are being murdered, beaten, threatened with their lives, bullied, teased, intimidated, disowned and are prone to suicide both attempted and successful and self harm. The Press being an extremely powerful medium has the responsibility to ensure they are not aiding peoples ignorance and hatred and increased lack of self esteem.

Meanwhile, the Leveson Enquiry is due to receive evidence  from Trans Media Watch this afternoon (a live video stream will be available here, as well as an archived video and transcript following the hearing). Josephine Shaw posted the following announcement on the group’s Facebook page:

“[...] Helen Belcher will be representing us at the Inquiry, next Wednesday – February 8th. She’ll be doing so following a detailed written submission made by TMW a few weeks ago, a public version of which is available via the downloads page of the TMW website.

There have been a very large number of written submissions to the Inquiry – only a small number have resulted in Lord Leveson calling witnesses in person. We’re absolutely delighted to be counted in that number [...]

TMW’s aim next week is simple. To give voice to the pain and anger of all those trans and intersex people whose lives have been invaded, even ruined, without any cause or warning by the British press. Who deserved accuracy, dignity and respect. Or who simply deserved privacy. And to try and represent our community in calling for a profound change in the attitude of the press and an end to the incessant outrageous and unwarranted intrusion into the lives of innocent trans and intersex people.”

This week therefore sees two significant responses to the ongoing media assault upon trans lives. The two met this morning on the BBC’s Breakfast show, when Livvy and Trans Media Watch’s Paris Lees spoke about transphobia in the media.

It’s really heartening to see all of this happening. I agree with Jane that we have good reason to remain cynical, but equally we have plenty to celebrate at this juncture. For too long, journalists have been getting away with inflaming public opposition to trans liberation, and people in power are finally beginning to listen to our howls of outrage. This is an early step towards a more fair and friendly world, but an important one.

I was fortunate enough to meet Livvy a few months back and was inspired by the sheer determination of both her and her family; we have a lot to learn from them! I was also struck by my own surprise role in Livvy’s story via a sensationalist piece published by the Sun back in September:

But yesterday a row broke out after a parent claimed that kids as young as EIGHT at Livvy’s school were shown a film about sex-change surgery.

In the footage, made for the NHS website, Ruth’s Story describes how she was born a boy — but knew from the age of 16 she wanted to be a woman.

One parent said: “We are not against the child. It’s that the children are being asked to treat her differently and watch a transgender video without parents knowing.

The video in question was made for the NHS a few years back, and at the time I had no idea it could ever be shown to a primary school assembly! I would probably phrase a few things differently now but ultimately I’m still pleased with how it turned out. I became involved in the project by responding to an email from a mass trans mailing list: someone else could just have easily done it.

Ultimately I suppose my point is that every bit of effort counts. Every signature on Livvy’s petition, every angry letter to an editor, every trans awareness workshop and every intervention within public conversations. Let’s keep up the pressure, because it’s the only way we stand a chance of winning!


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