“Living as a woman” – MPs take on the Real Life Test


I’m currently writing up a section of my thesis that describes trans people’s experiences of navigating the public health system in the UK. A large part of this is related to the “real life test”, a stage of treatment which patients are required to live for a period of time in their “acquired gender” in order to demonstrate that they are suitable candidates for hormone therapy and/or surgery.

This requirement (which, incidentally was absent from the latest version of the international World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care) has a lot of issues. These include the prioritisation of cisnormative standards, little-to-no recognition of non-binary identities, white-centric cultural insensitivity, and the frequent demand that patients hold down “an occupation” as part of the test (particularly pernicious in a time of high unemployment).

It was therefore very interesting to see MPs questioning the idea of the real life test during the fourth and final session of the UK Parliament Women & Equalities Committee’s inquiry into transgender equality earlier this week. The conversation, in which MPs quizzed Ministers and NHS England representative Will Huxter, went as follows:

Jess Phillips MP:
“I think I’d like to go back again to this idea of living in one gender identity: I wonder if you can tell me – clinically – what ‘living like a woman’ – or alternatively, man – actually means?”

Will Huxter:
“I’m not a clinician I can’t tell you what that’s – ”

Jess Phillips MP:
“Do you think that there is a clinical way to live as a woman? Or a man?”

Will Huxter:
“The point I am making is that we are guided by specialists who work in this area, the clinical consensus among gender identity specialists about how services should operate. We are absolutely open to looking at how that might change, but I’m not in a position to make a change to the way in which those services are commissioned without having gone through a clinical process”.

Maria Miller MP:
“Mr Huxter, sorry, I think we’re going to have to press you on that. Is – this is just factual, we have read that people have to ‘live like a woman’ or ‘live like a man’, we as a committee have struggled to know what that looks like in a day and age where men and women live in very similar ways. What do you – factually – what does that mean?”

Will Huxter:
“Well in terms of what is required by the clinic I’d be very happy to provide some details from clinical colleagues after this because it’s not – I don’t deliver the services nor am I a clinician. I feel I could give a better representation to the committee if I provided that outside.”

Maria Miller MP:
“Is the Minister comfortable with the fact that the government requires this information to be available, or that individuals have to live ‘like a man’ or ‘live like a woman’ in order to be able to change their identity?”

Jane Ellison MP:
“Well, I mean, put as you put it to us, I mean obviously you know it gives cause for concern in a sense that, you know, who wouldn’t have sympathy for someone put in that situation etc , clearly the committee has heard I know some really difficult evidence and I quite understand why you wish to reflect that. I mean I think that as Will has said you know there is actually currently a review going on anyway about this very issue, which is essentially about looking at the current guidelines, about understanding that represents current better practice, about giving some challenge to that. There are a number of – compared to even five years ago – there wasn’t a mechanism for the NHS to receive that sort of, you know, feedback from critical friends or otherwise. Those now exist, the transgender network has been set up, the various stakeholder groups that are, you know, really locked into the process. So I think what I’m saying is I don’t think there is ever, you know, clinical understanding of situations is rarely completely frozen in time, I mean this one particularly isn’t, because for a lot of people this is a very new speciality, and therefore I would imagine over the next ten years for example, the next few years, you will see an evolution. And that process is underway, which is exactly why the NHS is consulting and is looking at, particularly at its clinical, you know, specification. That process is actually going on at the moment and, as Will has said, very open to the committee’s recommendations being fed into that. But I know I’m not a clinician too, and I know from other areas of my portfolio perhaps better than this one because I’ve been doing it longer, I do know that you do need to test. Because once you commission to a standard, once you’ve got that, you know you do, you need to make sure you’ve tested your views, and that you actually capture a clinical consensus, because that’s the only way you can move forward. But that consensus will evolve.”

Jess Phillips MP:
“Okay, I just – from the Minister – just, I suppose, what I’m looking to hear, is that you recognise that there is not a single list of attributes that represents what it is to be a woman and/or a man; and therefore, there cannot be a clinical list of things that a person can be told to do by a doctor in order to tick those boxes. Do you recognise that fact?”

Jane Ellison MP:
“Well I understand what you’re saying and I think that it would be very helpful if we – subsequent to this hearing – write to the committee with some – with an example from a clinician operating in the field as to what they would mean by that, because obviously you know people are sitting down with individual people and saying, you know, requiring them to do that and they must have an idea of what that requirement is, what that looks like. So I think we should ask the question of clinicians and supply the committee with some, perhaps some examples, obviously anonymised, of where that’s already happening in clinical practice, and what that looks like.”

You can watch the footage here.

women and equalities

All of this is relevant to the law – in addition to clinical practice – because of the current functioning of the Gender Recognition Act. In order to gain “full” legal recognition as female or male (non-binary options aren’t available) people who have transitioned are required to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). In addition to £140, a whole load of paperwork and scrutiny from the national Gender Recognition Panel (no, really), individuals wishing to acquire a GRC need clinical approval. It’s no wonder that many trans people simply refuse to play along, leading to consequences such as the Tara Hudson case.

As it turns out, there is an answer to be found in the clinical literature. Charing Cross GIC clinical lead James Barrett has the following to say on the subject of the real life test in his book, Transsexual and Other Disorders of Gender Identity: A Practical Guide to Management:

“The question immediately arises of what constitutes ‘success’ in a chosen gender role. In essence, ‘success’ amounts to occupation, sexual, relationship and psychological stability. Of these, the first can be measured by whether or not the patient can manage to hold down a full-time (or equivalent part-time occupation in the chosen role for a year, in the course of the real life experience […] ‘Success’ in an occupation is achieved if the patient is treated by most others as if they are of the assumed sex. It is not necessarily that those around the patient believe that they are that sex […] Rather than being believed to be the assumed sex, the goal should be taken as an treated as that sex.”


“Some patients fiercely maintain that they do not care what others think of them, and that their own conviction of their gender is what matters. This position is at odds with the philosophy of a real life experience and if followed seems not to be predictive of a good longer-term outcome.”

Barrett further qualifies that “success cannot occur within a “purely transvestite or transsexual environment”, because “others may be supranormally accepting”.

So there you have it: “living as a woman” or “living as a man” means being taken as such within a cis environment. A very postmodern basis for clinical excellence!

Some tips on opposing Kenneth Zucker’s new article on trans children


This morning it came to my attention that notorious child psychologist Kenneth Zucker has co-written a chapter on trans issues for the new (6th) edition of Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The chapter, entitled “Gender dysphoria and paraphilic sexual disorders” effectively draws upon flawed and outdated research to promote reparative therapy for trans children. You can read most of it via Google Books here.

Cover of Rutter's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Abusing children – for science!

This is a big deal because Zucker draws upon harmful theories (including Ray Blanchard’s deeply reductive typology of transsexualism) to promote the idea that issues faced by gender variant children are due to a problem with the child, rather than societal gender norms. He therefore promotes a form of treatment that (to quote his new article) encourages parents to “set limits with regard to cross-gender behaviour, and encourage same-sex peer relations and gender-typical activities” in an attempt to cure them of difference. This is the kind of treatment that leads children to internalise the idea that non-normative gendered expression is shameful or wrong.

Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, meanwhile, is a widely-used textbook and can be found in university libraries and on reading lists in many countries.

I’m not sure what the best way is to stop this article from influencing practice. However, some ideas could include:

  • Write to professional organisations and ask them to explicitly oppose reparative therapy for trans youth
  • Write to University libraries and courses, asking them to consider sticking with the 5th edition of Rutter’s
  • Write to University departments and ask them to teach critical texts alongside the 6th edition of Rutter’s, and/or avoid putting the new edition on reading lists
  • Borrow the book from a local library if it becomes available, and write critical comments in the margins
  • Write to the book’s editors and/or publisher and question why Zucker has been given a platform for his outdated ideas
  • Comment on this post and/or join this new Facebook page to discuss possible ways forward.

The new edition isn’t yet widely available in libraries, so now is a good time to act.

If you’re writing letters or raising awareness of this as an issue, here is some useful information on opposing the article:

  • Zucker’s approach to treatment can seriously harm children
  • Zucker’s Gender Identity Service at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was recently suspended pending investigation in the wake of a large number of complaints – his approach to treatment is now also arguably illegal in the province of Ontario
  • Zucker’s new article represents poor academic practice. He cites himself 17 times, relies upon papers at least 20 years out-of-date to make many of his arguments, and also draws strong inferences from statistically insignificant quantitative findings
  • Zucker’s considerable academic position is based in part upon a small “invisible college” of academics who regularly peer-review and cite one another, thereby gaining many publications with a high profile whilst avoiding external criticism
  • There is a considerable evidence-based case to be made against Blanchard’s work. See for instance “The Case Against Autogynephilia“, a peer reviewed article by Julia Serano.

Thanks and respect to Peter Le C for raising awareness of this issue, and to oatc for suggested edits.

TeachHigher: a critique of claims from the University of Warwick


Edit: a couple of months after this post was published, the University of Warwick ‘disbanded’ TeachHigher.

Last week I received an email from a departmental secretary about TeachHigher. The department I am based in – Sociology – has been enrolled in the TeachHigher pilot scheme for several months now, but this is the first time that PhD students have been officially informed of this.

TeachHigher emailI strongly suspect that this email (identical to emails also sent to PhD students in the Politics & International Studies and Philosophy departments) was written to counter some of the negative publicity received by TeachHigher over the past couple of weeks. It repeats a number of claims also made on social media and in press statements by University management and their representatives.

It’s a horrible feeling to have, but I honestly believe that our institution is being deeply dishonest with us.

In this post, I outline why this is the case, with reference to claims both made in the above email and more widely.

“TeachHigher [is] designed to give a fairer, more transparent and consistent approach to the recruitment and remuneration of hourly paid teachers and researchers”

The actions of the University over the past few months suggest that TeachHigher will be anything but fair, transparent and consistent.

  • Hourly-paid staff have not been consulted about the implementation of TeachHigher.
  • The TeachHigher website has been edited on numerous occasions over the past few weeks in order to remove elements that have attracted criticism. [1] For instance, all references to Warwick Employment Group (WEG) have been removed from the site. However, it appears that TeachHigher is still part of WEG. [2]
  • The University of Warwick has a poor record on remuneration. Hourly-paid teachers are usually not paid for preparation time, office hours or module meetings. In many departments, hourly-paid teachers are also not paid for marking.
  •  At present, hourly-paid teaching and research staff at the University of Warwick are provided with contracts of employment. [3] TeachHigher will instead provide “Temporary Worker Agreements” that “[do] not give rise to a contract of employment”. This will have a significant (negative) impact upon the employment status of hourly-paid staff.
  • The University and College Union (UCU) has made numerous requests for information about remuneration for workers hired through TeachHigher. It has still not received a response.
  • At the University of Leicester, hourly-paid teaching staff employed through TeachHigher sister company Unitemps are paid £11.75 an hour for teaching, with no payment for preparation time. [4] This is not an inspiring record for WEG.

These concerns could be dispelled if the University was to share information demonstrating that hourly-paid staff will be paid fairly.

TeachHigher is “not an outsourcing”

Many critics of TeachHigher have described the new body as a scheme for outsourcing teaching work within academic departments. Warwick has been keen to counter these claims, noting that TeachHigher is owned by the University.

This situation is not a straightforward one, and the comparison with Unitemps is important for understanding why.

Unitemps is run through a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Warwick. This means that it is owned by the University, but also that individuals working through Unitemps are technically working for a body distinct from the University. This has consequences for pay and conditions (as Unitemps employees can be treated differently to other University staff effectively doing the same work). It also has consequences for industrial action, which I discuss later.

This is a very canny business move. Rather than use an external employment agency to hire workers on less favourable terms and conditions, Warwick has created its own.

All existing evidence points to TeachHigher also being run through a subsidiary.

Warwick map

In a sense, hiring teaching staff in this way could more accurately be described as ‘internal outsourcing’. I have also seen it described as ‘insourcing’. Regardless of what you choose to call it, however, the entire point of these organisations is to create a situation where university departments have (at least) two tiers of academic workers. This makes it easier to treat the lower tier poorly, and to prevent different groups of academic staff from working together for better conditions.

It’s also worth making the point that Unitemps is already used to employ hourly-paid staff at a number of universities (including Leicester and Nottingham) and Warwick is intending to roll out TeachHigher to other institutions also. This will by definition amount to the outsourcing of teaching and research staff.

TeachHigher is “an academic services department”

I’ve seen this phrase used a lot by University management and their representatives. The more prominent recent example would be in the Warwick Insite news article Update on TeachHigher, which states the following:

“Discussions over the last few months clearly established that TeachHigher should be constituted as an academic services department. That has been done and staff and students will now find it listed amongst the other academic services departments on the University’s website.”

I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. TeachHigher is indeed now listed on the “Services and facilities” quick links mean at the bottom left of the Warwick home page; as is Unitemps. This classification, however, tells us nothing about TeachHigher’s place in Warwick’s corporate structure, nor about the way it will treat hourly-paid staff.

Staff hired through TeachHigher will have the same opportunity to participate in union activity

There have been no official statements on this issue, but numerous discussions have occurred both on social media and in private correspondence. The University line appears to be that TeachHigher will recognise UCU, and that staff hired through TeachHigher will therefore be able to participate in union activity in the same manner as at present.

However, the TeachHigher Temporary Worker Agreement clearly states that: “TeachHigher may terminate this Agreement and TeachHigher or the Client may terminate any Assignment at any time without prior notice or liability.”

Whilst in theory hourly-paid staff working through TeachHigher cannot be fired for participating in industrial action, in practice it will be hard to prove that this has happened.

Moreover, as Philosophy Head of Department Matthew Nudds has noted, hourly paid staff will “not [be] covered by collective bargaining”.

An equitable solution?

There are two actions that senior University management can take to dispel criticism around TeachHigher.

1)    Provide written confirmation that TeachHigher is not (a) a subsidiary company, (b) run through a subsidiary company.

2)   Replace the Temporary Worker Agreement with a proper contract of employment that clearly states how staff will be paid for every hour worked.

I would like to see more than this, of course, but would personally welcome these actions as important steps in the right direction.

I’ll end with a quote from UCU Warwick:

“Teach Higher claims that it wants to make the employment of casualised academic staff more ‘standardised and efficient’. We say that the best way to achieve this is to end casualised contracts and give fractional and fixed-term staff the same rights as permanent staff.”

[1] TeachHigher front page before and after modification (click to enlarge):

 TeachHigher front page old
[old front page]

TeachHigher frontpage new[new front page]

[2] Note: the WEG website has also been edited. The site previously stated unambiguously that TeachHigher was part of WEG. This has been replaced with a somewhat more coy (and less meaningful) statement: “[WEG] is also supporting the new TeachHigher service at Warwick which is an Academic Services Department designed to support university departments engage their flexible teaching resource”. However, TeachHigher is listed as part of WEG in this map of the University’s services (also reproduced above).

[3] In theory. In practice, contracts can take months to arrive, and are often inaccurate.

[4] Source: PhD student teaching at the University of Leicester.

I have seen the future of feminism, and it is beautiful


Yesterday’s social media furore over a dodgy letter to the Observer left me questioning my place within the women’s movement for the umpteenth time. However, within hours I was powerfully reminded that those who advocate an exclusive feminism are less influential and important than they might like to think.

Last night I joined a room of people committed to building a feminism that is compassionate, reflexive, inclusive of all women and sensitive to our different experiences.

Last night I found myself in a room of brown, black and white faces; gay, bi and straight; cis and trans; working class and middle class; disabled and abled. Last night I heard a teenage Muslim woman speak out about the importance of representing all faiths in activism after a question from a Jewish woman in the audience. Last night I heard from a white middle-class straight woman who has turned up to learn with an open mind. Last night I heard cis women talk about about trans rights, and felt that my identity and experience as a woman was simply not in question.

I had been invited to contribute to a panel discussion at the University of Bristol Students’ Union (UBU). Entitled How do we make the Women’s Movement intersectional?, the panel was was of UBU’s “Festival of Liberation“, which also includes events looking at the challenges faced by LGBT people, disabled people, and people of colour. I was honoured to share a panel with three truly awesome women: Susuana Antubam and Sammi Whitaker of the NUS Women’s Campaign, and Fahma Mohamed of Integrate Bristol.

Panellists at UBU's intersectional feminist event
Last night was promising and encouraging and heartwarming, and was not unusual in being so. I have seen similar scenes repeated across the country over the last few years at talks, workshops, protests and riot grrrl gigs.

This is the new feminism. A feminism that is discarding the model of monolithic female oppression and in its place building a movement around diversity and inclusion. A feminism that seeks to base both theory and action upon what different groups of women have to say about their lives and experiences, rather than imposing a top-down model of liberation drawn from academic theory. A feminism that sees cis and straight women take responsibility for supporting the work of their trans and queer sisters, white women take responsibility for supporting the work of their sisters of colour, abled women take responsibiity for supporting the work of their disabled sisters and so on.

Last night we talked about the importance of intersectionality as feminist praxis: of putting ideas into action. We talked about the importance of education: of sharing the knowledge and tools necessary for women’s liberation with people of all genders. We talked about the importance of representation: of working to ensure that women of all backgrounds feel welcome and able to attend feminist events through the use of accessible venues, ensuring diversity within organising teams and (where relevant) speakers/acts, and thinking about the language we use. We talked about the benefits of building groups around intersectional identities (such as black womanhood); groups that can then work alongside other bodies of people with a broader remit, feeding in ideas and holding them to account.

We talked about calling people out and challenging oppressive behaviour both within wider society and within the feminist movement. We also talked about being kind and prepared to forgive, and allowing people space to learn and grow. We talked about how everyone will make mistakes, because intersectional feminism is a constant experience of doing and being, rather than a closed process where you jump through a series of hoops and then become a Good Feminist who is capable of always passing judgement upon others.

We talked about our experiences of activism. Fahma talked about giving a piece of her mind to a nervous Michael Gove, resulting in a letter to every school in the country about FGM. Sammi talked about productive conversations with working class male friends, and building liberation into the very fabric of Anglia Ruskin’s fledgling Students’ Union. Susuana talked about her work on addressing lad culture as a gendered, racialised and classist phenomenon. I talked about my contributions to trans and non-binary inclusion within the NUS Women’s Campaign, and how we seek a diverse range of performers for Revolt, Coventry’s feminist punk night. We heard stories and ideas and questions from the audience, and I reflected on how we were not “experts” with a monopoly on solutions, but just one part of a wider movement.

These are just some of the things that we talked about.

So why have I been led to question my place within the women’s movement?

Because I see Julie Bindel referring to other feminists as “stupid little bellends” whilst misgendering trans women, arguing that bisexuals do not experience oppression, and stating that Muslim women who wear religious dress are necessarily oppressed. Because I see Rupert Read suggesting that trans women should not be allowed to use public toilets. Because I see Beatrix Campbell repeating and defending these ideas.

When I read things like this, I am repelled by a feminism that is harsh, bitter and exclusionary.

When feminists gaslight me by claiming repeatedly that the individuals who wrote these articles are not transphobic I am saddened and confused.

When I hear about feminists disrupting conversations at events such as AFem in order to promote an agenda that excludes trans people and sex workers, I am disappointed and worried.

When I see exclusionary events like Radfem 2013 and Femifest 2014 promoted within feminist spaces and supported by organisations like Women’s Aid and Reclaim The Night London I am alarmed and concerned.

When I see feminist women and men – including both public figures as well as personal friends and acquaintances – sign a misleading letter that condemns attempts to debate and contest the above, I wonder how voices of those who work for an inclusive and diverse feminism can possibly stand against a “letter mob” representing the discursive might of the liberal Establishment.

The stakes are high. Too many of my friends have considered suicide. Too many of my friends have died. When I talk to my trans friends and fellow activists, I hear about fragile mental health, doctors and shopkeepers refusing to provide services, threats of violence and attacks in the street. All of these things are fuelled by the dehumanisation of trans people, the idea that we require intervention to save us from the misguided path of transition, the implication that we do not deserve to exist within public spaces. These discourses are perpetuated by feminists and defended by liberals in the name of “free speech”.

I don’t believe in historical inevitability and don’t buy into progression narratives. I had a debate about trans-exclusive feminisms with Jack Halberstam recently. Jack echoed my PhD supervisor in arguing that trans-exclusive feminisms are outdated and irrelevant, long-dismissed within the academic world. But the academic world is often divorced from the reality of the feminist movement on the ground. In this reality, exclusive feminisms continue to fester.

In spite of all of this, last night reminded me of the power and appeal of the new, intersectional feminism. It is this feminism that is popular amongst young people who are more interested in working together than apart, and veteran activists with the humility to share their ideas and wisdom with newcomers on an equal footing.

This feminism requires work and nurture, but – as I argued last night – this does not need to be an entirely arduous task. Working together across our differences and ensuring that more people feel welcome and included makes us stronger. Learning new things from others can be interesting and exciting. Having the strength to learn from our mistakes solidifies friendships and alliances. Discovering a more diverse range of feminist histories, activisms and performances can be fun and empowering.

The new feminism is beautiful. Let’s keep building.

No, I will not help Sundog make a documentary on trans “regret”


This afternoon I received an unsolicited email in my work account from an employee of Sundog Pictures. An excerpt follows:

I’m currently working on an idea alongside Channel 4 following transgender individuals who have come to regret their sex changes and are keen to undergo further treatment / operations to reverse the change. The doc will be insightful and sensitive and will look at the way in which transgender individuals are treated in society and whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough.

I’m currently looking for real life cases to include in my pitch document and was wondering whether you might be able to recommend people I could speak to, or places I could contact to find individuals who are currently thinking about a reverse sex change. Any help would be really appreciated.

Given the email account used, I feel that I can safely assume that I was contacted because of my academic work, which looks at discourses of trans healthcare provision. Sundog seem to hope that I will (without compensation) draw upon my community contacts and research findings to recommend participants for their television programme.

I couldn’t think of anything more inappropriate.

There’s a lot to be said about research ethics and a duty of care towards participants, but plenty has been written about that elsewhere (the BSA Statement of Ethical Practice offers a decent broad overview). So in this post I focus on the huge problems that come with the proposed topic of the documentary: that of trans “regret”.

The numbers

The mainstream media take an undue interest in trans “regret”. It’s very easy to come across such stories on daytime television and in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. The popularity and frequency of such stories suggests that it’s not too unusual for people who have undertaken a physical transition from male to female, or from female to male, to consider or undertake a “reverse sex change”.

In reality, research has shown time and time again that the actual rate of regret is extremely low. For instance, only 2% of respondents in the Trans Mental Health Study (the second-largest trans study undertaken in the UK) reported “major regrets” about the physical changes experienced during transition. Reported regrets from participants included:

“…not having the body that they wanted from birth, not transitioning sooner/earlier, surgery complications (especially loss of sensitivity), choice of surgeon (if surgery required revisions and repairs), losing friends and family, and the impact of transition on others.”

It’s clear therefore that “regret”, when it occurs, is likely to stem from societal and surgical issues rather than the process of physical transition in and of itself. The Trans Mental Health Study also demonstrates a clear link between physical transition and wellbeing in terms of mental health, body confidence and general life satisfaction.

With so few trans people regretting physical transition – and even less considering some kind of “de-transition” – it’s no surprise that sometimes the same individuals are trotted out time and time again to re-affirm a discourse of regret.

What’s missing from this story?

It’s pretty clear from the email I received that that the author has not done their research. Given the existence of organisations such as Trans Media Watch and All About Trans who are entirely keen to offer advice, this does not exactly inspire confidence.

For a start, transition is conflated with “sex change”, a term that is not only most frequently associated with transphobic tabloid headlines, but is also broadly meaningless. At what point can we talk about a “sex change”? When an individual undertakes hormone therapy? Chest surgery? Genital surgery? What about individuals who transition socially, but only undergo some (or even none!) of these processes? It’s not the kind of language that suggest an “insightful and sensitive” documentary can be made.

There’s a couple of more fundamental mistakes in the proposal, however. The first is the question of “whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough”. My own initial research findings suggest that if anything, the process in question is too robust – in that patients requiring surgery are typically required to wait many years before treatment is available.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care require patients to undergo at least 12 months of hormone therapy prior to genital surgery. In reality, patients in England and Wales face a substantial waiting list (sometimes lasting years) before they are able to attend an NHS Gender Clinic, where two separate clinicians are required to approve a regime of hormone therapy before it can be undertaken. An additional two opinions are needed at a later date before a referral for genital surgery can take place. There are many, many opportunities and a great deal of time for patients to consider and re-consider their option – and that’s even before we take into account the horrific scale of the current crisis in surgery provision for trans women.

The current system is not constructed to facilitate transition so much as prevent the very possibility of regret. The result is increased suffering – in terms of the mental and physical health impact upon individuals who are forced to wait many years for hormones and surgery, whilst fearing (sometimes with good reason) that they will be denied treatment on spurious grounds. It’s no surprise that the Trans Mental Health Study found that “not transitioning sooner/earlier” is a major cause of “regret”, as individuals who have waited until breaking point to transition soon discover that there is still a long, long road ahead of them.

The second fundamental problem with Sundog’s proposal is their idea that trans people who aren’t too happy with their transition might be “keen to undergo further treatment / operations to reverse the change”. This is a very binaristic notion that both stems from and reinforces the notion that transition is a one-way process, from one (binary) gender to the other. In reality, there are many people for whom transition is a complex, ongoing process. For instance,  an individual who initially transitions from male to female might later feel that their identity is better understood as genderqueer, and may allow or pursue further physical changes to reflect this.

The wider political context

Given the tiny proportion of trans people who “regret” transition and the realities of service provision, the choice of a documentary about the subject appears at best to be somewhat misguided. However, the impact of insensitive coverage on this topic is such that I believe that I believe this documentary could be actively harmful, particularly as Sundog’s email asks “whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough”.

This is in part because the way in which discourses of regret are handled makes it harder for trans people to get treatment. Gender clinics in the UK require urgent intervention to make life easier for individuals who transition, not harder. Media hysteria over the possibility of regret reinforces the current system’s approach, which is to require people to demonstrate over and over again that they are trans before there is any hope of treatment.

But it’s also because discourses of regret are employed by those who campaign against trans liberation, including conservative commentators and anti-trans radical feminists who would deny funding for transition on the NHS altogether. Writers such as Julie Bindel are all too keen to use any example of individual regret to argue that transition is unnecessary mutilation, undertaken by sad, sick individuals who might have done otherwise if only they’d been given the option of, say, some form of reparative therapy.

The focus on the medical process is therefore politically loaded. Yes, some people do de-transition, and their stories are important and of worth. But these stories have yet to be told by the mainstream media in a non-sensationalised manner, in a way that doesn’t reinforce (intentionally or otherwise) a pernicious anti-trans agenda. Sundog’s proposal appears to feed right into this agenda.

This proposed documentary should not be regarded as a curiosity piece taking place in a cultural vacuum. It draws upon and will contribute to damaging and inaccurate tropes about transition. Ill-informed media accounts ultimately play a part in creating and maintaining a situation where “regret” frequently stems from the responses of friends and family, delays to transition and other negative experiences that come with transitioning in a transphobic society.

I hope therefore that any future attempts to examine trans health issues in this way will involve better research into the topic at the initial stages, and a greater sensitivity to both the personal and political consequences of exposing trans lives to media scrutiny.

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Welcome to my blog.

(Guest Post) #TransStonewall: Uncovering White Trans Laziness


This post was written by Jade Fernandez, who has given me permission to cross-post.

It’s true, I’m a defector. I’m turned in my Racial Badge for a slightly-less-radical badge that reads ‘Unapologetic Stonewall Sympathiser’, and I’ve torn up my Radical Trans ID that I specifically use to get into Radical Trans Events.

I took part in the #TransStonewall meeting, and I liked it. Sue me.

What was refreshing was, to put it lightly, the lack of trans wankery. What, I hear you ask, is trans wankery? It’s the inter-community shitstorm that bubbles up every time we try and organise something even a little bit outside of our comfort zones. Let’s face it, trans people trying to organise something of this magnitude with Stonewall would be like dumping cats into a bag and giving it a kick. With CEO Ruth Hunt’s guidance, oratory skills, and calm professional aura, the meeting was free from drama, ended on time, and we reached some clear, profound points for moving forward at the end. Had a bunch of trans people organised it solely, we would have been talking about the past 25 years of grievances for 25 hours and I would have burst into tears.

There were issues with diversity – of course, there will always be diversity issues within any group of people with one common experience. Intersectionality is a buzzword white trans people like to throw around to impress their equally white mates. Intersectionality, white trans people think, means complaining that no or limited amounts of trans people of colour are present at a meeting, while doing eff-all to improve the situation yourself.

I mean, thank God we’re going to get a separate meeting, because Lord knows that room was a 50-person mayonnaise-fest. It was like walking into a Hellmann’s conference.

But the thing is, the reason why it was particularly creamy as fuck is neither solely the responsibility of trans people, ‘The Trans Community’, or Stonewall. We can’t point fingers at Stonewall while ignoring the fact that white trans people dominate every conversation taking place around trans stuff.

White trans people – lend me your ears: you have a duty of care to make sure trans people of colour are included at all times, and you need to signal boost stuff specifically notifying trans people of colour. Tell your friends. Blitz it out to your social media connections and to your ‘real life’ connections. Make it a numero uno priority. If I see you complaining about trans meetings or events being white, and you didn’t lift a finger to even attempt and make trans people of colour feel welcome, then you can shut your mouth and remove your hands from your keyboard. If I see you pointing fingers at events organisers without first pointing the finger at yourself and asking “Hey, could I be any use apart from using my impressively long repertoire of SJ buzzwords to annoy people?”, then politely go far away from me.

I’ve been transitioning since I was 15. I’m now nearly 22. I’m young and there’s been so much white trans people drama in this small island that I already feel like a battle-scarred veteran of some ongoing bullshit.

You see, white trans people are in prime position to invite trans people of colour to events that are going to be organised and facilitated by people who need some extra help. I don’t think anyone at Stonewall knows about our hidden or closed Facebook groups. Who might know about the perfect people to invite who’d be well up for it, and who are also people of colour. But you – you, my dear white friend – know of these secret communities. Or at least know a friend of a bloody friend, come on.

The result of White Trans Laziness? And now, I’m not letting off Stonewall and the organisers, but this article is holding white trans people to account. But the result of this was that there were four out of fifty trans people who were people of colour. Two of them were afterthoughts. One of them experienced a pretty upsetting racial microaggression on the day. That’s your stat breakdown.

While the consensus from the people of colour who did attend was that it was positive, it was draining and exhausting to be in a space with a load of white trans activists. Though we didn’t talk a great deal about individual experiences and opinions, you just get dragged down a little bit in that kind of space. It was good that a lot of the discussions highlighted that any of Stonewall’s work has to include trans people of a lot of varying diversities and experiences – something that Ruth agreed on wholeheartedly. But you know, I felt like a token. Actually – I was a token. I was there to bring up the diversity quotient. And you know who made me feel tokenised most of all? That’s right: white trans people who did eff-all in the first place complaining that there weren’t more people of colour there, throwing out comments about ‘diversity’ in a smug way like it’s fashionable to point it out.

We’re not fucking elves. Magical people of colour don’t pop up when you say ‘Wow, we (of course, not meaning ME, because I’m a Good White Person) need to do better!’ If you want to magic us up for your conference or event: 1) Provide a spread. Food does wonders. 2) WORK ON IT. PROACTIVELY.

And actually, that’s what Stonewall is doing. Which is heartening. I hope it’s a good one. And free from inter-trans-people-of-colour-community drama, which is ten billion times more upsetting than the paltry Twitter shit white people could ever come up with (‘But that’s none of my business Kermit.jpg’).

I was going to write about how trans people of colour can work with Stonewall in the first instance, but this turned into a rant about white people – which, you know, is kind of relevant. Because if white trans people don’t start pulling their finger out, if we can’t fix the White Trans Laziness in our own little bubble of a world, then there’s really no point of any sort of unity with Stonewall.

Misogynists who know nothing about music shame Courtney Love for not being an entire band


Some sound guy who was hired (by who, it’s not entirely certain) to record a Hole show a few years back has put isolated vocal and guitar parts from Courtney Love playing “Celebrity Skin” up on Youtube.

This video is now being gleefully shared around by mainstream music websites and blogs that invariably describe Courtney’s performance as “terrible” or rhetorically ask if it is “the worst thing ever”.

The answer, to anyone who has the slightest clue about how live music happens, is “no, this really isn’t the worst thing ever”.

Why? Well, firstly, because Courtney actually sounds pretty good here if you like raw vocal parts. But let’s set that aside for a moment.

Live vocal feeds usually sound pretty terrible. There is a lot of processing that happens in a studio, and a reason why slick-sounding albums tend to take days, weeks or even months to record. It’s a very rare singer who can pull off perfect vocals live – particularly if they’re playing rock or punk, which tend to rely on energy rather than technical perfection.

We don’t tend to notice this when we see live bands – because if they’re a decent band, they will have that energy, and the singing will be good enough. This is one reason why you can see a phenomenal live performance at a gig, then watch an imperfect live recording on TV a couple of days later and wonder why it doesn’t seem anywhere near as good.

Similarly, guitar parts tend to undergo a lot of processing even in a live setting. Many professional bands don’t have pedals on-stage, and will rely on a sound technician to process any distortion or tone effects for them. Moreover, amps will be adjusted for the acoustics of a venue. Unless you apply serious production to a live recording, it will tend to sound a lot more tinny and empty than a studio recording.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Courtney isn’t even really playing much guitar in this video in part because she doesn’t need to. “Celebrity Skin” relies largely on one guitar part and the rhythm section (bass and drums) to provide the bulk of the song, with the second guitar throwing in a bit of additional “oomph” now and again. Of course the guitar parts in this video are minimal and imperfect – quite aside from the sound issues, Courtney is pretty much smashing the strings for occasional effect. This would sound a lot better if you were doing this in your room because you’d have the volume, distortion and acoustics that were clearly present in the room at this gig. But it’d sound even better if you had an entire band filling out the rest of the song for you.

Surely, the guitar could have been played a lot better here, but it’s clear from the audience response that no-one actually in the venue cares. Why? Because there’s an entire band filling out the sound, which means that one punk musician’s performance doesn’t have to be perfect. Besides, she’s still pretty tight with the rest of the group.

So why is this even a big deal? I’m sure there are those who will claim that this video is just being shared because it sounds shit, but there are plenty of musicians who would sound shit if you shared isolated guitar + vocal parts around the Internet.

Courtney Love is no angel by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel it’s no coincidence that she is being targeted. She’s one of the very few women to ever maintain a relatively high profile as a rock star for the duration of her career, and that has made her the target for the kind of judgementalism, conspiracy theories and ill-informed criticism that just doesn’t stick with well-known male performers.

And that’s misogyny.

edit 15/11/14

This post wasn’t particularly well thought-through – I wrote it in a brief fit of annoyance and threw at at the Internet, not really expecting it to stick. I stand absolutely by what I said – it’s just that if I was expecting to deal with the snobby pedant parade in its full uptight glory I probably would have spent some time making the argument really watertight. Oh well.

Still, since I’m currently getting yet another spike of several thousand hits, I figured I’d address a couple of things that people seem to be massively missing the point on.

Firstly, the guitar. Of course it’s out of tune and sounds shite. I’m a musician, and I’m not deaf. The implicit question in this blog was intended to be – do you think this never happens to other musicians? Love, like anyone else at her level, will not be tuning her own guitar – it’ll be done by a guitar tech on tour with her. And mistakes will be made. If you’re in the middle of a song and attempt to play a nice, big power chord only to find out that it sounds awful, you’re gonna barely play it. Alternatively, if you’re in the middle of a song and can’t hear yourself properly through the monitors and suspect something might be wrong, you’re also barely gonna play it. Were these the reasons Love played in the way she did? Or was it something else? There are many ways this could have played out. Honestly, I don’t actually really care, and I’m baffled at why everyone else does. Which leads me on to…

Yes, of course the coverage of this is misogynistic. There’s some more discussion of the double-standard in rock music at play in this discussion here. This isn’t about whether or not the performance was objectively good or objectively awful – it’s about how this one incident fits into a wider pattern in which female musicians are, as standard, treated differently to male musicians and subject to different expectations. Incidentally, the men who comment on my blog calling me a “bitch” for writing this or declaring that I “HATE MEN” are not gonna convince me that they’re somehow sensitive to the nuances of sexism.

Anyways, I’m off to do some research and listen to Against Me! because I have a life outside the Internet. Toodles.

Comments on this post are now closed, as I have better things to do with my time than approve dozens of comments with exactly the same content.

New video from CN Lester is for “You”


Speaks for itself, really!

…although, having said that, there is a powerful accompanying piece about bullying and suicidal feelings available on CN’s blog.

Imagining a trans-inclusive Stonewall


“The meeting actually went pretty well, didn’t it?”

I heard a number of variations upon this statement echo around the pub we gathered in yesterday evening, as some 40-odd trans activists digested the day’s work. There was an undertone of incredulity: most of us had managed our expectations carefully in advance of the day. This was due in part to the fractious nature of trans communities, but also stemmed from our difficult history with Stonewall.

Back in 2008, many of us had been present at a loud, colourful demonstration outside the Victoria and Albert Museum as it hosted the annual Stonewall awards. We were there to express our displeasure at an organisation that didn’t simply exclude trans people, but seemed to keep making mistakes that caused harm to us.

A lot can happen in six years. Change has come from two directions: from continued external pressure from trans people, but also from a genuine willingness to reconsider matters from Stonewall following a shift in management in February.

In this post, I outline the themes and outcomes of a meeting held on Saturday to discuss potential options for trans inclusion in Stonewall. I will repeat some of the points made by CN Lester and Zoe O’Connell in their accounts of the day, but recommend you also have a look at what they have to say. For an idea of what is at stake, I recommend posts by Natacha Kennedy and Kat Gupta, as well as my previous writing on the topic.

A meeting with trans activists

The meeting – held in central London – was attended by a large number of trans activists who had been directly invited to the event, as well as three cis attendees: new Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt, Jan Gooding who is Chair of trustees for the group, and a facilitator (who, incidentally, did a very good job).

A number of us felt that a more open meeting or more transparent means of securing invitation would have been beneficial. I’ve made my own views about this clear (particularly on social media) but in this post I will focus upon what we actually achieved, and what will happen next.

The event was in some ways quite diverse, and in others ways very limited in terms of representation. There were a wide variety of experiences represented, and views from across the political spectrum. There were a great range of gender identities represented, although a particularly large part of the group were trans women. There were attendees from across England and Wales, with James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance present to talk about the situation in Scotland (where Stonewall is an LGBT organisation). The group was overwhelmingly white. There were a number of disabled people present, but not many with experiences of physical impairment.

Several commentators have stated that Stonewall were responsible for the make-up of the meeting, and therefore could have made more effort in terms of inviting a diverse range of participants. This is true, but I feel that trans activists also need to step up and take some responsibility here. Most of our loudest voices are white trans women like myself. We need to keep our own house in order: by reaching out to communities of trans people from under-represented groups, by “boosting the signal” and talking about the work of trans people from under-represented groups, and by ensuring that it’s not just us with places at the table.

It’s worth noting that this event was framed by Ruth as one part of a far wider consultation on Stonewall’s future engagement with trans issues. If you’re trans please ensure that your voice is heard in this. You can do so by writing to Stonewall here, or by emailing: trans@stonewall.org.uk. There will be more about the next steps of consultation later in this post.

The meeting ultimately had two purposes: to move on from the problems of the past, and examine potential options for future collaboration between Stonewall and trans communities.

An apology from Ruth Hunt

The day began with a refreshingly honest admission of fault on the part of Stonewall from Ruth. She offered a point-by-point account of how Stonewall has let trans people down over the past few years, and offered both apology and explanation for these incidents, as well as an account of how these are now being addressed.

This was not the main focus of the day, instead clearing the air from the start to enable a productive discussion. However, I feel it is important to provide a public record of this session: if we are to collectively move on from the past, then we need to remember that Stonewall has demonstrated a commitment to change.

Some of the issues discussed by Ruth included:

  • Nominating transphobic individuals for awards. This was acknowledged as a mistake, and we were assured that nominees are now scrutinised more carefully (not just for transphobia).
  • Insensitive use of language in Fit, Stonewall’s video resource for schools. Ruth explained that the inappropriate section has been removed from the DVD.
  • Stonewall’s campaign with Paddy Power, who were severely rebuked by Advertising Standards Authority for a transphobic advert in 2012. Ruth noted that Stonewall is now using its relationship with Paddy Power feed back on advertising they consider to be offensive (interventions which are not just limited to addressing homophobia) which has resulted in a number of changes being made.
  • Stonewall representatives speaking out inappropriately and/or not speaking out on trans issues whilst lobbying Government and MPs. There’s a long and complex history here that I’m not going into in this post: suffice to say that one aim of Saturday’s meeting was to ensure that this is done better in the future.

There was also significant evidence that Stonewall is undergoing major institutional change in regards to trans issues. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Ruth had emphasised seeking a solution to the organisation’s difficult relationship with trans people when applying for the position of CEO, and that this was viewed favourably by trustees who considered her job application. Trans employees of Stonewall are reportedly more likely to be “out” and feel comfortable speaking about trans issues and concerns.

What’s on the table?

We then moved onto the main point of the event: to discuss proposals for a new relationship between Stonewall and trans people. There were four options for us to consider in group conversations, with attendees also encouraged to suggest any additional solutions that might not have been considered.

The options were:

  1. A fully inclusive LGBT Stonewall, which considers campaigning on trans issues to be a full part of its remit.
  2. Stonewall becomes nominally LGBT, but also funds and provides resources and guidance for the creation of a new, effectively autonomous trans organisation to work on trans campaigns. This organisation will eventually become independent, but can work closely with Stonewall.
  3. Stonewall remains LGB, and provides grants for a number of trans organisations so they can do their own campaigning work.
  4. Stonewall remains LGB, and works to be better ally.

Ruth explained that option (4) was not really favoured by Stonewall, particularly given the appetite for a closer relationship amongst many trans activists. The general feeling of the room reflected this, and we focussed our discussion upon the first three options.

Option (3) was largely rejected also. Criticisms raised included concerns about who would get the money, the impact of competition between smaller trans organisations, about what the conditions might be for such grants, and the amount of money and energy that would be spent by both Stonewall and trans groups on managing the system and applying for grants – money and energy that could be better spent on actual campaigning. Ruth further pointed out that Stonewall doesn’t actually have a lot of money to spare, outlining how money is currently spent on Stonewall’s employees and existing campaigns.  If the grant scheme was to go ahead, then there would likely be a knock-on effect on (for instance) campaigning in schools, and Stonewall might need to apply for extra money from funding pots that are already used by trans groups.

Options (1) and (2) both had great deal of support from within the room. Several groups suggested variations upon an “option 1.5” that sat between the two – proposals included the creation of a “trans department” within Stonewall, and semi-autonomous “sibling” organisation linked permanently to Stonewall.


There was a pretty clear consensus on the following points at the end of the day:

  • Barring the unexpected (e.g. widespread opposition from trans people contributing to the public consultation) Stonewall will become an LGBT organisation, in one form or another.
  • Any eventual solution should provide for joint ‘LGBT’ campaigning on shared issues, such as homophobia and transphobia in schools.
  • Any eventual solution should provide for campaigning on trans-specific issues, such as on relevant legislation (e.g. the Gender Recognition Act and amendments to the recent Marriage Act) and on addressing issues with health care.
  • Future campaigning work must be intersectional, recognising the diversity of trans experience in areas such as gender identity, race, disability and age.


What happens next?

  • The public consultation will continue for several months. If you’re trans, please make sure your voice is heard!
  • There will be further meetings held with people from under-represented groups. This is a vital opportunity to address the problem of diversity at Saturday’s meeting. Stonewall are planning meetings with people from a number of groups, including intersex people as well as trans people of colour, disabled trans people and young trans people. If you want to attend one of these meetings, please contact Stonewall: trans@stonewall.org.uk
  • There will be a formal proposal for trans inclusion in Stonewall made in January 2015 in the shape of a report. This will then be consulted upon internally (i.e. within Stonewall) and externally (i.e. amongst trans people).
  • A final decision on the future of Stonewall should be made in April 2015. If this involves full trans inclusion and/or the creation of a new trans group, this will take several months to implement.

It’s important to note that this is not a process that can take place overnight! The process of consultation is lengthy in order to take on board the views of as many trans people as possible. We have such a range of perspectives that there is no chance that everyone will be happy, but the aim is for change to be trans-led, and to reflect the desires and interests of as many people as possible.

Once the consultation ends, its results cannot be implement immediately either. Stonewall may need to revise its priorities and work plans, and Ruth noted that a full-scale programme of training on trans issues and awareness will be necessary for the organisation’s staff.

Personal reflections

I feel positive about the future. There is so much unnecessary suffering amongst the trans population that allies are vital, and Stonewall could be a particularly large and powerful ally.

I believe in diversity of tactics to bring about change, and Stonewall takes a particularly centrist, “insider” approach to this. It is vitally important that Stonewall is never the only voice in LGBT activism, and that other groups continue to take more radical approaches to trans campaigning. It is also important that we remain capable of critiquing Stonewall, and holding it to account. Ultimately though, I’d rather be a critical friend than an entrenched foe.


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