Whimsical, queer exploration of all things gender.

Posts tagged ‘Transgender’

Book Review: trans like me – a journey for all of us, by CN Lester

I was honoured to be asked by CN to offer a round of feedback on the manuscript for this book prior to publication (with Virago Press). I inhaled the text in a single evening, despite generally dragging my feet when reading longer pieces on my computer screen. The research was incredibly thorough, but at no point did this become dry or stuffy. This book isn’t an academic text in the traditional sense, but it’s certainly a very educational one – I’ve already cited it in my own academic writing.

Once I got my hard copy of the book, I felt it had been a long enough time since that editing process that I should really read it again before reviewing – plus, it wouldn’t be fair to assess a pre-final version. Generally I struggle with re-reading books, as my attention often wanes as a result of half-remembering what I’m encountering and having to fight the urge to skim. I was surprised with trans like me, that I was touched more deeply second time around than the first. Divided into 15 chapters over 214 pages, Lester’s conversational style creates an intimate and effective sense of a meaningful conversation over coffee with a friend. Before the journey has really begun, they explain how “to learn how to learn about trans people, about the ways in which what we know about gender is shifting and growing, we must first unlearn” (p. 5); their experience as a teacher comes through (which we are explicitly told about later, through their careful threading of personal anecdote through the narrative), and an attentive, skilled one at that.

Lester effectively conjures compassion in their audience through beginning by engaging with the worst exploitation of the tabloid press. Their points are consistently reasonable, relatable, and simple. There is no sense of polemic, only kindness. They give of their personal experiences and history generously, but without allowing any reader to fall into voyeurism. Lester gets us thinking about who has the power to tell stories, helping the reader to understand the incredibly invasive expectations, demands, and groping hands trans people can by explicitly targeted with. While there is a partial element of autobiography, trans like me reads as a collection of interrogative, well-evidenced essays that are absolutely committed to an empathetic and intersectional appreciation of many of the central discussions and concerns that come up when trans is on the discussion table. How race and class are profoundly relevant and necessary in any understanding of trans people is also not lost or buried.

It wasn’t far into the book that I started marking ‘wow moments’ in my margins. Brilliant, succinct ripostes to some of the most dangerous and disingenuous (yet pervasive) myths about trans people and communities. These are not incinerated in a blaze of adjectives, but quietly and decisively collapsed. The book manages to do this in a way that is not only affirming to those already familiar with the subject matter, but accessible to those who are not. Lester’s anger is something that one would hope everyone can agree with – anger about bigotry, injustice, violence, callousness, unequal rights, access, and experience. Lester hits the nail on the head by centring empathy in their education and discussion.

I mentioned that I was touched more deeply second time around. For me, this was most profound on page 35: “a question I am often asked is why, as someone who wants to subvert gender norms, i would want or need an additional gendered label. Couldn’t I simply refuse all descriptors? Or, failing that, call myself a feminine man or a masculine woman?”. This made me think of a line from Alan Bennett’s History Boys: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours”. Now I knew this wasn’t unique to me, but I remembered being asked by an exceptionally well-informed and sensitive friend “but aren’t you just a feminist man?” in relation to my own non-binary experience. The discussion that Lester unfolds in response to the rhetorical questions they use is far more helpful (and humble) than a discrete, essential ‘answer’. It made me feel better equipped to have these conversations when (and it is when, not if) they come about.

There’s no such thing as a perfect book. However from my perspective, any critiques feel embarrassingly trivial or unnecessary. When discussing how trans women have been portrayed in popular culture (“the victim, the freak, the joke, the threat” – p. 29) I felt a mention of Julia Serano as quite a marked absence – albeit undoubtedly many of the readers of this book wouldn’t be familiar with Serano’s work. Further, as an academic, while I was glad to see extensive references in the endnotes, I found the system of links listed by page a bit imprecise. These things say much more about me than about the book, and most certainly don’t detract.

CN Lester is one of quite a small handful of people capable of introducing so many aspects of trans lives so well. Doing so to a heterogeneous popular audience is doubly difficult. I can only echo Shami Chakrabarti’s back-cover comment that “I challenge anyone not to have both heart and mind a little more open after reading this book”. This is a book for everyone, living up to the title’s implication of ‘a journey for all of us’. I believe this book can make its readers both wiser and kinder, and makes an incredibly important contribution as a result, that I enthusiastically recommend.

Why We Should Stand Up For Trans Rights and Recognition at the University of Toronto

My good friend and colleague S.W. Underwood and myself wrote a piece in response to Dr. Jordan Peterson’s recent comments at the University of Toronto, regarding his refusal to use the pronouns individuals identify with. Please see here for the article!

http://torontoist.com/2016/10/u-of-t-trans-rights/

Slurs – What they are not

If you look it up, a common-sense definition of a slur is simply an insulting remark, that might also harm someone’s reputation. This is over-simplistic, in that it doesn’t consider power dynamics. Often when we talk of slurs we’re talking about language used by those with power (which can mean being socially normalised, not demographically vulnerable to systemic forms of discrimination) to bash those without, in a hateful way associated with some kind of disenfranchised group. I would say minority group, though importantly women of course  experience all kinds of misogynistic language despite the size of the demographic (spoiler: because patriarchy). Most people can recognise and be suitably disgusted by a wide range of slurs, particularly racial ones. There’s also the conversations constantly happening within marginalised groups around the politics of reclaiming previously weaponised words as a form of empowerment – slutwalks, self-defining fags and dykes, and the now quite longstanding world of queer. But due to the (sometimes faltering, and certainly incomplete) progress that has been made through decades of social processes whereby more and more people get switched on to how language is used being something that matters, legitimate processes of challenging oppressive language have been levied as a rhetorical shield against being criticised, or even described.

I would argue there are two particular terms in relation to transgender people in particular that ignorant or prejudiced individuals like to claim are slurs or pejorative – cisgender, and TERF. Cisgender, or cis for short, comes from the latin meaning ‘on this side’ (whilst ‘trans’ means ‘on the other side’). It is a value-neutral descriptor for individuals whose gender identities align with how their gender was assigned at birth. TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminism, and describes people (usually women) who profess a feminist identity but do not consider transgender women to be ‘real’ women.

Cisgender exists in order to de-position the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as always being about people who are not trans (notice how trans men and trans women are always indicated by the prefix, but most of the time cis men and cis women are ‘just’ men and women?). When we say man, or woman, we don’t have any information about whether an individual is cis or trans, but for as long as cisness is positioned as the ‘default’, trans status is positioned as ‘not normal’, rather than minority. Transness is implicitly excluded from being ‘real’ men or women for as long as those words on their own don’t include a universal appreciation of the possibility and reality of transness.  This isn’t to say that cis people can’t and don’t experience tensions, discrimination, or negative feelings because of enforced gender roles. But they do benefit from being viewed as real, constant, stable, and never having to convince or confess to others what their gender is, because it’s taken at face value. Cis people broadly benefit from being ‘the default’, and from cultural practices of ascribing gender to people based on what we see, and this often being taken as ‘more real’ than what an individual has to say about themselves.

People who don’t like these words existing often try to claim that they’re slurs in order to delegitimise their usage. Because of the fact that oppressed individuals may sometimes, in understandable frustration at experiences of inequality express their anger through disparaging the oppressive groups. Compare TERF to say, racist, or homophobe. These are words that are used to describe people with a particular set of (discriminatory) beliefs, or who engage in discriminatory practices. In those cases, people called homophobes and racists tend to respond by going ‘no I’m not! (I have a friend who is gay!)’ – yet fascinatingly TERFs don’t say that they don’t think that trans women aren’t women, but that… it’s offensive to say they are? In more extremely hateful individuals one does see people defiantly, proudly proclaiming themselves as racist, homophobic, transphobic – because they believe it is right to be so. Those who don’t believe it is right to be so but don’t recognise the problems with their actions are now the bigger problem.

People can try to shut down descriptors which shake their ignorant worldviews. TERFs see themselves as ‘feminists’, men and women critical of ‘cis’ see themselves as ‘just men and women’ (I’ve never seen a trans person have a problem or make a critique of the word cisgender, which probably has a lot to do with experiences of having their genders systematically delegitimised).

It is a Machiavellian, political move to utilise narratives of oppression resistance in order to reject descriptive labels that function to make a minority less Othered (in the case of cis) or to describe a set of beliefs unambiguously, making it easier to see their failings (such as TERF). One can see it in other domains – take the descriptor of ‘Blairite’ – because support for the political ideology of Tony Blair has been criticised heavily, proponents try to silence their critics through tone policing and claiming those labeling them are being offensive.

The bottom line – it’s important not to confuse people being pissed off with a group of people described by a word, and the word itself having a disparaging meaning.

 

 

Why I don’t want to talk about Caitlyn Jenner

The irony of this piece of writing isn’t lost on me. But as possibly the most visible and discussed transgender person ever, it’s practically impossible to be engaged with transgender scholarship and activism without acknowledging that she has influenced the conversations that are being had.

When I wrote about Caitlyn’s coming out last year, there were two points about the future I was keen to see pan out. The first was that her reality TV foothold gave her a valuable platform despite not becoming a well-informed activist overnight. The second was hoping that she inspired more and better quality allyship. The latter point is unquantifiable, and I remain hopeful that this is the case (although this is the direct the world is slowly moving in anyway). The former… well, it’s time to review.

It’s timely, as the premier of the second season of I am Cait, and it’s fair to say that Jenner is clearly willing to engage with members of the trans community beyond her political position as a conservative Republican. The inclusion of Kate Bornstein is a delight for many, as her books Gender Outlaw and Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation among others have embraced and supported a diverse cross-section of the trans community.

cait

As Jenny Boylan put it “The Ingenious, Subversive thing is, @IAmCait is not actually about her”. Productive dialogue between left and right wing people is incredibly hard to foster, because no-one wants to change their mind. Everyone holds their views because they feel they are right, or better, or most useful. Stepping out of the echo chamber is hard. I can definitely imagine commenting more on this show, because there seems to be an emphasis on growth through conversation.

Jenner’s own position however – she’s quite recently declared extremist right wing presidential candidate Ted Cruz as “very nice”, and wants to be his ‘trans ambassador’. This is despite the fact that Ted Cruz views the support of trans students as “lunacy”, and that a trans student using a space “inflicts” them on others using that space. Cruz also has associations with Kevin Swanson, an extremist pastor advocating that gay people be put to death, and has associated himself with the support of extremist anti-abortionists who are associated with murder and attempted bombing.

Brynne Tannehill has given an excellent reasoning for Jenner’s seeming ability to doublethink away Cruz’s bigotry. She articulates how conservative trans people such as Jenner:

don’t have skin in the game. They were ultra-conservative before transition, and remained so after transition because a Cruz presidency doesn’t endanger them personally. They live in safe places, with a safe income.

escape cognitive dissonance in a lot of ways. They don’t believe that Ted Cruz would do all the horrible things he and the FRC have promised to do. They believe that the most important thing to transgender people is “a good economy” that gives us more job opportunities. They claim to be “looking at the bigger picture,” or say that “I’m not a single issue voter,” with an implication of moral and intellectual superiority.

Tannehill explains how polemical anti-left understandings of Democrat policy lead them to the conclusion that they would be better off under Cruz. For those who are literal millionaires, in terms of taxation, they may well be right. But even if we ignore the tired discussion that illustrates how right wing economic policies favour businesses and the wealthy, Jenner fails to recognise how:

Ted Cruz has promised to force the world’s largest employer of transgender people (the DoD) to hunt down and fire all of its transgender employees. Never mind that if the FRC’s plan is implemented, transgender people would not have access to correct government ID. Nor would they have legal recourse when discriminated against in employment. Nor when refused service, nor when tormented by religiously motivated co-workers, nor when school administrators can legally refuse to provide an education to transgender students.

This would obviously hit poorer trans people, trans people of colour, disabled trans people the hardest. Caitlyn has wealth, glamour, and a platform – but her lived experience doesn’t bring much to the table. She doesn’t have experiences of marginalisation that have sharpened her consideration of social issues, nor is she a scholar. She has said how she would have “all my girls to advise him” – she might be able to wield the social capital to protect those near and dear to her, but what about everyone else? In my article last year, I quoted S. Bear Bergman postulating “wondering who else should get 2 hrs on prime time TV?” Innumerable trans people with a spectacular range of stories and expertise to share come to mind, some have appeared on TV, some have not. I would find it alarming if anyone with the platform of Jenner were to normalise a radical, hateful extremist such as Cruz, despite the potential laudability of what she might be trying to do through her show.

To be clear, I applaud attempts by Jenner to engage outside of a conservative echo chamber. So why don’t I want to talk about her anymore? Because she’s not who we should be listening to. Some of her friends, and her critics, and the community she wants to represent, are.

Review: The Transgender Equality Report, January 2016

Released on the 14th January, this 98 page report has already been usefully digested and impressively considered by a range of groups within the trans community (including Action for Trans Health, the Non-Binary Inclusion Project, and Beyond the Binary). I’ll be going through it section by section, aiming to break down the content for those who haven’t read it, and provide some points of consideration for those who have. The report can be found here.

The report comes from the Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Mrs. Maria Miller. The committee contains 6 Conservative MPs, 4 Labour MPs, and 1 MP from the Scottish National Party. The bolded subtitles are parallel with the sections of the report itself.

Over 250 written evidence submissions were received, and five oral evidence sessions were held. Each submission was however limited to 3000 words, which rather caps those expert trans organisations and individuals who may have a lot of useful information to say on a range of sub-topics.

1. Introduction

Here the report provides a breakdown of terminology – what is a trans woman, what is a trans man, what is cis, etc. etc. They do take a simplified approach to non-binary, simply saying it is “located at a (fixed or variable) point along a continuum between male and female; or “non gendered”, i.e. involving identification as neither male nor female” (p. 5). They also specify here that it wasn’t possible to undertake an ‘in-depth’ consideration of non-binary needs in the report, but highlight a need for this, likewise for intersex people, whom they recognise as having potentially overlapping but distinctive needs.

They mention that “before commencing the inquiry, we consulted informally with representatives of two key stakeholder organisations, Press for Change and Stonewall”. PfC is a long standing champion of transgender legal rights, and Stephen Whittle (who founded the organisation) acted as Specialist Advisor – quite appropriately as he is both trans himself and a professor of law! The fact that Stonewall only began considering trans issues less than three months ago makes me wonder if there weren’t more experienced groups that might’ve assisted, and whether Stonewall somewhat rode on the coattails of its recognisability due to its sexuality based work.

2. Cross-Government Strategy

In this small section, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) is introduced. They published ‘Advancing Transgender Equality: A plan for action’ in 2011, which was criticized as largely unimplemented. They highlight that within 6 months the government must agree a new strategy which it can deliver, with full cross-departmental support, and must make a clear commitment to abide by the Yogyakarta principles, and Resolution 2048 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Given that these pieces of legislature were created in 2007 and April 2015 respectively, I am disappointed but unsurprised that these have not been explicitly incorporated sooner.

3. Gender Recognition Act 2004

Topics considered under this section include:

  • Applying for Gender Recognition Certificates (GRCs)
  • Spousal consent for gender recognition
  • The age limit of 18+ for gender recognition
  • data protection and excessive requests for GRCs

It’s good to see the committee recognising here that despite the step forward it was at the time (albeit obviously imperfect), there are aspects that are particularly dated and lacking, and in need of updating. It is highlighted that the requirement to provide documentation of a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria (then Gender Identity Disorder) is necessary for a Gender Recognition Certificate to be awarded, is pathologising and problematic. The arbitrary and uncritical requirement of two years living ‘in role’ (whatever that actually means) before surgical gender affirmation will be provided was also highlighted as a failing. The committee concludes that “in place of the present, medicalised, quasi-judicial application process, an administrative process must be developed, centred on the wishes of the individual applicant, rather than on intensive analysis by doctors and lawyers” (p. 14). This is a welcome change, but desperately needs more specific functionality to be formulated and disclosed. As gender is assigned at birth on the basis of genital appearance, it is ludicrously unfair for those individuals for whom this cursory assessments turns out to be inaccurate to have to pay £140 for a certificate to have this revised. Whilst it is pointed out that the fee can be waived, an effective replacement system would benefit from being transparent, costless to applicants, and respectful of the self-determination of gender. Zac at Transistence points out that the report makes some factual errors about the requirements for a GRC, which may make it a more difficult process than they imply.

The next section on spousal consent has been reviewed as one of the more disappointing aspects of the report (among the reviewers cited at the start of this article). As it stands, an individual in a marriage who wishes to undertake a legal change of how their gender is recognised requires the agreement of their spouse on the basis that marriage “takes the form of a contract between two people of different sexes or two people of the same sex”. Action for Trans Health quite astutely makes the point that the basis of consent required for the status of the marriage to change from ‘opposite to same’ sex (or vice versa) is a clumsy, inefficient, and ultimately unnecessary (unless one is still attempting to preserve the ‘separate but equal’ feel to marriage based on the genders of the couple). No discussion is present over the idea of marriage contracts being de-gendered specifically (although it’s a good thing that on page 63 it is suggested that the government “should be moving towards “non-gendering” official records as a general principle and only recording gender where it is a relevant piece of information” – though the question remains, what criteria would be used to define gender as relevant?). For the government to fail to recognise the need to modify any system that allows one individual the power to prevent the legal recognition of another person’s gender (even for a time) is deeply concerning. No action was advised, despite advisory recognition that an abusive spouse may take advantage of this policy. Also, Scotland’s solution to this avoids delay or restriction on the trans spouse:

Under the Marriage and Civil Partnership Act (Scotland) 2014, which came into force on 16th December 2014, a married trans person whose spouse does not consent to the granting of a full GRC is able to apply to a Sheriff Court for a full GRC, on the basis of an interim GRC, without divorce or annulment having taken place. The process of obtaining a full GRC is thus expedited. The spouse of a trans person is entitled to be notified of the issuing of a GRC and can initiate divorce proceedings on that basis. (p. 16)

If Scotland can do it, why can’t England? It is one of the most insufficient responses that the committee concludes that any abuse of the legislation would be “deplorable and inexcusable” (p.17) yet they simply “more ensure it is informed about the extent and ways of addressing the problem”. The implication is that the ‘right’ to not be married to your partner for one single second as a legally recognised trans person is equal to the right to have one’s gender recognised. Thus the argument that marriage is a legal contract and that the non-trans spouse has equal say is rooted in transphobia.

A point many may regard as a victory, the report recommends that “provision should be made to allow 16 and 17 year olds, with appropriate support, to apply for gender recognition, on the basis of self-declaration” (p.19).

That not a single person has been prosecuted under the bit of legislation (section 22) to protect trans people from being outed illustrates how it has failed to protect anyone from or hold anyone accountable for this particular manifestation of transphobia. The report indicates the Ministry of Justice must investigate why, and work with courts to deal with this. The report recognises that there are “very few” situations where asking for proof of legal gender is appropriate, and yet the fact that this occurs raises cause for concern at how an individual’s trans status may be responded to by an organisation. As it is not unlawful to ask a person to produce a GRC under the GRA, it seems sensible to me that a clause be inserted that this is with the proviso that the request is justified and substantiated, and that absolutely no negative consequences occur if the request is refused on the basis of not being necessary.

4. Equality Act 2010

  • ‘Gender reassignment’ as a protected characteristic
  • Exemptions – separate sex and single sex services
  • Separate gender sport

This section paid some important attention to language, recognising how scrutiny of the terms ‘gender reassignment’ and ‘transsexual’ can be problematic for many, not least because of the increasing number of trans people for whom these terms are not reflective for. Lack of clarity can prevent the act from being fully effective, as it is illustrated that many erroneously believe that a GRC is necessary for protection when it is not. However, with regards to whether non-binary people are protected, it was stated that:

When the Equality Bill was going through Parliament the then Solicitor General had clearly indicated that it was only the provision in respect of discrimination by perception which would protect those members of “the wider transgender community”who did not come under the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. That is, they would only be protected if they were discriminated against because they were perceived to be proposing to undergo, to be undergoing, or to have undergone gender reassignment. The difficulty with this provision is that there are likely to be cases where an individual from the wider trans community, is discriminated against because of who they are and not because they are perceived to be transsexual.

That the report wishes to amend the act to protect on the basis of ‘gender identity’ is a positive step, but as with all aspects of this report, actual results will speak louder than good intentions.

The next point considered by the report was ‘separate sex and single sex services’, referring particularly to women’s shelters (such as rape crisis, or domestic abuse shelters), and prisons. A group called ‘Women Analysing Policy on Women’ reported a position ringing of uncritical TERF based arguments, saying there is a ‘clash’ when women who would feel unsafe accessing a service that is open to trans women should have the right to access services that exclude trans women – which is permissible as an exemption under the Equality Act. It is obviously terrible if any woman feels unsafe because of others using a service for those who have experienced violence. However clunky the comparison however, the debate would not be being had if it was a question of white women feeling unsafe around a service allowing black women access. That there is zero examples of pre, post, or non-operative transgender women committing a sexual crime in a womens’ shelter, the argument rests upon an implicit delegitimisation of trans women, as ‘really’ men. Such legislation not only endangers and discriminates against vulnerable trans women (who are statistically more likely to be at risk of sexual violence, or engagement in underground economies which may lead to imprisonment), but also polices a trans woman’s ‘authenticity’ on the basis of how well she ‘passes’ – a trans woman who is not read as such may be able to access exclusionary services anyway, whilst others would not. Worryingly, the Minister for Women and Equalities thought that such exclusionary practices were being used “proportionately, appropriately, and fairly”, despite this including facilities as broad and vital as public changing rooms, bathing facilities, and toilets (p. 30). That they only recommend amendment of the Equality Act such that “the occupational requirements provision and/or the single-sex/separate services provision shall not apply in relation to discrimination against a person whose acquired gender has been recognised under the Gender Recognition Act 2004” (p.32) – that is, awarded a GRC – is insufficient, and lacking in critical consideration.

Finally for this section was the consideration of separate-gender sport. The report recognises that exclusion of trans people from sport in their acquired gender should be a much rarer than than it is. Sports have to demonstrate that they are ‘gender affected’, and that a trans person would have some kind of unfair advantage, or for there to be a ‘safety risk’ to competitors. They recommend that the government works with Sport England to produce some guidance to avoid exclusions, as they recognise the unlikeliness of an exclusion being justified.

5. NHS Services

Obviously there’s a lot to be said here. and it is divided by:

  • GPs attitudes
  • Education and training of doctors
  • Professional regulation of doctors
  • GICs (adults)
  • Treatment protocols
  • Capacity and quality of services
  • The Tavistock Clinic (children and adolescents)

There are some recognitions that are important here, most clearly at the start of this section the clear admission that “the NHS is letting down trans people, with too much evidence of an approach that can be said to be discriminatory” (p. 35). There is further explicit recognition that “GPs in particular too often lack an understanding of: trans identities; the diagnosis of gender dysphoria; referral pathways into Gender Identity Services; and their own role in prescribing hormone treatment. And it is asserted that in some cases this leads to appropriate care not being provided” (p. 42). Whilst the report asks the General Medical Council to “provide clear reassurance” that they take transphobia seriously as a form of professional misconduct, there isn’t any more specific discussion of the importance of implementing a holistic and integrated consideration of gender identity into medical training.

It is positive the the problematic association between transgender identity and mental health services is recognised. I particularly support the notion of Gender Identity Services being established as a specialty in its own right, as it is a profoundly intersectional discipline that cannot be readily reduced to or conflated with only endocrinology, or surgery, or gynecology, etc.

Disappointing however is the seeming misunderstanding of the informed consent model illustrated by point 212 (p. 47). They suggest that the model is unconvincing because it would allow anyone to access whatever service (hormones, surgeries) they want on demand with no further scrutiny. It is accepted that there is a significant difference between accessing different gender affirming treatments – the ramifications of hormones are fundamentally different to phalloplasty or vaginoplasty. Not only do these have different ramifications for the individual, but also restrictive NHS budgets (that very much could be expanded were it not for ideological Conservative decisions… though that’s not a discussion for here) mean that the clinical urgency for an individual needs justifying in terms of need. A difficult topic, when it comes to finite resources I can at least understand the wish to prioritise say, those experiencing dysphoria over those who do not, or not as badly, but creating that hierarchy of need is never going to be without ethical issues. However, I do think this committee has been too quick in dismissing the merits that an informed consent model would offer, at least in the provision of hormones. That many trans people seek access to hormones only, with either no need/desire or at least no firm commitment on surgical intervention would allow those who are on the enormous NHS waiting lists to rapidly have their needs met. That there is a double standard regarding when cis individuals access hormones for a wide range of medical reasons is evidence to suggest that the refusal to allow trans people to take responsibility for their choice to take hormones or not, is at the very least, cis-centric. Were informed consent utilised for hormones, I posit that the waiting lists for GICs would decrease dramatically, allowing greater speed, attention, and resources to be provided to those individuals negotiating surgical gender affirmation.

I am somewhat perplexed by the claim that “The requirement to undergo “Real Life Experience” prior to genital (reassignment/reconstructive) surgery must not entail conforming to externally imposed and arbitrary (binary) preconceptions about gender identity and presentation. It must be clear that this requirement is not about qualifying for surgery, but rather preparing the patient to cope with the profound consequences of surgery” (p. 47). Does it require two years to do that? Are there other examples where surgeries are delayed for that long on the basis of preparation? What is the period meant to be an experience of, if not to satisfy to clinicians that the trans person has shown they’re super-serious enough? How does living in a gender role relate to practical preparations on genital surgery (given that major genital surgery in cis people doesn’t involve this). Obviously it’s good that they’re saying this isn’t for the imposition of external, socially constructed binary values, but I fail to see how as it is currently enforced, it is actually justified – and indeed, it has been long criticised as arbitrary, cis-centric gatekeeping.

In point 230 (p. 50) the report discusses how lack of specialist clinicians is a major, underdiscussed barrier to the introduction of more services. Whilst I think that a revision of hormone access ease would go a long way, this point could have been related to an explicit making-visible of gendered medicine within medical training, but wasn’t. Again, it’s great that the committee recognise how appalling it is that waiting lists for GICs are so long when the legal obligation under the NHS constitution is for treatment provision within 18 weeks, at this stage they’re simply reiterating that things are bad – when a lot of people want to see something done. So – good, but I’ll celebrate when we get some change, thank you.

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s pleasing to see the committee recommend a reduction in time required for young service users to wait before puberty blockers can be accessed – due to their reversibility (primarily), and the sensitivity of time as a factor. Such a vague (albeit welcome) conclusion could benefit greatly from some practical recommendation of how the time scale might practically change – well within the capability of discussion given the high involvement of the GICs and NHS in the discussions underpinning this report.

6. Tackling Everyday Transphobia

Here the committee makes points about:

  • Hate crime
  • Recording names and gender identities
  • Prison services
  • Online services
  • Schools and post-school education
  • Social care

It is a breath of fresh air to see the report explicitly state that the Ministry of Justice must ensure it consults fully with the trans community (p. 57) – and indeed, this should be the case for every sub-topic of the report. Low conviction rates, practical issues of intersectionality (which box do you tick when a trans woman of colour is a victim?!), and a (shocking) lack of parity between trans hate crimes and other hate crimes were all specifically acknowledged.

The report highlights that the laws on names in the UK are commonly incorrectly assumed, in that there is no such thing as a ‘legal name’ (p. 59). It is very positive that the committee recognises the necessity of dropping the pathologising practice of requiring a doctor’s letter in order to change a name on a passport. Further, the fact that Australia allows for passports with the gender marker ‘X’ rather than M or F was received positively as evidence that the UK would be quite capable of following suit. The claim by Karen Bradley that “The gender identifiers are important in making sure that somebody can be identified” fails to recognise that 1. there’s a *picture* and 2. there’s a host of additional identifying information, and that the gender marker doesn’t actually tell you anything, in and of itself. I believe the report would’ve benefited from deconstructing this flimsy counter-point. Overall however, the recommendation to move to a de-gendering of official documents where unnecessary (that is, most of them) should be praised. It was a missed opportunity not to link this discussion to that of marriage licences.

The recognition of the report of the deaths of Vicky Thompson and Joanne Latham underlined the sobriety and importance of the topic of prisons. Whilst the report recognises the importance of protecting trans prisoners and that housing individuals in prisons which affirm their gender identities, a lack of statement calling upon the Ministry of Justice to guarantee the respect of gender among trans prisoners (GRC or not) does not in my view engage with this topic with enough dedication. Access for Trans Health illustrate how there is impetus for prison services to allow trans charities and researchers more transparent access in order to collect necessary data about trans prison experiences, and also highlights the conspicuous lack of discussion of immigration detention, or how non-binary prisoners are to be located (one of many important points relating to non-binary that could be made, given that the report specifically states that non-binary was not engaged with in depth).

The assertion that trans issues should be taught in schools under Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) is an overdue but welcome conclusion. As with many of the points in this report, that certain things should happen is a given, and the details of how they will be properly introduced so as to be effective is the real question. Inclusion of transgender issues as part of teacher training is another excellent point – although consistency across private schools, academies, and religious schools are all concerns that necessitate attention.

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As I have highlighted throughout, there are some very positive points and some letdowns. My overall sense at this point is one of caution – because fundamentally, nothing has actually changed yet. Whilst I do not wish to play down the hard work of many passionate and informed people for their part in this report, it’s undeniable that this publication marks the beginning of the execution of the next generation of change, not the end. Also it’s important to note that transgender equality does not exist in a vacuum from other social issues, and thus factors such as wages, income support/tax credits, the junior doctor’s contract (by proxy), NHS and prison privitisation and a wide range of other government policies will have very serious impacts on many transgender people.

A Response to the Idea ‘It’s Time to Take the T out of LGBT’

On Thursday 10th September 2015, Katie Glover (who is transgender) wrote an article for the Independent titled ‘Why it’s Time to take the ‘T’ out of LGBT’. I think that this article is misguided and unhelpful for different aspects of queer communities, and I will spell out why.

The article starts with discussion of the idea that people can get confused by LGBT, due to confusion and conflation between sexuality and gender identity (one simple, but useful one liner I’ve heard to explain this is “sexuality is who you go to bed with, gender identity is who you go to bed as” – later in the article, Glover misquotes this idea). This is a point dealt with by education, as the association between gender identity and sexuality has been around a lot longer than any kind of LGBT movement has. That association is in part because of how labels like ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ are understood with reference to an individuals gender, so as to understand whether they’re attracted to ‘the same or the opposite sex’ (imperfect though such language is). The article claims “being transgender is at the very least heavily associated with sexual orientation, when in fact it stands completely in isolation” – which is patently untrue. For example, if you are assigned male at birth, and you’re attracted to men, and are read socially as male, then you are going to be considered a gay or bisexual or otherwise non-straight man if you give off any social cues of involvement with a man. Even if you identify as a woman. If you are read socially as a woman, then you become read as heterosexual. Indeed, how an individual defines their sexuality may change with a gender transition even if who they’re actually attracted to does not. Also, to consider things historically, sexuality and gender identity were originally conflated under the idea of ‘inversion’, or a ‘woman’s soul in a man’s body’ as an explanation for same gender attraction – yet this narrative is now far more associated with trans.

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Glover moves to discuss how Caitlyn Jenner used to believe that marriage was defined as between one man and one woman, and suggests that because ‘gay issues aren’t trans’ people’s turf’ they won’t necessarily be supportive. I would argue that the vast majority of transgender people are supportive of sexuality minority rights (Glover keeps saying ‘gay marriage’, and even says “gay people… make up three quarters of the LGBT title”, such bisexual erasure is astonishing). The reason why is because trans people often have a first hand understanding of what it feels like to not be accepted, and face stigma and discrimination in various ways. There is a sense of empathy there, together with powerful historical context where the progress of LGB acceptance has moved faster than for transgender. This is ironic given the huge support that LGB folk have had from trans people. The Stonewall Riots are the best example of this, and have been much discussed given the critical response the upcoming film has received for its erasure of transgender women of colour. Reactions like Ellen’s – surprise that Caitlyn wouldn’t have a stronger voice supporting other marginalised people, given her relative privilege and platform – are to be encouraged.

Glover demonstrates a lack of nuanced understanding of queer politics or history in suggesting that the fracturing of the LGBT moniker is progress. The term obviously covers a very wide range of people, with views that can often directly contradict, and with wildly different views about how things ‘should’ be. It’s worth noting that being something, such as gay, bisexual, or trans – certainly does make you the authority on your own experience. It doesn’t make you an authority on the community. That tends to come with many years of work, involvement, reading, and listening. The vast majority of the time that comes from someone directly within a given demographic, but not necessarily. I know there are certainly straight trans people, indeed, trans academics, who have far more nuanced understandings of gay rights than the majority of gay people. Further, Glover makes the unsubstantiated claim that “In fact, it’s been estimated that the number of trans people who are gay is only about the same as in the wider population.” As an academic of gender and sexuality, getting numbers on this stuff is very difficult, and estimates can vary widely. However from my own fieldwork as well as the discussions from dozens of articles on transgender, it seems to me that flexibility and fluidity with sexuality amongst trans people is considerably more common than in the wider population (I can’t be sure that all references are accessible to everyone, but some material can be found here, here, here, and here). The potential reasons for this are beyond this article, though also we have to ask – does this even matter? If there were few non-straight trans people, would trans ignorance or ambivalence on issues of sexuality (which in reality is far less common than ignorance or ambivalence on trans issues from LGB people) not be something we should aim to challenge and rectify? As for all?

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In articulating that LGB and T might be getting “too close for comfort”, Glover reveals one of the most problematic and damaging things within LGBTQ community – that is, ignorance and distaste from some for those different from themselves, when we might otherwise be brought together over a sense of solidarity in seeking respect and equality. Some of the greatest successes of LGBTQ liberation have been due to cooperation – for example, whilst not decimated in anything like the same way, lesbian activists of the 1980s shouldered an enormous amount of the struggle in fighting for the HIV/AIDS crisis experienced by non-straight men to be taken seriously. And of course, how trans activists at Stonewall put LGB rights on the map.

We do find people who exist within LGBT who exhibit a self-interested, tribalist approach. Those gay men with zero interest in misogyny, racism, ableism or transphobia spring to mind with a wince, because they’re not affected.  Small minded identity politics which try to scrape acceptance by distancing from any other marginalised groups, in effect trying to get a ticket to ‘mainstream’ society by propping up a status quo which tells everyone that being straight is ‘normal’. Being white is ‘normal’. Being cis is ‘normal’ – positioning everyone who isn’t, as not quite as good. None of this provides a compelling reason for distancing LGB from T, but gives good reason for there to be more dialogue within LGBTQ about our different issues in order to improve society for all.

TV Review: Boy Meets Girl

*This review may contain plot spoilers for the first episode of Boy Meets Girl*

I just watched the first episode of the new romantic comedy show Boy Meets Girl which aired on BBC 2 on 3rd September 2015. The show had already been acclaimed for the first UK show to contain a major transgender character, played by a transgender actress (Rebecca Root).

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Now whilst those who know me might suspect I would rave about anything with a positive portrayal of trans people in the media, even well intentioned shows and films can easily receive scathing criticism for their ignorance (for example, the transgender writer Julia Serano makes important points about how transgender characters have historically been portrayed as ‘deceptive’ or ‘tragic’ in the book whipping girl, even in films otherwise praised for positive portrayal such as Priscilla Queen of the Desert). Thus I am actually quite cautious of watching trans focussed media, for the fear of disappointment and having to deal with cheap, stigmatising laughs. However, the first episode of this show was, in my opinion, nigh on perfect – let me explain.

We’re introduced to Leo (played by Harry Hepple) who lives with his mum, dad, and brother James, and has just lost his job. In order to get away from their mother’s exasperation, James drags Leo to the pub where over the evening he meets Judy, a ‘beguiling older woman’ as iPlayer’s summary tells. They hit it off, and arrange a date for the next day. The show manages to do something very difficult, in that it weaves a humorous but believable narrative, critically without relying on Judy’s transgender status for laughs. Nor was dramatic tension created through characters being positioned as transphobic – whilst there might be space for that aspect of reality to be explored later in the series, the way the main characters were introduced was not rushed, nor were individuals set up to represent particular tropes. This is hopefully a sign that even the side characters will be fleshed out in interesting, idiosyncratic ways.

However, the difficulties that transgender people can face were not erased. There was a clear and relatable anxiety portrayed by Root as she tried to come out to Leo (which involved humour, but in a witty and clever manner. No overblown clichéd reactions). Further we also receive hints over Judy’s painful past rejections from men, and see some realistic vulnerability. The show teased its audience by hinting at disappointing moments that many trans people will be all too familiar with – a date running out at the first chance after coming out, being outed to other people without consent – but curves away from these at the last minute which is both refreshing and often quite heart-warming.

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That this show made the effort to cast transgender talent (and even from this single episode I believe Root to be very talented indeed) really helped to support the writing. The language used was realistic – the families we see are working class, Newcastle locals – it would be stilted if terms like ‘assigned male at birth’ or ‘gender binary’ were used, as let’s be honest, a large number of people are not familiar with these terms. People still say transsexual, people still say ‘she used to be a bloke’, and it would also be overly simplistic to suggest that all trans people necessarily find such language offensive when that can be how gender is relatable with friends and family. Much as it has been criticised (and rightly so) in some activist circles, the ‘trapped in the wrong body’ trope can still have its uses for some trans people. The show does not tiptoe linguistically and thus become unrealistic, but also strikes an intelligent balance in not engaging with slurs. Again there might be space for addressing this intelligently in future episodes, but it didn’t get ahead of itself.

The BBC didn’t make a song and dance of advertising this show as ‘the trans show’. Indeed, the point of interest is as much how romance is negotiated between a younger man and an older woman, and the stigmatised nature of this is reflected particularly in the incredulity of Leo’s mother. There’s also something inherently feminist about a romance narrative that challenges the ‘older dominant man/younger naive woman’ industry base. There were other small aspects to the production that were also positive. Standing out to me in particular was the physical affection between James and his dad, with despite being men in their 20s and 50s were cuddled on the sofa – a simple family act that is so rarely seen because of how masculinity can be constructed within the media. Nothing was made of it, but it showed on another level ‘there is nothing strange about this’.

Positive trans representation is always something to be celebrated on some level. But this show goes a way further – providing visibility to trans talent aided in reassuring the audience that the script hadn’t been written in a bubble, and nor was this aspect relied upon as a novelty. One can watch, enjoy, and learn from this show without any knowledge or even interest in gender, which is so great in bringing awareness to a wider audience through quality entertainment.

See here for more information about the making of Boy Meets Girl.

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