British media in a tizzy over pregnant man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trans Media Watch at the Leveson Enquiry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, Belcher made a number of recommendations:

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

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

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

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

They argue that transphobic language can ultimately kill:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Cissexist Summer

Channel 4’s latest trans documentary has certainly achieved an impressive amount of commentary from within trans communities. Like it or loathe it, we all have something to say about My Transsexual Summer. I suppose that’s because this particular programme – running unusually as a series rather than a one-off show – has been really pushed by the broadcaster. You can’t really miss that it’s happening, and as such many people are painfully aware of how likely it is to shape the general public’s perception of trans lives and trans issues.

That level of public consciousness has no doubt shaped the fury emerging from some quarters. I’ve seen outrage at the employment of numerous cissexist tropes (as Paris Lees noted in the Guardian, anyone playing the Trans Documentary Drinking Game whilst watching My Transsexual Summer is guaranteed to get utterly sozzled very quickly), the dodgy narration from a clueless cis woman, and the frequent use of the word “tranny” by documentary participants. The latter issue in particular has predictably reignited debates about whether or not (and how) offensive language can be reclaimed.

Others (including Lees) have welcomed the show as a positive step forward. I agree with those who point out that the show breaks new ground in enabling trans people to speak for themselves in a public/media setting. The best parts of episodes one and two do tend to involve group conversations in which the show’s participants have the rare opportunity to discuss their unique challenges within the safety and comfort of a trans space (other good bits included Dr Bellringer’s justification of genital surgery and the revelation that some trans men keep their clitoris post-phalloplasty…imagine, a functioning penis and a functioning clitoris! Dude!)

My own problem with the show is that these moments of brilliance are inevitably compromised by the ciscentric, cissexist editing process. I’ve already mentioned the narrator: the show would be a considerably stronger, warmer portrayal without the presence of her patronising, occasionally transphobic twaddle. Then there’s some of the things the participants are required to do. In the first episode, they’re expected to take pictures of one another (an activity some are clearly uncomfortable with), leading to this gem of a comment:

The photographs are ready. Now they’ll be able to judge themselves, and each other.

Congratulations Channel 4: you’ve managed to touch upon everything that’s wrong with internalised transphobia, judgemental “more stealth-than-thou” attitudes within trans communities and the cissexism within the wider world in one fell swoop!

The worst part of the editing process though is the identity erasure undertaken for the sake of telling a safe, easily digestible story to a cis audience. Maxwell – the jolly Jewish fellow from the show – has written about this process extensively on his blog:

What I see is the inevitable privileging of narratives that do not challenge dominant paradigms of normative gender. What I see is programming that will make you think “oh I feel so sorry for them, maybe I might think about how those people get a tough ride”. What I don’t see is anything that is going to make people think or feel any differently about what gender is or how it limits us all in one way or another.

What we see are lovely endearing transsexuals (who I still consider to be my good friends) struggling though ‘typical’ transitions and don’t get me wrong these stories are hugely important, I do not underestimate how important these stories are but where are all the queers!?

These narratives are totally valid but I believe they need to be seen in context and juxtaposed with a more diverse representation. A representation that was there in the house but somehow didn’t make it to our television screens.

Where is Fox talking about being mixed race, about his art and about how he sees himself as two spirit?

Where is the exploration of Donna’s male and female identities as she navigates the personal relationships that mean so much to her?

Where is the discussion about how I reject gender binary and sexuality and still live an observant Jewish life at the same time?

The film-makers’ approach also ensured that the word “tranny” was employed in a deeply problematic context:

The responsibility was not on us to act or behave in a certain way- our job was to turn up and be ourselves. TwentyTwenty and Channel Four bear the responsibility for broadcasting footage without providing any context whatsoever. Donna ‘I’m pretty manly for a Tranny’ is a superbly articulate young woman who’s reasons for using the T word were not broadcast, instead they used endless footage of her and the other women putting on make up.

Maxwell and the other participants have been attacked extensively for their use of the word, with detractors arguing that they should have been more careful. Maxwell is now wondering if he did the “wrong thing”. Yet I’m inclined to agree with his initial assessment: if the editors had any sense, if they listened to the numerous community members they corresponded with, if they gave a shit, then they would have thought quite seriously about how they used the small amount of footage in which the word is uttered.

I can understand why some feel that My Transsexual Summer represents a step forward, a positive move in spite of its failings. I see hope in the brave, strong participants, and in the few moments when their voices are heard loud and clear. If we’re to have a truly decent, representative mainstream trans documentary though, those voices have to be centred rather than sidelined. We’ll continue to see poor programmes produced as long as cis filmmakers have the power to re-contextualise our stories whilst erasing our gender(s), sexual orientation, and race/ethnicity.

Support LGBT Asylum News

The quite fantastic LGBT Asylum News blog has recently posted to ask for a little financial support from its readers. This blog is an incredible resource, with well-written, well-researched daily news stories from all over the world dealing with a wealth of issues that might otherwise receive very little attention in the UK. Its writers are also wholeheartedly dedicated to a genuine “LGBT” approach: one that incorporates a wealth of perspectives and experiences relating to multiple sexualities and gender identities.

You can read more about why LGBT Aylum News is wonderful and why it deserves your support here.

Trans Community Conference 2011 announced

Gendered Intelligence have just announced initial details of this year’s Trans Community Conference. I was fortunate enough to attend the conference in 2008 and it was a really great experience with some very valuable contributions. The focus of this year’s conference looks particularly timely in the light of Trans Media Watch’s recently launched Memorandum of Understanding. I thoroughly recommend it to all!

Trans Community Conference 2011

Trans in the Media:
broadcast, journalism, screen & social media
convened by Gendered Intelligence, in association with Trans Media Watch

Friday, 22nd July 2011
9am – 5.30pm
Central School of Speech and Drama,
Eton Avenue, London, NW3
plus:

A SPECIAL EVENING FUNDRAISER EVENT
6.30-8.30pm
Gendered Intelligence Film Night
Programmed by members of the GI Youth Group

Registration will be available from 4th April.

More information will be available shortly on: www.genderedintelligence.co.uk
or you can e mail: admin@genderedintelligence.co.uk

There’s a Facebook event page here.

Gay men exploit trans loophole to marry in Ecuador

I’m a little behind on this one, but it’s a lovely story and I feel like writing something a little more positive since it’s the Christmas period and all.

Several news sources have reported the marriage of Ecuadorians Joey Hateley and Hugo Vera.  Ecuador does not have equal marriage laws, but the couple successfully subverted homophobic and transphobic laws in order to enter into a legal partnership.  As a trans man, Joey’s gender is not recognised by the state, which continues to regard him as female.  This meant that he and Hugo were able to wed as “husband and wife” whilst clearly being husband and husband.

This event demonstrates that Ecuador (like nearly everywhere else in the world) has a long way to go before it achieves even the limited goal of equal access to state marriage by monogamous couples. It’s also important to recognise that most gay men in the country won’t have the “trans option” available to Joey and Hugo!  However, the glorious thing about this marriage is that it allows the couple to officially recognise and celebrate their relationship whilst highlighting the inherant foolishness of both unequal marriage laws and non-recognition of trans peoples’ gender identities.  By making their marriage loud and proud, the newlyweds have drawn attention to their cause and made a powerful case in favour of more progressive laws.

The attitude of LGBT organisations within Ecuador also seems to offer a fantastic example to the rest of the world.  They appear to have seized upon the importance that this action has for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in a way that puts many UK organisations to shame.  They demonstrate that it’s so easy for our fractured community to work together towards not just shared goals (e.g. equal marriage) but also goals that benefit certain aspects of the community (e.g. trans-friendly laws) at the same time.  The LGBT(+) alliance makes so much sense because we have so much to gain by working alongside each other, because issues of sexual orientation are issues of gender identity in the law as well as in society.  We have a lot to learn from this positive example.