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.

Woman remanded in men’s prison

The key to this one is in the title of the post.  Of course, the woman in question happens to be trans, so the whole female/male prison division comes into play differently, because transphobia is endemic within our criminal justice system in the same way that it’s endemic in every other part of public life.

It’s quite normal for trans women to be sent to men’s prisons, despite the massive risks they face when this happens.  Within the UK, this goes to show how little the Gender Recognition Act and Equality Act count for under particular circumstances.  Nina Kanagasingham is being punished heavily before her trial even begins.  Once you also factor in the obscene attitude of the media towards Kanagasingham and her alleged victim it’s easy to see “the ease with which our lives and identities can be stripped from us and used as a public plaything“.

This particular case is complicated by the fact that Kanagasingham has been accessed of the murder of Sonia Burgess, a greatly respected lawyer and human rights activist who also happens to be trans.  I’ve already seen the inevitable nasty comments written by trans people who argue that Kanagasingham deserves every horrible thing that might happen to her because of her alleged deed.  However, there’s an important principle of justice at stake here.  It’s never suddenly become okay to be transphobic, and it’s never suddenly okay to strip someone of their identity and their gender.  It’s also particularly sick that an individual is effectively being punished by the criminal justice and the media before she’s convicted of anything.  She’s not being punished for murder: she’s being punished for being trans.

“Fit” comes under further criticism

Events have moved pretty rapidly since I wrote my previous entry about an inappropriate scene within a DVD produced and distributed by Stonewall.

Natacha Kennedy wrote an article on the Guardian website for Comment is Free, in which she addresses many of the recent missteps from Stonewall.

Interestingly, a user under the name of “Stonewall UK” responded to her article in the comment section, stating the following:

Just to clear up a few inaccuracies in this article:

1) Stonewall categorically does not oppose same-sex marriage. We’re currently analysing the results of a consultation with thousands of our supporters on our priorities, which we’ll be reporting back on. These include tackling homophobic bullying in schools, ensuring gay asylum seekers get fair case hearings, and whether the term ‘civil partnership’ should be changed to the word ‘marriage.’ Civil partnerships offer exactly the same rights and responsibilities as marriage – including the right to have a ceremony in a place of worship (Stonewall lobbied for this in the Equality Act 2010). We recognise there are a range of issues on this subject and we’ll be reporting back on our supporter survey soon.

2) It is untrue to say Stonewall does not allow trans people to join. JessicaReed is right to ask – trans people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual are – of course – represented by Stonewall. Anyone can join Stonewall. As a charity it is our objective to represent lesbian, gay and bisexual people. When we were set up in 1989, there were discussions around whether Stonewall should also represent trans people, and it was decided that, for lobbying purposes, the two issues were separate. In England and Wales, there are very effective trans lobbying and campaigning organisations – including Press for Change and The Gender Trust to name but two – who represent trans people and who Stonewall keeps dialogue open with.
In Scotland, Stonewall represents LGBT people because historically there were gaps in provision for trans people when it was set up. There are of course now several organisations campaigning on these issues in Scotland, which we feel is important in progress towards full equality.

3) FIT, Stonewall’s anti-homophobia film for schools, has in fact already been sent to every school in Britain (in February this year). This is public knowledge. It’s also public knowledge that this is an anti-homophobic bullying resource, fitting in with Stonewall’s charitable objectives to tackle homophobia and campaign towards equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We, of course, support equality for trans people and we beleive the trans campaigning organisations are doing very effective work on this, which we fully endorse.

A pretty damn good response to this can be found here on the Why The Silence blog.

I find it pretty telling that in point three, Stonewall don’t even really address the criticisms made by Natacha.  Yes, the DVD has been out for some time (given the issues with it, that’s not necessarily a good thing), and yes, it’s focused on homophobia.  So why have a trans bit at all?  Why “support” our equality and undermine it by being stupid and Othering when talking about our issues?  Why state that trans organisations are doing very good work in the area when – if you had a clue – you’d realise that they have barely any funding at all?  We’re weakened, not strengthened by being divided in this way.

To be perfectly honest, I feel the inappropriate part of the DVD speaks for itself:


 

Stonewall inappropriately address trans issues in anti-bullying DVD

Stonewall and its representatives have been taking increasingly bizarre decisions in recent months.  I recently wrote about the furore caused by Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill’s surprising comments at the Liberal Democrat party conference, where he argued against campaigning for equal marriage.  Since then, a number of heated exchanges have taken place between the organisation and its critics: a good summary of some of these can be found in the Why the silence Stonewall? blog.  Meanwhile, the charity’s attitude towards trans issues has been questioned once again after the organisation nominated a transphobic journalist for its Journalist of the Year award (hmmm, this sounds familiar), whilst at the Labour Party conference Summerskill claimed that Stonewall has been in talks with ministers and officials about potential amendments to the Gender Recognition Act in relation to civil partnership.

This last point is particularly strange.  Why are Stonewall – an organisation who are so very keen to exclude trans people and remain LGb only – involved in trans lobbying?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour of any move towards Stonewall becoming an LGBT organisation at the very least (more on that later), but surely if they’re engaging in this kind of deeply important, high-profile lobbying on our behalf then they should damn well let us be a part of their organisation and officially campaign on our behalf.  Otherwise, who knows what the heck they’re saying?  For that matter, what right do they have to speak for us?  Shouldn’t we be able to speak for ourselves?

It may well be the case that the “large” trans organisations (which, in the broad scheme of the third sector, really are very small) don’t have the power to push a trans-positive agenda on the scale they’d like to and have somehow managed to rope Stonewall into helping us out.  For me, this is a perfect argument in favour of a united LGBT alliance, rather than separate groups where the LGb inevitably gets the power and the T ends up left out in the cold, despite our ultimately similar interests.

This brings me nicely onto the main subject of this blog: another instance of Stonewall deciding that they’re going to speak out about trans issues.  On this occasion, they demonstrate how attempting to speak for someone else can backfire magnificently.

Earlier this year, Stonewall sent out a copy of “Fit” to every school in Britain as part of a wider campaign to tackle homophobic bullying in schools.  On the whole, the DVD – like the rest of the campaign – is admirable in its aims, scope, and general thoughtfulness.  This is something which they’ve (almost!) done really well.  However, for some incomprehensible reason the people who put together the DVD decided that it would be appropriate to include a brief discussion of trans issues.

The main content of the DVD consists of a story about sexuality, identity and bullying, involving a fairly large cast of teenagers who attend a 6th form college.  This central narrative is split into a number of smaller stories, each focusing based around a particular character; the brief discussion of trans issues takes part within one such story.  In this scene, Lee – a tomboy who has previously discovered that her best friend is gay after following her – attends a gay youth group for the first time.  Whilst she is there, the following discussion takes place:

Male 1 [is talking about his mother]: “She keeps saying: ‘but you don’t look gay’. I think that she wishes I was a tranny, so then we could be girlfriends.”

[group laughs]

Lee:  “What’s a tranny?”

Female 1:  “It’s short for transgender.”

Female 2:  “I know this one! Transsexuals are people who want a sex change, tranvestites are people who dress up as the opposite sex.  Drag kings and queens – well they dress up for a living!”

[group applauds]

Lee:  [looks confused] “I need to take some notes, has anyone got a pen like?”

[Lee is given a pen]

Lee:  “So what’s a transsexual?”

Female 3:  “Boys who feel more like girls and girls who feel more like boys.”

Lee:  “Transvestite?”

Female 3:  “Well, they feel content with their born gender, but prefer to wear the clothes of the opposite sex.”

Lee:  “So am I a transvestite?”

Female 2:  “No. Lots of girls are tomboys when they’re young, then they grow out of it.”

Female 4:  “I didn’t! I’m a total boy and I love it!”

Female 2:  “…and I’m not a boy, I like being a girl.”

Female 4:  “…and that’s fine too! Look, there’s as many way to be a girl as there are girls.”

[The conversation then turns to the issue of gay marriage. The group seems to be broadly in favour, and they think civil partnerships are an unfair compromise.]

[Edit: the inappropriate scene can now be seen here on Youtube]

In a different context – let’s say a random TV drama – this scene would make me cringe a bit but I wouldn’t think much more of it.  After all, general cluelessness about trans stuff is pretty much par for course, and in the broad scheme of things this particular instance isn’t so bad.  Within the context of a DVD that seeks to tackle homophobic bullying, however, this is completely out of order.

“Fit” handles homophobic insults and the common negative use of words such as “gay” in a pretty nuanced manner, putting all kinds of nasty language into its characters’ mouths and then carefully demonstrating how this impacts the beliefs and actions of others.  At the same time, you learn how gay teenagers might think and feel through empathasising with gay characters.

By contrast, the tokenistic discussion of trans issues takes place in a setting where there are apparently no trans characters (Lee remains a tomboy of sorts throughout the narrative and her sexuality is somewhat ambiguous, but at no point is it seriously implied that she identifies as trans in any way because of this).  We are portrayed as an alien “Other”, a topic of discussion  which cis characters claim they know all about even though they get it wrong.  And no-one addresses these mistakes at any point.

To the trans reader, said mistakes may be pretty obvious, but this might not necessarily be the case for cis readers.  As such, here’s a brief low-down of some of the issues:

1) “Tranny” is very much a contested word.  It’s commonly used as an insult by tabloid newspapers, idiotic bloggers and random arseholes on the street: as such it has a similar sting to words such as “faggot”.  It’s a word with a lot of power to cause pain: something that simply isn’t acknowledged when a character in “Fit” blithely asserts that it’s “short for transgender”.  Which it isn’t, anyway…it can be levelled at pretty much any given trans (or trans-looking) target, although transfeminine individuals tend to suffer from this most commonly.  There are trans people who reclaim “tranny” as a positive identity.  I personally support this, although I wouldn’t do so myself. However, I think it’s always important to be very aware of context when such words are used.  Putting them randomly in the mouths of cis characters in this way is pretty damn inappropriate.

2) “Fit” demonstrates the complexity of sexual identity, showing how gay (and straight!) people all look different, act differently and have different interests.  It even acknowledges (a little) that bisexuality exists, which has to be some kind of achievement for Stonewall.  However, the brief descriptions of trans identities are incomplete, insufficient and somewhat inaccurate (try telling a trans guy that he’s a girl who feels like a boy and he’ll probably tell you to where to go).  Moreover, these descriptions are binary-centric and fail to account for the further complexity of transness.

3) Where are the trans characters?  As previously explained, this discussion pretty much consists of cis people talking about trans people…in complete contrast to the rest of the DVD, which is all about allowing the voices of gay people to be heard and their experiences to be seen.

I’m very much in favour of Stonewall becoming an LGBT organisation.  LGBT people have many differences (and that doesn’t just refer to trans people being different to everyone else: gay men and gay women have some different issues, bi people have different issues again…) but there is a lot that brings us together.  We have a shared history, and broadly shared experiences of discrimination and “coming out”.  Looking at some of the other materials from Stonewall’s anti-bullying kit, I saw how easy it would have been to build in trans issues.  Like gay children, trans children in schools are often bullied for appearing to subvert gender norms, are likely to feel isolated and alone and have difficulty explaining their identity to others when seeking help.  Gay, bisexual and trans issues in school really are often quite similar, and we’d surely be better off pooling our knowledge and expertise to work on resources such as that produced by Stonewall rather than having separate LGB and T packs (on those very rare occasions where a trans organisation can afford to produce such a pack, that is).

What I’m certainly not in favour of is the kind of nonsense found in “Fit”.  What gives Stonewall the right to exclude trans people from their organisation and then turn around and decide that they’re going to campaign ineffectively and inappropriate on our behalf, without our input?

As such, I’ll be demonstrating against Stonewall duplicity in London on 4th November.  If you’re free and can make it to the protest, I hope you might be able to do so too.

(demo link for those who don’t use Facebook)

Erasing Transphobia on Big Brother

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve deliberately kept a distance from Big Brother during its decade-long run, and I can’t help but feel you’ve got to be a little bit weird to even consider going on the show. I found out, however, that it was impossible to avoid picking up random, seemingly pointless gossip from both people around me and the “Entertainment” section of Google News as I scrolled past.

Amongst these random tidbits of information, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about Nadia Almada – a trans woman – winning the show a few years back. Nadia’s victory and general media presence seemed to signal that an important step forward had been taken in terms of tolerance and acceptance. She seemed to be a broadly popular figure during her fifteen minutes of fame, and it was positive to see that most of her detractors criticised her in a way that didn’t question her womanhood. I only wish we could take that kind of thing for granted.

Fast-forward a few years, and Channel 4 seem to be doing some kind of “Ultimate Big Brother” show in order to “celebrate” the long-awaited demise of their former flagship “reality” programme. Once again, I can’t help picking up the odd bit of news…and this time it isn’t so positive.

Nadia is apparently unpopular this time around…well, I thought, perhaps she annoyed people, perhaps the public are fickle, etc. A few stories caught my eye, however, and you didn’t need to put too many of them together before you started to pick out some emerging themes.

Reality television shows have always thrived on conflict and drama and it’s no surprise therefore that a great deal of the said drama is completely made up. I remember a TV crew turning up at a local venue in my area to film a reality show that followed some girl around…they basically took over an existing night, booked their own band, plonked their girl in the middle of the dance floor and told her what to say. Similarly, there’s a fair few stories out there about how protagonists and villains are created within other shows by editing the footage, showing particular events and hiding others.

I suppose this is all par for the course when it comes to reality television. Look a bit deeper though, and you can see something far nastier is going on.

It appears that one of the other people in the show was sustaining a fairly constant barrage of transphobic abuse in Nadia’s general direction. Moreover, it seems that this was cut from a great deal of the TV footage. That kind of treatment is enough to put anyone on edge – particularly if others aren’t standing up for you. The show’s producers and Channel 4 seemed content simply to hush this up, and paint Nadia as some raving angry woman.

A couple of examples:

‘I feel betrayed by Channel 4′ says Ultimate Big Brother’s Nadia Almada

[…] Numerous tantrums and arguments with fellow housemate Coolio, as well as harsh words to winner of Big Brother 11 Josie Gibson about her relationship with fellow housemate John James Parton, caused Nadia to leave the house to a chorus of boos. She returned home to find her car had been egged and a stack of hate mail on her doormat. Once again the question is raised as to whether it is all in the edit and if even the most well known Big Brother alumni know what is in store for them when they leave the house. Nadia said: “Going back on Big Brother has ruined my life. I was the victim in that house but I was shown to be the villain.

“I feel betrayed by Channel 4. There was no loyalty from them, no duty of care. They failed to protect me.

“Coolio targeted me on the first night and he wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept asking about my gender status and he humiliated me over it.” […]


Ex-housemate Makosi Accuses Big Brother of Covering up a Race Fight

Apparently the now evicted housemate, Makosi, has accused Big Brother producers of trying to cover up a race row. She went on to claim that bosses chose not to show viewers clips of Coolio using racist and homophobic comments on the show.

The American gangsta rapper agreed to leave the show during a long series of blazing fights with transgender housemate Nadia Alamda. However later, after being kicked off the show, Makosi revealed why Coolio, age 47, had to be let go.

She said that she was just disgusted by his behavior with Nadia, because he kept calling her “they.” The first thing that he asked her when he got into the house was if Nadia was a he or she. Makosi told him that she was a girl. Then on the second day he tried to get Makosi and Josie Gibson to touch Nadia in an inappropriate way. […]

The deliberate editing of Ultimate Big Brother seems to have fucked over Nadia on a pretty epic scale. It seems like she’s been made into (one of?) the villain(s) of Ultimate Big Brother – the viewers see one set of events in which she shouts at people, resulting in her becoming unpopular and being evicted. However,  anyone who has to put up with sustained abuse is likely to have a “tantrum”.

If the accounts of various Ultimate Big Brother contestants are true, the makers of Big Brother seem to have been facilitating harassment and discrimination even as they downplayed their importance. They literally erased transphobic abuse even as they got rid of the guy who was responsible for it, thereby turning the victim into the troublemaker.

Moreover, the fact that Nadia has apparently recieved serious harassment since leaving the show is particularly troubling. On one hand, any individual who takes part in reality television is putting themselves in danger of negative publicity: on the other hand, the creators of these programmes should surely take responsibility for their part in ruining someone’s life. This is particularly the case when we’re talking about individuals who are already more vulnerable than most. As a trans woman, Nadia is particularly at risk of harassment, violence, murder, self-harm and suicide. Removing transphobic abuse from Ultimate Big Brother was not a neutral act: it facilitated further abuse and possible violence even as it invisibilised the processes by which trans people are discriminated against.

To add insult to injury, presenter Davina McCall threw in an offhand transphobic comment of her own.

The whole affair is reminiscent of how other individuals from minority groups have been treated on reality television in the past: for instance, selective editing created a handy villain on Castaway 2000 whilst downplaying the impact of homophobic abuse. Quite frankly, the whole genre stinks of exploitation, and always has done. In that sense, the treatment of Nadia isn’t in the slightest bit surprising, but it’s no less sad for that. I wish her the best, and hope ill-wishers start leaving her the hell alone.

Perspective

As a trans woman, I’ve always been very aware of gendered spaces such as public toilets. Until recently I always had an underlying concern (if not plain fear) associated with entering such a space, an understanding of how such spaces are policed and how easy it is to be found wanting, and the consequences of such. I’m (very) lucky to pass as a cis woman well enough these days for that not to be so much of a problem.

However, the experiences of androgyne and genderqueer people I know have made me hyper-aware of the power of such spaces, and the symbols associated with them. Every time I want to go to the loo in public these days, I think, “woah, what an intense binary divide”. I’m faced with two doors, two categories which split humanity right down the middle and determine so many expectations and social controls. Woe betide those who don’t fit in well enough to go through either door without worrying about what will happen when they do so.

Similarly, when I went to the cinema earlier this week, I noticed that in every advert which featured a car, there was always a man and a woman. The man was always the active one: the driver. The woman always took the passive role in the passenger seat. One of these adverts wasn’t even for a car! This isn’t a coincidence.

Any advert where a team of people go out to do impressive physical feats in order to produce or promote a product usually has an all-male team. When there’s a woman, she’s usually “sexy” in a somewhat hardcore manner (power-dressing, sensible hairstyle) but inevitably remains in a nice, clean, safe office/base/aircraft carrier, appreciating the male action from afar.

These roles are everywhere, all the time, arising from and in turn subconsciously altering our behaviour and expectations. Sexism and transphobia don’t just pop up out of nowhere.

Hell, I’m even getting annoyed by those Sky Sports adverts up everywhere where some very macho looking famous sporty fellow wears a determined expression consistent with hegemonic masculine values. “Accept No Compromise” it blares. You’d never get a woman on one of these posters. Or, y’know, a gay man. Genderqueer people don’t even come into the equation, obviously.

Of course, if you really accepted no compromise, you’d be pretty unimpressed with the terrible service Sky can sometimes offer. Maybe I’d rather that non-(white, straight, cis etc) men weren’t on those stupid posters after all.

Getting down with The Guardian

The Guardian has suddenly started to cover trans issues on a regular basis. A quick peek at their archives shows a massive increase in articles which profile trans people or explore trans issues: we’re talking about an article every few days as opposed to one every month or two or – before 2009 – one or two per year.

It does make me wonder what’s sparked this. It can’t be a coincidence: there must have been some decision amongst editors to commission more pieces on trans issues and report trans news stories more often. It seems likely that this trend has been deliberately planned to tie in with Juliet Jacques’ excellent series of articles about transition, but that itself wouldn’t be a root cause. Maybe it’s a response to the growing contributions of openly trans people within the Guardian’s comment threads (such as Natacha Kennedy, who has had the opportunity to write a number of fine articles herself). Maybe it’s a deliberate move away from offering a platform to transphobic voices from within the feminist movement, although I’m sure we’ll see another horrific article from Julie Bindel again at some point.

Still, I’m happy to see this spate of trans-friendly articles, regardless of how it happened to come about. The Guardian is well-known for its centre-left approach but hasn’t always portrayed trans issues in the most positive light (see: aforementioned voices from within the feminist movement!). The newspaper’s website is widely-read, so it’s a great way to reach out to people who otherwise might not come across decent articles about trans people.

The problem is…well, the problems are basically many of those I outlined in my previous entry. Where’s the diversity? What we’ve got is a series of excellent articles by and about white trans women (except this one by none other than…Stephen Whittle, who seems to unintentionally vie with Thomas Beatie for the crown of the One Trans Man In The World). Where are the trans men, the non-white trans people, the cross-dressers, the genderqueers, the androgynes? I’m not asking for diversity for the sake of diversity: it’s just that this current level of homogeneity really is somewhat bizarre.

To be fair to The Guardian, it hasn’t been actively erasing the accounts of those it offers a platform to, so kudos to them for going against the trend and allowing individuals such as lesbian goth comedian Bethany Black to tell her story. Moreover, Juliet Jacques has been doing an impressive job of slipping in references to non-binary identities, referencing trans feminism and rubbishing the typical idea that trans people aim to “deceive” others by trying to pass. Still, this particular piece has been coupled with the picture of a woman applying make-up, and there are articles appearing in which terms like “sex change” are thrown about and transsexed people’s old names are mentioned as a matter of course.

What we’re seeing then is a strange mixture of some genuinely progressive pieces alongside the same old transphobic tropes. It seems likely that comments and complaints from trans readers have got us this far…who knows where we might end up if we keep pushing and they keep listening?