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!

In praise of trans culture

This post was originally written on Friday 2nd September.

It’s 10:20am. I’m sitting on a train in Marylebone station, marvelling at my memories of the previous evening.

I attended (and contributed a DJ set to) Political: A Gender last night at London’s legendary Royal Vauxhall Tavern. The event was organised by trans/queer promoters The Cutlery Drawer as a one-off fundraiser for trans charity Gendered Intelligence. It featured music, poetry, comedy and cabaret performances from a staggering eleven acts – or thirteen, if you count myself and sound/lighting technician Jo – over seven hours.

One of the most inspiring aspects of this night was the fact that it was, essentially, a celebration of trans art. I choose the word “celebration” quite deliberately: there was a recognition of the pain we experience and the challenges we face, but the overall event was built around an ethos of joy. The whole atmosphere was immensely positive, with the audience receptive to a wide variety of styles and stories, and each performer giving their all. The night seemed something of an arty twin to the Trans* Education and Determination teach-in earlier this year, as many of us came together in a grand articulation of (trans)gendered embodiment.

This was no separatist event though. Our cis friends were very much invited to the party, and could be found both on-stage (in a minority of the acts) and throughout the audience. This celebration of trans culture was open to all, as our music and our comedy and our poems and our stories are relevant to all. Political: A Gender was predominantly about trans lives and trans experiences, but this meant that it was also about hope, love, loss, friendship, feminism, disability, race, resistance, menstruation, velociraptors and moles. I don’t think I met a single person who wasn’t enjoying themselves immensely.

It’s not often that we come together as a community on this scale. There are an increasing number of wonderful conferences, club nights and mini-festivals organised by hard-working and caring people, but they are still few and far between. There are even less events centred around our culture, our art, and this is a real pity. In art, we recognise the reality, the validity and the importance of our experiences. In art, trans lives are not merely worth surviving, but are worth enjoying. In art, trans people do not merely earn tolerance, but instead deserve celebration.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such joy as a member of the trans community as I did last night. I certainly hope it won’t be the last time I attend such an event. We must continue to create and to celebrate, and must never forget that we all have so much to offer to one another and to the world.

Safety?

I found myself filling in a campus safety survey for my university’s Student Union yesterday. As I began the form, I thought about how safe I feel on campus.

I have this arguably unhealthy tendency to wander around all kinds of places alone at night, but inevitably feel a bit on edge and on guard in town and city centres. By contrast, I always feel comfortable on campus. I mean, this place is full of busy academic types during the day and feels quiet yet friendly at night. During the early years of my transition in particular the place was like a safe haven.

Moreover, I’ve always felt that I got off pretty lightly compared to many of my trans friends: I’m lucky really. I mean, I don’t get pestered by transphobic morons on a regular basis, and I’ve never been physically or sexually assaulted. At least, not since all those times I was beaten up as a teenager. But that was ages ago, and they had no idea I was trans (…right?)

Yet as I continued with the survey, I began to realise how much being trans causes us to redefine what counts as “lucky”, and, for that matter, what counts as a normal experience.

Firstly, there were the questions on physical attacks. Of course I’ve never been physically attacked! Oh wait, there was that time that someone threw a mysterious object at the back of my head outside the Union nightclub. Yeah, that time when the security guys clearly couldn’t care less and gave me some hassle because I immediately approached them and asked for help. Still, that was just the one time, right?

So, on to harassment. I know some trans people on campus who have had all kinds of horrible experiences in halls and suchforth but again, I’ve been pretty lucky. Except for that time I was subject to some totally inappropriate questioning during a club night at the Union: good thing my friends were there to stand up for me. And that time I was pestered by a chaser. And that time I was kicked off a bus and told to “cut my hair” after I got confused over the fare. And the time a woman refused to sell me a banana because she wouldn’t accept my gender(!) Huh, how these incidents build up…

These incidents are extremely infrequent, leading me to think that I’m lucky. This thought process points to the normalisation of transphobia: I’m entirely used to the idea that people will treat me like crap because of who I am. It’s something we all get used to, to one extent or another.

This normalisation then leads me to redefine safety. A safe place becomes a place where I experience minimal harassment, rather than somewhere I don’t expect to be harassed at all. I suppose I always expect to be harassed to some extent.

Of course, this is all par for course in the UK if you’re not a visibly abled middle-class white guy. Ho hum.

(Guest Post) Our unjust arrests on the royal wedding day

The following was written by fanoffury, who was arrested during the royal wedding on Friday. It is cross-posted with permission from this livejournal entry.


#NOTE#

PLEASE DO NOT TAKE ANY ACTION WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING ME.

So, regarding the conduct of the met police towards me and my trans friend on the 29th of april 2011, this is my account of the events that took place. Starting with arriving in soho.

To begin, me and my friend arrived in london a little before 10am, to attend a zombie flash mob picnic in the park to raise awareness against the cuts taking place in our country, focusing mainly on the cuts to the NHS, Education and our other public services, organised by Queer Resistance. This was an entirely peaceful protest that was really truly just a bunch of awesome peaceful people sitting around in Soho sq London having tea and dressing as zombies, shame I never got to attend.

At 10am we were in Soho sq looking for the group, seeing none of them around and a few people in bandana’s and hoodies playing up for the camera, we smelled trouble and decided to go elsewhere and try to find everyone else. I know I stick out like a sore thumb and am every coppers wet dream of an easy looking arrest on such a day as the royal wedding.

At around 10.30am we made our way out of the of the sq smelling trouble coming and not wanting any, as we walked out onto one of the a joining roads out of the area heading south we pulled our bandanas up as some paparazzi took our pictures, neither of us wanted our pictures used as part of some media stunt. As we moved further up the road we pulled our bandanas down as to not be concealing our faces, as we knew this would single us out, fat luck really because we had already been spotted by a group of 6 police officers, consisting of five male and 1 female officer who then proceeded to pull us over and use Section 60 to stop and search us.

We were perfectly compliant and didn’t kick up any kind of fuss, in fact were friendly and courteous to them, they searched through our belongings finding between us some zombie makeup, fake blood and a flyer for the zombie flash mob.

But this is not all, when searching my person the female police officer said to me “Okay, I’m going to feel under your bra now” To which I replied “That’s not a bra” At this point her hands were still on my chest “What is it then?!”  ”A binder”  ”Whats a binder?” (At this point, may I point out her hands were STILL on my chest) To this I said “I’m Transgendered”

In this time she was feeling my chest way more than she needed to, this entire conversation took place while her hands were going over and around my chest while she held the same quizzical curious expression on her face, whilst she stared at my chest. I can say I was more than uncomfortable. She then after doing this, and being told I was Transgendered continued to misgender me, as did the rest of the police present. I tried to put their numbers in my phone but they told me to put it away or it would be confiscated and then they took it anyway when they put us in the van.

May I mention at this point, that I am a fully trained security guard? So I know how to do a pat down, that was not a pat down that was a grope and a violation of my privacy, and may I add that when searching a female bodied person you are not allowed to touch their chest, at all with an exception of a running of the backs of the hands down the front, once and nothing more unless you feel something and then you have to ask them to remove it.

She then went to check my waist and lifted my t-shirt a few inches to get a look at my binder, like I wouldn’t notice/it didn’t matter as I would most likely never say anything about it.

They went to talk to their commanding officers to run our details, make sure we had nothing outstanding and then we should be free to go, right?

Wrong, the police officer came back to inform us that we would be being taken to the police station, because if he let us go we would “Disrupt Will and Kate’s big day” and that they needed to get us off the streets, that we would be arrested and charged with a breach of the peace.

“For what?! Possession of a leaflet?!” Me and my friend exclaimed. Their only reply being we can’t take any chances and that the decision had been made and that there was no arguing with them, the officer who told us this did so very aggressively and with a lot of anger considering we had done nothing that was against any law.

May I add that I’m pretty sure he was the same officer talking to the protesters in the sq, see video = “Royalists would be offended: You’ll be arrested” Cannot be 100% sure until I have has a chance to ask my friend if it was the same man, I will get back to you all on that.

Chances of what, us dressing up as zombies, over a kilometer away from the wedding ceremony? Really, is this what this country has come to?

I am entirely convinced that the reason we got arrested was because of the fact that we were both trans and both punks, they weren’t stopping other people for more than a minute or so, one of which who they didn’t even stop, was a man who looked far more suspicious then us, how come we were stopped and he was allowed to walk on by?

We were then left standing on the pavement waiting for arresting officers to come and take us in the van to the police station for well over 20mins, them then getting bored with watching us, stuck us in the back of the police van, where they left us for a further half hour or so before someone came to collect us to take us to arrest us, I said jokingly “Whats the hold up, I can’t wait to sample the famous police hospitality! I truly can not wait to get to my lovely comfortable cell!!”

During all of this I was not once called a male pronoun even though I had told them my gender status, and among the misgendering one of the officers kept calling my friend a “Lad”.

Eventually we went off to the police station, merrily singing “I fought the law and the law won”

When we arrived at the police station we were processed like anyone else I assume, I have never been arrested before, although our arresting officers did not read us our rights.

The “Evidence” Which consisted of a leaflet and a bottle of fake blood was confiscated, they were both put under my name even though one item had been found on each of us, I didn’t see the point in mentioning it to them, after all it’s not my job to do theirs.

I was patted down, luckily this woman did not take any interest in my binder, or even go near my chest for that matter, now as I am not sure if it was the same officer or not as we were now separated, but the female officer who searched my friend cupped her crotch, not just once but three times, as she told me later that day.

I’m pretty sure it was the same officer but I can’t be 100% sure. My crotch remained completely untouched, which seems odd to me considering if there was a possibility of either of us concealing something it would have been me as I was packing and had very baggy trousers on, she on the other hand was wearing tight trousers with a rip up the leg, it would have been incredibly easy to see if she has anything concealed, so I can only assume it was to “Make sure” I will not be saying her identity as she wishes to remain unnamed.

We were then told we were going to be held until the royal wedding was over, so that we couldn’t “Cause trouble” Even though the officers before had told us we were going to be arrested and charged with a breach of the peace, which I can only assume was an in an attempt to intimidate us.

After this our photos were taken, and we were placed in cells, my cell stank of urine and was rather revolting. Whilst in my cell I had to use the toilet which is clearly visible through the camera which made me very uncomfortable as it was, what made it worse was a male police officer looking in at me as I was using said toilet…

After a good 2 1/2, 3 hours of staring at the crime stoppers number on the ceiling, I was getting incredibly frustrated and I knocked on the door to ask them when I and my friend could leave, and he came back to tell me the royal wedding was over and that we would be able to leave… Yea thanks for telling us!

Some people may wonder why I did not disclose the information about the police officers conduct towards me yesterday in the interview with Ruth Pearce, the writer of Lesbilicious when I spoke with her yesterday.

It was quite simply because I wanted to think carefully as it would be putting myself out there as trans, this was something I had to think through. This and the fact that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take action for the trans stuff aswel as the false arrest. I am not yet sure what my action should be as I am currently seeking advice from various organisations and people, I will be updating here what happens with this.

I’d also like to extend my solidarity to all who were there and all who got arrested.

And thank you to Ruth Pearce and everyone else who has been so helpful and understanding, you people are amazing :)

Feel free to contact me regarding anything to do with my arrest and the protest.

Logan.

Passing as human in “Buffy”

I’m currently re-watching Season 5 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and it got me thinking about how trans people are perceived by others. The link isn’t a particularly obvious one, I’ll grant you, but bear with me.

In Season 5 of Buffy, a new character is introduced: Dawn Summers, Buffy’s younger sister. Dawn quite literally appears during the first episode of the season, artificially inserted into Buffy’s life by some desperate monks. She is (or was) the Key: a ball of pure energy capable of granting access to a demon dimension. The other characters’ memories are changed to accommodate the idea that Dawn has always been a part of their life, and everyone perceives Dawn as a normal teenage girl.

Everyone, that is, other than those see things differently. On a number of occasions Dawn is approached by men driven mad by demon god Glory. “You’re not real,” they tell her. “You don’t really exist.” Buffy discovers Dawn’s “true nature” in a trance, and even Joyce (the girls’ mother) see that there’s something “wrong” with one of her daughters whilst suffering from the dehabilitating effects of brain cancer.

I thought about this just the other evening after I wandered into the ladies’ to check if a somewhat inebriated woman (who’d been in there for a while) was okay. It turned out she was fine and just about to leave, but she gave me a funny look as I walked in. “This isn’t the men’s, is it?”

I don’t think there’s a single trans woman who hasn’t had this experience, or something very similar. Many have to endure being misgendered every day. I’m very lucky these days: I suspect that I “pass” as a cis woman around 99% of the time. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m always gendered correctly: now and again, there are always those who mistake me for a man.

Those who misgender me are usually either drunk adults, or children. Some might think that sober adults are more likely to figure I’m trans and gender me correctly out of politeness, but I’m not convinced this entirely accounts for it. I’ve been misgendered a number of times in front of people who don’t know I’m trans, and they always greet such incidences with incomprehension and amusement. How could anyone be so stupid as to think I’m a man, they wonder? After all, I’m obviously a woman.

I figure that once you’ve assigned a gender to a person in your head, it takes a lot to overturn this. This is one reason why coming out is so hard for trans people, but it also tends to make life a lot easier for those who wish to successfully pass as cis women or men. Once people have got it into their head that I’m a woman, they tend to think that anyone who sees me as a man is mad.

In “Buffy”, people with mental disabilities perceive Dawn as different, as non-human. Buffy initially dismisses such people as mad and deluded. Drunks and kids aren’t (always) so harsh, but I do think that different ways of thinking affect the chances of perceiving something (or someone!) in a particular way. People who think differently seem more likely to see something in me that others can’t.

Here’s the catch. Dawn is percieved is non-human, but in actual fact she isn’t just passing as a teenage girl: she is a teenage girl. The monks altered memories and created a personal history for Dawn, but at the same time they made her flesh and blood. Buffy reassures Dawn that they are sisters: they share Summers blood. Dawn may not always have been human, and some can see this, but she now is human.

Similarly, the people who perceive me as male are misguided. They’re right in believing that there’s something about me that’s different, but they’re wrong in assuming that I’m therefore not woman. They see my transness, but can’t comprehend this. Sometimes I’m asked “are you a man or a woman”, but far more often my appearance is translated into “effeminate man”. To people who have always known me as a woman, this is very strange!

So there it is. “Passing” trans people are sort of like Dawn: the few who “read” us as trans tend to wrongly leap to the conclusion that we’re therefore not real (real women, real men, real humans, whatever)…but they’re so very wrong.

(Guest Post) Turn and Face the Strange

The following was written by Louis, who recently experienced an appointment with “Dr Jiff” that unfolded pretty much as outlined.


But let me tell you, this gender thing is history. You’re looking at a guy who sat down with Margaret Thatcher across the table and talked about serious issues.
George H. W. Bush

One morning, as I awoke from anxious dreams, I discovered that in my bed I had been transformed into exactly the same body as I had been the night before.

Examination of my whole organic structure proved this to be true, and as my mother greeted me normally in the kitchen, my feeling of de-centralised horror was crystallised. Most people, upon waking to find themselves the same, would find reassurance in the stability of their own identity – unchanged by the nights stargazing. To the average man or woman, the roaming of a well-gendered mind at rest is a pleasure. I, however, on that morning, realised that my unprecedented disquiet was the beginning of something. I was right. I have not been quite at home with myself since.

Psychology today is a noble hobby, halfway between a humanity and a science. I tend to lean towards the side of art.

On the 9th December, 2010, I find myself sitting in the office of Dr Jiff in University Hospital Coventry. It’s the psychiatric clinic. I’ve spent half an hour waiting outside, before being beckoned, with a smile, into this room, where I am to give the performance of my life. My part: Myself, as the National Health Service wants to see me. The office is large and sparse, with high, grey windows and navy blue carpet. It’s warm, however, and my chair is comfortable. Not a couch, but a plain lavender seat by the doctor’s desk. Dr Jiff himself is something of a surprise. After all I’ve heard, here is a man in his twilight years: rotund, moustached, with yellow sweat patches under his arms. A fair tie, mind you – M&S perhaps.

He has an affable face, and is delightfully frank in all things… though as usual for a psychiatrist, his eyes are mirrored walls. This is our first meeting. As I write, I expect many more: my performance this day is a surprising success.

To begin to understand the nature of my madness, I would first have to explain what madness actually is, in a social context at least. I’m sure you have your own ideas on the matter, but here’s my take on the state of things. Madness is a state of mind which society as a whole (or perhaps the ideal that society projects of itself, and never seems to actually get to) finds to be outside the bounds of “normal”. Sometimes madness is considered genius. Sometimes geniuses go mad. More often than not, madness is considered a rather dangerous or undesirable thing to have around. The more cutting amongst you may have noticed that I didn’t define what “normal” is. That’s because I truly have no idea.

In Psychology and Psychiatry, different kinds of madness are categorised and given different names. The name for my particular type of madness is Gender Dysphoria. It has an average occurrence, according to the NHS, of about 1 in every 4000 people in the UK – though it is important to note that these are only those individuals seeking treatment. Estimates have been made suggesting that 1 in every 1000 people may experience gender dysphoric feelings, or even 1 in every 120. Some psychiatric organisations have suggested that there are perhaps 500,000 gender dysphoric people in the UK, and 10,000 who have successfully asked for, and received, treatment. Statistically speaking, you’ve probably met at least 3 people with some level of gender dysphoria within the last 5 years of your life. Whether or not you were aware is a moot point.

The treatment of my disorder is seen with some contempt by the general populace – it requires the breaking of ancient rules of civilisation. This sounds more exciting than it really is. In day to day life, I’m perpetually astonished by how seriously people take gender labels, and how violently they will react against those individuals who wish to put their hand up halfway through the lesson, and say “Excuse me, I think you got that bit wrong.”

On the 19th of August 1992, a gender dysphoric person was removed surgically from its mother’s stomach and placed (screaming, purple and bloody) into the world, possessing all the appearance of female genitalia. Because of this, a somewhat tenuous, but deeply historic and traditional, social categorisation was made, and it was assigned the gender role of “female”. However, the gender label which it now identifies with, if it has to at all (and that is a whole other debate), is “male”. Some people interpret this in the following way:

She wants to be someone else” OR “She wants to be a man.

A gender dysphoric person find this degrading and frustrating. As far as they are concerned, they have always been the same person, and will always be the same person, in one form or another. I summarise the following:

He is a man, and if society wishes to hang so much meaning and status on gender pronouns – a figment of language no less – then it can at least have the decency to let people identify themselves, rather than thrusting identity upon them at a stage where they can’t argue back.

Dr Jiff’s office, on the 9th of December, is a pleasant change from the usual hostility. To begin with, he has assured me that there are “unlikely” to be any problems in my referral. I explain the issues I have had when trying to achieve this in the past, and he shrugs off the ignorance of some in his profession with a simple:

“Some people just don’t go to enough conferences.”

Then:

“Do you masturbate?”

(Don’t tell me that wouldn’t knock you off balance a bit.)

“Yes.”

“Any particular fantasies?”

“Hmm.” I pull the face which I always pull when planning to politely lie. “No, just generic men.”

(Really, I have an imagination.)

“How do you identify – put into words?”

“Gay male, polyamorous.”

“Do you dream in colour or black and white?”

“Colour.”

“How do you place yourself within your dreams?”

(I want to say ‘the victim’, but I don’t.)

“Omnipresent.”

“And male or female?”

“I don’t see.”

“Any suicidal tendencies?”

“Nothing unusual. I saw a counsellor, it’s all in my notes and over with.”

And so on.

This stream of banal, sometimes cryptic, often probing questions, will determine the course of the rest of my life. In the end I “perform” so well that I achieve the referral and more: a fast track to a new clinic, with treatment as good as guaranteed in 3 months. The gatekeeper has been defeated. Apparently, the land of maleness is mine for the  exploration, chatting-up, styling, drawing, eating, sucking, dressing, drinking, writing, injecting, rubbing, wanking, fucking, and taking. And the clothes. I’ll be able to wear a pair of trousers on hips that aren’t just-too-wide, and a suit tailored to fit a new figure – simple pleasures hard won. Why choose soft curves when you can have hard lines? I know which I find easier to follow. But I digress.

“What do you know about the surgical options?” Doctor Jiff asks.

“First you have to ‘live the life’ for 2 years.”

“Yes that’s right, how long’s it been for you now?”

“2 months. Facebook proves it.”

“Good. And what were you considering?”

“Phalloplasty looks generally crap. I want top-surgery though.”

“Yes. The success rates for breast reduction and removal are excellent. How big are your boobs?”

(I can’t describe the impact of words like ‘boobs’ leaving this man’s lips.)

“Small.”

“Well it will be a question of finding the right surgeon, but I can help you.”

“Thanks.”

“Phalloplasty, though, is a tricky one. In 2 years time when you’re eligible, things may have changed completely, but at the moment it’s a poor sport. What you really want is to be able to feel and to experience, which as things stand in the field is not particularly attainable, so unless you suddenly become desperate for a penis, it’s worth avoiding for now. I mean, can you have a really good orgasm with what you’ve got?”

“…Yes.”

“Then that’s good, and anyway, there are things you can do with a strap-on, especially anally, that just can’t be done by natural men.”

(It’s only after I leave the room that it occurs to me to laugh and laugh.)

The question of my sexuality is only mentioned in passing. I have heard several, interesting viewpoints on it. My good friend L___ was rather surprised when I suggested that there was any problem. “But 80% of the female population are straight,” he argued, “So surely 80% of transmen are gay? It’s just logic.” I thanked him for this excellent piece of reasoning.

Others, however, have been less supportive. The first psychiatrist I saw to try and obtain a referral was quite obstinate in her belief that a transman couldn’t possibly be gay, because all transmen must surely be lesbians who just couldn’t face up to their sexuality. “I like anal sex,” I told her, just for the hell of it. She didn’t appreciate that. Of course, there lies another minefield of debate: my under-eighteens counsellor pointed out that with my total lack of sexual  experience of any kind, how could I possibly know what I was attracted to? This, to me, seems like a rather foolish question, and leads me to assert a rather controversial fact:

Nobody knows a person as well as they know themself.

That point made, it is interesting to note the breadth of reactions that a trans or gender dysphoric person may receive in their exploration of this idea. Imagine meeting someone you have known since infancy for coffee. The two of you make small talk and enjoy each other’s company, then out of the blue, your friend tells you that they have to say something important: they are not really brunette at all, they are actually blonde. To the evidence of your own eyes, this is ridiculous, and you say so. No, they explain, the brown is dye. I’ve been covering this up for my whole life.

Of course, hair colour is a somewhat less mind-bending issue than gender, but the premise is similar. Imagine the same conversation, but instead your friend reveals that they are homosexual. This is slightly more controversial. To   someone like me it doesn’t matter at all, but of course to many people, this is a genuinely world-altering piece of information. Now, imagine your friend putting down their coffee cup, and telling you that they are actually the opposite gender.

Imagine walking away with that information in your mind.

Surely you know them better than that? Don’t you?

If you need to stick a label on them to understand them, do you really know them at all?

The Lib Dems: A Cautionary Tale

“This is supposed to be the discrimination bill to end all discrimination bills, and yet it will contain quite blatant prejudice. Only protecting people who are considering or have undergone gender reassignment surgery will leave huge swathes of the transgender population vulnerable to what, in effect, will be legalised discrimination. I will do my best to make sure the final legislation offers real protection for people who define their gender differently.”

– Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem) criticises the Equality Bill in 2008

I feel that I’ve learned a lot from the Liberal Democrats.

In many ways, I’ve always been a natural Liberal Democrat voter. Labour were running the country during my teenage years, and I grew increasingly disgusted with them during their time in power. The UK became increasingly authoritarian as the government made clear that civil rights were not a priority. We became involved in a number of utterly pointless, wasteful wars. Granted, the situation for LGBT people improved immeasurably, but this was down more to shifting social attitudes and a number of important victories in the European courts than anything else.

I understood the way that Labour regarded people like me. I was a socialist but accepted social democracy as a necessary reality, I was a trans person with an increasing number of equal rights. I imagine that, to them, I was a natural Labour voter. I wasn’t, and I’m still not. I won’t forget the ID card proposals, the introduction of tuition fees,  the wars and the arrogance. I won’t forget the way in which Labour representatives claimed time and time again that they’d done all these things for trans rights when pretty much every piece of trans-positive legislation they passed happened because the European courts told them to do it.

In opposition, we had the Conservative party (booo! hiss, etc.) and the Liberal Democrats. Oh, and the Greens, but they never stood the chance of getting anywhere, and I certainly wasn’t interested in the far-fight fringe parties.

The Liberal Democrats appealed to me. I lived in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP who’d done a lot of good, hard work for the area. The Liberal Democrats believed in greater social freedoms and less legal restrictions. The Liberal Democrats opposed war, and spending on weapons. The Liberal Democrats (supposedly) believed in social justice, and stood up for the poor. On that front they were a little too…y’know, liberal, but they seemed to have their hearts in the right place, and it had to be better than the situation under the hypocritical Labour party, right?

The Liberal Democrats not only spoke about LGBT rights, but seemed to know what they were talking about. Labour talked about civil partnership, and the Lib Dems talked about equal marriage. They actually got the issues, and they understood that bi people exist, and they understood that trans people exist, and – shockingly – they even understood that the trans spectrum encompasses more than just recreational cross-dressers and “primary” transsexuals.

I was a natural Liberal Democrat voter. I voted for them in two general elections and one local election. I voted Green once in a European election, but I was feeling terribly radical that day.

I now, of course, realise that my trust was utterly misplaced. The Lib Dem betrayal has been almost absolute.

I mean, they – like Labour before them – are still talking the talk. The Government Equality Office is pushing some kind of trans action plan that probably will actually make a difference in some areas, and hence genuinely help people (you can contribute to it here, if you manage to get your head around the bizarre contribution process). But, on the whole, the Lib Dems are obeying their senior coalition partners in a way that’s going to cause a lot of people a whole lot of harm.

The tuition fees sell-out was arguably the most high-profile instance of Lib Dem duplicity, but you just need to look at, well, everything that’s wrong with the current government attitude to see where the party is letting down the minority groups that they claim to speak for.

The cuts are hitting the poor, the young, the elderly and the disabled hardest. A disproportionate amount of trans people tend to be poor and disabled (funny how massive amounts of discrimination can do that, huh?)  Support services are failing left, right and centre as funding dries up. Trans charities such as Gender Matters, which struggled to find funding at the best of times, are going under. The restructuring of the NHS is already hurting trans people in areas that are withdrawing funding for treatment: I suspect this will only get worse if the proposed new system is implemented.

There’s no point in having all these wonderful new proposed laws in place to help trans people if there are no real support structures in place any more because the government has destroyed them all. The Liberal Democrats are totally complicit in this disaster, and it’s only going to get worse.

This is why I have absolutely no sympathy for the Lib Dems’ plight in the wake of yesterday’s dramatic Barnsley by-election result. The party’s candidate came sixth in the polls, behind UKIP, the BNP and an independent as well as the Labour and Conservative candidates. Quite frankly, it serves them right. I genuinely hope that this the beginning of a process in which the party will destroy itself, or at least totally undergo a thorough re-invention process. I’m not sure what will have to happen before I can trust them again though.

I used to think that the old adage, “never trust a politician”, was an unhelpful cliché. I now feel that to make any kind of meaningful change, we need to take power into our own hands. We can’t rely on some well-spoken, well-meaning, well-groomed young thing with a brightly coloured rosette to do the work for us.

The Trans Narrative

A good friend linked to an amusing little story the other day: Cissexuality as a Default. It’s a parody of “sympathetic” articles about trans people that turns things around somewhat. It’s not too long and I highly recommend taking the time to read it.

It made me think a little about how trans people tend to be portrayed in the media. I feel it’s often positive for trans people to have a media presence: after all, prejudice and fear often arise from ignorance, and it’s quite dispiriting to feel like you’re some lone freak rather than someone with a trait that you share in common with others. However, a good deal of trans media appearance probably do more to erase our identities than anything else.

This might seem paradoxical at first, but you’ve got to ask yourself about the nature of the trans stories you see in the UK media (when those stories exist at all). They’re usually about trans women: white, middle-aged, middle-class  trans women with “feminine” interests. Occasionally, we’re presented with a young, white, middle-class trans girl, but this is a bit more rare. Sometimes our trans woman might even be from a working-class background, but this is even more unlikely. I can’t remember the last time I saw a non-white trans girl or trans woman in the media…unless we’re talking about murder victims. It’s not so surprising that some more blinkered radical feminists link being trans with economic and/or race privilege.

Moreover, the story told is usually the same, as Cissexuality as a Default deftly demonstrates. Our brave trans woman (old name highlighted) is “different” throughout her childhood but struggles to come to terms with herself, goes through a low period, and finally decides to buy loads of make-up and come out. If this story is in a magazine, she probably also had a (single) partner to come out to as well, who will either have dumped her or slowly come to terms with the change.

This narrative accounts for the lives of many, but by no means the lives of a majority, let alone the lives of all. It’s dangerous because it often seems like the only narrative available to many trans people, and it therefore actively erases the identities of those who don’t fit the story from public conciousness.

According to this narrative, trans people are always transsexed (except when they’re cross-dressers, who usually have erotic motivations anyway). They usually conform to gender norms. They “always knew” they were trans. They’re monogamous! They are/were always “straight” or “gay”…bisexuality (let alone pansexuality) seems to be a no-no. And so on, and so forth. If you’re genderqueer, you don’t exist. If you’re a feminist, you don’t exist. If you’re a trans man, you probably don’t exist, unless you’re Stephen Whittle* (and even then you’re likely only to make a token appearance). This goes for some of the most positive and progressive trans appearances in the media as well as the more obviously regressive.

No wonder then that it’s that much harder for people to understand the concept of non-binary genders. No wonder that some are surprised to hear that trans men even exist. No wonder that many feel that they’re “not trans enough” to be taken seriously because they weren’t stereotypically feminine/masculine enough during their childhood, or they weren’t depressed enough during their teens.

The thing is, this isn’t just something the media does through ignorance or stupidity. It’s an active process. In Whipping Girl, Julia Serano writes about how TV producers in the USA insist that trans women in documentary features stick to the script: we’re talking about an appropriately feminine presentation, maybe a video of them getting dressed or applying make-up, and a suitable story. Serano’s account rang true for me, as it reminded me of my own experience with a magazine that wanted to write a story about myself and my partner of the time.

We had to tell our story to a writer, who had to adapt it to the cloyingly sickly “house style” of the magazine…fair enough, I thought. I didn’t tend to go in for all “my heart leapt as soon as I saw her” business, but I’m cool with a bit of embellishment as long as the story stays true to reality. Sadly, the story didn’t stay true to reality in any way. We were asked to revise the story again and again to fit the script. No way could we have met whilst dancing to rock music. No way could I deviate from stereotypical femininity. No way could I transition for any reason than wanting to be a soft, fluffy, pink girl.

I gave up with trying to achieve any kind of honest compromise with the magazine, but I’m pretty certain they just went out and found another trans woman who would tell them the story they wanted: the media-friendly story of being trans which can be safely consumed without any worrying deconstruction of cis-normativity or sexist ideals of womanhood taking place.

Maybe things are slowly changing. I’m beginning to see somewhat decent stories about trans children appearing in the media (although interest in trans kids can have deeply unpleasant consequences if not handled with extreme sensitivity) and stuff like the recent Guardian series in which Juliet Jacques may fit all the requirements for a trans media appearance, but at least has the decency to point out how diverse trans people really are. Meanwhile two long-running teen dramas – the UK’s Hollyoaks and USA’s Degrassi are both introducing young trans male characters.  Still, we have a really long way to go.

I’m not saying that white trans women should feel guilty about telling our stories: we shouldn’t. We should, however, be ensuring that our stories are the ones that are actually getting told, and we should helping to promote the stories of those who suffer most from this narrative erasure.

* For the record, I think Stephen Whittle is awesome. I don’t agree with everything he’s ever done, but seriously, this guy has done so much to lay the groundwork for the modern trans movement in the UK and academic understanding of trans issues on a worldwide scale.

Desirability

A version of this article was originally written for a local feminist zine themed around sex.


The poster I see is on the London Underground, but I later find out they’re part of a wide campaign backed in part by the National Health Service. On the poster is a photograph of a person’s face that, due to the limitations of our language, is all too easily described as “masculine”. This individual is wearing somewhat exaggerated make-up: bright blue eye-shadow, bright red lipstick, and a heavy layer of foundation that’s clearly covering up an extensive five o’ clock shadow. Said make-up is quite heavily smeared.

If you drink like a man”, the poster declares, “you might end up looking like one.

Although the model used in the photograph may well be a man, this poster is hardly a reassuring one for women with a “masculine” appearance. “If you’re a woman who looks like a man”, it says, “you’re a skanky whore who drinks too much”. Needless to say, this is a pretty misogynistic message. As a post on the F-Word points out, it relies on narrow and incredibly stereotypical ideals of beauty and gendered norms of acceptable behaviour.

But there’s a further subtext to this poster, and a pretty blatant one at that. “If you drink”, declares an advertising campaign that was apparently “approved” by various equality bodies, “you’ll end up looking like a dirty, ugly tranny*, and then how are you gonna get laid, huh?”

And this is the crux of the issue, and it’s why I’ve been pretty pissed off every time I’ve seen one of these bloody posters. They’re just a tiny, tiny part of the message that can be found on billboards, in magazines, in the cinema, on the television, in newspapers, in books, and in even in freakin’ academic papers. It’s quite a simple message, and it runs as follows: transsexed women are deeply unattractive and undesirable.

I understand where this idea is coming from. Trans women tend to have lived as men (or at least as boys) for some part of their life, and what’s more undesirable than a man? Hell, she might still have a penis. That’s disgusting. What kind of red-blooded male could possibly want to bed one of them? (Since we’re talking larger societal trends here, it is of course men who are supposed to sleep with women…what are you, some kind of lezzer?)

Actually, scrap that last point. This is an issue which is prevalent in the so-called LGBT community as well. Whilst it’s true that not every daughter of Lesbos is a card-carrying separatist who annually attends the Michigan Festival for Womyn-born-Womyn, I’d wager that the majority of gay women – and even a large proportion of bisexual women – are a bit funny about the idea of being attracted to a trans woman, let alone sleeping with one. It’s pretty telling after all that the one trans character in The L Word (that seminal piece of lesbionic television) is a trans man, ‘cos it’s the lady bits and tits that count, innit? The actress who plays him is even made up deliberately to look like a pretty (if slightly butch) woman on the DVD covers. What a cheek.

It took me a fair while to become confident in my own sexuality. Some of that was down to my own body image and related issues, but the media bombardment (“you’re ugly! No one will ever love you!”) hardly helped, and neither did the attitudes of people around me. If a girl’s a bit ugly or has a radical dress sense, she might “look like a tranny”. That, of course, is meant to be an insult.

Regressive stereotypes obviously play their part in this. After all, in this very image-obsessed culture with its very limited repertoire of available attractive body types, why would any self-respecting straight man or gay woman accept their attraction to a woman who looks like a man? (this is, of course, assuming that said man or woman is gracious enough to accept a trans woman’s gender identity in the first place). It’s an attitude that goes beyond image though: if you were to present our disappointingly average straight man (and our gay woman) with a trans woman who conformed to society’s ideals of an attractive female body, they’re still likely to be wary. Once a woman is known to be transsexed, her appearance often becomes irrelevant as gender essentialism and/or misguided homophobia comes into play: she’s  innately unattractive.

In an impressive twist, this can even happen retrospectively, with a trans woman becoming hideously ugly after someone has had sex with her if they found out she’s transsexed (or: if the person she slept with already knew and was trying to keep it quiet, but then someone else finds out that a bit of rumpy-pumpy occurred between the two). This kind of idiocy would be hilarious, if not for the treatment trans women get as a result of this. There’s even an exciting legal manoeuvre known as the “trans panic” defence, whereby the defendant attempts to excuse a transphobic assault or murder by claiming that after having sex with the victim, they “panicked” upon discovering that they’d done the dirty with a trans person.

It’s at this point in the article that I realise things are getting a bit depressing. Let’s face it, this kind of bullshit isn’t particularly pleasant. It’s not a lot of fun  knowing that these attitudes are highly prevalent. I’m fortunate enough to “look just like any other woman” (whatever that means), which is all very well and good for ensuring that I don’t get beaten up on the street, but I’m perfectly aware that I’m not meant to be sexually desirable to, like, anyone. This situation is a lot worse for trans women who find it harder to pass as cis women; no wonder the trans community often places so much undue emphasis on looking like “normal people”. It certainly makes life easier if you happen to do so.

But you know what? Fuck ’em.**

Trans people come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I’ve been talking a lot about transsexed women, but there’s also transvestites, genderqueer people (who might not necessarily consider themselves to be female or male), genderfluid individuals whose identities regularly shift, and a whole spectrum of gender diversity under the trans umbrella. We all tend to look quite different, act quite different, have different interests and ideas and aims and projects, but we’re all bloody gorgeous.

That’s not just my stubborn pride talking either. There are those trans people who do, in fact, conform to societal ideals of beauty. As for those who don’t: in many queer circles, androgyny and gendered ambiguity are highly valued (and the actual gender identity of said androgynous individual is usually respected, regardless of whether that identity is female, male, or something entirely different). In butch/femme lesbian communities, extremely “masculine” woman are often considered to be incredibly hot. We’re all attracted to different people in different ways. I’m pretty certain that there are straight men out there who fancy heavily built women, gay men who fancy men with vaginas, straight women who can handle androgyny. There’s also a good reason why trans men are sometimes fetishised by lesbians and shemale porn is consumed by many, although I’d prefer for that attraction to be there without us being reduced to mere sex objects.

Still, for all our supposed undesirability, I find it pretty telling that most trans people I know are in a happy relationship with someone who’s also pretty damn attractive. Actually, a lot of the trans people I know have several partners; I figure once you’ve dealt with society’s disapproval of your gender identity, you don’t tend to give a crap what others think about ethical, negotiated polamory. By contrast, I personally happen to be a serial monogamist, but to each their own, y’know?

People who have serious body image issues can find someone who has the hots for them. These individuals aren’t deluding themselves in the slightest. The real lie is in societal norms of acceptable attractiveness, but sexual attraction can’t always be restrained by those norms.

And we have a lot of fun sex too. Vanilla sex, kinky sex, gay sex, straight sex; I’m talking everything from straightforward sex to really weird sex. We’ve all got our own ways of negotiating desire, identity and our own bodies. Some trans people just don’t care and will go at it any old how. Others will throw  essentialism out the window and redefine their own bodies. I know pre-operative trans women who describe their genitals as a large clitoris; I know non-operative trans women who describe their penis as a penis. It’s just, y’know, a girl penis. It’s on a girl’s body after all, so what else could it be? Meanwhile some trans people are asexual, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t enjoy happy love hugs.

Quite frankly, a bet a whole load of women would love to be as confident and good looking as I am. I’ve got a pretty face, great hair, fantastic legs, and I’ve recently grown some rather shapely breasts (going through puberty during your twenties is a pretty weird experience, but better late than never!) I’m in a long-term relationship with a sensitive, caring, bloody handsome man, and we have awesome funtimes.

Do you look like a transsexual this morning? No? Well, unlucky. You’re missing out.

* I deliberately use this word only in a sarcastic fashion. It’s a loaded term and can be deeply offensive, so please think carefully about any context in which you use it.

** Actually, don’t fuck them. Find someone else who actually deserves a good shag, and do them instead.

I used to get angsty, but now I get angry

This post is part two of my response to misha the Duck of Doom, who commented on this post.

In the second half of her comment, misha wrote:

“Its easy. Why do so many of you lot {Angst transsexuals}
get in such a tizzy.
Frak, transitioning is dead easy.
So enjoy it

Also stop making it “the world is against me”
coz it isn’t.
TBH, most of the world doesn’t give a stuff & barely notices us.

So get a grip!
And don’t overcomplicate things.
It really is easy.”

I’ve come across various versions of this argument in different trans communities and in different parts of the net. It’s reflected also in the attitude of many cis people who decry identity politics, suggesting that we’d be more accepted if we piped down and stopped trying to claim special rights; after all, this is the 21st century and we’ve moved beyond the need to define people by particular traits they happen to have.

I don’t buy it.

The world is a very, very difficult place for many trans people. When I say “trans” here, I’m not just referring to transsexed people, but also to the wider spectrum and gender/sex diversity…cross-dressers, drag kings and queens, genderqueer individuals, transgender…what brings us together is that we’re all discriminated against for defying societal sex/gender norms in one way or another.

There are those, of course, who don’t have such a hard path. As misha says, transitioning (for those who transition) can be “dead easy” for some. In my case, for instance, I think I’ve been pretty lucky. Despite the fear, shame and guilt about being trans, I managed to come out in my teens, and generally had a good reaction and support from my friends and family. I managed to access most of the medical services I needed for free on the NHS, a process which took a mere six years with minimal incompetence on the part of Charing Cross. I’ve received relatively little direct discrimination: it’s very rare that I’m denied services or harassed on the street, and these occurrences have become increasingly uncommon as my appearance has changed. I’m very grateful for all of this.

I’m also highly privileged to have had such a smooth transition. It helps that I’m a white, abled, middle-class woman, but I’ve got lucky more generally. I had access to online support networks, meaning that I was able to come out to myself and understand my transness at a relatively young age. My supportive friends and parents mean that, unlike some of my trans friends, I didn’t get abused or kicked out of my home as a teenager or beaten up in the street. The fact I’ve always lived in a PCT that has a decent care pathway means I haven’t had to self-medicate, I haven’t had to wait over a decade to get through the medical system, and I haven’t had to threaten legal action to get treatment which is meant to be guaranteed on the NHS. The fact that I “pass” with ease means that my appearance doesn’t constantly mark me out as different.

This doesn’t mean that my path has always been easy. After all, I have been discriminated against, I have been harassed and insulted in the street, I have experienced extreme shame before coming to terms with myself, and I did have to put up with years and years on waiting lists whilst my body became broader and more hairy. I knew that until recently, it was perfectly legal to deny me access to shops and services.

Knowing that these experiences are pretty tame compared to what other trans people have to go through makes me pretty angry. If I shouldn’t have had to go through what I went through, then there’s absolutely no excusing what others experience. Trans people are likely to be discriminated against in every aspect of public life: when accessing services, in the workplace, during leisure activities and in the street. The attempted suicide rate is unusually high, and violence from others is common. Our identities are systematically erased in the media, which (when not portraying us as freaks) ensures that the only trans bodies that are ever seen are those of middle-aged, middle-class white trans women.

I have a good life and am generally happy these days. The positive benefits of transition have pretty much eliminated most of my angst. But I am so, so angry about the injustices committed in the world. I don’t want a complicated life, but I can’t stand by and let others suffer. I want to harness my rage, and use it to bring about positive social change. This is why I’m an activist, and it’s why I’m ready to take on the world.