Update on the HESA gender statistics affair

Some clarification, new information and new developments have emerged since I posted about HESA’s gender statistic fail yesterday.

Background

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) is currently revising a number of data collection fields. The changes are not yet set in stone. 

Two new fields (student.SEX and student.GENDERID) will effectively replace the one existing field (student.GENDER) which is currently used to collect data on gender within higher education institutes (usually universities) in the United Kingdom.

The existing student.GENDER field has the following categories*:

1 Male
2 Female
9 Indeterminate

In regards to “Indeterminate”, HESA note that:

“Code 9 ‘Indeterminate’ means unable to be classified as either male or female. It should not be used as a substitute or proxy for ‘Not known’. The term ‘indeterminate gender’ is intended to identify those who are ‘intersex’ and is not related in any way to trans-gender.”

However, in practice a number of institutions have effectively mapped answers such as “other” and “prefer not to say” onto this third category within enrolment/re-enrolment forms in order to provide non-binary, genderqueer, intersex and other students to effectively “opt out” of the gender binary.

The new, compulsory student.SEX field has the following categories:

1 Male
2 Female

The new, optional (for institutions) student.GENDERID field has the following categories:

01 Yes
02 No
98 Information refused

A brief analysis of the harm in these changes can be found in my previous post.

Developments

It appears that HESA have received a number of queries and complaints from trans people: it’s uplifting to see so impressive and rapid a response!

The agency initially responded by noting that the changes were the result of “consultation with [the] HE sector and ECU“. Commentators noted that this consultation seemed to at no point involved actual trans students.

However, in the last hour HESA have provided the following statement from their Twitter account:

“Thanks for queries re. sex and gender in next year’s HESA record. Your input will help us get this right.”

The tweet links to correspondence conducted between HESA and trans activist Emma Brownbill – if you have the time, it’s worth a read!

Some key points include the following:

“The phrase ‘legal’ sex is only currently used in the Staff Record. The intention in the Staff Record is to match the data requirements of HMRC, which for tax and pension purposes only accept Female or Male.

The final coding manual and guidance for the Student Record in 2012/13 has not been published. From your own and other queries about the provisional guidance and consultation documents it is clear that the terminology of ‘legal’ sex may not be appropriate for the Student Record.

Similarly the binary choice of Female or Male, originally intended to match the Staff Record, is now the subject of further discussion with regard to the Student Record.”

So let’s keep at this – we’re really getting somewhere!

Also, thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post, your contributions were greatly appreciated.

Edit: the story has now hit Pink News.

 

*The numbers (e.g. 1, 2, 9, 98) are used within statistical analyses.

 

Gender recognition under threat in UK universities

I read a very disturbing internal email this afternoon. I’m not going to quote the majority of it in order to preserve anonymity, but the central content is of concern to any current or future trans student in Higher Education.

Earlier this year, HESA [Higher Education Statistics Agency] confirmed a series of changes that they would be making to the HESA Student Record for the 2012/13 academic year, which would have an impact on some of the questions that students are asked during the application and enrolment process. A number of these changes relate to equality issues and the 2010 Equality Act and I thought it would be prudent for us to consult […]

The key changes of relevance are as follows:

(1) There is an existing field Student.GENDER which will from 2012/13 be replaced with Student.SEX. The new Student.SEX field will reflect ‘legal’ biological sex at birth and we have been advised that there will be only two valid entries for this field, either Male or Female.

(2) To complement the new Student.SEX field there will also be an additional field, Student.GENDERID, which is intended to reflect the student’s gender identity based on their own self-assessment. A response to this question, should we choose to ask it, would be optional for students. The ‘suggested question’ from the Equality Challenge Unit for eliciting this information is “Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were originally assigned at birth?” and it would be possible for students to respond with ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Information Refused’.

At my university, the current student.GENDER field allows students to identify as “female”, “male”, “other” or “prefer not to say” following intervention from trans activists and past Students’ Union welfare officers. This system, and any similarly progressive approach from other institutions, will be overturned by the new HESA guidelines.

My concerns are as follows:

1) What is “legal” sex? Is it:
(a) my birth sex? (in which case I’m male)
(b) what’s on my passport? (in which case I’m female)
(c) whether or not I have a gender recognition certificate? (in
which case I’m male)

[edit: a skim of the HESA guidelines shows that (a) is not the case, with the university apparently using the phrase “sex at birth” in error]

2) If (a) or (c), then the University is going to revert my “sex” on its forms. This will disclose I am trans to anyone using their records.


3) If (b), then anyone wishing to update their gender will have to out themselves by walking into the university administrative building and presenting their passport.
I had to do this in 2005 and it caused all kinds of weird issues with the Students’ Union and my records. We changed the system in two stages (the last one is referred to in the letter) in order to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

4) The new system erases intersex people.

5) The new system erases people with a non-binary identity.

6) This whole approach has an extremely flawed methodology that will only invalidate the desired data!

I suspect my university doesn’t have much of a choice about how this is carried about, and neither will others. We urgently need to lobby HESA to reverse their policy on this.

I’ll aim to write a more coherent analysis of the situation (inc. the complex role of the Gender Recognition Act) when I’m feeling more coherent.

EDIT: HESA notes changes to the student.GENDER field here. Information on the new (binary) gender identity code can be found here.

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.

Insensitivity from the Department for Work and Pensions

Boosting the signal for a campaign currently being undertaken by Kelly Tonks. If you’ve had in trouble with the “sensitivity” marker when trying to access benefits, please get in contact with her! (kellytonks[at]gmail.com)

I have become aware of a number of instances, including my own, where the safeguards that are being placed to protect Trans folks identities, by the Dept For Work and Pensions, are actually creating major difficulties for Trans individuals.
On applying for pensions or benefits, due to the ‘Sensitivity’ marker that is placed to conceal the individuals Trans history, regular advisors are not able to access claims and individuals records.
Previously, there was at least one individual at each DWP site, including Job Centres, that had the authority to access these ‘Sensitive’ cases. This allowed a relatively seamless service, with maybe a minor delay of a few minutes, to a day or so, while said person was located or an interview slot was found.
Due to, in my view, over-stringent new adherence to Data protection sensibilities, resulting from DWP data security breaches in recent years, this ‘Authority to access’ has been removed from the front line centres/public touch points and has been withdrawn to locations such as Hackney and Newcastle, to name two that I know of. In some cases, such as Hackney, it is impossible to contact them directly and unfortunately their system of ‘Call Backs’ is woefully inadequate.
There is also a difficulty in even recognising this matter at public touch-point level, with staff realising that they are unable to access the individuals details, but having no clue as to why.
These factors are leading to around a 4-6 week delay in benefits such as pensions, jobseekers allowance, income support and so on being paid. There is also an alarming lack of communication from the DWP to local councils with regard to Housing Benefit and Council Tax.
One of our members, upon informing DWP of her name and details change, found that she could no longer access her Jobseekers allowance details through her own Job Centre. This then led to confusion and a cancellation of her JSA payments, cancellation of her Housing benefit and claims for payment of Council Tax. All of these matters had been settled a long time previously and should have continued, unaffected. There was even a stage at which her home was at risk, due to an inability to pay.
This situation is entirely unacceptable. I intend to start to address this problem by making a case, through various agencies and would ask if there is anyone aware of any other such investigation, in order that I am not about to attempt to re-invent the wheel.
I would also ask if you have heard of anyone suffering difficulties of this nature, that you ask if they are able to contact me. All of my contact details are on my facebook page, but the most convenient to me would be by e-mail to: kellytonks[at]gmail.com.
Please can I ask that as much detail is provided, so that I am able to build up a clear picture of the situation and how serious this matter is.
If you are a member of an organisation that has had any of these matters reported to you, could you please let me know what action you took, if any.

Julie Bindel apologises for 2004 article

An interesting little titbit of information has emerged from a controversy over the suitability of nominees and sponsors at Square Peg Media’s sparkly and expensive “European Diversity Awards”. Many of those picketing the award ceremony in London’s Savoy Hotel on Thursday night objected to the nomination of notorious writer Julie Bindel for the Journalist of the Year Award. So far, so 2008…those of us who remember the largest trans protest the UK has seen, which took place outside of a Stonewall Awards ceremony, will no doubt experience a profound sense of deja-vu.

It looked like the usual round of accusations and counter-accusations would soon be in full swing as Julie Bindel vs The Trans Community (whatever that is!) bout 362 kicked off…but then something unprecedented happened. Julie Bindel apologised.

“I apologise unreservedly for both the tone and content of my 2004 article.”

This statement was provided to Square Peg Media, who passed it on to Natacha Kennedy during her correspondence with the company prior to the awards ceremony. It refers to the Guardian article “Gender Benders Beware“, arguably Bindel’s most infamous and direct attack upon trans people.

The fact that I picked this up through Kennedy’s Facebook wall initially suggested that the statement was merely intended to appease the award organisers. However, a nearly identical statement from Bindel could also be found in a news article published yesterday. This was clearly intended as a public apology.

When DIVA contacted Bindel for a statement she said: “I apologise unreservedly for both the tone and content of my 2004 articles.”

The apology is significant because it’s a genuinely new development. Bindel previously apologised for the “tone” of “Gender Benders Beware” on a number of occasions following outrage from trans advocates. These seemed like weasel words: after all, the mocking tone of the article was undeniably offensive, but it was the content – which suggested that trans people should not be taken seriously and that trans women should be denied access to rape crisis services – that was truly dangerous. In contrast, Bindel clearly and explicitly puts a distance between herself and the article in her new statement(s).

Many will argue that this apology was made in bad faith, or say that it comes far too late, but I believe that we should take it quite seriously. I felt some disquiet when the European Diversity Awards protest was initially announced, as it felt like yet another round of Julie Bindel Does Something And We Protest. Yes, she undoubtedly started it, but the whole circus was getting quite tiresomely predictable. Bindel does something offensive (or is invited to speak somewhere, or is nominated for an award). We protest, because we’re sick of being told that we don’t count/don’t deserve liberation/don’t exist. Bindel then makes a fuss in the media and accuses us of bullying her. Some of us refute her arguments, whilst others make quite horrible personal attacks. And then before long, the whole cycle begins anew. Except, on this occasion, Bindel has not immediately lashed back at us. She has said sorry.

I’ve always taken part in this process, but I’d like to take this opportunity to step back and reassess our priorities. At the end of the day, I, like many other trans women, have a lot in common with Julie Bindel. We both object to the sexism found in every part of our society, and the imposition of binary gender norms. We’re both loud, proud and unashamed feminists, and have both slept with other women. That’s quite a lot to work with. I’d far rather concentrate upon marching alongside Bindel at Reclaim the Night than protesting against her latest escapade. Julie, if you’re reading this: please, let’s smash patriarchy together!

However, if this apology is to really mean something, Bindel must go that one step further and demonstrate a genuine commitment to her words. I notice that the Diva apology extends only to “2004 articles”, yet arguably more damaging pieces have since been used to argue against the provision of medical resources for transsexed people and gender-neutral facilities for genderqueer people. Facts have been warped and trans liberation has been ridiculed in articles such as “My Trans Mission” and “The Operation That Can Ruin Your Life“. Bindel has time and time again demonstrated a refusal to listen to our calls for gender liberation and our explanations of trans diversity. This matters a great deal, as such articles influence the perspective of both policymakers and feminist activists. They feed into feeling of self-loathing experienced by vulnerable trans people who come to realise that others hate them because of who they are. This has to stop.

I’m sure there will be some sad, cynical responses to this piece, but Julie: I’d like to have faith in you, and faith in your apology. I genuinely believe you have some level of understanding as to how your hurt us in 2004, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to say sorry (after all, why now? This is hardly the first such nomination or controversy). I’d like to believe that although we have at least few more rounds of mutual mistrust and anger to go, at some point in the future we can look back on this intervention and see it as something we productively built on together.

Edit – February 2015
Nice to give someone the benefit of the doubt, isn’t it? Pity this never turned out well in the long term.

Natacha Kennedy at TRED 2011

Natacha’s talk at TRED 2011. The bulk of this presentation is a witty response to Az Hakeem’s 2010 paper Deconstructing Gender in Trans-Gender Identities. Natacha herself deconstructs three central arguments present within the paper:

1) Trans people can be prevented from having genital reassignment surgery through group therapy.

2) Gender is becoming less rigid for cis people but more rigid for trans people.

3) Sex is “real” and scientifically verifiable, whereas gender is not.

The talk concludes with a brief reflection upon the work of Kenneth Zucker and the “normality” of trans and intersex phenomena.

 

(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.

Royal wedding accompanied by political crackdown, arrests and transphobia

I wasn’t really bothered by the royal wedding one way or another until this afternoon. I’m not exactly a royalist, but I feel there’s some value in having a non-elected, ceremonial head of state, at least within our current political system. I was unimpressed that such an extravagant event was occurring at a time of recession and cuts, but didn’t feel that protesting against the event was particularly value.

I have, however, watched the crackdown on dissent unfold today with increasing dismay and disgust.

Firstly, police undertook “pre-emptive” arrests across the country. Then suspected protesters were arrested during the ceremony in a pretty questionable manner.

Then a number of Facebook groups started to disappear. Numerous anti-cuts, socialist and student occupation groups were removed without warning during the day. Rather bizarrely, the Rochdale Law Centre was also targeted. No-one seems to know exactly what sparked this, but it’s pretty darn coincidental that it happened on the day of the royal wedding.

Then it emerged this afternoon that members of Queer Resistance and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had been prevented from holding a “zombie flashmob” in Soho Square, a full kilometre from the nearest point on the wedding procession route. Both Lesbilicious and the Guardian report upon zombie arrests.

At least two of those arrested were trans. I happen to know both of the individuals mentioned in the Lesbilicious article: from what they’ve told me, the situation wasn’t as bad as it could have been but their treatment was pretty damn inappropriate (and arguably in violation of the law).

Why is it that the police need to establish a trans person’s genital status before assigning an officer to perform a search? Whatever happened to the training that Met officers supposedly receive on sensitivity and suchforth, which should ensure that they accept the preferred pronouns declared by those they’re arresting?

Trans-friendly legislation and the hard work of police liasons have got us so far, but the contemptuous attitude of numerous police forces towards protesters is only going to result in more of this. As long as children are being kettled for hours in the freezing cold and peaceful protesters are arrested after being told they’re free to go, trans people are always going to be particularly at risk of mistreatment.

Transphobic conference: the RCPsych and Charing Cross perspective

There’s been some interesting commentary on the “Transgender: Time To Change” meeting emerging in the blogosphere over the past few days. Natacha Kennedy has posted some of the correspondence that has taken place between herself, journalist Jane Fae and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It seems that RCPsych are keen to put the issue behind it by ignoring us really hard:

The conference aims to explore the recent academic, clinical and contemporary thinking on transgender issues. The SIG has invited speakers for their differing perspectives, including a speaker to give a personal perspective on transgender issues. The invitation of particular speakers does not mean that the SIG share the speakers’ views on the topic […]

You also say that the conference is “going to be perceived by those in the trans community as a threat”. The intention is not to cause alarm and distress to the transgender community, and we regret if our organising this event has done so.

Following this email, the discussion was (understandably) forwarded to Deborah Hart, the RCPsych Director of Communications and Policy. She had this to say:

The College is involved in organising numerous conferences about a wide range of issues. Any opinions expressed by individual contributors at these meetings are the personal opinions of those contributors and cannot be taken to represent the views of the College.

I feel that the previous correspondence from Liz Fox clarified the College’s position on this issue and that nothing further can be gained by continuing this debate as we have nothing further to add.

As Natacha and Jane point out, this response is entirely missing the point. By holding a conference on trans people in which the vast majority of trans people are not invited to participate, where individuals like Az Hakeem and Julie Bindel are invited to speak, the Royal College of Psychiatrists demonstrates its contempt for trans people. We deserve access to treatment, and we deserve to be treated with respect: RCPsych seem to be interested in neither of these outcomes.

Meanwhile, an interesting comment has appeared on Jane’s own blog, courtesy of  Stuart Lorimer, a psych at Charing Cross. I personally respect Lorimer a great deal for his no-bullshit approach to treatment, his broad support for trans rights, and his presence at numerous demos (including the 2008 Stonewall Awards protest). In his comment, he seems to suggest that Christina Richards and James Barrett signed up as speakers at the RCPsych conference with the intention of refuting Hakeem and Bindel:

Psychiatrists are intelligent people. Well, some of us are.

This “debate” has been on the cards for a while. It’s probably fair to say that, as a clinic, we’ve been divided in terms of how to respond to an event already set up with non-clinician Julie Bindel and Dr Az Hakeem providing stances based on anecdote but limited evidence. To some extent, it could be argued that even the act of engaging with an ostensibly absurd/obscene topic to point out its absurdity/obscenity lends that topic a spurious pseudo-legitimacy it does not deserve. This is a valid viewpoint and one with which we have wrestled.

Those of us taking part do so because we felt, after much discussion, that it was important to inject some actual clinical evidence/experience into what might otherwise be a display of largely uninformed opinion.

Please do not tar all psychs with the same brush.

I think it is important to bear Lorimer’s final statement in mind when we protest against this conference next month. I personally know a few individuals who will be attending in order to oppose the more regressive views promoted by the event, and we will only benefit from winning over attendees who are currently ignorant of the situation.

As such, we should be careful to protest the conference itself, whilst treating attendees with respect. We want to make allies, not enemies: this can be done by directly addressing attendees with our concerns in a friendly manner even as we shout slogans and wave colourful banners in the general direction of the fancy RCPsych building.