Trans health and rainbow futures: learning from Aotearoa New Zealand

This will be the first in a short series of posts on my recent trip to Aotearoa.

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Poster in the RainbowYOUTH centre

I recently returned from a month-long journey to Aotearoa New Zealand. This trip was funded by a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship with the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds.

My aim was to learn more about trans health services and community advocacy, while also sharing findings from my own research in a European context. I feel deeply privileged to have had the opportunity to meet many amazing people, who are doing a great deal of incredible work.

In this post, I share a number of resources and reflections from the trip. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg – I have no doubt that will no doubt that the experiences from the Fellowship will inform my research and thinking for many years to come.

Before I begin, I should quickly acknowledge that many readers of this blog will be unfamiliar with the word “Aotearoa”. This is a term from te reo Māori (the Māori language): it’s the current name for the islands known as “New Zealand” in English. Both are official names for the country that governs this land. For simplicity (and out of respect Māori history and culture, which long predates the arrival of Pākehā, or white European settlers) I use mostly use Aotearoa alone for the remainder of this post.


Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington: the Gender Centre and Aunty Dana’s Op Shop

20190426_141647After a brief visit to Auckland (where I recovered from the long flight) I began my trip in earnest with a visit to the capital city of Aotearoa New Zealand, on the south-west tip of the North Island. I was told that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day – certainly, the bay of Whanganui-a-Tara is one of the mostly stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever had the fortune to visit.

My first priority was a visit to the Gender Centre. This amazing new community resource, which was founded only last year and is currently based the front room of the 128 Radical Social Centre. It is run by members of Gender Minorities Aotearoa, a group who campaign and provide information for transgender, takatāpui, and intersex people. Takatāpui is a term in te reo which “embraces all Māori with diverse gender identities and sexualities“.

Photos of 128 Radical Social Centre and the Gender Centre, taken with permission.

The Gender Centre includes a small office space, where people working for Gender Minorities Aotearoa can work on current campaigns and meet with visitors. Anyone can drop by to ask for advice or support, or pick up information. For example, the organisation has recently started running a free binder scheme. Materials on display included forms for name and gender changes, advice on accessing healthcare services, and information on the BDMRR bill.

BDMRR stands for Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration. Groups such as Gender Minorities Aotearoa are campaigning for non-binary recognition, and to make it possible for people to legally change the gender marker on their birth certificate without going through an expensive process involving medical oversight. Unfortunately, proposed changes have been delayed by the actions of anti-trans hate groups. UK readers will recognise the similarities with the campaign of misinformation waged against proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. This is not a coincidence. Anti-trans groups in Aotearoa are directly influenced by the language, aesthetics and (in some cases) the direct interventions of UK anti-trans campaigners, in what can be understood as a form of neo-colonialism.

While I was at the 128 Radical Social Centre I also visited Aunty Dana’s Op Shop. This is a second-hand clothing and accessories store run by trans and non-binary volunteers and open to people of all genders, with proceeds donated to Gender Minorities Aotearoa. It’s such a great way to raise money for campaigning, while providing an important resource and social space. It can also serve as a less scary space than the Gender Centre for people who are just coming out and looking for support. I had a great time browsing the shelves and chatting with the volunteer who was working there that afternoon.

Photos of Aunty Dana’s Op Shop. Taken with permission.

You can watch a fantastic video about the Op Shop here:


While I was in Whanganui-a-Tara I also took the opportunity to visit a trans and non-binary artists showcase at the NZ Games Festival and meet with some brilliant academics and students working on LGBTIQ research at Victoria University of Wellington. I will be sure to share their work as it is published!


Ōtautahi / Christchurch: queer art and affirmative care

I next travelled to Ōtautahi / Christchurch, taking a train down the east coast of the South Island. During this trip I began to understand the extent of the damage caused by 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. There was evidence of huge landslides and roads were still being rebuilt. Several metres of new coastline were visible for many miles, clearly identifiable through rocks bleached white by dead organisms that once lived under the waves. The city itself is still being rebuilt. Huge building projects and areas of empty land can be found throughout the central business district, a reminder of the unforgiving power of the Earth.

Photos: day and night – urban art and public protest.

It was apparent that the people of Ōtautahi were still recovering from tragedy even before the horror of the recent neo-Nazi mosque shootings. Nevertheless, the city struck me as a great centre of culture. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet some amazing queer and feminist artists and heard about both radical public interventions and commissioned works. If you want to learn more about this, the websites of Jennifer Shields and Audrey Baldwin are great places to start.

During this visit, I learned about a fantastic initiative to build and publicise new public health pathways for gender-affirming care in the Canterbury region. Until recently, services such as specialist counselling, hormone therapy and surgical referrals were only available on an ad-hoc basis, and information was not easy to find. Relevant information on what services are available and how they can be accessed is now easily available, thanks to the work of the Ko Awatea gender-affirming care co-design group.

These services are still not perfect – several interventions are not publicly funded, and they still involve a certain level of medical gatekeeping. However, they represent an important step forward. Notably, I was informed that these achievements can be credited to the willingness of particularly motivated medical providers, who were prepared to put energy into working directly with trans community representatives to work for reform.


Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland: RainbowYOUTH

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The next stage in my journey was a visit Kirikiriroa / Hamilton, back on the north island. I was here for the Aotearoa New Zealand Trans Health Symposium. This will be the subject of a future blog post, so I am going to finish this piece with a look at an organisation based in Aotearoa’s largest city.

In finish my journey with a return to Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland, meeting a number of community workers, activists and academics living and working in the city. I was especially honoured to visit the RainbowYOUTH offices and drop-in centre: a spacious explosion of colour located in an otherwise unobtrusive side street on the edge of the queer distract around K Road.

RainbowYOUTH are an organisation run by and for queer and gender diverse youth, with a remarkably long and successful history. They are currently celebrating their 30th anniversary, having been founded in 1989. The organisation’s members and executive board are all aged 27 or under. Executive advisors aged over 27 are invited to attend and speak at board meetings, but do not have voting rights. I was really impressed by this commitment to centring youth perspectives in support work and activism, something which has been missing from the UK since the dissolation of Queer Youth Network.

I was also interested in how common the language of “rainbow” community was in Aotearoa, as an addition and alternative to acronyms such as LGBTIQ. I like the way this word avoids the “alphabet soup” and potential exclusions tone of the acronym. I can also see how – like the term “gender minorities” – it can work to be inclusive both of intersex people and of takatāpui in a way that is more expansive than just attempting to rework the Western/anglophone framework of “LGBT”.

Photos of the RainbowYOUTH centre. Taken with permission.

The RainbowYOUTH centre was a wonderful building. For a long time, the organisation ran out of a very small office on Karangahape Road, but in recent years an increase in income and activity enabled a move to the new space. This features several offices, a therapy room, a large social space with a TV and gaming consoles, a library, a community wardrobe, free hygiene packs for people in difficult circumstances, and once again a whole range of resources and information. I can see how the very existence of this space is helping to create new possibilities for a generation of young people who I hope will achieve things that currently remain unthinkable.

I left Aotearoa incredibly inspired by the work and imagination of everyone I met, and am hugely grateful to everyone who helped with advice and organisation, made time to speak with me, and shared ideas and information. Ngā mihi nui!

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Clinical research with trans patients: a critique

WPATH_BuenoAr_Logo_reverseIn November I participated in a panel on research ethics at the 2018 WPATH Symposium in Buenos Aires, “Ethical Considerations in Transgender Health Research Practice”.

I presented a talk based on work I have undertaken with Dr Michael Toze (who sadly could not join us at the conference). Entitled Trans Health Research at a Gender Identity Clinic, the talk critiqued clinical research methods employed at a UK gender clinic, using the example of published research on video gaming.

I argued that clinical researchers should be mindful of the power dynamic that exists between them and their patient/participants. I also presented evidence that methodological and ethical issues have resulted in harm to participants, and undermined the validity of empirical claims.

This talk was kindly recorded by Ellen Murray, and you can listen to it below.

 

I have also uploaded produced a transcript of the talk:

Trans Health Research at a Gender Identity Clinic

And you can download the slides here.

Please do feel free to download and share this talk with anyone you think might find it interesting or useful, as long as myself and Dr Toze are credited.

The talk followed a remote presentation by Ali Harris, and preceded a talk by Noah Adams, who discussed the paper we wrote in collaboration with Jaimie Veale, Asa Radix, Danielle Castro, Amrita Sarkar and Kai Cheng Thom: Guidance and Ethical Considerations for Undertaking Transgender Health Research and Institutional Review Boards Adjudicating this Research.

Trans Pregnancy poster: initial findings presented at WPATH

Cross-posted from the Trans Pregnancy blog. Image shows a woman standing in front of a poster display board, smiling.

In early November, I presented a poster at the 2018 World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Symposium in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The poster outlined a number of initial findings from our first research interviews, which have so far been conducted in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The WPATH Symposium is attended primarily by healthcare professionals working specifically in the field of trans health, so the poster was designed especially with this audience in mind. Our future work will also speak to the needs and interests of trans people who become pregnant as well as professionals specialising in fertility and reproductive health. Plus, we will be exploring what trans pregnancy means for understandings of sex and gender.

You can click on the poster image below to read and download a copy for yourself, or click here for a PDF version.

Through our Twitter account I also reported on two sessions at the WPATH conference which were all about trans fertility and reproduction. You can read these Twitter threads by clicking on the links below:

WPATH oral presentations: Fertility

WPATH oral presentations: Reproduction

To find out more about the context of trans pregnancy and people’s experiences, please do explore our website. We have already published a series of law and policy reviews and are adding more resources all the time.

We are also still recruiting research participants from Australia, European Union countries (including the UK) and the USA. If you are a trans person who has been pregnant and you would like to talk confidentially with us about your experiences, please click here to find out more.

GRA consultation: A guide for feminist and LGBTQ+ academics and allies

The UK’s Government Equality Office is consulting on possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA). Anyone can respond. The consultation link is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reform-of-the-gender-recognition-act-2004.

The consultation ends at 11pm on 19 October 2018.

There has been a large backlash from people hostile to trans rights. It is important that academics who support trans rights respond to the consultation, ideally with reference to relevant evidence from scholarly research. This guide provides advice on doing so.

(Note: post updated 15/10/18 to include additional links and my full consultation response)


Background

At present, the GRA enables adults to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and change the gender on their birth certificate from female to male, or vice-versa.

  • This has consequences for the registration of sex/gender upon marriage or civil partnership and affects some insurance and pensions.
  • It is of symbolic importance for many trans people.
  • Non-binary genders and trans people under the age of 18 are not recognised.

The GRA is not relevant to legal changes of name or sex/gender marker in any other arena.

  • Trans people are already able to change their name and sex/gender marker with organisations such as banks, schools, universities, social services, the DVLA and NHS. No medical evidence is required for this process.
  • Trans people are already able to change the sex/gender marker on their passport with a letter from a doctor.

Trans people have criticised the GRA for being unnecessarily bureaucratic and intrusive.

  • Applicants submit evidence – including medical records, letters from mental health specialists, and proof that they have lived in their ‘acquired’ gender for at least two years – to the Gender Recognition Panel.
  • The process costs £140 (plus additional costs) and there is no right to appeal.
  • An official list of people who have changed their sex/gender in this way is kept on a ‘gender recognition register’.

Note: I use the term ‘sex/gender’ as current UK law does not distinguish between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’: the two are used interchangeably.

 

Backlash

Since the GRA consultation was announced, numerous single-issue anti-trans groups have emerged to oppose amendments to the GRA and argue for a wider push back against the social recognition of trans people’s genders and access to sexed/gendered spaces.

Anti-trans groups have spread misinformation about the GRA.

  • e.g. the purpose and function of the GRA has been conflated with the Equality Act 2010, which governs trans people’s access to sexed/gendered public spaces.

These groups have a powerful voice in the mainstream media.

These groups have access to significant funding that trans groups do not.

  • Tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on billboards and newspaper adverts opposing trans rights.
  • Anti-abortion American fundamentalist groups such as ‘Hands Across the Aisle’ and far-right publications such as Breitbart and The Federalist have extensively promoted the work of ‘feminist’ anti-trans groups and shared crowdfunding pages.

These groups claim to represent feminism.

  • They wrongly argue that gender recognition poses a threat to women’s rights.
  • Trans women are often represented as potential or actual sexual predators.
  • Trans men and non-binary people often are represented as tragic or deluded.
  • By contrast, numerous groups who work with vulnerable women (e.g. Scottish Women’s Aid) have supported trans affirming reforms to gender recognition.

These groups are encouraging their supporters to respond to the GRA consultation.

  • This happened in response to a similar consultation by the Scottish government. While in that instance most respondents supported extending trans rights, thousands of anti-trans responses were also submitted.


Responding to the consultation as academics

As academics, it is important that we support good governance grounded in empirical evidence and the principles of equality and equity for all. As feminists and/or LGBTQ+ people, it is important that we recognise that current attacks on trans rights echo and are linked to similar attacks on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

In responding to the consultation:

Concisely reference scholarly evidence where possible.

  • Assert your own expertise where relevant.
  • In the linked PDF below, I have used in-text citations for brevity. However, Government bodies tend to prefer links or full-reference footnotes, so please bear this in mind.

Ensure your response to each question makes sense as a stand-alone comment.

  • Don’t build an argument across the entirety of your consultation response or cross-reference your previous answers.
  • Consultation responses will be analysed on a question-by-question basis.

Responses from organisations are given more weight by the government.

  • If it is possible to submit a response on behalf of your department, school, centre, professional organisation or academic special interest group, please do so in addition to your personal response.

If you have limited time and energy just responding to the tick-box questions will make a difference.

Please share this information with your colleagues to ensure a large, evidence-based trans-positive response to the consultation.


Resources

Here are two documents I have produced to help you and your colleagues in responding to the consultation.

GRA consultation – suggested starting points for responding to consultation questions
This document includes information on each consultation question, including relevant evidence and citations that you might want to use in your submission.

GRA consultation – a guide for feminist and LGBT+ academics
This document includes the full content of this blog post plus the suggested starting points for responding to consultation questions.

For guides to the consultation from non-academic organisations, see:
Amnesty International
LGBT Foundation
Mermaids
Stonewall
National Union of Students
GIRES and TELI (focuses on recognition for trans youth)

You can see my complete personal response to the consultation here: GRA response.

Family Planning workshop at Trans Health Matters (23 October)

In a couple of weeks I will be attending the Trans Health Matters conference, which is held at Resource for London on Tuesday 23 October.

You can read about and book tickets for Trans Health Matters 2018 here.

Co-hosted by holistic sexual health centres cliniQ (London) and Clinic T (Brighton), this event offers an insight into cutting edge practice and research, particularly with regards to sexual and mental health.

I will be speaking at a workshop entitled Trans Family Planning: Contraception, Fertility, Pregnancy and Childbirth, alongside Kate Nambiar, Michael Toze and Francis Ray White.

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Resource for London, Holloway Road

Trans people often find there is a lack of information available on their own fertility, or that they have been misinformed about the reproductive capacity of their own bodies. Similarly, trans people wishing to form families continue to face social, legal and medical barriers to parenthood. The workshop will comprise three short interventions, reflecting on current challenges and opportunities for trans reproductive autonomy, and an opportunity for attendees to reflect on how this might relate to their own work.

Kate Nambiar is a medical doctor and researcher who works at Clinic T. She will be discussing issues around contraception for trans people.

Michael Toze is a Research Fellow in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Lincoln. He will talk about UK medical practice and law with regards to trans fertility, parenthood, and sterilisation procedures.

Francis Ray White is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Westminster, and I am a Research Fellow in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. We will be discussing intial findings from the Trans Pregnancy Project.

 

Video: Transgender Moral Panic – A Brief Social History

In February 2018, I was invited to deliver a guest lecture at the University of Warwick as part of the “Hidden Histories” series.

In the last year there has been an enormous upsurge in media commentary that expresses concern about the role of trans people in public life. Gendered changing rooms, non-binary people, trans children and notions of self-definition have all come under intense scrutiny.

In the talk, I explored the background to the recent wave of media coverage. I argued that the transgender moral panic has been shaped by deep-seated cultural anxieties around sex and gender, taking in trans-exclusionary radical feminism, homophobic discourse, scientific racism, Brexit, and proposed changes to gender recognition laws.


Recommended further reading

Meg-John Barker (2017)
2017 Review: The Transgender Moral Panic

Combahee River Collective (1977)
The Combahee River Collective Statement

Emi Koyama (2000)
Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion Debate

Emi Koyama (2001)
The Transfeminist Manifesto

C. Riley Snorton (2017)
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity

Christan Williams and Gillian Frank (2016)
The Politics of Transphobia: Bathroom Bills and the Dialectic of Oppression


Corrections

I made two minor errors in unprepared asides during the talk, which I correct here for the sake of transparency.

  • Lily Madigan was elected to the position of Women’s Office in her constitutency Labour party at the age of 19, not 17.
  • David Davis was a co-founder of Radio Warwick (RaW), not David Davies.

 

Understanding Trans Health – book launch and mini conference

Understanding trans healthMy research monograph Understanding Trans Health will be published in just over a month! To celebrate, I will be holding an event on Tuesday 5th June at the University of Leeds, where I will be discussing the book and the findings it reports. I have also invited a number of people I admire enormously to talk about what they’re working on at the moment.

The event is FREE but places are limited, so please do register if you want to come!

Register a place here.

 
Talks will include:

‘The Gender Experts’: Clinical Discourse and Becoming Trans
Dr Ruth Pearce (University of Leeds)
https://ruthpearce.net/about/

What is Gender Dysphoria? – at least, in the Literature
Dr Zowie Davy (De Montfort University) and Dr Michael Toze (University of Lincoln)
https://zowiedavy.wordpress.com/about/

Body Parts in Trans Erotica
Dr Kat Gupta (University of Sussex)
http://mixosaurus.co.uk/about-me/

Accessing trans healthcare: what role for medical law?
Dr Chris Dietz (University of Leeds)
http://www.law.leeds.ac.uk/people/staff/dietz

Trans healthcare at Clinic T
Dr Kate Nambiar (Clinic T, Brighton)
https://www.stonewall.org.uk/people/dr-kate-nambiar

The event will be chaired by my colleague Professor Sally Hines.

There will also be plenty of time for questions and discussion. The event will be followed by a reception with free drinks and nibbles.

I hope to see you there!