The GRA, LGBT Survey, Action Plan and conversion therapy ban – what just happened?

On Tuesday, the UK Government (finally!) launched a long-awaited consultation on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA). This has been timed to coincide with several other events, including the publication of initial data from the Government Equality Office LGBT Survey, the launch of the Government’s new LGBT “Action Plan”, and the formal launch of the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy.

While it makes sense – politically speaking – for all of these things to happen at once, it can be pretty confusing. The sheer amount of information to process alone is monumental. Part of my job is to engage with these events, and since yesterday morning my head has been spinning! So in this post I aim to briefly summarise what has happened, why it happened, and what this might mean for the future – especially with regards to trans rights.


GRA Consultation

Planned reforms to the GRA was announced in the wake of the 2017. The Government promised a consultation, which has taken a year to materialise.

Nevertheless, it’s now open and anyone can respond to it. The consultation outlines a number of issues that civil servants have identified with the GRA as it stands, and asks for your views on these.

You can read about and respond to the GRA consultation here.

There are a couple of issues with the GRA which trans rights advocates have highlighted as notably absent from the consulation, which you may wish to invite the Government to also address. These are:

  • The lack of provision for gender recognition for trans people under the age of 18.
  • No mention of the Gender Recognition Register, which currently lists all people who have successfully applied for gender recognition. This may prove a danger to trans people if a more authoritarian government were to come to power, as in the US.

In the past year there has been a moral panic in the UK media in response to proposals for GRA reform. You can find out more about this (and my thoughts on why the consultation is happening now) in my earlier post on the topic.


LGBT Survey

In 2017 the Government Equality Office launched the National LGBT Survey. This was the largest survey of LGBT (in)equalities ever conducted – not just in the UK, but the world. A total of 108,100 valid responses were recieved, of whom approximately 14,000 were trans (which also makes it the largest ever survey of trans people in the UK by an astonishing margin). Credit for this is due to the civil servants who quietly pushed through its implementation at a time of political turmoil and reshuffles in the wake of the general election, as well as the LGBTQIA+ organisations who promoted it extensively.

An initial research summary report was published on Tuesday. This provides a basic account of the research findings. The full research report was released late on Wednesday. This huge document provides a far deeper and more extensive look at the survey results. However, there is such an enormous amount of data available that researchers will probably be analysing the findings for years to come.

The timing of these publications is not a coincidence. The research included questions about gender recognition; the findings demonstrated a strong demand for reform from the trans population, with negligible opposition to proposals from cis respondents. The Government will therefore use this to back their attempt to reform the GRA.

You can read the reports of the LGBT Survey here (along with various data annexes).

You can read my initial reflections on the summary report in this Twitter thread.


LGBT Action Plan

In response to the findings of the LGBT Survey, the UK Government has produced a 75-point Action Plan. This describes the actions they propose to take to promote LGBT equality, which include drafting new laws, producing new policy and guidance, and ringfencing money from the Government Equality Office budget for carrying out equalities work.

It’s very easy to be cynical about “action plans” such as these, but they can actually have a real impact. For example, the Coalition Government’s 2011 Transgender Action Plan was widely regarded as useless by trans activists in following years, but (as I show in my research) its requirement for the implementation of new gender identity service protocols by April 2013 helped bring about important improvements in NHS England gender clinics. This included an end to the requirement for a local mental health assessment prior to a gender clinic referral, which reduced the number of waiting lists that transitioning patients have to endure.

The legislative centrepieces of the Action Plan are the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act, and a proposed ban on conversion therapy. Both potentially represent important steps forward for the law, but would also require relatively minimal action from the Government to tackle pressing issues highlighted elsewhere in the survey data (such as the enormous economic inequality experienced by LGBTQIA+ people). There are, of course, matters which weren’t asked about in the survey either, such as the UK’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ migrants and asylum seekers.

Therefore, in addition to holding the Government to account for implementing the LGBT Action Plan, we need to continue campaigning on matters such as austerity, immigration rights and the provision of public services.

You can read the LGBT Action Plan here.


Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy

On Wednesday afternoon I attended the formal launch of an effective ban on conversion or reparative therapy that has been agreed upon by the UK’s major professional bodies for therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. This is a really big deal because it represents an attempt to stamp out practices that aim to “cure” or “convert” a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Memorandum of Understanding was originally agreed upon in 2016. This document only addressed LGB conversion therapy. but (following a series of careful meetings and difficult negotiations) an updated version was published in 2017, which explicitly addressed conversion therapy targeting people on the grounds of gender identity. This was effectively a “soft launch”, ensuring that the document was made available to those who needed it.

Today “officially” launched the document in the House of Commons, with numerous MPs and representatives of religious and therapeutic organisations present. The idea was to promote the Memorandum of Understanding more actively, and draw attention to the issue of conversion therapy among all of these groups.

I was not very much involved in the drafting of the Memorandum of Understanding, but did attend one of the early meetings that discussed how it might be extended to ensure asexual and trans inclusion. At this meeting we struggled with the lack of formal evidence that trans people in particular were undergoing conversion therapy, although I supported others in arguing that the prevalence of deeply concerning anecdotal accounts alone necessitated action.

By coincidence(?) today’s formal launch event coincided with yesterday’s publication of the first ever statistics on LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy in the UK, as part of the LGBT Survey summary report. These figures are stark: 5% of respondents reported being offered conversion therapy, and 2% underwent it. That might sound like a small figure, but given the enormous response to the survey, what it means is that thousands of vulnerable LGBTQIA+ people have experienced these damaging practices in the UK. Worryingly, the survey also shows that young people continue to experience conversion therapy, and that the situation is more severe for trans people. Around 10% of trans respondents reported having been offered conversion therapy, and 4% stated that the had been subject to it.

Dr Igi/Lyndsey Moon from the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy, who played a key role in ensuring that the document was updated to include trans people, spoke passionately at the event. In addition to talking through some of the above figures, they also argued that simply attempting to “ban” conversion therapy may not result in the change we need to see. What needs to happen now is the long, hard work of cultural change – both within religious organisations, and within healthcare services.

You can read the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy here.
Edit: I updated this post on the morning of Thursday 5th July to include a link to the full research report, which is now also available.

Trans Genealogies: special issue articles now online!

trans symbol

Trans symbol by Chris Hubley

I’m delighted to announce that the articles written for the Sexualities special issue ‘Trans Genealogies’ – edited by myself, Deborah Lynn Steinberg and Igi Moon – have now been pre-published on OnlineFirst.

While the creation of this special issue has been a particularly long and difficult affair, it was really fantastic to work with such interesting and thought-provoking articles. I’m really excited that we can now finally share them with the world.

The articles will be formally collated and published in a single issue of Sexualities in a few months’ time. This will be available both online and in print format, and I’ll no doubt be using that as an opportunity to once again encourage people to read them.

However, for now you can read the special issue articles here:


Introduction: The Emergence of ‘Trans’
Ruth Pearce, Deborah Lynn Steinberg and Igi Moon
[OnlineFirst] [open access]

Axiomatic: Constituting ‘transexuality’ and trans sexualities in medicine
JR Latham
[OnlineFirst]

Response and responsibility: Mainstream media and Lucy Meadows in a post-Leveson context
Kat Gupta
[OnlineFirst]

Rethinking queer failure: Trans youth embodiments of distress
Katrina Roen
[OnlineFirst]

‘Boying’ the boy and ‘girling’ the girl: From affective interpellation to trans-emotionality
Igi Moon
[OnlineFirst]

Genderqueer(ing): ‘On this side of the world against which it protests’
Zowie Davy
[OnlineFirst]

De/constructing DIY identities in a trans music scene
Ruth Pearce and Kirsty Lohman
[OnlineFirst] [open access]

Mak nyahs and the dismantling of dehumanisation: Framing empowerment strategies of Malaysian male-to-female transsexuals in the 2000s
Joseph N Goh and Thaatchaayini Kananatu
[OnlineFirst]


Here’s what we have to say about the special issue content in the editorial introduction:

We open with JR Latham’s ‘Axiomatic: Constituting ‘‘transexuality’’ and trans
sexualities in medicine’. Latham provides a genealogy of medical becoming, draw-
ing the reader’s attention to the manner by which trans identities may be consti-
tuted in and through a pathologising discourse that retains the influence of
pioneering mid-20th century clinician Harry Benjamin. Through his elucidation
of four axioms of transsexualism, Latham also unpacks the role of sexuality in
the becoming/emergence of trans in medical settings, and explores the manner by
which we might arrive into entirely contingent spaces of gender subjectivity and
enactment that we nevertheless take for granted.

A second example of the disciplinary impact of categorical thinking is explored
in Kat Gupta’s article, ‘Response and responsibility: Mainstream media and Lucy
Meadows in a post-Leveson context’. Like Latham, Gupta describes how trans
might ‘emerge’ and ‘become’ through the interventions of non-trans actors: in this context, journalists writing about trans teacher Lucy Meadows after she came out
in the workplace. Meadows’ dreadfully sad fate is only compounded by the con-
tinued construction of an unwanted male identity for her in British newspaper
reporting. However, as Gupta carefully demonstrates, this was not entirely the
outcome of intentional prejudice: rather, the misgendering of Meadows emerges
through the subtle contingencies of repetitious reproduction and metacommentary.

The four articles that follow critique binary thinking from a range of perspec-
tives, and question both cis-normative and trans-normative approaches to categor-
isation. These articles ask how we might think about bodies and psyches in a more
open and ethical manner, informed by ‘trans’ discourse but with wider conse-
quences for understandings of gender and sexuality. They look at how we might
move beyond the axioms described by Latham and the cultural forces analysed by
Gupta, inviting us to consider how we might re-think our approaches to bodies and
identities, avoiding binaries in inhabiting these ideas while building new solidarities
and allowing new possibilities to emerge.

In ‘Rethinking queer failure: Trans youth embodiments of distress’, Katrina
Roen explores how we could seek to break from normative thinking, including
the transnormativities that have emerged with ‘trans’. Noting that trans youth
are frequently associated with narratives of distress and self-harm, Roen draws
upon Jack Halberstam’s concept of queer failure and Sara Ahmed’s feminist cri-
tique of happiness in order to ‘unsettle’ these narratives and imagine new trans
possibilities ‘that do not involve straightening or alignment’.

Igi Moon also looks predominantly at the experiences and narratives of trans youth in ‘‘‘Boying’’ the boy and ‘‘girling’’ the girl: From affective interpellation to trans-emotionality’. In their article, Moon argues that emergent trans discourses offer an important alternative to binary notions of emotionality. Moon describes ‘trans-emotionality’ as a pluralistic approach to understanding gendered feeling that has been made possible through non-binary and genderqueer peoples’ responses to experiences of sexual liminality and dis-orientation.

In ‘Genderqueer(ing): ‘‘On this side of the world against which it protests’’’,
Zowie Davy questions the categorical lines that are frequently drawn between
‘transsexual’ and ‘genderqueer’ trans identities, desires and bodies. Revisiting a
series of interviews from the early 2000s, Davy employs the Deleuzian notion of
‘assemblage’ to question frequently taken-for-granted assumptions around trans
difference. She asks us to be reflexive in our understanding of the terminologies of
trans, transsexualism, transgenderism, genderqueer and non-binary; terminologies
that can be used to help us understand specificity but which can also be used to
close down analyses of connection and similarity. In this way we are effectively
encouraged to be attentive to the limitations of a ‘non-binary’/‘binary’ binary in
our accounts of trans possibility.

An optimistic account of such possibilities is provided by Ruth Pearce and Kirsty Lohman. In ‘De/constructing DIY identities in a trans music scene’, the authors draw upon a case study of an ‘underground’ scene in the UK to explore how trans discourses and everyday political approaches can feed into processes of cultural production. This offers an insight into what possibilities might emerge and flow from ‘trans’ as a pluralistic approach to gender and identification.

The issue closes with an account of Malaysian legal and media advocacy, ‘Mak
nyahs and the dismantling of dehumanisation: Framing empowerment strategies of
Malaysian male-to-female transsexuals in the 2000s’. In this article, Joseph N Goh
and Thaatchaayini Kananatu effectively revisit a range of themes from across the
special issue: processes of becoming and definition (including self-definition
as well as being defined by others) and the manner in which activism intersects with the media and law as well as the medical and political establishments. Like the UK case studies, this account is one of both specific importance and broader relevance. It is vital to acknowledge the particular context of the struggles for gender liberation by mak nyahs in Malaysia: a context shaped both by local law and religion, and the
complex post-colonial impact of Western discourses and political interventions.
The emergent language of mak nyah identity effectively stands in opposition not
only to the cis and binary gender norms of conservative politics and religious
fundamentalism, but also to a homogenised white, Western, Anglophone discourse
of ‘trans’. At the same time, Goh and Kananatu highlight how high the stakes are
and how difficult the battles for liberation can be for gender diverse peoples around
the world, in an important account of the dangers and possibilities that come with
‘trans’ visibility.

I hope readers find the special issue articles as fascinating, challenging, and useful as we did. Enjoy!

 

Of memory and mourning: the hidden origins of an academic editorial

Experiences of co-authorship often remain strangely silent, oddly invisible.

In academic publishing, co-authorship is common; and yet, how often do we think about whose voice we are reading, and how a collaborative narrative emerged? How often do we teach students to write together rather than apart? What visions do we have of co-authorship?

I don’t think we talk enough about these experiences and issues.

This week, an editorial I co-authored for the forthcoming Sexualities special issue ‘Trans Genealogies’ was published online. For me, this short piece carries a great deal of emotional weight. It was written under pretty unique circumstances, with my fellow author and former PhD supervisor Deborah Lynn Steinberg close to death. In this sense, it was hardly a standard experience of collaborative writing.

Screenshot of the editorial article "Introduction: The Emergence of Trans". The three authors' names are listed underneath the title.

However, in discussing my experiences of this article and others, I hope to offer some insight into an oft-hidden process of co-authorship, while encouraging readers to maybe reflect on their own experiences of collaboration.

~

Some co-authored articles owe their existence primarily to one of their authors. We might hope that this is the lead author, although this is not always the case.

Last year, I contributed to an article on research ethics for the journal Transgender Health. This was an exciting collaboration and a very interesting experience, with an international team of authors working remotely through the Internet to pool our ideas and expertise. It was an honour and a privilege to work with Jaimie Veale, Asa Radix, Danielle Castro, Amrita Sarkar and Kai Cheng Thom, and I learned a great deal from their considerable expertise in doing so. However, at the core of the writing project was lead author Noah Adams. While myself and the other authors did put a great deal of work into the article, Noah initiated the collaboration, produced the original article draft, oversaw the integration of our respective contributions into the piece, and acted as the primary point of contact for our communications with the Transgender Health editorial team. It was only right that he was credited as lead author.

On other occasions, I have seen how this kind of collaboration might be an exploitative one. During my time as a PhD student, I witnessed other postgraduates put this kind of effort into supposedly joint projects with their supervisors, only for the said supervisors to be credited as lead authors (or, on a depressing number of occasions, as the sole author). This was particularly disappointing in the context of social science subjects, where the presumption tends to be that the lead author did the majority of the work.

I had a very different experience of collaboration with Kirsty Lohman. Our article on de/constructive trans DIY music scenes will also be included in the ‘Trans Genealogies’ special issue. We wrote together, in the same room; sometimes taking turns to tackle individual paragraphs, other times constructing sentences together with one of us sat at the keyboard and the two of us almost competing to find the next word. It was a real joint effort in which we both put an equal amount of energy into the work. I am named as lead author only because one of us had to be; at the time the article was accepted, we agreed that it was more beneficial to my career at that point in time than it was to Kirsty’s.

Deborah related a similar history of writing collaborations with a close colleague and friend. She vividly described how she would furiously lay ideas down onto a Word document while her colleague paced the room impatiently, bursting with ideas of her own, before the two would swap places. Whole afternoons, whole days could be spent in fruitful (if sometimes fiery) joint authorship.

~

There was no such option for the ‘Trans Genealogies’ editorial. The special issue was originally Deborah’s idea, a follow-up to our 2012-14 seminar series Retheorising Gender and Sexuality: The Emergence of ‘Trans’. She pitched the series to the editors of Sexualities, wrote the Call For Papers, and provided extensive advice and support to authors who made contact prior to the January 2016 deadline. At the time I was happy for her to take the lead, as I had finished the majority of the data collection for my PhD and was focusing on writing up my thesis.

The deadline came and went, but myself and fellow co-editor Igi Moon didn’t hear from Deborah for weeks, then months. As her cancer advanced, she was increasingly ill and unable to continue leading the editorial work for the journal. Eventually, Igi and I took over the editorial process, overseeing peer review and seeking to ensure that Deborah’s vision could be fulfilled.

By January 2017 we had identified the seven research articles that would comprise the special issue, most of which were provisionally accepted or near completion. Unfortunately, it was also apparent that Deborah would not live to see the publication of the special issue. She was first house-bound, and then bed-bound. We visited her as often as we could, sharing stories from our lives and updating her on the progress of the issue.

I had originally envisaged that Deborah would take the lead on writing the editorial, just as she originally took the lead on editing the issue more generally. By the time we had a firm idea of the issue’s contents, however, it was painfully apparent that this would be impossible.

As it become increasingly clear that Deborah had just weeks (if not days) to live, I became obsessed with writing the editorial while she was still alive. I wanted it to be a true collective work, but how to do this when my collaborator could barely speak, let alone write – when this woman who had dedicated herself utterly to her work was finally unable to enjoy the intellectual pursuits that had been such a driving force in her life?

In the end, I decided to revisit Deborah’s previous writings and reflections, the ones that had inspired and galvanised the editorial project in the first place. I poured over her notes from the Emergence of Trans series, the agendas and essays she wrote for individual events, her introductory talk for the ‘Trans in Popular Culture’ seminar.

I met with Igi to discuss the contents of the special issue: the contributions of the individual articles, and their thematic place in the wider context of the issue and of the wider literatures to which they speak. We listed key ideas and phrases we want to incorporate into the editorial.

I re-immersed myself in the literatures of transgender studies, thinking about recent trends and emerging concerns as well as longstanding debates and histories. I also thought about Sara Ahmed’s comments on the politics of citation, and committed to a centring of insights from trans scholars and/or scholars of colour.

And then I sat down. And I wrote.

~

After finishing the editorial, I visited Deborah one last time. I was excited to tell her that it was completed, and to explain how inspired I had been by working with her ideas, working with her words.

But by this point she was no longer with us. Her body fought on for just a few more days while she restlessly slept.

~

In retrospect, it’s a somewhat flawed piece. The editorial offers a very brief, broad summary of the context in which specifically ‘trans’ discourses have emerged and been contested. It was, in a sense, constrained through the need to address a set of themes originally outlined by Deborah, now a simultaneously absent and ever-present co-author.

When I re-read the editorial, I do what perhaps every author does. I notice every awkward turn of phrase, every moment of repetition, every missing references (perhaps most prominent of these is Stryker, Currah and Moore’s piece ‘Trans-, Trans, or Transgender?‘, which I was unable to access through my institution at the time). Following Deborah’s death, neither Igi nor I had any appetite for further revisions. We sent it off to Sexualities, and thought little more about it.

Yet, perhaps the brief, intense process by which the editorial finally came into being is one of its greatest strengths. I wrote it in a fit of passion, pulling together our collective ideas with a sense of deep love and purpose. In this sense, my commitment to the field, and to the wider promise of trans liberation, was one with my commitment to my fellow authors, my collaborators.

And I feel it is a better piece of writing for that.

~

You can read the special issue editorial ‘Introduction: The Emergence of “Trans”‘ in the following locations:

Sexualities [with institutional access]

My website [free pre-proof version]


I will be writing a follow-up piece about the broader contents of the special issue next week.