No, I will not help Sundog make a documentary on trans “regret”

This afternoon I received an unsolicited email in my work account from an employee of Sundog Pictures. An excerpt follows:

I’m currently working on an idea alongside Channel 4 following transgender individuals who have come to regret their sex changes and are keen to undergo further treatment / operations to reverse the change. The doc will be insightful and sensitive and will look at the way in which transgender individuals are treated in society and whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough.

I’m currently looking for real life cases to include in my pitch document and was wondering whether you might be able to recommend people I could speak to, or places I could contact to find individuals who are currently thinking about a reverse sex change. Any help would be really appreciated.

Given the email account used, I feel that I can safely assume that I was contacted because of my academic work, which looks at discourses of trans healthcare provision. Sundog seem to hope that I will (without compensation) draw upon my community contacts and research findings to recommend participants for their television programme.

I couldn’t think of anything more inappropriate.

There’s a lot to be said about research ethics and a duty of care towards participants, but plenty has been written about that elsewhere (the BSA Statement of Ethical Practice offers a decent broad overview). So in this post I focus on the huge problems that come with the proposed topic of the documentary: that of trans “regret”.


The numbers

The mainstream media take an undue interest in trans “regret”. It’s very easy to come across such stories on daytime television and in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. The popularity and frequency of such stories suggests that it’s not too unusual for people who have undertaken a physical transition from male to female, or from female to male, to consider or undertake a “reverse sex change”.

In reality, research has shown time and time again that the actual rate of regret is extremely low. For instance, only 2% of respondents in the Trans Mental Health Study (the second-largest trans study undertaken in the UK) reported “major regrets” about the physical changes experienced during transition. Reported regrets from participants included:

“…not having the body that they wanted from birth, not transitioning sooner/earlier, surgery complications (especially loss of sensitivity), choice of surgeon (if surgery required revisions and repairs), losing friends and family, and the impact of transition on others.”

It’s clear therefore that “regret”, when it occurs, is likely to stem from societal and surgical issues rather than the process of physical transition in and of itself. The Trans Mental Health Study also demonstrates a clear link between physical transition and wellbeing in terms of mental health, body confidence and general life satisfaction.

With so few trans people regretting physical transition – and even less considering some kind of “de-transition” – it’s no surprise that sometimes the same individuals are trotted out time and time again to re-affirm a discourse of regret.


What’s missing from this story?

It’s pretty clear from the email I received that that the author has not done their research. Given the existence of organisations such as Trans Media Watch and All About Trans who are entirely keen to offer advice, this does not exactly inspire confidence.

For a start, transition is conflated with “sex change”, a term that is not only most frequently associated with transphobic tabloid headlines, but is also broadly meaningless. At what point can we talk about a “sex change”? When an individual undertakes hormone therapy? Chest surgery? Genital surgery? What about individuals who transition socially, but only undergo some (or even none!) of these processes? It’s not the kind of language that suggest an “insightful and sensitive” documentary can be made.

There’s a couple of more fundamental mistakes in the proposal, however. The first is the question of “whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough”. My own initial research findings suggest that if anything, the process in question is too robust – in that patients requiring surgery are typically required to wait many years before treatment is available.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care require patients to undergo at least 12 months of hormone therapy prior to genital surgery. In reality, patients in England and Wales face a substantial waiting list (sometimes lasting years) before they are able to attend an NHS Gender Clinic, where two separate clinicians are required to approve a regime of hormone therapy before it can be undertaken. An additional two opinions are needed at a later date before a referral for genital surgery can take place. There are many, many opportunities and a great deal of time for patients to consider and re-consider their option – and that’s even before we take into account the horrific scale of the current crisis in surgery provision for trans women.

The current system is not constructed to facilitate transition so much as prevent the very possibility of regret. The result is increased suffering – in terms of the mental and physical health impact upon individuals who are forced to wait many years for hormones and surgery, whilst fearing (sometimes with good reason) that they will be denied treatment on spurious grounds. It’s no surprise that the Trans Mental Health Study found that “not transitioning sooner/earlier” is a major cause of “regret”, as individuals who have waited until breaking point to transition soon discover that there is still a long, long road ahead of them.

The second fundamental problem with Sundog’s proposal is their idea that trans people who aren’t too happy with their transition might be “keen to undergo further treatment / operations to reverse the change”. This is a very binaristic notion that both stems from and reinforces the notion that transition is a one-way process, from one (binary) gender to the other. In reality, there are many people for whom transition is a complex, ongoing process. For instance,  an individual who initially transitions from male to female might later feel that their identity is better understood as genderqueer, and may allow or pursue further physical changes to reflect this.


The wider political context

Given the tiny proportion of trans people who “regret” transition and the realities of service provision, the choice of a documentary about the subject appears at best to be somewhat misguided. However, the impact of insensitive coverage on this topic is such that I believe that I believe this documentary could be actively harmful, particularly as Sundog’s email asks “whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough”.

This is in part because the way in which discourses of regret are handled makes it harder for trans people to get treatment. Gender clinics in the UK require urgent intervention to make life easier for individuals who transition, not harder. Media hysteria over the possibility of regret reinforces the current system’s approach, which is to require people to demonstrate over and over again that they are trans before there is any hope of treatment.

But it’s also because discourses of regret are employed by those who campaign against trans liberation, including conservative commentators and anti-trans radical feminists who would deny funding for transition on the NHS altogether. Writers such as Julie Bindel are all too keen to use any example of individual regret to argue that transition is unnecessary mutilation, undertaken by sad, sick individuals who might have done otherwise if only they’d been given the option of, say, some form of reparative therapy.

The focus on the medical process is therefore politically loaded. Yes, some people do de-transition, and their stories are important and of worth. But these stories have yet to be told by the mainstream media in a non-sensationalised manner, in a way that doesn’t reinforce (intentionally or otherwise) a pernicious anti-trans agenda. Sundog’s proposal appears to feed right into this agenda.

This proposed documentary should not be regarded as a curiosity piece taking place in a cultural vacuum. It draws upon and will contribute to damaging and inaccurate tropes about transition. Ill-informed media accounts ultimately play a part in creating and maintaining a situation where “regret” frequently stems from the responses of friends and family, delays to transition and other negative experiences that come with transitioning in a transphobic society.

I hope therefore that any future attempts to examine trans health issues in this way will involve better research into the topic at the initial stages, and a greater sensitivity to both the personal and political consequences of exposing trans lives to media scrutiny.

In a gender liberated world…there would be no moral panic over trans parents or trans children

And so the Bizarrely Busy Month of Trans News rolls on.

On the subject of trans parents, the Daily Mail has effectively outed a trans father; on a slightly brighter note, Green MP Caroline Lucas has tabled an Early Day Motion condemning the ongoing media witch-hunt that’s currently targeting pregnant trans guys. Kudos once again to Trans Media Watch and Jane Fae for their ongoing work on this. Meanwhile, bookmakers Paddy Power are under fire for a transphobic advert, and today saw a five-year-old trans girl splashed all over the tabloids (including front page stories in the Metro and the Sun).

Paddy Power will no doubt defend their advert (basically a “spot the tranny” competition themed around Ladies’ Day at Cheltenham) on the grounds of humour: it’s just a laugh, right? Meanwhile the tabloids will continue to defend their almost fetishistic obsession with the private lives of trans people on the grounds of “public interest”. Both actions serve to dehumanise and objectify trans people even as they build public interest in the queer freak show we supposedly offer.

This is all, of course, of massive concern to the so-called trans community. But we’re not the only ones who are affected.

In today’s front-page article, the Metro quotes “social commentator” Anne Atkins (who?) Atkins – clearly a great expert on gender diversity – says:

“Between the ages of about five and eight, I wanted to be a boy more than anything in the world. Acute though my longing was, it was relatively shortlived. I am grateful to say that there was no one around at the time to diagnose me with GID [Gender Identity Disorder]”

If I had a pound for every well-meaning cis friend who’d told me this at the beginning of my transition…well, I wouldn’t have a huge amount of money, but I’d definitely be able to afford a better toaster. But my problem with this isn’t one of cis privilege. It basically runs as follows:

What’s intrinsically wrong with a kid spending part of their childhood as a “boy” and part of their childhood as a “girl”?

What’s intrinsically wrong with the idea of a man having a baby?

What’s intrinsically wrong with (or, for that matter, funny about)  gender being complex or fluid or aligned with their body in a non-normative fashion?

I’ve not come across a single answer to any of those questions that isn’t inherently sexist in one way or another. We shouldn’t have to subscribe to an ideology of gender difference that necessitates people being placed in boxes that restrict their self-expression. We shouldn’t have to rely on old-fashioned gender roles. At the same time, we shouldn’t have to demand that “gender” be obliterated altogether. Why can’t five-year-old Zach live as a girl? Why couldn’t Anne Atkins live as a boy for a few years before settling into womanhood?

In a gender liberated world, gender expression would be free and fluid. Adults could be men, women, genderqueer, polygendered or non-gendered as they desire. Children could be children, and explore gender as one set of social possibilities amongst many. And everyone benefits, not just trans people. We’d all have more space to be ourselves.

If you think this is hopelessly utopic and ultimately impossible, try dropping by spaces such as Genderfork and Wotever, where users/attendees are pioneering gender liberated approaches to language and social interaction.

We don’t need to do away with gender, but at the same time we don’t need to subscribe to fixed, binary ideals of gender in order to live in a decent world where people value one another’s work and care for one another.

In a gender liberated world, neither the media nor the medical world would care about five-year-old trans girl, a pregnant man or a trans person at Cheltenham because it simply wouldn’t be a big deal.

The trans girl could live out her childhood as she desired and privately transition physically – or not! – at an appropriate point in her teens. The man could access appropriate care during his pregnancy without fearing the consequences of doing so. And at Cheltenham…well, isn’t the very concept of “Ladies’ Day” totally regressive?

The Sun’s hypocrisy laid bare

The Sun is in trouble. Years of journalistic malpractice are finally catching up with the venerable tabloid, with employees arrested en-masse on “suspicion” of corruption and bribery.

Associate editor Trevor Kavanagh is upset about this.  “Witch-hunt has put us behind ex-Soviet states on Press Freedom”, his editorial thunders. It goes on to detail the humiliation experienced by Sun journalists and their families:

Instead of being called in for questioning, 30 journalists have been needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids, arrested and held in police cells while their homes are ransacked. […]

Wives and children have been humiliated as up to 20 officers at a time rip up floorboards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents. […]

Nobody has been charged with any offence, still less tried or convicted.

Yet all are now on open-ended police bail, their lives disrupted and their careers on hold and potentially ruined.

How awful! And it’s not like Sun journalists would ever do such a thing to others, is it?

But wait! what’s this we see next to Kavanagh’s article in the online edition?

(click image for full size)

That’s right, it’s the Pregnant Man! Let’s take a look at his story.

Don’t forget kids, private lives are for News International employees, not for proles! Particularly queer proles.

Of course, it could be that the Sun is simply asking for contributions because all their journalists have been arrested…

(For more constructive commentary, see this powerful post by Ralph Francis Fox, as well as analyses from Jane Fae and Christine Burns.)

“Pregnant Man” story isn’t racy enough for The Telegraph

Yesterday, I noted a number of issues with the reporting of a British man’s pregnancy and the subsequent birth of his child. It seems, however, that the story simply wasn’t exciting enough for The Telegraph, who have revised their article somewhat overnight.

(click above for full-sized image)

The story itself remains largely unchanged: there is no new information. The only difference I could pick out was the introductory paragraph, which has changed one phrase in order to turn this somewhat inaccurate but broadly inoffensive sentence:

The man, who is believed to be in his 30s, was able to carry a child after taking female hormones to reverse the effects of his female-to-male sex change treatment.

…into something which takes that extra step to question the subject’s gender.

The ‘male mother’, who is believed to be in his 30s, was able to carry a child after taking female hormones to reverse the effects of his female-to-male sex change treatment.

Somewhat bizarrely, the original story remains online, possibly because The Telegraph wouldn’t dare offend the hundreds of readers who took time to comment on how disgusting it is that trans people want to mutilate their bodies.

Yesterday I was prepared to concede that Telegraph journalists were content to merely be stupid and lazy on trans issues. It turns out, however, that they’re actually prepared to put effort into their transphobic bigotry. Well done all.

British media in a tizzy over pregnant man

It’s finally happened: someone has noticed that a trans man in this country has had a baby. Of course the mainstream media, who between them seem utterly incapable of the slightest act of research, are responding in a predictable storm of inaccuracy and mild hysteria.

The facts appear to be as follows: some fellow – who quite understandably appears to desire anonymity – decided to have a child, and contacted the Beaumont Society for advice. The Beaumont Society don’t have a lot of knowledge in this area as they predominantly help out MtF spectrum individuals and their families, so they quite sensibly referred the individual in question on to GIRES. The grateful father later got back in contact with the Beaumont Society to thank them for their help, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Of course, that really isn’t a very exciting story. So the British media have taken a few steps to spice it up a little:

1) Exoticise trans pregnancy. Apparently this is the first British man to ever give birth. Except, of course, he isn’t. He’s just the first one they’ve noticed. There are a great many trans men in this country with children, but I suppose if you give birth before having a “sex change” (by which I believe the media mean taking hormones and/or having chest surgery) it doesn’t really count. I mean, you’ve got to be covered in hair to be a “real man”, right? There are probably also several trans guys who have had children prior to transition (at least one guy I know is planning this) but if the media doesn’t know about it, it ain’t happened. Even Pink News fall foul of this one.

2) On a related note: emphasise the international significance. Only around two or three men in the world have ever given birth before! I say “around” because there’s some confusion over this. The Telegraph uncritically quotes the Beaumont Society’s Joanna Darrell, who (purportedly) stated that one trans man gave birth in the United States (Thomas Beatie) and another in Spain. Meanwhile, the Metro states that an additional American and a guy in Israel gave birth after Beatie.

3) Highlight the risks. There is no evidence that trans children are in any particular danger from being born to trans parents, but gosh-darn it there might be! Right? According to the Telegraph: “Last night medical ethics experts called for a full inquiry into the issues surrounding transgender births, saying the interests of the child should not be risked to ‘fulfil the rights of an adult’.” At the heart of this is a very topical concern with trans fertility.

4) Finally, think of the children.  A number of sources are citing Trevor Stammers, Director of Medical Ethics at St. Mary’s University College. Stammers clearly isn’t a fan of queer families:  “The fact that the medical profession is facilitating and encouraging this is a serious problem. You are hardly going to end up with a baby that’s going to have a happy, productive and optimal childhood.

Of course, Stammers himself doesn’t appear to be a medical doctor. Now there’s a surprise.

Trans Media Watch at the Leveson Enquiry

Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch provided an impressive array of evidence in relation to transphobia in the media during the Leveson Enquiry yesterday. Video footage and full transcripts in .pdf and .txt formats can be found here. Trans Media Watch’s full submission to the enquiry can be found here.

Unfortunately – if unsurprisingly – Belcher’s strong performance warranted little comment from the mainstream and “pink” media alike. Notable exceptions included the headline story in Gay Star News (Trans people victims of ‘horrific’ press coverage) and a comment piece in Pink News (Does today mean change for the trans community?). There have been just brief summaries of Belcher’s evidence (with little or nothing in the way of analysis) within articles that tackle Wednesday’s events more widely in The Guardian, The Telegraph and on the BBC website. Even the #Leveson hashtag on Twitter went relatively quiet as the majority of cis commentators lost interest.

Still, this was to be expected, and we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Trans Media Watch’s role in compiling and presenting evidence to such a major inquiry. Belcher powerfully outlined a number of very important issues:

  • The consequences of negative media coverage can be extremely serious for trans people: examples include loss of work, death threats, and the necessity of relocation in order to avoid prejudice.
  • Dehumanising and Othering language is routinely used within news stories: “The Sun is basically saying trans people elicit horror, trans people are frauds“.
  • Stories (and pictures) are often published without any consultation with the subject, let alone permission.
  • Newspapers often rely upon false information, such as inaccurate figures about the cost of medical transition on the National Health Service.
  • The Press Complaints Commission is considered useless and toothless as complaints are regularly ignored: “The Press Complaints Commission is regarded as a useless joke by trans people”.
  • Victims of negative media coverage tend to let the issue slide: “[…] we find that individuals rarely want to pursue the case because they then become afraid of future
    harassment“.
  • There tends to be no real justification for most articles about trans people on the grounds of “public interest”.
  • The Sun continues to run transphobic pieces (contrary to the claims of Dominic Mohan during his evidence to the Leveson Enquiry on Tuesday).
  • The Daily Mail publishes six times more stories on trans people than any other UK newspaper(!)

Trans Media Watch also identified a number of common themes in confidential complaints they’d received from trans correspondents who had suffered negative media coverage:

“In each case, the subject of the story had their right to privacy grossly breached, often at a very vulnerable time, with no public interest being served whatsoever.

Was put in danger of public abuse and/or violence.

Is left with candid details of their personal affairs, including previous names, pictures, home or work, available on the Internet.

Often these details, including photographs, were acquired without the subject’s permission. Had to fight the press to force them to exercise restraint — often with no effect.”

Finally, Belcher made a number of recommendations:

  • That it should be possible for organisations to issue complaints on the behalf of vulnerable individuals.
  • Anonymity should be granted to all who pursue complaints; we shouldn’t have to rely on the limited protections offered by the likes of the Gender Recognition Act.
  • The complaints process for media malpractice should be free:
    A lot of trans people lose jobs, find it difficult to get jobs. There is evidence that the earnings of a trans person is significantly lower than they could expect if they weren’t trans. That is a further deterrent for them to seek any recompense. It actually pretty much prevents any trans person from pursuing any action against a newspaper in the courts.

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!

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.

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.

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.