Imagining a trans-inclusive Stonewall

“The meeting actually went pretty well, didn’t it?”

I heard a number of variations upon this statement echo around the pub we gathered in yesterday evening, as some 40-odd trans activists digested the day’s work. There was an undertone of incredulity: most of us had managed our expectations carefully in advance of the day. This was due in part to the fractious nature of trans communities, but also stemmed from our difficult history with Stonewall.

Back in 2008, many of us had been present at a loud, colourful demonstration outside the Victoria and Albert Museum as it hosted the annual Stonewall awards. We were there to express our displeasure at an organisation that didn’t simply exclude trans people, but seemed to keep making mistakes that caused harm to us.

A lot can happen in six years. Change has come from two directions: from continued external pressure from trans people, but also from a genuine willingness to reconsider matters from Stonewall following a shift in management in February.

In this post, I outline the themes and outcomes of a meeting held on Saturday to discuss potential options for trans inclusion in Stonewall. I will repeat some of the points made by CN Lester and Zoe O’Connell in their accounts of the day, but recommend you also have a look at what they have to say. For an idea of what is at stake, I recommend posts by Natacha Kennedy and Kat Gupta, as well as my previous writing on the topic.


A meeting with trans activists

The meeting – held in central London – was attended by a large number of trans activists who had been directly invited to the event, as well as three cis attendees: new Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt, Jan Gooding who is Chair of trustees for the group, and a facilitator (who, incidentally, did a very good job).

A number of us felt that a more open meeting or more transparent means of securing invitation would have been beneficial. I’ve made my own views about this clear (particularly on social media) but in this post I will focus upon what we actually achieved, and what will happen next.

The event was in some ways quite diverse, and in others ways very limited in terms of representation. There were a wide variety of experiences represented, and views from across the political spectrum. There were a great range of gender identities represented, although a particularly large part of the group were trans women. There were attendees from across England and Wales, with James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance present to talk about the situation in Scotland (where Stonewall is an LGBT organisation). The group was overwhelmingly white. There were a number of disabled people present, but not many with experiences of physical impairment.

Several commentators have stated that Stonewall were responsible for the make-up of the meeting, and therefore could have made more effort in terms of inviting a diverse range of participants. This is true, but I feel that trans activists also need to step up and take some responsibility here. Most of our loudest voices are white trans women like myself. We need to keep our own house in order: by reaching out to communities of trans people from under-represented groups, by “boosting the signal” and talking about the work of trans people from under-represented groups, and by ensuring that it’s not just us with places at the table.

It’s worth noting that this event was framed by Ruth as one part of a far wider consultation on Stonewall’s future engagement with trans issues. If you’re trans please ensure that your voice is heard in this. You can do so by writing to Stonewall here, or by emailing: trans@stonewall.org.uk. There will be more about the next steps of consultation later in this post.

The meeting ultimately had two purposes: to move on from the problems of the past, and examine potential options for future collaboration between Stonewall and trans communities.


An apology from Ruth Hunt

The day began with a refreshingly honest admission of fault on the part of Stonewall from Ruth. She offered a point-by-point account of how Stonewall has let trans people down over the past few years, and offered both apology and explanation for these incidents, as well as an account of how these are now being addressed.

This was not the main focus of the day, instead clearing the air from the start to enable a productive discussion. However, I feel it is important to provide a public record of this session: if we are to collectively move on from the past, then we need to remember that Stonewall has demonstrated a commitment to change.

Some of the issues discussed by Ruth included:

  • Nominating transphobic individuals for awards. This was acknowledged as a mistake, and we were assured that nominees are now scrutinised more carefully (not just for transphobia).
  • Insensitive use of language in Fit, Stonewall’s video resource for schools. Ruth explained that the inappropriate section has been removed from the DVD.
  • Stonewall’s campaign with Paddy Power, who were severely rebuked by Advertising Standards Authority for a transphobic advert in 2012. Ruth noted that Stonewall is now using its relationship with Paddy Power feed back on advertising they consider to be offensive (interventions which are not just limited to addressing homophobia) which has resulted in a number of changes being made.
  • Stonewall representatives speaking out inappropriately and/or not speaking out on trans issues whilst lobbying Government and MPs. There’s a long and complex history here that I’m not going into in this post: suffice to say that one aim of Saturday’s meeting was to ensure that this is done better in the future.

There was also significant evidence that Stonewall is undergoing major institutional change in regards to trans issues. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Ruth had emphasised seeking a solution to the organisation’s difficult relationship with trans people when applying for the position of CEO, and that this was viewed favourably by trustees who considered her job application. Trans employees of Stonewall are reportedly more likely to be “out” and feel comfortable speaking about trans issues and concerns.


What’s on the table?

We then moved onto the main point of the event: to discuss proposals for a new relationship between Stonewall and trans people. There were four options for us to consider in group conversations, with attendees also encouraged to suggest any additional solutions that might not have been considered.

The options were:

  1. A fully inclusive LGBT Stonewall, which considers campaigning on trans issues to be a full part of its remit.
  2. Stonewall becomes nominally LGBT, but also funds and provides resources and guidance for the creation of a new, effectively autonomous trans organisation to work on trans campaigns. This organisation will eventually become independent, but can work closely with Stonewall.
  3. Stonewall remains LGB, and provides grants for a number of trans organisations so they can do their own campaigning work.
  4. Stonewall remains LGB, and works to be better ally.

Ruth explained that option (4) was not really favoured by Stonewall, particularly given the appetite for a closer relationship amongst many trans activists. The general feeling of the room reflected this, and we focussed our discussion upon the first three options.

Option (3) was largely rejected also. Criticisms raised included concerns about who would get the money, the impact of competition between smaller trans organisations, about what the conditions might be for such grants, and the amount of money and energy that would be spent by both Stonewall and trans groups on managing the system and applying for grants – money and energy that could be better spent on actual campaigning. Ruth further pointed out that Stonewall doesn’t actually have a lot of money to spare, outlining how money is currently spent on Stonewall’s employees and existing campaigns.  If the grant scheme was to go ahead, then there would likely be a knock-on effect on (for instance) campaigning in schools, and Stonewall might need to apply for extra money from funding pots that are already used by trans groups.

Options (1) and (2) both had great deal of support from within the room. Several groups suggested variations upon an “option 1.5” that sat between the two – proposals included the creation of a “trans department” within Stonewall, and semi-autonomous “sibling” organisation linked permanently to Stonewall.


Outcomes

There was a pretty clear consensus on the following points at the end of the day:

  • Barring the unexpected (e.g. widespread opposition from trans people contributing to the public consultation) Stonewall will become an LGBT organisation, in one form or another.
  • Any eventual solution should provide for joint ‘LGBT’ campaigning on shared issues, such as homophobia and transphobia in schools.
  • Any eventual solution should provide for campaigning on trans-specific issues, such as on relevant legislation (e.g. the Gender Recognition Act and amendments to the recent Marriage Act) and on addressing issues with health care.
  • Future campaigning work must be intersectional, recognising the diversity of trans experience in areas such as gender identity, race, disability and age.

 

What happens next?

  • The public consultation will continue for several months. If you’re trans, please make sure your voice is heard!
  • There will be further meetings held with people from under-represented groups. This is a vital opportunity to address the problem of diversity at Saturday’s meeting. Stonewall are planning meetings with people from a number of groups, including intersex people as well as trans people of colour, disabled trans people and young trans people. If you want to attend one of these meetings, please contact Stonewall: trans@stonewall.org.uk
  • There will be a formal proposal for trans inclusion in Stonewall made in January 2015 in the shape of a report. This will then be consulted upon internally (i.e. within Stonewall) and externally (i.e. amongst trans people).
  • A final decision on the future of Stonewall should be made in April 2015. If this involves full trans inclusion and/or the creation of a new trans group, this will take several months to implement.

It’s important to note that this is not a process that can take place overnight! The process of consultation is lengthy in order to take on board the views of as many trans people as possible. We have such a range of perspectives that there is no chance that everyone will be happy, but the aim is for change to be trans-led, and to reflect the desires and interests of as many people as possible.

Once the consultation ends, its results cannot be implement immediately either. Stonewall may need to revise its priorities and work plans, and Ruth noted that a full-scale programme of training on trans issues and awareness will be necessary for the organisation’s staff.


Personal reflections

I feel positive about the future. There is so much unnecessary suffering amongst the trans population that allies are vital, and Stonewall could be a particularly large and powerful ally.

I believe in diversity of tactics to bring about change, and Stonewall takes a particularly centrist, “insider” approach to this. It is vitally important that Stonewall is never the only voice in LGBT activism, and that other groups continue to take more radical approaches to trans campaigning. It is also important that we remain capable of critiquing Stonewall, and holding it to account. Ultimately though, I’d rather be a critical friend than an entrenched foe.

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.

 

Trans* Education and Determination: footage available from the event

A number of videos from the Trans* Education and Determination teach-in, kindly filmed by Natacha Kennedy, are now available on Vimeo.

There isn’t yet footage available for every speaker, but more videos are due to follow soon. I hope these will fulfil a key promise of the event: to reach beyond those able to attend on the day, and stimulate wider discussion.

It is in this spirit that I hope others might consider filming or writing responses and/or their own thoughts on the consequences of psychology, psychiatry, academia and feminism for trans people and trans rights.

Perhaps you could organise your own teach-in? TRED organisers and participants are already discussing possibilities for future events, but there’s no reason why any given group of people can’t put one together. Some notes for the future are available on the TRED blog.

On a slightly different note, I’m considering an event based upon the TRED videos at my own university. It shouldn’t be too hard to screen some of the footage from the even as a starting point for discussion.

Finally, I’ll be posting each presentation from the first TRED on this blog, along with a transcription. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did on the day!

Trans* Education and Determination: a review

The Trans*Trans feminist symbol, designed by Helen G Education and Determination teach-in took place on Friday 20th May: the date on which a cancelled psychiatric event was intended to take place. It featured a number of talks, presentations and workshops exploring issues such as trans academia, counselling, psychiatric practice, and feminism.

The teach-in was a great success, and will hopefully lay the groundwork for future such events. This community effort – organised on the internet by a loose team of volunteers – was a powerful rebuke to the medical and psychiatric institutions that claim to speak for trans people whilst denying us a voice.

Trans* Education and Determination was originally envisaged as a response to the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ event Transgender: Time to Change, which was due to feature two transphobic speakers: Dr Az Hakeem and Julie Bindel. This event was cancelled following the announcement of a trans community protest and the withdrawal of support from Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic. However, the decision was taken to go ahead with the teach-in.

Almost thirty people arrived at King’s College London for the launch of the teach-in on the Friday morning. This number gradually grew throughout the day as attendees freely came and went from the open event. Cheryl Morgan, Roz Kaveney and Juliet Jacques volunteered to act as chairs, taking turns to introduce speakers and facilitate questions and discussions.

PhD student Ruth Pearce informally opened the event during the introduction to her talk. She explored the theme of articulation, arguing that the teach-in offered a valuable opportunity to give voice to trans experiences and perspectives.

Ruth’s presentation offered some background on the evolution of trans academia and suggested that the internet has played a particularly powerful role in shaping the recent history of trans identity and community. She then provided some details of her planned research project, which will explore trans experiences of primary healthcare in the United Kingdom.

Attendees asked about Ruth’s research methods, which involve acquiring data from online communities. This led to a valuable discussion that explored the potential advantages, pitfalls and ethical implications of internet research.

Lunch was followed by a talk given by psychologist and sociologist Dr Lyndsey Moon. Lyndsey drew upon her experiences as a queer child, a practising counsellor and a teacher to critique the rigidity and contingency of psychiatric categorisation, particularly that found in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). This talk illustrated the DSM’s failure to account for fluidity and complexity, and the danger this poses for professional understandings of gender and sexuality.

Lyndsey also explained how her own research had demonstrated that psychologists and psychiatrists receive practically no training on the impact of social phenomena such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, race and religion. She argued that psychology and psychiatry remain broadly white, middle-class and abled professions in the UK.

Attendees expressed their broad agreement with Lyndsey’s points and joked about artificiality of psychiatric classification. A number of individuals explained how they’d been treated poorly within academia because of the transphobic assumptions made about them.

Academic Natacha Kennedy provided an extended examination of Dr Az Hakeem’s 2010 paper “Deconstructing Gender in Trans-Gender Identities”. In this article, Hakeem argued that trans people reinforce gender norms, and advocated group therapy as an alternative to transition and stated.

Natacha questioned the logic of Hakeem’s claims, and demonstrated how he failed to provide evidence about many of his statements. Her frequently amusing deconstruction demonstrated how the paper relied greatly upon ideological statements rather than evidence-based study.

The presentation concluded with some background on the approach of Kenneth Zucker, a practitioner with somewhat more extreme views than Hakeem who is contributing to the next edition of the DSM. Natacha explained how her own research findings contradict some of Zucker’s claims during an anecdotal account of a previous trans protest.

NUS LGBT representative Kai Weston shared his perspective on the intersection of trans experiences and feminism. He provided a refutation of the radical feminist position held by Julie Bindel, drawing upon examples of gender variance from non-western societies and within trans communities to counter her argument that trans people reinforce binary gender norms.

Kai’s thoughts provided the introduction to an extended group discussion of intersectionality and the impact of feminist theory on trans lives. Attendees asserted the importance of countering sexism and misogyny whilst exploring the relative benefits and disadvantages of different feminist positions. Issues such as the invisibilisation of transmasculinity and the tensions between trans and intersex activism were also touched upon.

Journalist Jane Fae provided the final talk of the day, a deeply personal critique of psychiatry. She explained how Freud in particular relied upon deeply unrepresentative samples in order to justify his theory, suggesting that Freudian psychiatry therefore owes considerably more to abstract theorising than to empirical evidence. She provocatively claimed that the psychiatric profession and its accompanying academic literature is a psuedo-scientific scam.

Jane finished her talk with an emotional attack upon the psychiatric gatekeeping that requires trans patients to spend a considerable amount of time and/or money in order to pursue a physical transition.

The audience broadly welcomed the uncompromising central thrust of Jane’s argument, although there were some counter-examples illustrating benefits that psychiatry can bring. There was some confusion over the boundaries between psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy, with a number of suggested solutions proposed.

Attendees broke away for individual discussions before the day finished with group feedback on the day, in which everyone present was offered the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. Positive criticism of the teach-in was shared with an eye towards similar events for the future.

Some felt that a less academic or “studenty” feel might help appeal to a wider audience. A number of individuals argued that any future events should remain free, although the possibility of a sliding scale entry fee was also suggested. Many agreed upon the idea of holding future trans teach-ins outside of London, hopefully within a somewhat more accessible, non-university building. It was also felt that more could be done to reach out to groups under-represented at the event, such as minority ethnic trans people.

Everyone welcomed the positive, productive atmosphere of the event, and thanks were offered to the many volunteers who worked hard to make the day a success.
Trans feminist symbol designed by Helen G.

Trans* Education and Determination: teach-in details confirmed

From the Facebook event page:

FRIDAY 20th MAY
A trans teach-in to discuss issues of psychiatry, community and care, originally conceived in response to the presence of transphobic speakers at the (now cancelled) Royal College of Psychiatrists’ event “Transgender: Time to Change.

There will be a number of talks and workshops throughout the day, alongside open discussions and debates. All are welcome!

Times: 11am-6pm

Location:

Ground Floor Room 2, Strand Building, King’s College London

Strand, WC2R 2LS
London, United Kingdom
Entry: FREE

Provisional timetable:

11am: event opens
11:30am: Dr Lyndsey Moon: a discussion of counselling practices
12:30pm: Lunch
1:30pm: Natacha Kennedy: a critique of “talking therapies”
2:30pm: Kai Weston: workshop
3:30pm: Ruth Pearce: identity and fluidity within trans communities
4:30pm: Jane Fae: a critique of psychiatry
5:30pm: community workshop/discussion

For further details, visit our blog: http://transfringe.wordpress.com/about/

This event is kindly hosted by KCL Women’s Officer and GenderMatters@Kings.

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.