I was dismayed to read that the UK Government are amending the Gender Recognition Act. Specifically, they are removing the offence under section 22(1) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 for the disclosure of protected information, to enable this disclosure where it is “necessary for the purposes of facilitating, assisting or undertaking relevant research”.
This amendment enables NHS England to obtain trans people’s confidential information about their medical treatment for the purpose of research into child and adolescent gender services by the Cass Review. Specifically, it enables the acquisition of information (a) that could contain personal identifying details, (b) without that person’s consent, and (c) for individuals who obtained specific legal protections with the reasonable belief that these would remain in place. There has been no community consultation ahead of this move.
As a social researcher and expert in ethical methodologies, I believe that any research undertaken under these circumstances would represent an enormous breach of the basic principles of research ethics. Moreover, it will could significantly undermine the already extremely low existing low level of trust between trans community members, researchers, and medical practitioners.
Finally, the amendment also represents a significant weakening of the Gender Recognition Act’s legal protections for trans people (although for a full and measured analysis, see this post by What The Trans).
I have therefore written to the NHS England’s Gender Identity Programme Board to express my concerns about this development. I also hope that any university or NHS ethical panel overseeing the approval of such research will prevent it from taking place.
There have been some really exciting developments in England over the last couple of months for trans birth parents (that is: men and non-binary people who conceive, carry, and give birth to their own children).
In April, a groundbreaking report on Trans and Non-Binary Experiences of Maternity Services was published by the LGBT Foundation. I am really proud to have co-authored parts of this report with colleagues in NHS England and the LGBT Foundation, and to have supported the research which informs it.
The report, which was funded by NHS England, offers a sobering account of healthcare inequalities for trans birth parents. However, it also includes important examples of good practice and recommendations for professionals.
Trans people’s experiences of perinatal care are consistently worse across the board compared with cis women.
30% of trans birth parents didn’t access perinatal healthcare at all during pregnancy – this compares to less than 2.1% of the general population.
Transphobia and racism in perinatal care intersect to produce particularly poor outcomes for trans parents of colour.
Recommendations include: supporting the delivery of personalised and trauma-informed perinatal care; proactively adopting inclusive language and targeting outreach to trans birth parents; and implementing IT and demographic monitoring systems to enable the sensitive collection of data about gender identity and trans status in perinatal services.
Excitingly, it appears that work is already underway on many of these points. For example, last year a fabulous series of resources for practitioners were published by Brighton and Sussex Gender Inclusion Midwives, and I have heard good things about progress on trans-inclusive data collection.
Best of all, NHS England now provide a range of tailored, accessible advice to trans parents as part of their new guide to having a baby if you’re LGBT+. This includes ways to become a parent, advice on testosterone and pregnancy, and chestfeeding/breastfeeding for men and transmasculine non-binary people.
These resources should really be seen as a starting point (for example, there is no advice for trans women who breastfeed). But equally, it is brilliant to see progress being made on the provision of practical advice that will help prospective and new parents. I am especially grateful to an NHS whistleblower who ensured their dissemination through revealing to The i that their publication had been blocked by some senior figures at NHS England for nearly a year.
This all serves as an important reminder that NHS England is not a monolith, and that concerted pressure from community groups and allies can have real long-term benefits.
It’s very easy to be cynical about our NHS given the poor overall state of trans healthcare, as well as opposition to equitable provision by some within the health service. However, all the positive moves I have reported in this post are also the result of hard work by numerous NHS midwives and members of the NHS digital team. Alongside community members who generously offered their time and knowledge, they have collectively fought to ensure that trans birth parents and the practitioners who work with them have access to resources and information.
All of this makes me feel hugely optimistic. These are difficult times, in which prejudice and disinformation are rife. Yet ordinary people are still fighting – successfully! – for positive change. This new research and guidance should be of great help to new parents and their children, and for that we can be grateful.
I am incredibly honoured to be giving a keynote talk for this two-day event hosted by the Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad, and the Centre for Writing and Pedagogy, Krea University. I will be speaking about “Building Queer and Trans Communities in the UK” towards the end of the first day, and am enormously excited to be learning from colleagues in India during the event.
10am-6pm IST, 27-28 April Register online to attend
I will be delivering a keynote on the first day of this groundbreaking event hosted by the University of Glasgow. My talk is provisionally titled “Let’s (not!) fight a TERF war: Trans feminism in a time of moral panic”.
9:30am-4:30pm BST, 5-6 May Register online to attend
Wednesday 11 May – Online Reproductive Justice Research Network seminar (link to come)
I will be joining colleagues from the Trans Pregnancy project to discuss findings from our international study of trans and non-binary people’s experience of conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. Our talk is provisionally titled “Reproductive Justice for Trans People”.
To celebrate this year’s umpteenth hit-piece on trans equality, I thought I might tell a little story about toilets.
On Friday, The Times reported that the University of Warwick has been “criticised for its ‘capture’ by Stonewall”, as evidenced by guidance asking people to challenge their biases, plus a proliferation of gender-neutral pronouns and toilets.
This coverage struck me as both unsurprising and bizarre. Unsurprising, as Stonewall have recently been subject to a barrage of homophobic and transphobic coverage from the likes of The Times, the BBC, The Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail etc etc. But also bizarre, as this is simply not news – all of the initiatives described have been underway for many years now, and they were hardly introduced by Stonewall.
As such, this feels like a good opportunity to explore the forgotten history of one of these initiatives: the introduction of all-gender toilets at Warwick, and in UK universities more widely.
I first became involved in campaigning for all-gender toilets in 2007. Using public toilets was a huge fear for me when I first transitioned. Fortunately, it turned out I was able to use women’s toilets without any trouble, but many of my queer siblings were not so lucky. I met and read about many trans people and other gender-nonconforming individuals, especially butch lesbians, who faced abuse and harassment in toilets due to their appearance. All-gender toilets offer a level of safety and access for people who don’t necessarily tick binary gendered boxes.
I was inspired therefore to learn about campaigns for all-gender bathrooms in US universities, through blogs, forums, and the 2004-05 TV documentary TransGeneration. I teamed up with some friends to write a motion for the 2007 National Union of Students (NUS) LGBT conference, calling on the NUS LGBT to campaign for equal toilet access. The motion passed with a near-unanimous vote, and you can see the text of the resulting policy below:
Of course, we were hardly the first people to undertake such campaigns in the UK. In 2002, Benjamin Cohen wrote an (unsuccessful) motion in favour of gender-neutral toilets for the King’s College London Student Representative Council. In 2005, an NUS LGBT briefing stated that ‘ideally a unisex toilet would […] be provided for those who feel uncomfortable defining into male or female’. Plus, throughout the 2000s “unisex” toilets were introduced in many UK nightclubs, although their owners were generally not so interested in the welfare of clubbers.
Buoyed by the success of our NUS LGBT motion, I took a similar proposal to the Students’ Union (SU) Council at the University of Warwick later in 2007. The motion was passed, albeit with an amendment to say that we would “investigate the possibility” of providing accessible toilet facilities for trans people, instead of committing to actually providing them. I invited Riley Coles, a student campaigner from the University of Bradford, down to Coventry to speak in support of the motion as they had recently introduced all-gender toilets at Bradford SU (you can hear Riley’s side of the story here). In turn, I was invited to speak in support of all-gender toilet policies at various Student Unions, including at Manchester and Sheffield as well as Bradford.
What we rapidly realised was that having a policy isn’t the same as achieving an outcome. NUS LGBT introduced numerous policies at its conference every year, and student officers simply didn’t have time to campaign on all of them. Moreover, at the time the campaign was dominated primarily by cis gay men and lesbians. Consequently, all-gender toilets were not to become an NUS LGBT campaign priority until the 2010s.
Similarly, having a policy at Warwick SU did not translate into the immediate introduction of all-gender toilets in the SU building, let alone across the university campus. It took a concerted campaign across many years to make that happen, involving innumerable staff and students. All-gender toilets were first introduced in odd corners of the SU building, then occasionally elsewhere on campus, and then gradually in new buildings before being more widely rolled out. This process took well over a decade.
In opening up new conversations about toilets, we rapidly realised that all-gender toilets were not just beneficial to trans and gender non-conforming people. For example, single parents benefited from being able to accompany young children of a different gender into facilities, and carers could do the same with people they cared for.
Equally, we knew that all-gender toilets were not appropriate for all people. Some women and men do not share gendered spaces for religious reasons. Women and girls who have experienced male harassment and violence may also not wish to share spaces with men. We therefore campaigned for an “additive” approach, with all-gender toilets available alongside women’s and men’s facilities: the approach eventually adopted by the University of Warwick.
Additionally, some service providers sought to introduce all-gender toilets at the expense of disabled people, much to our frustration. If single-cubicle “accessible” toilets are the only all-gender toilets available, it can increase the number of people using these facilities, to the detriment of disabled people who require them. We therefore urged university bodies that this was not an adequate solution.
These issues were explored in detail in a briefing published by West Midlands Area NUS (WMANUS) in 2007. This document also included a series of sample arguments in favour of all-gender toilets, case study examples of their implementation, and model motions for Students’ Unions. I also included a section on toilets in the Under Construction: Trans Studentsguide I wrote for the NUS in 2008.
By 2009 I started my postgraduate studies and took a step back from toilet campaigns. However, there was no shortage of new activists to step into the breach. There are too many to name them all, but one of the key figures has been Sam Parr, who continues to push for more accessible toilets for all on the University of Warwick campus through endless meetings and consultation exercises.
By the mid-2010s, all-gender toilets could be found on many university campuses and other public buildings, including at Warwick. In 2017, when I organised a conference about the gender equality scheme Athena SWAN, I was delighted hear a conversation among a group of cis equality and diversity workers about how best to make the case for all-gender toilet provision at their institution.
Meanwhile, when I spoke to a new generation of student activists, I began to hear complaints around how some campaigners focused too much on toilets as an “easy” campaign priority, rather than tackling issues such as trans healthcare, employment, and housing. Certainly, an all-gender toilet will not put food on your plate or a roof above your head. They must be part of a wider struggle for liberation.
Still, that struggle continues. So I was delighted to hear from colleagues this week that sanitary bins will soon be available in all toilets across campus at the University of Warwick, especially for the benefit of trans and/or disabled men who might require them in men’s facilities. You can see a reference to this idea in our original 2007 policy, albeit with some pretty awkward phrasing!
Trans histories tend to be forgotten. They are frequently not written down, and are often lost due to a lack of intergenerational contact. The only way we can change that is through sharing our stories and building back our history. I hope this post can help with that a little.
I have not named numerous individuals involved in the campaigns I describe in this post as I am aware that doing so could result in harassment. However, if you see yourself in this story and would like to be named, please let me know and I will gladly edit this post to credit your work!
We are delighted to announce that the first two peer-reviewed articles on findings from our research interviews are now available. Both draw on an analysis of 51 interviews with people who had concieved. One looks at experiences of pregnancy loss among a subset of research participants, and the other explores routes to conception.
More information on each of these articles can be found below, along with links to open-access versions which are free to read.
Published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (BioMed Central). The article is fully open-access and free to read.
This article examines male, trans/masculine and non-binary gestational parents’ experiences of pregnancy loss, an experience that more broadly affects millions of people every year. We found that, like cisgender parents, our research participants often faced grief following a pregnancy loss, and like heterosexual cisgender men in particular, they often faced barriers to support.
However, the research participants also reported experiences specific to pregnancy loss among male, trans/masculine and non-binary gestational parents, including difficulties in accessing inclusive healthcare, and resistance to “failed” or “wrong” body narratives. We therefore make recommendations for healthcare providers regarding the importance of appropriate language, and the need to sensitively attend to emotions attached both to the loss itself and to the possible desire to attempt another pregnancy.
Published in the International Journal of Trangender Health (formerly the International Journal of Transgenderism). An open-access version of the article can be read for free here.
This article explores how men, trans/masculine and non-binary people navigated different social norms and/or practical obstacles to conception. It shows that individuals engage in diverse practices that normalise their experiences of conception, while also highlighting the unique needs and challenges they can face.
The article will also form part of a special issue of the International Journal of Transgender Health that we are editing which will be published in full in early 2021. This special issue will more broadly explore issues of fertility, reproduction, and sexual autonomy among trans and non-binary people. Two other great articles from the special issue have also already seen advance publication:
This Friday (25th September) I will be presenting findings from the Trans Pregnancy Project at the LGBT Foundation’s Future of Trans Healthcare conference. Topics under discussion will include men, transmasculine and non-binary peoples’ experiences of conception, the impact of testosterone, and the language of reproductive health services.
The conference runs for two days through Thursday and Friday, and is free of charge. It’s possible to drop in and out or attend the whole thing. My session is scheduled for 1pm on the second day.
For the past couple of years, I have been working quietly on a new edited collection with my colleagues Sonja Erikainen and Ben Vincent. It is titled TERF Wars: Feminism and the fight for transgender futures.
TERF Wars is being published as part of the Sociological Review monograph series. This means it is available digitally as a special issue of the century-old journal The Sociological Review, and will also be available to buy as a reasonably-priced paperback book.
Our aim has been to provide a critical, scholarly response to the growing circulation of both “pro-trans” and “anti-trans” ideas within feminism, especially in the academic context in which we work. As the “trans debate” has grown ever more extensive and complex, newcomers often express confusion around why this has happened, what the fiercely contested language actually means, and how it has all become so polarising.
The collection therefore addresses a range of issues, including (but not limited to) definitions of sex and gender, trans/feminist histories, racism, autogynepilia, “rapid-onset” gender dysphoria, detransition, access to public toilets, and contestation over the “TERF” acronym (“Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism”) itself. We have been privileged to work with a range of amazing authors, including Jay Bernard, Lua da Mota Stabile, Jen Slater, Charlotte Jones, B Camminga, Rowan Hildebrand-Chupp, Florence Ashley, Julia Serano, María Victoria Carrera-Fernández, Renée DePalma, Emi Koyama, Cristan Williams, and Sally Hines.
I am proud of what we have achieved, and hope the collection will serve to move some of these debates forward. However, I also believe it is important to emphasise that trans people face far more significant issues than debates within feminism.
I have long felt that the “TERF wars” are a distraction from the endemic discrimination and gross inequalities faced by trans people in all areas of public and private life. There is a reason that my own research and activism has focused primarily on healthcare, both before and during the editing of this collection (which I have very much treated as a side project). Arguing with strangers about sex and gender on Twitter won’t reduce waiting lists or stop doctors from sexually assaulting patients. Equally, it becomes harder to concentrate on the task in hand when vicious anti-trans columns are constantly published in the mainstream media, and when your research plans are derailed by a malicious Freedom of Information requests from anti-trans campaigners hope to access your work emails.
There is no easy solution to this conundrum. However, I urge readers to consider how they, personally, might aim to move beyond the TERF wars. My main hope for this edited collection is that will be helpful for people to better understand this particular realm of transphobic discourse, and to counter harmful and inaccurate arguments. Having done so, I urge you to turn to the real tasks of trans liberation: fighting sexism, racism, and ableism, protecting personal autonomy, building collective solidarity and mutual aid networks, providing services to our communities, and imagining new worlds.
I am very excited to announce that I will soon begin work on a new project. From the beginning of April I will be working full-time with Spectra as Research Coordinator for the Trans Learning Partnership.
The Trans Learning Partnership is a groundbreaking collaboration between trans and non-binary community representatives, academics, and four organisations who work to directly provide community services: Spectra, Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids, and the LGBT Foundation. The aim of the Partnership is to drive the development of a robust service and advocacy-oriented evidence base, enabling trans services and their service users to have needs-based, impactful services.
This also means that I will be leaving the Trans Pregnancy Projectat the University of Leeds, but rest assured that I plan to continue supporting my colleagues from that project in writing up and publishing our findings. We have a number of academic articles currently in the pipeline, along with a themed special issue of the International Journal of Transgender Health.
I will of course continue to update this website periodically with information and reflections on all of my ongoing research.
The Trans Learning Partnership feels like such an important opportunity to design and undertake research intended to directly improve people’s lives. I can’t wait to get started!
By Ruth Pearce, Sally Hines, Carla Pfeffer, Damien W Riggs, Elisabetta Ruspini and Francis Ray White.Cross-posted from the Trans Pregnancy blog. An article based on this piece has been published in The Conversation.
On Wednesday 25th September the UK’s High Court ruled that Freddy McConnell, a man who gave birth to his child, does not have the right to be registered as a “father” on his child’s birth certificate. The court also ruled out the possibility of registering him simply as the “parent”. McConnell, who is trans, has indicated his intention to appeal.
We feel that this is a disappointing outcome, with concerning consequences for the dignity of trans parents and the safety of their children. The law will continue to require that people who give birth to a child in the UK are always registered as the “mother” – even if they are legally men. For example, McConnell’s legal team noted that, “Freddy is legally a man and his legal papers display the same.”
Most importantly, the verdict wrongs the human rights of the complainant and his child, through failing to provide them with consistent legal documentation and intruding on their privacy. More widely it is wrong in terms of its failure to legally recognise diverse family forms and contemporary practices of intimacy, which question traditional gendered reproductive certainties.
Yet, paradoxically, the ruling brings into being a new legal category of “mother”, which is based on reproductive experience, rather than the traditionally sex/gendered body. From today, a ‘mother’ is not defined through binary sexed characteristics. And so, a man may be a a mother as much as a woman.
Judge Sir Andrew McFarlane is explicit on this point in his ruling. For example, in his concluding comments, he states that, “the term ‘mother’ is free-standing and separate from consideration of legal gender, thus in law there can be male mothers and female fathers” (noteably, there is no distinction between “sex” and “gender” in UK law).
This is why legal cases around gender recognition are so important. Even when they seem to fail the individuals who bring them to court, they very often also radically chip away at normative understandings of gender in unforeseen and unintended ways. Such paradoxes and contradictions are subsequently brought to light, unpacked and, very often, readdressed at appeal stages.
McFarlane’s ruling, then, may be seen as the first step in the legal undoing of binary understandings of reproduction and gender, sex and the body, wherein all families of all genders and all bodies will be recognised.
This is particularly important for the trans and non-binary birth parents we have spoken with for this research project, who seek forms of legal recognition that are consistent with how they experience gender in their everyday life.
Promotional image from the film Seahorse. Photo by Mark Bushnell.