Ruth Pearce at TRED 2011

My talk at the Trans* Education and Determination teach-in.

Part 1:
– Introduction to the teach-in
– My decision to undertake social research
– A brief history of trans academia
– Gender pluralism

Part 2:
– Introduction to my research on experiences of primary health
– Existing research on trans health in the UK
– The role of the internet in trans community
– Methodology and research ethics

Transcription available below.

Continue reading

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.

Trans community teach-in confirmed for 20 May

With the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ transphobic event cancelled, activists are going ahead with a proposed “teach-in”, originally due to take place alongside the RCPsych conference one part of a day of protest. Student feminists and academics at King’s College London are working to book a room in an accessible location.

The community event will therefore take place on Friday 20th May 2011 from 11am-6pm (provisional times).

It will be held in Kings College London, Strand Caucus, in central London with the room TBC. All are welcome.

I’ll post further details as I get them.

Regular updates will be made on the event blog: Trans* Education and Determination.

Transphobic conference CANCELLED

The Royal College of Psychiatrists have cancelled “Transgender: Time to Change“. This isn’t just a victory for the trans movement: it’s also a victory for angry blogging, community organising and the threat of peaceful protest.

Pink News have a really positive piece on the cancellation.

RCPsych claim that the cancellation was down to low ticket sales. However, it’s pretty telling that the event was cancelled right after Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic put out this statement:

The team at the WLMHT Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) at Charing Cross Hospital notes the apparent shift of emphasis in the Royal College of Psychiatrists Gay & Lesbian Special Interest Group conference, ‘Transgender: Time To Change’ on May 20th and feels compelled to withdraw on this basis.

When we were originally asked to take part, GIC clinicians understood that our role was to outline the work we do within our own service and explain the very considerable evidence base which underpins it. We are very happy to do this and our more than 55 years of experience as the country’s leading NHS provider gives us a rich and robust data set from which to draw observations.

It now appears that the conference comes at trans issues from a very specific agenda, namely, to explore the validity or otherwise of gender diagnoses as medical and psychiatric phenomena. So long as this is the case, we feel we can’t support it.

Although we were somewhat wary of engaging in what is essentially a clinical discussion with a predominantly non-trans panel, which, moreover, features a non-clinician whose personal opinion is already well known, we agreed to do so in order that discussion might focus on evidence rather than anecdote.

The Royal College should be aware that there is a great deal of disquiet around this event within the trans community and interested parties should note that the discussion as it now stands will be one-sided at best..”

On the subject of “numbers”, it’s also worth pointing out that registration was meant to be open until 9th May. That suggests that the number of people signing up for the event was really low: an encouraging turn of events! Commentators elsewhere have suggested that many psychs will have been put off by the outdated views held by many of the speakers. I only hope this is the case.

This is well worth celebrating, but the good news shouldn’t be the end of the matter. There’s a few really important lessons we can learn from the whole affair, and some things we need to think about regarding future action.

Trans people are still treated awfully by the medical establishment in general, and the psychiatric establishment in particular. We need to explore how to bring about change: through research and its dissemination, through lobbying, and through protests. The simple threat of a colourful, vibrant protest on the PCPsych doorstep clearly had a massive impact, as did the actions of those who talked to psychs and to Charing Cross.

The gender clinics and gatekeepers of this country have a troubled relationship with the trans community, but it benefits us to work with them. Currently, they’re not particularly accountable: Charing Cross has a patient feedback group, but how many trans people even know of this group? How many know how to contribute to its feedback? How many know the vast majority of groups invited to attend the meetings are London-based? This situation needs to change, but the clinic’s actions on this occasion suggest that it can.

Julie Bindel will probably kick up a fuss. Personally, I feel we should let her get on with it. Any opportunity for us to promote our arguments against the approach taken by the cancelled conference is a good one.

Finally, I’ve been informed that activists are planning to go ahead with the community “teach-in” that was originally planned to coincide with the transphobic conference. After all, there are speakers and facilitators booked, so why not? People are talking about focusing on the continuing problems within trans health in general and psychiatry in particular, and exploring where we might go from here. The venue and timetable are still being arranged, so I’ll post again once there’s news on that front.

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.