All change at Press For Change

The long-serving trans campaigning group Press For Change has released a request for new board members and volunteers alongside the announcement of a two-day “organisational development conference” in Manchester at the end of the month.

I’ve been amongst those who have criticised the organisation at one time or another, but it’s undeniable that Press For Change has been a powerful advocate for political change. It played a key role in pushing for the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and trans inclusion in the Equality Act 2010. It has produced huge amounts of guidance and advice for public bodies, private companies and countless individuals (most notably in the groundbreaking Engendered Penalties). At the forefront of much of this has been Professor Stephen Whittle, who is about to step down from his role in managing the organisation.

I’m therefore cross-posting the below message, and urge you to do so also.

Urgently Needed – Board Members and Volunteers

Please re post this request as far and wide as possible

The Future of Press for Change (PFC) has been in the balance for some time, with a lot of uncertainty due to various issues with individual’s health and others been able to commit to the development of the organisation for various reasons.

Press for change are having an organisational development conference in Manchester on the 25th and 26th May to look at how the organisation can be re structured and developed for the benefit of the transgender community.

This is an opportunity for activists to become involved in a well-established organisation with 20 years standing, by helping to develop and run the organisation and get involved with national & local organisations promoting Trans equality.

PFC had intended to look for more board members and volunteers at a conference that will be held at a major health equality & empowerment conference that is in the process of been planned for Feb next year to mark its 21st birthday, once the organisation had been brought up to date and had got some more structure to it, however due to recent circumstances there is a need to get more people involved at an earlier stage if Press for Change is going to continue at all.

Press for Change are looking for individuals to undertake the following:

Management Board
Website development officer
People to attend National and Local meetings and promote trans equality and feedback information/ inelegance to the network on what is going on.
Deliver Trans awareness training
Supporting survivors of Hate Crime and Domestic violence and abuse.
Press and social media officer
Telephone support
Legal case workers

This list is not limited, all ideas welcome and appreciated

If you are interested in getting involved in developing Press for Change and re shaping this organisation to enable it to become fit for purpose and an effective organisation which can advance trans equality, then please e-mail a short statement of how you think you could fit in and what experience and qualifications you have to office@pfc.org.uk and we will get back to you.

Press for change will be able to fund a limited number of individuals to attend the development conference on the 25th and 26th of May.

If you are not invited to the conference it is only due to the lack of funds available to the organisation and should the organisation continue it will be looking for more people to be involved as it moves forward as soon as it is practical as we value any input individuals can give the organisation.

Please re post this request as far and wide as possible

Getting down with The Guardian

The Guardian has suddenly started to cover trans issues on a regular basis. A quick peek at their archives shows a massive increase in articles which profile trans people or explore trans issues: we’re talking about an article every few days as opposed to one every month or two or – before 2009 – one or two per year.

It does make me wonder what’s sparked this. It can’t be a coincidence: there must have been some decision amongst editors to commission more pieces on trans issues and report trans news stories more often. It seems likely that this trend has been deliberately planned to tie in with Juliet Jacques’ excellent series of articles about transition, but that itself wouldn’t be a root cause. Maybe it’s a response to the growing contributions of openly trans people within the Guardian’s comment threads (such as Natacha Kennedy, who has had the opportunity to write a number of fine articles herself). Maybe it’s a deliberate move away from offering a platform to transphobic voices from within the feminist movement, although I’m sure we’ll see another horrific article from Julie Bindel again at some point.

Still, I’m happy to see this spate of trans-friendly articles, regardless of how it happened to come about. The Guardian is well-known for its centre-left approach but hasn’t always portrayed trans issues in the most positive light (see: aforementioned voices from within the feminist movement!). The newspaper’s website is widely-read, so it’s a great way to reach out to people who otherwise might not come across decent articles about trans people.

The problem is…well, the problems are basically many of those I outlined in my previous entry. Where’s the diversity? What we’ve got is a series of excellent articles by and about white trans women (except this one by none other than…Stephen Whittle, who seems to unintentionally vie with Thomas Beatie for the crown of the One Trans Man In The World). Where are the trans men, the non-white trans people, the cross-dressers, the genderqueers, the androgynes? I’m not asking for diversity for the sake of diversity: it’s just that this current level of homogeneity really is somewhat bizarre.

To be fair to The Guardian, it hasn’t been actively erasing the accounts of those it offers a platform to, so kudos to them for going against the trend and allowing individuals such as lesbian goth comedian Bethany Black to tell her story. Moreover, Juliet Jacques has been doing an impressive job of slipping in references to non-binary identities, referencing trans feminism and rubbishing the typical idea that trans people aim to “deceive” others by trying to pass. Still, this particular piece has been coupled with the picture of a woman applying make-up, and there are articles appearing in which terms like “sex change” are thrown about and transsexed people’s old names are mentioned as a matter of course.

What we’re seeing then is a strange mixture of some genuinely progressive pieces alongside the same old transphobic tropes. It seems likely that comments and complaints from trans readers have got us this far…who knows where we might end up if we keep pushing and they keep listening?

The Trans Narrative

A good friend linked to an amusing little story the other day: Cissexuality as a Default. It’s a parody of “sympathetic” articles about trans people that turns things around somewhat. It’s not too long and I highly recommend taking the time to read it.

It made me think a little about how trans people tend to be portrayed in the media. I feel it’s often positive for trans people to have a media presence: after all, prejudice and fear often arise from ignorance, and it’s quite dispiriting to feel like you’re some lone freak rather than someone with a trait that you share in common with others. However, a good deal of trans media appearance probably do more to erase our identities than anything else.

This might seem paradoxical at first, but you’ve got to ask yourself about the nature of the trans stories you see in the UK media (when those stories exist at all). They’re usually about trans women: white, middle-aged, middle-class  trans women with “feminine” interests. Occasionally, we’re presented with a young, white, middle-class trans girl, but this is a bit more rare. Sometimes our trans woman might even be from a working-class background, but this is even more unlikely. I can’t remember the last time I saw a non-white trans girl or trans woman in the media…unless we’re talking about murder victims. It’s not so surprising that some more blinkered radical feminists link being trans with economic and/or race privilege.

Moreover, the story told is usually the same, as Cissexuality as a Default deftly demonstrates. Our brave trans woman (old name highlighted) is “different” throughout her childhood but struggles to come to terms with herself, goes through a low period, and finally decides to buy loads of make-up and come out. If this story is in a magazine, she probably also had a (single) partner to come out to as well, who will either have dumped her or slowly come to terms with the change.

This narrative accounts for the lives of many, but by no means the lives of a majority, let alone the lives of all. It’s dangerous because it often seems like the only narrative available to many trans people, and it therefore actively erases the identities of those who don’t fit the story from public conciousness.

According to this narrative, trans people are always transsexed (except when they’re cross-dressers, who usually have erotic motivations anyway). They usually conform to gender norms. They “always knew” they were trans. They’re monogamous! They are/were always “straight” or “gay”…bisexuality (let alone pansexuality) seems to be a no-no. And so on, and so forth. If you’re genderqueer, you don’t exist. If you’re a feminist, you don’t exist. If you’re a trans man, you probably don’t exist, unless you’re Stephen Whittle* (and even then you’re likely only to make a token appearance). This goes for some of the most positive and progressive trans appearances in the media as well as the more obviously regressive.

No wonder then that it’s that much harder for people to understand the concept of non-binary genders. No wonder that some are surprised to hear that trans men even exist. No wonder that many feel that they’re “not trans enough” to be taken seriously because they weren’t stereotypically feminine/masculine enough during their childhood, or they weren’t depressed enough during their teens.

The thing is, this isn’t just something the media does through ignorance or stupidity. It’s an active process. In Whipping Girl, Julia Serano writes about how TV producers in the USA insist that trans women in documentary features stick to the script: we’re talking about an appropriately feminine presentation, maybe a video of them getting dressed or applying make-up, and a suitable story. Serano’s account rang true for me, as it reminded me of my own experience with a magazine that wanted to write a story about myself and my partner of the time.

We had to tell our story to a writer, who had to adapt it to the cloyingly sickly “house style” of the magazine…fair enough, I thought. I didn’t tend to go in for all “my heart leapt as soon as I saw her” business, but I’m cool with a bit of embellishment as long as the story stays true to reality. Sadly, the story didn’t stay true to reality in any way. We were asked to revise the story again and again to fit the script. No way could we have met whilst dancing to rock music. No way could I deviate from stereotypical femininity. No way could I transition for any reason than wanting to be a soft, fluffy, pink girl.

I gave up with trying to achieve any kind of honest compromise with the magazine, but I’m pretty certain they just went out and found another trans woman who would tell them the story they wanted: the media-friendly story of being trans which can be safely consumed without any worrying deconstruction of cis-normativity or sexist ideals of womanhood taking place.

Maybe things are slowly changing. I’m beginning to see somewhat decent stories about trans children appearing in the media (although interest in trans kids can have deeply unpleasant consequences if not handled with extreme sensitivity) and stuff like the recent Guardian series in which Juliet Jacques may fit all the requirements for a trans media appearance, but at least has the decency to point out how diverse trans people really are. Meanwhile two long-running teen dramas – the UK’s Hollyoaks and USA’s Degrassi are both introducing young trans male characters.  Still, we have a really long way to go.

I’m not saying that white trans women should feel guilty about telling our stories: we shouldn’t. We should, however, be ensuring that our stories are the ones that are actually getting told, and we should helping to promote the stories of those who suffer most from this narrative erasure.

* For the record, I think Stephen Whittle is awesome. I don’t agree with everything he’s ever done, but seriously, this guy has done so much to lay the groundwork for the modern trans movement in the UK and academic understanding of trans issues on a worldwide scale.