To moderate, or not to moderate? (a ramble)

I’ve had some fairly unpleasant comments on my Radfem 2012 post. Until today, these messages have generally taken the form of polite disagreement: the difficulty comes in the content of that disagreement. I, like many other trans people, regard the refusal to recognise my gender (and other trans genders) as valid to be discriminatory and bigoted. Most of the radical feminist commentators who participate in this refusal draw their perspective from feminist theory, and argue that their position naturally follows from this. The conflicting truths explored in my original post were further drawn out, as both “sides” of the argument (and oh, how I wish there weren’t “sides”!) were inevitably hurt by the “other side”‘s refusal to let go and leave them alone.

My partner asks me why I’m spending so much time reading these comments and engaging in this kind of discussion. I’m just hurting myself and making myself angry, he says. It almost feels worth abandoning the whole affair, closing the thread and forgetting about it. There’s a lot of other things going on in my life, after all.

And yet we are essentially fighting it out for the heart of feminism. This matters because these arguments shape our approach to the equality battles of the present and future. When I turn up to a feminist meeting about the pay gap, or sexualisation, or the the gendered impact of austerity, will I be welcome? Can I fight alongside my sisters, and under what circumstances? Can I expect my cis* sisters to stand up for me when I fight for my trans friends who need access to rape crisis centres, women’s shelters, advice and counselling services? Can we all pull together to offer solidarity to intersex people when surgeons who would mutilitate intersex children hold a conference on our shores? How are we to understand sex and gender? What is this feminism, who is it for, and what do we want to achieve?

And so I leave the discussion open, and attempt to engage with individuals whose outlook is so similar and yet so different to mine, in the vague hope that this might contribute in some tiny way to some kind of reconciliation, years down the line. I’ve not yet blocked or deleted a single post.

I’m leaving unmoderated comments that I consider to be blantantly transphobic*, language that reeks of ignorance, if not hate. In a different space, perhaps one with a safe(r) space policy, these would have been deleted long ago. But this is my blog, and I suppose part of me wants to see this discussion happen.

I’m particularly disturbed by some of the more recent comments. DLT states: “I wish harm on every male on the planet. Plain and simple. No matter how you play dress up. If you are male, no thanks.” Take out the transphobia and that’s still horrifying. Surely the systematic empowerment of men at the expense of women (and non-binary individuals!) is the problem, not men. Like, all men. I find the concept of “misandry” somewhat concerning and so-called Men’s Rights Activists downright terrifying, but the moment you start “wishing harm” upon any group of people is the moment you’re straying into serious Godwin territory.

And yet. These comments tell a story, a truth, one that I would prefer to see aired than not. Part of the reason these arguments are so virulant is that so many women and so many trans people (women, men and non-binary alike) are very damaged. Some of us have had truly awful things happen to us, meaning we’re more likely to lash out at others in a storm of emotion. I don’t for a moment agree with the transphobic* perspectives of the many cis* women posting on my blog, and I don’t think unpleasant experiences are an excuse for this, but I’d rather listen than not before wholeheartedly rejecting these discourses.

Finally, I find myself agreeing entirely with smashmisscontest – a radical feminist with whom I disagree so much – on one key point:

The opinion of this Bev Jo noted Radfem, a person which I have never heard about by the way, do not voice the politics of radical feminists as a whole (and certainly not mine), as much as Valerie Solanas does not voice the politics of feminists as a whole by wanting all men exterminated, and as much as the “die cis scum” rhetoric do not represent the feelings of the trans community as a whole, and therefore should be placed in the category of unfortunate extremes I was talking about in my first post.

Obviously extremists, rad-fundamentalists or trans-fundamentalists, are not about politics at all but about hatred which maybe have originated by their personal experiences, and they will not participate in any type of building bridges anyway. But there is the rest of us who want to work on that, and do not identify with hate speech of any kind, so please don’t put me in the same bag. If you are trying to shock the people reading this comments, there are also plenty of examples of hate speech against feminists and women coming from trans individuals, but i do not see the point in getting into that loop type of distressed and non constructive conversation, if its not to create even more hatred and distress.

So let’s acknowledge and listen to the most hateful of comments, but remember that they do not represent the crux of the issue. The problem is a more nuanced one than DLT would have us believe. I still believe that smashmisscontest is, through her brand of radical feminism, promoting (in some senses) and tolerating (in others) a harmful transphobia*, but I believe this arises from a fundamental misunderstanding rather than from hatred. I get the impression she thinks similarly of me. And that gives us something to work with.

I will continue to openly and actively oppose Radfem 2012, because I continue to believe that it effectively promotes views that would harm trans people. But as part of that process, I hope dialogue remains open.

As for my original Radfem 2012 post, I think I’m going to just slap a trigger warning on the end of the post and leave it be – for now, at least.

 

* I will use these words because this is my blog and I, as part of an oppressed group, have a right to define the nature and actions of those who hold power over me

​My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012

In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.

In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.

In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.

In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.

In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets if I transition after my A-levels.

In me, you see a forceful male penetration into women’s spaces.

In you, I see a hundred tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.

In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.

In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.

In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.

In you, I see friends who have been beaten or raped before being told by authority figures that they brought it on themselves.

In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

How do we bridge this impossible divide?

My truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.  How is it that we can disagree so much over the existence of a feminist conference for “women born women living as women”?

I would tell you that my subconscious sex, the mental matrix that somehow marks the flesh I expect to see and feel when I behold myself, maps snugly onto the body I have inhabited since undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction. I would tell you that for the last three years I have been happy and at ease with myself in a way I could never have been before.

I would tell you that I am a woman because I identify as a woman, I move through the world as a woman, and in this sense I have been a woman my entire adult life. I would tell you that I don’t even know what it’s like to be a man because that’s something I’ve simply never experienced. I do know what it’s like to be a teenage trans girl faking it as a boy though, and I can tell you that isn’t a whole lot of fun. I would tell you that trans women who transition later in life tend to encounter more significant challenges than I did, and that they are no less a woman for this.

I would tell you that yes, I agree that gender is a social construct that ascribes hegemonic power to the masculine. I would tell you that I, like you, am forced to negotiate a society where we cannot simply reject gender because we are gendered constantly by others. The body I inhabit, the things I enjoy, the manner in which I communicate, the clothes I prefer to wear fit better into the artificial category of “woman” than the artificial category of “man”.

I would tell you that “trans” is an aspect of my womanhood: womanhood is not an aspect of my transness. I am a woman who happens to be trans.

I would tell you that when I was with a woman, she loved me as a woman. Now I am with a man, he loves me as a man. I am entirely at ease with my bisexuality.

I would tell you that I reject outdated ideals of “appropriate” female behaviour. I don’t see why I should take on a submissive role within society, although I do feel it is important to recognise the voices of others and listen in a sisterly fashion. I  do not see why I should dress in a particular feminine fashion, wear make-up or force myself into uncomfortable shoes, but reserve the right to occasionally dress “femme” when the mood takes me.

I would tell you that I rage against sexism and misogyny at every possible opportunity. I have dedicated a great deal of time fighting in solidarity alongside my feminist sisters for equality, for liberation, for choice.

I would tell you that I, too am subject to sexism and misogyny in many of their vile forms. My transness does not spare me. I would also tell you that I have experienced worse for being trans than I have for being a woman, although these unpleasant experiences have been limited by the privileges that come with my class status and the colour of my skin.

I would tell you that I believe in the importance of women’s spaces. I would argue that no group of women should be rejected from such a space.

I would tell you that this is my truth, and that there is no universal trans truth. That some trans people feel their gender is essential and innate, whilst others reject gender entirely, and so many occupy a myriad of positions between these poles. I would ask you to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of trans truths.

And you would tell me your truth. You would tell me of the pain that comes from growing up as a girl and then a woman in a patriarchal world. You would tell me that I can never know what this is like, that I will always be a man, that my chromosomes and life experience alike cannot be erased. You would tell me that you have a right to organise without me. That I should just leave you alone.

And the argument could roll on for a long time. For instance, I might draw upon the wisdom of black feminist thinkers to argue that there is no universal experience of womanhood. And you might argue that I, nevertheless, will always have with me the male privilege that comes with being raised as a boy. And I would say yes, I accept that, but I seek to acknowledge and check this in the same way I seek to acknowledge and check my other privileges, and moreover this intersects complexly with the oppression I experienced growing up as a young trans person, unable to access hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, we have to draw a line in the sand. So you have your conference, and I am explicitly excluded. But I necessarily object to your conference, because you not only reject me on grounds that trouble me, but you invite a speaker who actively opposes my liberation.

So I am left with no choice but to actively oppose the public manifestation of opinions that will do harm to myself and my friends and my trans sisters and my trans brothers and my queer and/or non-gender-specific trans siblings.

I oppose you not because I hate you, and certainly not because I oppose feminism. I oppose you because you would cause me harm.

And in doing so, you believe that I cause you harm.

And so the dance goes on.

 

TRIGGER WARNING:comments contain upsetting language, erasure etc.

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

Gender statistic guidelines revised by HESA

The Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) have announced a welcome revision of their new gender and sex categories for student records within Higher Education.

I originally posted about this issue after HESA’s original proposed revisions – which appeared to ask about “legal” or “birth” sex and removed any possibility for the recognition of non-binary genders and intersex bodies – caused confusion and concern.

An impressive lobbying campaign in which trans people and allies emailed and tweeted HESA to explain our concerns has now led to a change in policy.

The revised fields contain the following categories:

SEXID (sex identifier)

1 Male
2 Female
3 Other

This replaces the current options (male, female, indeterminate) and the original proposed revision (male, female).

It is important to note that HESA acknowledge for the first time that the “other” category might be used to record non-binary genders in their advice to institutions:

The use of ‘other’ is more appropriate for people who associate with the terms intersex, androgyne, intergender, ambigender, gender fluid, polygender and gender queer.

As Jane Fae explains, this is an enormous step forward.

It’s also worth noting that institutions may, if they wish, institute additional gender options in their student record surveys (e.g. genderqueer, androgyne) and map these options onto the third category (“other”) for the sake of data provision to HESA.

GENDERID (gender identity)

Suggested question:
Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were originally assigned at birth?

01 Yes
02 No
98 Information refused

These revisions are a massive improvement, representing a step forward from the existing guidelines as well as the flawed original revisions. HESA certainly deserve credit for listening carefully and responding positively to the complaints they received.

However, there is still some ambiguity in the SEXID question. No doubt some institutions will title this question “sex” whereas some may title it “gender”, and students may still experience uncertainty when formulating a response. For instance, how are intersex individuals who define as female or genderqueer individuals who wish to note that they have been assigned a male sex meant to respond to such a question?

Moreover, it is important that trans activists based within Higher Education continue to lobby institutions to recognise gender identity within student records purely on the basis of self-definition – a matter that is largely out of HESA’s hands.

An observation on the growing importance of social media

I’m currently working on a document that explores the methodological approach I am planning for my research into trans experiences of (primary) health provision.

In the paragraph I’m currently working on, I note the increased importance of social media to activism within trans communities. I cite Trans Media Watch as an example, noting the popularity of their Facebook page and Twitter feed. I compare the number of people they can reach directly through social media (approximately 1000 “like” on Facebook, approximately 3500 “followers” on Twitter, acquired since the group was established in 2009) to the number of people on the mailing list Press For Change spent around a decade building (approximately 2000 members as of 2007, according to Engendered Penalties).

The point isn’t to praise Trans Media Watch for reaching a lot of people very quickly (although their impact in this respect has been very impressive!) and nor do I intend to critique Press For Change. Instead I note these figures to highlight how social media has helped transform the nature (and level of participation in) trans activism.

But then pace of change appears to be accelerating still. The figures I cite above for participation in Trans Media Watch were accurate a couple of weeks ago or so, when I last worked on this particular document (what can I say, it’s been a busy fortnight!) However, they’re now inaccurate: the group has gained around 100 Facebook “likes” and around 300 Facebook followers during this time.

No doubt the exposure Trans Media Watch have gained as a result of their participation in the Leveson Enquiry has contributed to this situation, but my first set of figures was taken some time after the group provided evidence. For all kinds of reasons Trans Media Watch is of increasing interest to an increasing number of people, and it’s social media that’s facilitating this.

I don’t really have any kind of real analysis to offer right now. I’d love to take a good look at what’s happening, but it’s sadly tangential to the general thrust of my own work. But gosh, isn’t this interesting?

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?

New title for this blog

I’m re-titling this blog ‘Trans Activist’. This has been coming for a while because – whilst I’m still rather young for an ‘out’ trans person – I’m now in my mid-twenties and no longer such an active part of the UK’s trans youth communities.

I’ve updated the header accordingly and intend to also update the “about” page soon, but ultimately it’s the same blog. Don’t expect anything much to change any time soon!

Whilst I’m writing more generally about the blog, I’d like to thank everyone who has started to follow me or has shared one of my entries over the past couple of weeks. A lot has happened and I, like so many others, am very cross about it all; I’m therefore really glad we can come together and discuss massive media failures in a productive way.

Finally, massive kudos to those who have been piling pressure upon everyone from the Press Complaints Commission to The Sun in the last few days! You’re my heroes.

It’s about time we listened to intersex people

An article posted yesterday on The Intersex Network highlights intersex erasure* at a recent House of Lords event.

Report on the intersex inclusive House of Lords LGBTI event ‘Human Rights for Sexual Minorities’ on 24th January 2012

Activist Anis Akhtar explains how this “LGBTI” event focused almost exclusively upon the “LGBT”, with LGBT groups speaking and topics of discussion including LGBT History Month, homophobic and transphobic hate crime in the EU, the forced sterilisation of trans people in countries such as Sweden and the complex intersection of LGBTI experiences and religion/faith.

Akhtar concludes:

“I was not surprised that the focus was LGBT but glad that a few people did say LGBTI on the day. What is paramount is that intersex people in the UK now have a voice – the use of the acronym “LGBT+” by the Liberal Democrats may be a good start.

It is extremely important to spread the word of what intersex is and what we experience due to society’s ignorance, negligence and outright discrimination towards any person who supposedly differs from the “norm.”

Intersex people stand up for LGBT and it is time that LGBTs include us as LGBTI, or intersex people stand alone and continue to fight for our own equality globally.”

Akhtar’s experience reminds me of a “trans youth” (25 and under) consultation at the Government Equalities Office during the autumn of last year; part of the process that eventually led to the creation of the trans action plan. A few of us asked why intersex issues were not also on the agenda. We were told that intersex people are “not on the [current government’s] agenda” and the Government Equalities Office did not intend to tackle intersex issues until (at least) 2015.

This is quite frankly unacceptable. Intersex people aren’t about to magically disappear, and people aren’t about to start magically respecting intersex rights.

So how can those of us who aren’t intersex provide solidarity? There’s a long history of the people within the trans rights movement co-opting intersex issues for their own ends or erasing intersex experience by claiming that trans and intersex issues are “basically the same”. This is totally unacceptable and has to stop.

What we can do is be there for intersex activists when they ask for help, just as trans people would like cis allies to stand by us without telling us how we identify or how to run our campaigns.

When UK LGBT organisations attended the House of Lords LGBTI event, why did they not join intersex activists in asking the Government Equalities Office to get its act together? When a conference that promoted infant genital mutilation was held in London during September, where were the trans people, the queers, the feminists who should have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the intersex activists who called a demonstration?

We need to get our act together and support others as we’d like to be supported ourselves.

*Edit 16/2/12: I today recieved the below message from a correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous, and have appended it to this post for the sake of balance. I should also clarify that whilst Anis Akhtar’s blog was not my sole source, I was not present at the event myself.

Having read your blog about the UNA House of Lords event, I must point out that intersex identities were not erased, far from it. Intersex was included in the event rationale/publicity, intersex activists were suggested and considered as potential speakers, Oii was included in the mailing list, Anis was in email correspondence with the UNA Chair (David Wardrop) and the speakers before the event, Anis spoke at the event after the Q&A and got a very appreciative thanks from the Chair and a big clap from the audience, and two of the three international speakers explicitly mentioned intersex issues in their addresses. Do you really think that amounts to erasure? I see how you might reach that conclusion if Anis’s report was the only source, so I understand why you might say that, but to be fair I do not think ‘intersex erasure at the House of Lords’ is accurate or helpful. Erasure implies an absence or at least an attempt to censor, which is the opposite of what really happened. It’s a pity you were not there to see for yourself.

I have discussed this with the UNA Vice Chair who assures me that he will support my suggestion of a follow up event where intersex issues are discussed more fully and we get an intersex activist to be a main speaker.

In the meantime, I wonder if you would be so kind as to insert a correction into your blog or remove the ‘intersex erasure’ claim? Anis’s speech was brave and important because of what it took personally for him to get there and speak despite social phobia and visual impairment, and it deserves attention on it’s own terms, not because of some spurious claim that Anis stood up to people who wanted to erase the existence of intersex people. They didn’t – Anis was welcomed and applauded wholeheartedly.

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!

Update on the HESA gender statistics affair

Some clarification, new information and new developments have emerged since I posted about HESA’s gender statistic fail yesterday.

Background

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) is currently revising a number of data collection fields. The changes are not yet set in stone. 

Two new fields (student.SEX and student.GENDERID) will effectively replace the one existing field (student.GENDER) which is currently used to collect data on gender within higher education institutes (usually universities) in the United Kingdom.

The existing student.GENDER field has the following categories*:

1 Male
2 Female
9 Indeterminate

In regards to “Indeterminate”, HESA note that:

“Code 9 ‘Indeterminate’ means unable to be classified as either male or female. It should not be used as a substitute or proxy for ‘Not known’. The term ‘indeterminate gender’ is intended to identify those who are ‘intersex’ and is not related in any way to trans-gender.”

However, in practice a number of institutions have effectively mapped answers such as “other” and “prefer not to say” onto this third category within enrolment/re-enrolment forms in order to provide non-binary, genderqueer, intersex and other students to effectively “opt out” of the gender binary.

The new, compulsory student.SEX field has the following categories:

1 Male
2 Female

The new, optional (for institutions) student.GENDERID field has the following categories:

01 Yes
02 No
98 Information refused

A brief analysis of the harm in these changes can be found in my previous post.

Developments

It appears that HESA have received a number of queries and complaints from trans people: it’s uplifting to see so impressive and rapid a response!

The agency initially responded by noting that the changes were the result of “consultation with [the] HE sector and ECU“. Commentators noted that this consultation seemed to at no point involved actual trans students.

However, in the last hour HESA have provided the following statement from their Twitter account:

“Thanks for queries re. sex and gender in next year’s HESA record. Your input will help us get this right.”

The tweet links to correspondence conducted between HESA and trans activist Emma Brownbill – if you have the time, it’s worth a read!

Some key points include the following:

“The phrase ‘legal’ sex is only currently used in the Staff Record. The intention in the Staff Record is to match the data requirements of HMRC, which for tax and pension purposes only accept Female or Male.

The final coding manual and guidance for the Student Record in 2012/13 has not been published. From your own and other queries about the provisional guidance and consultation documents it is clear that the terminology of ‘legal’ sex may not be appropriate for the Student Record.

Similarly the binary choice of Female or Male, originally intended to match the Staff Record, is now the subject of further discussion with regard to the Student Record.”

So let’s keep at this – we’re really getting somewhere!

Also, thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post, your contributions were greatly appreciated.

Edit: the story has now hit Pink News.

 

*The numbers (e.g. 1, 2, 9, 98) are used within statistical analyses.