Remember Our Dead

Today is the thirteenth international Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Please set aside some time today for those whose who were killed this year because of ignorance, hatred, and prejudice.

We remember those who would otherwise not be remembered. We mark the passing of those who many would like to erase or forget. We respect those who have otherwise found no respect, even in death.

We hope for in future in which no-one is brutally murdered simply because of who they are.

Some thoughts on how to remember those we have never met, and can now never meet.

My Cissexist Summer

Channel 4’s latest trans documentary has certainly achieved an impressive amount of commentary from within trans communities. Like it or loathe it, we all have something to say about My Transsexual Summer. I suppose that’s because this particular programme – running unusually as a series rather than a one-off show – has been really pushed by the broadcaster. You can’t really miss that it’s happening, and as such many people are painfully aware of how likely it is to shape the general public’s perception of trans lives and trans issues.

That level of public consciousness has no doubt shaped the fury emerging from some quarters. I’ve seen outrage at the employment of numerous cissexist tropes (as Paris Lees noted in the Guardian, anyone playing the Trans Documentary Drinking Game whilst watching My Transsexual Summer is guaranteed to get utterly sozzled very quickly), the dodgy narration from a clueless cis woman, and the frequent use of the word “tranny” by documentary participants. The latter issue in particular has predictably reignited debates about whether or not (and how) offensive language can be reclaimed.

Others (including Lees) have welcomed the show as a positive step forward. I agree with those who point out that the show breaks new ground in enabling trans people to speak for themselves in a public/media setting. The best parts of episodes one and two do tend to involve group conversations in which the show’s participants have the rare opportunity to discuss their unique challenges within the safety and comfort of a trans space (other good bits included Dr Bellringer’s justification of genital surgery and the revelation that some trans men keep their clitoris post-phalloplasty…imagine, a functioning penis and a functioning clitoris! Dude!)

My own problem with the show is that these moments of brilliance are inevitably compromised by the ciscentric, cissexist editing process. I’ve already mentioned the narrator: the show would be a considerably stronger, warmer portrayal without the presence of her patronising, occasionally transphobic twaddle. Then there’s some of the things the participants are required to do. In the first episode, they’re expected to take pictures of one another (an activity some are clearly uncomfortable with), leading to this gem of a comment:

The photographs are ready. Now they’ll be able to judge themselves, and each other.

Congratulations Channel 4: you’ve managed to touch upon everything that’s wrong with internalised transphobia, judgemental “more stealth-than-thou” attitudes within trans communities and the cissexism within the wider world in one fell swoop!

The worst part of the editing process though is the identity erasure undertaken for the sake of telling a safe, easily digestible story to a cis audience. Maxwell – the jolly Jewish fellow from the show – has written about this process extensively on his blog:

What I see is the inevitable privileging of narratives that do not challenge dominant paradigms of normative gender. What I see is programming that will make you think “oh I feel so sorry for them, maybe I might think about how those people get a tough ride”. What I don’t see is anything that is going to make people think or feel any differently about what gender is or how it limits us all in one way or another.

What we see are lovely endearing transsexuals (who I still consider to be my good friends) struggling though ‘typical’ transitions and don’t get me wrong these stories are hugely important, I do not underestimate how important these stories are but where are all the queers!?

These narratives are totally valid but I believe they need to be seen in context and juxtaposed with a more diverse representation. A representation that was there in the house but somehow didn’t make it to our television screens.

Where is Fox talking about being mixed race, about his art and about how he sees himself as two spirit?

Where is the exploration of Donna’s male and female identities as she navigates the personal relationships that mean so much to her?

Where is the discussion about how I reject gender binary and sexuality and still live an observant Jewish life at the same time?

The film-makers’ approach also ensured that the word “tranny” was employed in a deeply problematic context:

The responsibility was not on us to act or behave in a certain way- our job was to turn up and be ourselves. TwentyTwenty and Channel Four bear the responsibility for broadcasting footage without providing any context whatsoever. Donna ‘I’m pretty manly for a Tranny’ is a superbly articulate young woman who’s reasons for using the T word were not broadcast, instead they used endless footage of her and the other women putting on make up.

Maxwell and the other participants have been attacked extensively for their use of the word, with detractors arguing that they should have been more careful. Maxwell is now wondering if he did the “wrong thing”. Yet I’m inclined to agree with his initial assessment: if the editors had any sense, if they listened to the numerous community members they corresponded with, if they gave a shit, then they would have thought quite seriously about how they used the small amount of footage in which the word is uttered.

I can understand why some feel that My Transsexual Summer represents a step forward, a positive move in spite of its failings. I see hope in the brave, strong participants, and in the few moments when their voices are heard loud and clear. If we’re to have a truly decent, representative mainstream trans documentary though, those voices have to be centred rather than sidelined. We’ll continue to see poor programmes produced as long as cis filmmakers have the power to re-contextualise our stories whilst erasing our gender(s), sexual orientation, and race/ethnicity.

Julie Bindel apologises for 2004 article

An interesting little titbit of information has emerged from a controversy over the suitability of nominees and sponsors at Square Peg Media’s sparkly and expensive “European Diversity Awards”. Many of those picketing the award ceremony in London’s Savoy Hotel on Thursday night objected to the nomination of notorious writer Julie Bindel for the Journalist of the Year Award. So far, so 2008…those of us who remember the largest trans protest the UK has seen, which took place outside of a Stonewall Awards ceremony, will no doubt experience a profound sense of deja-vu.

It looked like the usual round of accusations and counter-accusations would soon be in full swing as Julie Bindel vs The Trans Community (whatever that is!) bout 362 kicked off…but then something unprecedented happened. Julie Bindel apologised.

“I apologise unreservedly for both the tone and content of my 2004 article.”

This statement was provided to Square Peg Media, who passed it on to Natacha Kennedy during her correspondence with the company prior to the awards ceremony. It refers to the Guardian article “Gender Benders Beware“, arguably Bindel’s most infamous and direct attack upon trans people.

The fact that I picked this up through Kennedy’s Facebook wall initially suggested that the statement was merely intended to appease the award organisers. However, a nearly identical statement from Bindel could also be found in a news article published yesterday. This was clearly intended as a public apology.

When DIVA contacted Bindel for a statement she said: “I apologise unreservedly for both the tone and content of my 2004 articles.”

The apology is significant because it’s a genuinely new development. Bindel previously apologised for the “tone” of “Gender Benders Beware” on a number of occasions following outrage from trans advocates. These seemed like weasel words: after all, the mocking tone of the article was undeniably offensive, but it was the content – which suggested that trans people should not be taken seriously and that trans women should be denied access to rape crisis services – that was truly dangerous. In contrast, Bindel clearly and explicitly puts a distance between herself and the article in her new statement(s).

Many will argue that this apology was made in bad faith, or say that it comes far too late, but I believe that we should take it quite seriously. I felt some disquiet when the European Diversity Awards protest was initially announced, as it felt like yet another round of Julie Bindel Does Something And We Protest. Yes, she undoubtedly started it, but the whole circus was getting quite tiresomely predictable. Bindel does something offensive (or is invited to speak somewhere, or is nominated for an award). We protest, because we’re sick of being told that we don’t count/don’t deserve liberation/don’t exist. Bindel then makes a fuss in the media and accuses us of bullying her. Some of us refute her arguments, whilst others make quite horrible personal attacks. And then before long, the whole cycle begins anew. Except, on this occasion, Bindel has not immediately lashed back at us. She has said sorry.

I’ve always taken part in this process, but I’d like to take this opportunity to step back and reassess our priorities. At the end of the day, I, like many other trans women, have a lot in common with Julie Bindel. We both object to the sexism found in every part of our society, and the imposition of binary gender norms. We’re both loud, proud and unashamed feminists, and have both slept with other women. That’s quite a lot to work with. I’d far rather concentrate upon marching alongside Bindel at Reclaim the Night than protesting against her latest escapade. Julie, if you’re reading this: please, let’s smash patriarchy together!

However, if this apology is to really mean something, Bindel must go that one step further and demonstrate a genuine commitment to her words. I notice that the Diva apology extends only to “2004 articles”, yet arguably more damaging pieces have since been used to argue against the provision of medical resources for transsexed people and gender-neutral facilities for genderqueer people. Facts have been warped and trans liberation has been ridiculed in articles such as “My Trans Mission” and “The Operation That Can Ruin Your Life“. Bindel has time and time again demonstrated a refusal to listen to our calls for gender liberation and our explanations of trans diversity. This matters a great deal, as such articles influence the perspective of both policymakers and feminist activists. They feed into feeling of self-loathing experienced by vulnerable trans people who come to realise that others hate them because of who they are. This has to stop.

I’m sure there will be some sad, cynical responses to this piece, but Julie: I’d like to have faith in you, and faith in your apology. I genuinely believe you have some level of understanding as to how your hurt us in 2004, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to say sorry (after all, why now? This is hardly the first such nomination or controversy). I’d like to believe that although we have at least few more rounds of mutual mistrust and anger to go, at some point in the future we can look back on this intervention and see it as something we productively built on together.

Edit – February 2015
Nice to give someone the benefit of the doubt, isn’t it? Pity this never turned out well in the long term.

In praise of trans culture

This post was originally written on Friday 2nd September.

It’s 10:20am. I’m sitting on a train in Marylebone station, marvelling at my memories of the previous evening.

I attended (and contributed a DJ set to) Political: A Gender last night at London’s legendary Royal Vauxhall Tavern. The event was organised by trans/queer promoters The Cutlery Drawer as a one-off fundraiser for trans charity Gendered Intelligence. It featured music, poetry, comedy and cabaret performances from a staggering eleven acts – or thirteen, if you count myself and sound/lighting technician Jo – over seven hours.

One of the most inspiring aspects of this night was the fact that it was, essentially, a celebration of trans art. I choose the word “celebration” quite deliberately: there was a recognition of the pain we experience and the challenges we face, but the overall event was built around an ethos of joy. The whole atmosphere was immensely positive, with the audience receptive to a wide variety of styles and stories, and each performer giving their all. The night seemed something of an arty twin to the Trans* Education and Determination teach-in earlier this year, as many of us came together in a grand articulation of (trans)gendered embodiment.

This was no separatist event though. Our cis friends were very much invited to the party, and could be found both on-stage (in a minority of the acts) and throughout the audience. This celebration of trans culture was open to all, as our music and our comedy and our poems and our stories are relevant to all. Political: A Gender was predominantly about trans lives and trans experiences, but this meant that it was also about hope, love, loss, friendship, feminism, disability, race, resistance, menstruation, velociraptors and moles. I don’t think I met a single person who wasn’t enjoying themselves immensely.

It’s not often that we come together as a community on this scale. There are an increasing number of wonderful conferences, club nights and mini-festivals organised by hard-working and caring people, but they are still few and far between. There are even less events centred around our culture, our art, and this is a real pity. In art, we recognise the reality, the validity and the importance of our experiences. In art, trans lives are not merely worth surviving, but are worth enjoying. In art, trans people do not merely earn tolerance, but instead deserve celebration.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such joy as a member of the trans community as I did last night. I certainly hope it won’t be the last time I attend such an event. We must continue to create and to celebrate, and must never forget that we all have so much to offer to one another and to the world.

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.