WPATH 2016 poster: “A time of anticipation”

Here’s the poster I presented at this year’s WPATH Symposium:

Anticipation poster.png

You can also download a PDF version here.

The magnet is a metaphor for anticipation, which is both a product of and shapes feelings, emotions and experiences of time. This process is mediated by both trans community discourses and medical systems.

It’s very important to note that the majority of research participants had good things to say about the health professionals who helped with their transition. However, there is also a high prevelance of transphobia and cisgenderism within medical systems and clinical pathways. Anxiety and mistrust of practitioners within the trans patient population is endemic, and this is compounded by long waiting times.

My wider research looks critically at how discourses of trans health are differently understood within and between community/support spaces, activist groups and the professional sphere; however, the purpose of this particular poster was communicate some of the difficult experiences that current patients have with waiting. It sparked some productive conversations and I hope that further work will follow from this.

Sources:

Transitional Demands (Jess Bradley and Francis Myerscough)

Experiences of people from , and working with, transgender communities within the NHS – summary of findings, 2013/14 (NHS England)

Current Waiting Times & Patient Population for Gender Identity Services in the UK (UK Trans Info)

 

Video: (Mis)understanding Transgender Health

Regular readers (hi!) will have noticed that I’ve not been posting on this blog much at all over the past year or so. Between part-time jobs and my PhD thesis, I’ve been pretty busy – however, I’m nearing the end of thesis writing, so hopefully that might change in the near future. We’ll see!

One thing I’m hoping to do after I hand in the thesis is to talk about my findings in the public domain as much as possible. So, here’s an initial step towards that – a video from the re:publica TEN conference on Internet and society, where I was invited to talk about trans health.

The talk was aimed at a very general audience, many of whom weren’t familiar with trans issues, so there’s an extensive introduction to some of the basics as well as a discussion of one small area of findings and some related studies.

 

Some tips on opposing Kenneth Zucker’s new article on trans children

This morning it came to my attention that notorious child psychologist Kenneth Zucker has co-written a chapter on trans issues for the new (6th) edition of Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The chapter, entitled “Gender dysphoria and paraphilic sexual disorders” effectively draws upon flawed and outdated research to promote reparative therapy for trans children. You can read most of it via Google Books here.

Cover of Rutter's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Abusing children – for science!

This is a big deal because Zucker draws upon harmful theories (including Ray Blanchard’s deeply reductive typology of transsexualism) to promote the idea that issues faced by gender variant children are due to a problem with the child, rather than societal gender norms. He therefore promotes a form of treatment that (to quote his new article) encourages parents to “set limits with regard to cross-gender behaviour, and encourage same-sex peer relations and gender-typical activities” in an attempt to cure them of difference. This is the kind of treatment that leads children to internalise the idea that non-normative gendered expression is shameful or wrong.

Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, meanwhile, is a widely-used textbook and can be found in university libraries and on reading lists in many countries.

I’m not sure what the best way is to stop this article from influencing practice. However, some ideas could include:

  • Write to professional organisations and ask them to explicitly oppose reparative therapy for trans youth
  • Write to University libraries and courses, asking them to consider sticking with the 5th edition of Rutter’s
  • Write to University departments and ask them to teach critical texts alongside the 6th edition of Rutter’s, and/or avoid putting the new edition on reading lists
  • Borrow the book from a local library if it becomes available, and write critical comments in the margins
  • Write to the book’s editors and/or publisher and question why Zucker has been given a platform for his outdated ideas
  • Comment on this post and/or join this new Facebook page to discuss possible ways forward.

The new edition isn’t yet widely available in libraries, so now is a good time to act.

If you’re writing letters or raising awareness of this as an issue, here is some useful information on opposing the article:

  • Zucker’s approach to treatment can seriously harm children
  • Zucker’s Gender Identity Service at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was recently suspended pending investigation in the wake of a large number of complaints – his approach to treatment is now also arguably illegal in the province of Ontario
  • Zucker’s new article represents poor academic practice. He cites himself 17 times, relies upon papers at least 20 years out-of-date to make many of his arguments, and also draws strong inferences from statistically insignificant quantitative findings
  • Zucker’s considerable academic position is based in part upon a small “invisible college” of academics who regularly peer-review and cite one another, thereby gaining many publications with a high profile whilst avoiding external criticism
  • There is a considerable evidence-based case to be made against Blanchard’s work. See for instance “The Case Against Autogynephilia“, a peer reviewed article by Julia Serano.

Thanks and respect to Peter Le C for raising awareness of this issue, and to oatc for suggested edits.

I have seen the future of feminism, and it is beautiful

Yesterday’s social media furore over a dodgy letter to the Observer left me questioning my place within the women’s movement for the umpteenth time. However, within hours I was powerfully reminded that those who advocate an exclusive feminism are less influential and important than they might like to think.

Last night I joined a room of people committed to building a feminism that is compassionate, reflexive, inclusive of all women and sensitive to our different experiences.

Last night I found myself in a room of brown, black and white faces; gay, bi and straight; cis and trans; working class and middle class; disabled and abled. Last night I heard a teenage Muslim woman speak out about the importance of representing all faiths in activism after a question from a Jewish woman in the audience. Last night I heard from a white middle-class straight woman who has turned up to learn with an open mind. Last night I heard cis women talk about about trans rights, and felt that my identity and experience as a woman was simply not in question.

I had been invited to contribute to a panel discussion at the University of Bristol Students’ Union (UBU). Entitled How do we make the Women’s Movement intersectional?, the panel was was of UBU’s “Festival of Liberation“, which also includes events looking at the challenges faced by LGBT people, disabled people, and people of colour. I was honoured to share a panel with three truly awesome women: Susuana Antubam and Sammi Whitaker of the NUS Women’s Campaign, and Fahma Mohamed of Integrate Bristol.

Panellists at UBU's intersectional feminist event
Last night was promising and encouraging and heartwarming, and was not unusual in being so. I have seen similar scenes repeated across the country over the last few years at talks, workshops, protests and riot grrrl gigs.

This is the new feminism. A feminism that is discarding the model of monolithic female oppression and in its place building a movement around diversity and inclusion. A feminism that seeks to base both theory and action upon what different groups of women have to say about their lives and experiences, rather than imposing a top-down model of liberation drawn from academic theory. A feminism that sees cis and straight women take responsibility for supporting the work of their trans and queer sisters, white women take responsibility for supporting the work of their sisters of colour, abled women take responsibiity for supporting the work of their disabled sisters and so on.

Last night we talked about the importance of intersectionality as feminist praxis: of putting ideas into action. We talked about the importance of education: of sharing the knowledge and tools necessary for women’s liberation with people of all genders. We talked about the importance of representation: of working to ensure that women of all backgrounds feel welcome and able to attend feminist events through the use of accessible venues, ensuring diversity within organising teams and (where relevant) speakers/acts, and thinking about the language we use. We talked about the benefits of building groups around intersectional identities (such as black womanhood); groups that can then work alongside other bodies of people with a broader remit, feeding in ideas and holding them to account.

We talked about calling people out and challenging oppressive behaviour both within wider society and within the feminist movement. We also talked about being kind and prepared to forgive, and allowing people space to learn and grow. We talked about how everyone will make mistakes, because intersectional feminism is a constant experience of doing and being, rather than a closed process where you jump through a series of hoops and then become a Good Feminist who is capable of always passing judgement upon others.

We talked about our experiences of activism. Fahma talked about giving a piece of her mind to a nervous Michael Gove, resulting in a letter to every school in the country about FGM. Sammi talked about productive conversations with working class male friends, and building liberation into the very fabric of Anglia Ruskin’s fledgling Students’ Union. Susuana talked about her work on addressing lad culture as a gendered, racialised and classist phenomenon. I talked about my contributions to trans and non-binary inclusion within the NUS Women’s Campaign, and how we seek a diverse range of performers for Revolt, Coventry’s feminist punk night. We heard stories and ideas and questions from the audience, and I reflected on how we were not “experts” with a monopoly on solutions, but just one part of a wider movement.

These are just some of the things that we talked about.

So why have I been led to question my place within the women’s movement?

Because I see Julie Bindel referring to other feminists as “stupid little bellends” whilst misgendering trans women, arguing that bisexuals do not experience oppression, and stating that Muslim women who wear religious dress are necessarily oppressed. Because I see Rupert Read suggesting that trans women should not be allowed to use public toilets. Because I see Beatrix Campbell repeating and defending these ideas.

When I read things like this, I am repelled by a feminism that is harsh, bitter and exclusionary.

When feminists gaslight me by claiming repeatedly that the individuals who wrote these articles are not transphobic I am saddened and confused.

When I hear about feminists disrupting conversations at events such as AFem in order to promote an agenda that excludes trans people and sex workers, I am disappointed and worried.

When I see exclusionary events like Radfem 2013 and Femifest 2014 promoted within feminist spaces and supported by organisations like Women’s Aid and Reclaim The Night London I am alarmed and concerned.

When I see feminist women and men – including both public figures as well as personal friends and acquaintances – sign a misleading letter that condemns attempts to debate and contest the above, I wonder how voices of those who work for an inclusive and diverse feminism can possibly stand against a “letter mob” representing the discursive might of the liberal Establishment.

The stakes are high. Too many of my friends have considered suicide. Too many of my friends have died. When I talk to my trans friends and fellow activists, I hear about fragile mental health, doctors and shopkeepers refusing to provide services, threats of violence and attacks in the street. All of these things are fuelled by the dehumanisation of trans people, the idea that we require intervention to save us from the misguided path of transition, the implication that we do not deserve to exist within public spaces. These discourses are perpetuated by feminists and defended by liberals in the name of “free speech”.

I don’t believe in historical inevitability and don’t buy into progression narratives. I had a debate about trans-exclusive feminisms with Jack Halberstam recently. Jack echoed my PhD supervisor in arguing that trans-exclusive feminisms are outdated and irrelevant, long-dismissed within the academic world. But the academic world is often divorced from the reality of the feminist movement on the ground. In this reality, exclusive feminisms continue to fester.

In spite of all of this, last night reminded me of the power and appeal of the new, intersectional feminism. It is this feminism that is popular amongst young people who are more interested in working together than apart, and veteran activists with the humility to share their ideas and wisdom with newcomers on an equal footing.

This feminism requires work and nurture, but – as I argued last night – this does not need to be an entirely arduous task. Working together across our differences and ensuring that more people feel welcome and included makes us stronger. Learning new things from others can be interesting and exciting. Having the strength to learn from our mistakes solidifies friendships and alliances. Discovering a more diverse range of feminist histories, activisms and performances can be fun and empowering.

The new feminism is beautiful. Let’s keep building.

No, I will not help Sundog make a documentary on trans “regret”

This afternoon I received an unsolicited email in my work account from an employee of Sundog Pictures. An excerpt follows:

I’m currently working on an idea alongside Channel 4 following transgender individuals who have come to regret their sex changes and are keen to undergo further treatment / operations to reverse the change. The doc will be insightful and sensitive and will look at the way in which transgender individuals are treated in society and whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough.

I’m currently looking for real life cases to include in my pitch document and was wondering whether you might be able to recommend people I could speak to, or places I could contact to find individuals who are currently thinking about a reverse sex change. Any help would be really appreciated.

Given the email account used, I feel that I can safely assume that I was contacted because of my academic work, which looks at discourses of trans healthcare provision. Sundog seem to hope that I will (without compensation) draw upon my community contacts and research findings to recommend participants for their television programme.

I couldn’t think of anything more inappropriate.

There’s a lot to be said about research ethics and a duty of care towards participants, but plenty has been written about that elsewhere (the BSA Statement of Ethical Practice offers a decent broad overview). So in this post I focus on the huge problems that come with the proposed topic of the documentary: that of trans “regret”.


The numbers

The mainstream media take an undue interest in trans “regret”. It’s very easy to come across such stories on daytime television and in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. The popularity and frequency of such stories suggests that it’s not too unusual for people who have undertaken a physical transition from male to female, or from female to male, to consider or undertake a “reverse sex change”.

In reality, research has shown time and time again that the actual rate of regret is extremely low. For instance, only 2% of respondents in the Trans Mental Health Study (the second-largest trans study undertaken in the UK) reported “major regrets” about the physical changes experienced during transition. Reported regrets from participants included:

“…not having the body that they wanted from birth, not transitioning sooner/earlier, surgery complications (especially loss of sensitivity), choice of surgeon (if surgery required revisions and repairs), losing friends and family, and the impact of transition on others.”

It’s clear therefore that “regret”, when it occurs, is likely to stem from societal and surgical issues rather than the process of physical transition in and of itself. The Trans Mental Health Study also demonstrates a clear link between physical transition and wellbeing in terms of mental health, body confidence and general life satisfaction.

With so few trans people regretting physical transition – and even less considering some kind of “de-transition” – it’s no surprise that sometimes the same individuals are trotted out time and time again to re-affirm a discourse of regret.


What’s missing from this story?

It’s pretty clear from the email I received that that the author has not done their research. Given the existence of organisations such as Trans Media Watch and All About Trans who are entirely keen to offer advice, this does not exactly inspire confidence.

For a start, transition is conflated with “sex change”, a term that is not only most frequently associated with transphobic tabloid headlines, but is also broadly meaningless. At what point can we talk about a “sex change”? When an individual undertakes hormone therapy? Chest surgery? Genital surgery? What about individuals who transition socially, but only undergo some (or even none!) of these processes? It’s not the kind of language that suggest an “insightful and sensitive” documentary can be made.

There’s a couple of more fundamental mistakes in the proposal, however. The first is the question of “whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough”. My own initial research findings suggest that if anything, the process in question is too robust – in that patients requiring surgery are typically required to wait many years before treatment is available.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care require patients to undergo at least 12 months of hormone therapy prior to genital surgery. In reality, patients in England and Wales face a substantial waiting list (sometimes lasting years) before they are able to attend an NHS Gender Clinic, where two separate clinicians are required to approve a regime of hormone therapy before it can be undertaken. An additional two opinions are needed at a later date before a referral for genital surgery can take place. There are many, many opportunities and a great deal of time for patients to consider and re-consider their option – and that’s even before we take into account the horrific scale of the current crisis in surgery provision for trans women.

The current system is not constructed to facilitate transition so much as prevent the very possibility of regret. The result is increased suffering – in terms of the mental and physical health impact upon individuals who are forced to wait many years for hormones and surgery, whilst fearing (sometimes with good reason) that they will be denied treatment on spurious grounds. It’s no surprise that the Trans Mental Health Study found that “not transitioning sooner/earlier” is a major cause of “regret”, as individuals who have waited until breaking point to transition soon discover that there is still a long, long road ahead of them.

The second fundamental problem with Sundog’s proposal is their idea that trans people who aren’t too happy with their transition might be “keen to undergo further treatment / operations to reverse the change”. This is a very binaristic notion that both stems from and reinforces the notion that transition is a one-way process, from one (binary) gender to the other. In reality, there are many people for whom transition is a complex, ongoing process. For instance,  an individual who initially transitions from male to female might later feel that their identity is better understood as genderqueer, and may allow or pursue further physical changes to reflect this.


The wider political context

Given the tiny proportion of trans people who “regret” transition and the realities of service provision, the choice of a documentary about the subject appears at best to be somewhat misguided. However, the impact of insensitive coverage on this topic is such that I believe that I believe this documentary could be actively harmful, particularly as Sundog’s email asks “whether the process before someone is permitted an operation is robust enough”.

This is in part because the way in which discourses of regret are handled makes it harder for trans people to get treatment. Gender clinics in the UK require urgent intervention to make life easier for individuals who transition, not harder. Media hysteria over the possibility of regret reinforces the current system’s approach, which is to require people to demonstrate over and over again that they are trans before there is any hope of treatment.

But it’s also because discourses of regret are employed by those who campaign against trans liberation, including conservative commentators and anti-trans radical feminists who would deny funding for transition on the NHS altogether. Writers such as Julie Bindel are all too keen to use any example of individual regret to argue that transition is unnecessary mutilation, undertaken by sad, sick individuals who might have done otherwise if only they’d been given the option of, say, some form of reparative therapy.

The focus on the medical process is therefore politically loaded. Yes, some people do de-transition, and their stories are important and of worth. But these stories have yet to be told by the mainstream media in a non-sensationalised manner, in a way that doesn’t reinforce (intentionally or otherwise) a pernicious anti-trans agenda. Sundog’s proposal appears to feed right into this agenda.

This proposed documentary should not be regarded as a curiosity piece taking place in a cultural vacuum. It draws upon and will contribute to damaging and inaccurate tropes about transition. Ill-informed media accounts ultimately play a part in creating and maintaining a situation where “regret” frequently stems from the responses of friends and family, delays to transition and other negative experiences that come with transitioning in a transphobic society.

I hope therefore that any future attempts to examine trans health issues in this way will involve better research into the topic at the initial stages, and a greater sensitivity to both the personal and political consequences of exposing trans lives to media scrutiny.

Reflecting on “​My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012”

Note: this is the second part of my response to transphobia during Feminist Times’ “Gender Week”. You can read the first part here.

It’s been almost two years now since I published the most widely-read piece I’ve yet written: “My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012“.

I actually wrote this piece quite quickly. I remember turning it over in my mind for a few hours, and then writing it up and posting it to my blog without any inkling of how it would be read by thousands of people. I was angry, but also upset, with part of my upset arising from a sense of empathy for those I disagreed with. You, like me, are damaged. You, like me, are hurt. Why is it that we must hurt one another so?

Ironically, it was also this piece that helped me come to the conclusion that I was right to engage in ideological struggles against transphobic forms of radical feminism. Engaging in this struggle is – in a sense – an attempt at self-preservation, as well as an act of solidarity with other trans people.

I don’t personally participate much in the never-ending arguments between trans people and trans-exclusive radical feminists (“TERFs”) across Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. I don’t have the energy, and I’m not sure that it’s always productive to argue with individuals who are never going to be persuaded to change their views.

But I do think it is important to intervene on many occasions – for instance, when transphobic views are aired by TERFs in the mainstream media, or when TERFs are afforded platforms at feminist or LGBT events. The point is not to deny people the freedom to express their awful views: instead, the idea is to always contest these views. To ensure that anti-trans perspectives don’t start gaining additional traction.

In light of this, I’ve strived to keep “My message…” alive, in one form or another. I’ve performed bits of it on a number of occasions with Not Right (ironically, this frequently does not go well as references to feminism have riled cis men in the audience on a number of occasions). I’m hoping to read the whole thing out during an upcoming feminist event at the University of Warwick. And I’ve recently been working on a number of revisions, as I hope to create a new version with the same sense of flow but a somewhat wider outlook.

It was in this spirit that I granted Feminist Times permission to republish the piece as part of their “Gender Week”.

I wondered initially if I perhaps should have thought this through better. There was some confusion as I was originally asked to write a companion piece to accompany an article by Finn Mackay, but (due to external circumstances) wasn’t able to meet the deadline.

In retrospect, I feel I should have ensured that my article was published as a stand-alone piece. I feel like both my article and Finn’s attempt to “talk to” the other “side” in the supposed trans/radical feminist debate, but the way in which both pieces were written independently means we’re kind of talking past one another. This is a pity. Finn and I have a lot of common ground, and I feel we could have a productive and interesting dialogue about our differences.

Whilst the comment sections on many of the Gender Week articles have seen some extremely unpleasant views aired, and the Twitter hashtag (#GenderWeek) has spun horribly out of control, I’m glad to see Feminist Times offer a platform for trans voices in an attempt to thoughtfully address transphobia in the feminist movement.

It’s important that we create safe spaces for trans people to discuss gender, identity and politics. It’s also important that we reach beyond these spaces, lest trans discourse becomes an echo chamber. I’ve experienced quite serious burnout recently, but fully intend to keep talking about the place of trans people in feminism. Keeping “My message…” alive is an important part of this.

Of course, the resulting attentions of both male misogynists and the TERFs are horrific. One lesson we can learn from this is that trans people who gain a platform benefit from content warnings, strong moderation and (during offline events) “no tolerance” door policies, lest we buckle under the pressure of hatred received.

“Gender critical feminism” is ideological war

Trigger warning for transphobia, suicide, violence, bigotry.

Today I was accused – in a comment, on a blog – of the “appropriation of women’s lived experiences”.

It’s a very small thing. Another mean comment from a mean person, in a vast Internet of bigots and bullies.

But it’s also a very big thing. It’s another microaggression in a larger struggle, a wider war. I don’t use the metaphor of “war” lightly: this is serious.

Some social historians might refer to this struggle as a front in the “sex wars”. Many radical feminists refer to this as a struggle against the language of “gender identity”. Medical practitioners regard us as one set of lobbies amongst many.

I call this struggle the war of trans liberation.

People are wounded, damaged.

I am damaged. My friends are damaged.

People die.

My friends have died.

There are many ways to die in this war.

This is an ideological war. It is fought in the media, where conservative commentators, radical feminists and uninspired columnists alike dehumanise us by lying about our lives, joking about our appearances, questioning the idea that we should have civil rights or even receive respect from others.

This is an ideological war. It is fought in the home, where many of us are not welcome. Where trans people are frequently rejected by parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles who believe the lies in the media. Where trans people are cut off from family events, or otherwise told to deny themselves.

This is an ideological war, but sometimes it is fought with fists in the streets and in schools and in public spaces, by those who do not regard us as human because they believe the lies told in the media and by our families. A disproportionate number of trans people are verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, sexually assaulted and raped.

This is an ideological war, but it is also fought in our heads, by those of us who come to believe the lies told in the media and by our families and by those who wish to visit violence upon us in the streets and in schools and in public spaces. We grow up responding to those who would dehumanise us by dehumanising ourselves. We learn to hate ourselves. It is no coincidence that at least one in three trans people have attempted suicide.

I have received an incredible amount of support and warmth from my own family and my friends. I have learned to love myself, and love the things that I stand for. I have built a fulfilling life for myself, a life of joy and creativity.

But I will never be free of this struggle as long as it continues.

And I will always resist.

For my own self-preservation and sanity, I mostly stay out of scuffles between trans activists and radical feminists on social media. Sometimes I disagree with particular trans activists: with the language they use, with the way in which they understand gender, with their perspective on feminism. This is not a disagreement based on fear of real harm.

But when I am accused of the “appropriation of women’s lived experiences”? Ah, now this goes to the core of our struggle.

Quite frankly: how dare they? How dare they accuse me of appropriation for the way in which I move through the world?

My lived experience is my own. I live as a woman. I go to work as a woman. I enjoy my hobbies as a woman. And what I mean by this is that I am perceived by others as a woman. It takes many to  construct this social reality of “womanhood”, which is real to me because I interact with many others on an everyday basis.

I receive sexist comments from men in the street for existing as a woman. I am aware of how being a woman limits my opportunities, and places me at risk of gendered violence.

This is my life experience. The experience I have had my entire adult life.

By conflating trans struggles with “appropriation”, (or worse, “rape”) and trans agendas with the agendas of the medical profession, so called “gender critical feminists” visit a symbolic violence upon trans people that ignores and perpetuates real, everyday threats and experiences of violence.

This is why trans women find themselves being denied a space in feminism. This is why trans women are kicked out of women’s shelters and rape crisis centres. This is why trans people learn to hate themselves. This is why trans people kill themselves, or are killed violently by others, or die in the streets.

I can empathise with “gender critical” feminists, and I have written in the past from a place of attempted understanding. And I’m always happy to be critical of gender.

But I have no interest in a truce.

This is an ideological battle fought over my life and my body.

I intend to win.