NUS Women’s Campaign recognises gender complexity

I have a special place in my heart for the National Union of Students Women’s Campaign. The Campaign is (broadly speaking) a truly inclusive, progressive body. I met some amazing women and learned a great deal about the contemporary feminist movement during three years as an elected volunteer on the Women’s Campaign national committee.

However, I was disheartened to hear about the Campaign’s poor record on trans issues in the past year; most notably, a female-assigned genderqueer committee member’s very place in the Campaign was called into question after they explained to other committee members that they do not exclusively identify as a woman. The poor manner in which this democratically elected representative was treated flew in the face of both the spirit and the letter of trans-inclusive policy passed in 2009.

I therefore find it heartening to hear that NUS Women’s Conference 2012 today passed new policy to ensure that this never happens again. Delegates voted unanimously for a motion that will change the Women’s Campaign standing orders in order to permanently clarify the membership of this autonomous liberation campaign.

The motion, entitled “Gender complexity and inclusiveness in the NUS Women’s Campaign“, notes that:

That not all those who are oppressed as women necessarily identify exclusively as women, or would choose the word ‘woman’ or ‘female’ to encapsulate their gender identity […]

Whilst the NUS Women’s Campaign does not have a large amount of explicit policy on issues specifically related to people with complex gender identities who self-define into the campaign, it has a duty to make its spaces safe and welcoming for them.

The following is therefore added to the Women’s Campaign standing orders:

The NUS Women’s Campaign is open to all who self-define as women, including (if they wish) those with complex gender identities which include ‘woman’, and those who experience oppression as women. The NUSWC affirms that self-definition is at the sole discretion of the individual in question.

This really should have come about without an individual being treated poorly, but it’s great to see Women’s Conference so ready to address the Campaign’s mistakes. Full credit to everyone who voted through the change!

Student medics push for trans on the curriculum

We seem to be quietly creeping towards a better situation for trans health.

There’s clearly a major problem. The Home Office’s informal e-surveys of trans experience indicated that the realm of “health” is a key concern for a great many of us, with almost half of respondents saying that they did not think their GP was doing a “good” or “excellent” job in addressing their health needs. Meanwhile the 2007 Engendered Penalties report (created by Press For Change for the Equalities Review) notes that 1 in 6 of respondents reported experiencing discrimination from medical professionals.

Issues of health access aren’t limited to those problems created by the referral and treatment process for medical transition. Many of us are still being treated inappropriately because we are trans, regardless of what treatment we’re seeking at any given time.

It’s heartening then to (finally!) see increasing willingness to do something on the part of medical professionals. Zoe O’ Connell describes the positive outcomes of a recent meeting between trans activists and the General Medical Council. And at the other end of the professional “scale”, last week saw the publication of an article in the Student Lancet calling for teaching on trans issues within the medical curriculum.

The Lancet article isn’t the intervention of one isolated student medic. Its author informs me that there is widespread anger (yes, anger!) about the lack of LGBT material on the curriculum amongst her peers at Warwick Medical School. They’re particularly unimpressed with how trans people are treated. The students in question feel they should be taught properly about all issues they might encounter as doctors, and are taking action to ensure this actually happens.

The staff-student liaison committee reps in my year have decided they want to push having teaching on LGB and especially T stuff added to the curriculum,” explains my informant. “I bashed out a quick petition over breakfast and floated it round my lecture theatre to collect signatures for them so they had a bit more clout – so they now have a petition signed by over half of my cohort telling them they should be teaching trans stuff.

Of course, this is just one small step towards the provision of appropriate health services for trans people. As the Student Lancet article concludes:

“I feel that this is a change which is urgently needed at an institutional level rather than at the level of individual medical schools. Only by taking a unilateral approach will we ever manage to change the perception of the NHS as a discriminatory institution. In order to effectively treat transgender individuals we need to prove to them that we are worthy of their trust.”

Trans Media Watch at the Leveson Enquiry

Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch provided an impressive array of evidence in relation to transphobia in the media during the Leveson Enquiry yesterday. Video footage and full transcripts in .pdf and .txt formats can be found here. Trans Media Watch’s full submission to the enquiry can be found here.

Unfortunately – if unsurprisingly – Belcher’s strong performance warranted little comment from the mainstream and “pink” media alike. Notable exceptions included the headline story in Gay Star News (Trans people victims of ‘horrific’ press coverage) and a comment piece in Pink News (Does today mean change for the trans community?). There have been just brief summaries of Belcher’s evidence (with little or nothing in the way of analysis) within articles that tackle Wednesday’s events more widely in The Guardian, The Telegraph and on the BBC website. Even the #Leveson hashtag on Twitter went relatively quiet as the majority of cis commentators lost interest.

Still, this was to be expected, and we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Trans Media Watch’s role in compiling and presenting evidence to such a major inquiry. Belcher powerfully outlined a number of very important issues:

  • The consequences of negative media coverage can be extremely serious for trans people: examples include loss of work, death threats, and the necessity of relocation in order to avoid prejudice.
  • Dehumanising and Othering language is routinely used within news stories: “The Sun is basically saying trans people elicit horror, trans people are frauds“.
  • Stories (and pictures) are often published without any consultation with the subject, let alone permission.
  • Newspapers often rely upon false information, such as inaccurate figures about the cost of medical transition on the National Health Service.
  • The Press Complaints Commission is considered useless and toothless as complaints are regularly ignored: “The Press Complaints Commission is regarded as a useless joke by trans people”.
  • Victims of negative media coverage tend to let the issue slide: “[…] we find that individuals rarely want to pursue the case because they then become afraid of future
    harassment“.
  • There tends to be no real justification for most articles about trans people on the grounds of “public interest”.
  • The Sun continues to run transphobic pieces (contrary to the claims of Dominic Mohan during his evidence to the Leveson Enquiry on Tuesday).
  • The Daily Mail publishes six times more stories on trans people than any other UK newspaper(!)

Trans Media Watch also identified a number of common themes in confidential complaints they’d received from trans correspondents who had suffered negative media coverage:

“In each case, the subject of the story had their right to privacy grossly breached, often at a very vulnerable time, with no public interest being served whatsoever.

Was put in danger of public abuse and/or violence.

Is left with candid details of their personal affairs, including previous names, pictures, home or work, available on the Internet.

Often these details, including photographs, were acquired without the subject’s permission. Had to fight the press to force them to exercise restraint — often with no effect.”

Finally, Belcher made a number of recommendations:

  • That it should be possible for organisations to issue complaints on the behalf of vulnerable individuals.
  • Anonymity should be granted to all who pursue complaints; we shouldn’t have to rely on the limited protections offered by the likes of the Gender Recognition Act.
  • The complaints process for media malpractice should be free:
    A lot of trans people lose jobs, find it difficult to get jobs. There is evidence that the earnings of a trans person is significantly lower than they could expect if they weren’t trans. That is a further deterrent for them to seek any recompense. It actually pretty much prevents any trans person from pursuing any action against a newspaper in the courts.

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!

Transgender action plan: an initial analysis

Advancing transgender equality: a plan for action” was today published on the Home Office website. The document is the latest step in a historic programme of trans engagement undertaken by the current government. So, how does it shape up?

THE GOOD

Regular readers of this blog will be quite aware of how much I distrust and dislike the Conservative-led government. Their work on trans equality (in a purely liberal sense) has, however, been quite impressive on the whole.

Under the leadership of Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone – who has long been a trans ally in Parliament – the Home Office has pursued a programme of engagement and genuine consultation that quite outstrips anything achieved by the previous Labour government (who generally passed trans equality legislation only when ordered to by the European courts).

The action plan promises a robust response to needs expressed by the trans community on a whole variety of fronts. Most of the government’s promises involve the production guidance for various individuals, organisations and/or sectors: this may not sound like much, but the value of this documentation should not be underestimated. Some of the biggest challenges we face arise simply from the fact that doctors, civil servants and others simply don’t know what they’re doing when confronted with trans issues, so it’s good to see this addressed. Of course, we’ll have to see how these promises actually pan out.

So, what do we have?

The Headlines

  • The big news is arguably the
    introduction of trans hate crime legislation
    . The government plans to amend existing laws in order to provide for:

“[…] sentences to be aggravated for any offencemotivated by hostility towards the victim onthe grounds of being transgender, and for a30 year starting point for murders motivated by hostility towards the victim on the groundsof being transgender.”

  • The government has also promised to “review” how gender identity is represented in passport application forms, and in passports. It’s not inconceivable that this may lead to the introduction of gender-neutral passports, particularly as the IPS admitted in September that they are “considering” this option. The explicit recognition of “non-gendered” individuals in the action plan itself is also an interesting move on this front.

The nitty-gritty

Various government departments are assigned responsibility for a whole host of actions, including:

  • the issuing of statuatory guidance to increase head teachers’ power to tackle bullying (inc. transphobic bullying)
  • further emphasis upon “prejudice-based bullying” (inc. transphobic bullying) in Ofsted inspections*
  • working to build trans equality into existing practices within primary, secondary and further education (e.g. in PSHE lessons, teacher skills programmes, FE equalities training)
  • updating “advice for employers on recruiting and employing transgender employees”
  • revising guidance for Job Centre staff
  • additional “pre-employment support” for marginalised groups (inc. trans people)
  • clear guidance on trans pension rights on the DWP website, and better handling of pension claims
  • guidance on holding public sector bodies to account through the Equality Duty (an aspect of the Equality Act 2010)
  • “clear and concise” guidance  on transition treatment pathways for GPs and PCTs
  • information on trans health (including sexual health) on the NHS Choices website
  • ensuring that health consultations are trans-inclusive
  • updating privacy guidance within government departments (inc. provide better guidance on the use of privacy markers to protect privacy for employers and benefit claimants)
  • a guide to equality legislation and policy for trans people
  • community outreach on the democratic system and relevant government programmes
  • working with housing providers to produce best practice guidance on trans accomodation (inc. advice on tackling transphobic anti-social behaviour)
  • “Work[ing] with the transgender community” during the marriage equality consultation
  • continuing to play an active role in condemning transphobic violence and discrimination through the Council of Europe and the United Nations
  • providing better guidance on gender identity and trans individuals within the asylum system

Moreover, there a number of actions the government has already taken:

  • police forces have been required to collect data on transphobic hate incidences since April 2011
  • trans people are included (just about) in the Charter against homophobia and transphobia in sport
  • a module on gender identity has been launched as part ofthe training course for asylum decision-makers
  • transphobic bullying was included in an anti-bullying guidance for headteachers
  • UK diplomats worked to promote a historic United Nations Human Rights Council resolution condemning homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination

THE BAD

My general impression of the document – and planned actions within – is broadly positive. However, there were a few items of concern within the action plan:

As part of the Government’s wider work to
develop a new NHS Commissioning System,
ensure greater consistency in commissioning
gender identity services, increased patient choice
and more cost effective treatment plans for
gender dysphoria.

The term “more cost effective treatment plans” certainly rings alarm bells. How many ways can transition become less expensive to the NHS whilst retaining an appropriate level of care? Moreover, “increased patient choice” definitely sounds like it’s part of the government’s dodgy privatization agenda. On the other hand, this point may simply entail a removal of bureaucratic barriers, and the “greater consistency” should, hopefully, be a positive development overall. Time will tell.

Deliver a framework for evaluating the Equality
Act, including the implementation of the
exceptions on gender reassignment.

Will this work to prevent companies from exploiting loopholes in order to discriminate against trans people, or will it help organisations such as Rape Crisis deny access to vital services?

Run a workshop for the transgender community
to increase their understanding of the public
sector Equality Duty and how they can hold
public bodies to account

A single workshop for the “transgender community”? I hope we’re all invited!

Finally, there’s a lot of talk about “considering” and things that might be “possible”. I do wonder how many of these points will be translated into firm action.

THE UGLY

Fortunately, there’s not too much of this, but there’s the odd action point that stinks. There have clearly been Tory spin-doctors at work on this document, because at times it’s clearly attempting to push the government’s agenda in a number of areas rather than, y’know, trans equality. Whether or not you agree with this agenda is up to you (personally, I’m against for all sorts of reasons) but surely this kind of action plan shouldn’t really be about pushing the government’s pet projects?

Some choice quotes (emphasis mine):

“Transgender people, from transsexual to nongendered,
want to be able to participate in and make their contribution to society and the economy.

Wait, I thought this was about equality and fairness, rather than corporate drone culture?

Equality of opportunity in employment is
fundamental to building a strong economy and
a fair society. We know that workplaces that are
more inclusive are also more productive.

Glad to see the government has its priorities sorted.

Take active measures to ensure that the views of
transgender users shape the Government’s Care
and Support White Paper and create a care
market that is more responsive to diverse needs.

Because “care” should be bought and sold, and markets are necessarily efficient.

Promote, via government information portals,
relevant funding streams to the transgender
community to ensure they are aware of funding
available to participate in the localism agenda.

That totally makes up for all the national funding that’s been cut, right?

Ensure that National Citizen Service (NCS) for
16 year olds is an inclusive and safe environment
for all participants, including transgender people,
by encouraging NCS providers to build equality
issues into their information and training for staff.

Another pet project! To be fair, at least they’re putting some effort into ensuring its actually accessible and all.

AND FINALLY…

An absolute howler courtesy of the “headline findings” from the community surveys that fed into the action plan:

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (47%) thought that intervention, such as guidance or training, would be best focussed in secondary school

And if that’s not confirmation that the government needs to invest properly in education, I don’t know what is.

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.