Open letter to Pride in London – publication and follow up

July 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

First – thank you all so very much for your support, and for bearing with over the past few days – it’s been hectic to say the least.

So So Gay have published our open letter to London Pride, drawn together by Jacq Applebee and myself – and signed by over 100 organisations and individuals. Do please have a read, and spread the word.

Pride in London have sent us a private response, and a request for a private meeting – similar responses from their Board have been sent to the media organisations covering this story.

I believe that, as a public community matter, this is best dealt with openly within the community. So, below the fold, is my response to their response. It’s all getting very long winded.

But before that – I just wanted to say that if you do care about Pride in London, if you have any ideas of how you want it to be – please let them know: info@prideinlondon.org

They may not listen, they may not agree, they may not act – but they can’t say that they haven’t be told.

Thank you again for your support.

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Open letter to Pride in London regarding inclusion of UKIP

July 17, 2015 § 59 Comments

UK people,

Jacq Applebee and I have drafted an open letter to the Board and Senior Team of Pride in London about their behaviour over UKIP’s inclusion.

If you’re interested in signing (as a group or organisation) or know of people who would be interested in signing, please let us know – leave a comment with the name you’d like to use, or message me directly through Facebook or contact form.

We’ll be gathering signatures for the next four days at least, before publishing in a forum TBA. Please help us spread the word – and thank you.

 

To the Board and Senior Team of Pride in London,

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep disappointment at Pride in London’s behaviour concerning the inclusion of UKIP in this year’s march, to wit:

 

  • UKIP was initially included in the march, despite having failed to sign up to the Pride in London charter. The signing of this charter was a prerequisite of entry – UKIP were the only political group to refuse to sign, but were still accepted as participants.
  • Pride in London failed to inform their Advisory Board of this decision. Crucially, they failed to consult with their BME representative before accepting UKIP’s application. Said representative was left to find out about UKIP’s inclusion from publicity materials and media coverage.
  • Pride in London then further refused to discuss UKIP’s inclusion with their BME representative, leading to said representative’s resignation.
  • After a broadly negative public response from the LGBTQI community to the announcement of UKIP’s inclusion, Pride in London publicly rescinded their acceptance of UKIP’s application. Pride in London assured other participants, and the broader community as a whole, that UKIP would not be allowed to march.
  • On the day of the march, Saturday June 27th, the UKIP contingent were ushered into the march itself as it was underway. This despite failing to pay the entrance fee, sign the charter, sign the agreement on good conduct, or be included in the parade route. It is important to note here that other groups and individuals who had failed to complete these steps were removed from the march by stewards and security officials.
  • The Chair of Pride in London, Michael Salter, consequently informed BBC Daily Politics that they had ‘managed to get them [UKIP] safely into the parade’ – confirming that UKIP’s inclusion was deliberate, rather than a last minute error. Mr. Salter expressed concern over the safety of UKIP supporters – but raised none of the concerns posed to him and the Board about the safety and well-being of other LGBTQI marchers threatened by UKIP’s inclusion. Mr. Salter went on to say that it was ‘great that they [UKIP] were able to participate’.
  • The board of Pride in London failed to respond to questions raised by the community over this backtracking. They have, after nearly three weeks of silence, produced a report that fails to answer the questions and concerns raised to them.

 

In providing UKIP members with special treatment (waiving of fees, waiving of conditions of entry) whilst assuring the broader LGBTQI community of their non-involvement, Pride in London have shown themselves to be incompetent, mendacious, or both. In particular, Pride in London’s treatment of their BME members and, more broadly, London’s LGBTQI people of colour, has been profoundly disrespectful. Instances of both overt and passive racism and Islamophobia from Pride in London’s board have been previously documented. This recent behaviour has confirmed the view of many in the community that Pride in London has failed in their duty to reflect and honour the multicultural nature of London’s LGBTQI population.

In their lack of respect shown to their own advisory committee, in their lack of respect shown to the broader LGBTQI community (including all other participants in this year’s Pride march and events), in their lack of transparency and failure to communicate honestly, the current Pride in London board shows itself not fit for purpose.

To represent London’s LGBTQI population accurately, the board of Pride in London must reflect the actual diversity of our community – and behave in accordance with its legal role as a community interest company.

We demand that changes be made: within the board, to the ways in which the board communicates, and with Pride in London’s accountability processes overall.

 

 

“Genderfluid is the new black”*: on the media’s non-binary moment

July 5, 2015 § 9 Comments

This week alone, three cis writers of my acquaintance have written, been commissioned to write or have appeared on the radio to talk about how gender fluidity is so in right now. The conversations inevitably centre on Ruby Rose – with a touch of Miley Cyrus for diversity. Here in the UK, we had a two page spread in the main evening paper – I’ve lost count of the online pieces from more mainstream lGbt media orgs treating gender beyond the binary as the next bang-on trend. I’ve personally had more newspaper requests for tell-all photo features on this ‘new’ story in the past few months than in the past few years.

As a trans activist, as an artist, I’ve been pushing for greater media awareness, presence, for over a decade. This should feel like a victory – albeit one of many necessary changes to be made. So why am I left feeling like we’ve substituted one problem – invisibility – for another?

Much of what is troubling here is similar to the mainstream media coverage surrounding and following Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out (detailed in Autrostraddle’s reponse here). Privileging of whiteness to the point where it becomes a pre-requisite of coverage[1]. Ignoring any supposedly ‘complicating’ factors – in this diversity monitoring form of selfhood, genderqueer is the only box of difference you get to tick. Gendered transgression is made palatable through an aspirational model of mainstream, cissexist beauty standards. There is no mention of anything that could be deemed political: questions of legal status, legal protections, access to healthcare, rates of violence, discrimination, mental illness. Even gender neutral pronouns and titles are ignored.

These aspects would be problematic enough. Leave out part of the story and you don’t just shorten it – you distort it. But it is in and through these particular distortions that this current framing becomes more dangerous.

Gender non-conforming people are, in this telling, happy to fit themselves within a cisnormative structure of sex and gender. They alter their appearances through clothing, hair and makeup, but not through surgical or hormonal means. They talk about lack of gender options, but in a personal sense, not a structural one. My point is not that anyone should have to undertake (or disclose) medical intervention, or a set form of social transition, to prove that they’re ‘trans enough’ – we are who we say we are, and that fact doesn’t rely on an outside reading of our selves. But the media framing of this – of a ‘true trans’ that involves social and medical transition, and a ‘trans lite’ that does not – the reinforcing of this message through selective and willfully ignorant reporting – plays into already entrenched ideas of exclusion and opposition, and creates another harmful binary of its own.

In April this year I was approached by Woman’s Hour, the UK’s most prominent feminist radio programme. They said that they’d read my previous work with other feminist magazines, and asked me if I’d come on air to discuss ‘non-binary versus transgender’ in the treatment of ‘children referred to doctors for transgender’ (their wording, not mine). A frustrating couple of hours ensued – despite the many changes I’ve made to my own body in order to make it livable, they assumed that, being a genderqueer trans person, I had not, and would not want to allow others the same choice. Their belief was that ‘trans’ people slavishly adhere to traditional binary gender roles, and change their bodies and appearances accordingly, setting feminism back. On the other hand, ‘non-binary’ people were comfortable in the sex and gender they were assigned at birth, and wanted to destroy the labels ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in a way that gave no room for anyone else. Any discussion of similarities, overlap, concrete problems that trans people of all genders and none face – these weren’t the angle they were going for (again, their words). In the end, despite advice from several trans sources that they contact the leading organizations helping trans children of all kinds, they approached instead a feminist known for her anti-trans views, because they could comfortably count on being ‘anti’ age appropriate support for trans children.

It reminded me vividly of the different kinds of abuse I and my trans women friends have received, often from supposedly liberal people. Whereas they are too frequently the targets of furious aggression, I’ve found (online at least) that my genderqueer status has me pegged as confused and traitorous, but more deserving of pity and scorn than doxxing, stalking and death threats. They’ve committed an unforgivable transgression – I’m still capable of being saved and brought back to the fold.

I believe that this is the background and reasoning behind much of the current media framing of certain types of gender variance as sexy. It’s okay, the subtext goes – these people are just playing dress up! They’re still like us, but a little bit rebellious. Not like those people over there…you know, the ones who might have had ‘the op’. It’s a toxic and hateful positioning – helpful only to journalists banking on clickbait and those who oppose justice for all trans and/or gender non-conforming people.

It’s divide and conquer of those who, in the main, have overlapping needs – sometimes, indeed, the same needs. While there are, to my knowledge, a small number of gender non-conforming people who would not feel comfortable under the trans umbrella, there are also large numbers of gender non-conforming people who are trans in many and varied ways. These truths can exist together. My own anecdotal evidence, that there is much category slippage within trans communities, particularly over time, particularly when social circles change, seems to match activist and researcher Ruth Pearce’s:

“I’ve actually been writing some stuff for my thesis recently about how unhelpful it is to have a non-binary/binary binary within ‘trans’ because of the complex reality of identity and experience. I was originally intending for my research (or maybe an element of it) to look *specifically* at non-binary experiences, but I discovered that (in the context of the kind of content-led, discourse-oriented social research I’m doing) it didn’t make any sense to separate out non-binary identities from other trans identities, both because of the massive overlaps within communities and individual experiences, and because of the stories around how binaristic norms get imposed on *everyone* are important to tell.”

 

Faced with a media fad that seeks to elevate a very small percentage of us, in a limited way, I think it’s even more important for those of us who aren’t (or aren’t straightforwardly) men and women to link in solidarity with those who are – and, indeed, vice versa. We can’t let cis marketing sell us an image of ourselves that sells other trans people, particularly marginalized trans women, short. We can’t let flattery at being thought desirable – or anger with that objectification – stop us from working together on the issues that matter most: transmisogynistic and transphobic/queerphobic violence, lack of housing, lack of healthcare, lack of legal rights, lack of support.

I’m not honest and open about who I am in order to be cooler than thou. I’m doing it because I couldn’t live a lie – and because I want more for every other person who knows how that feels.

 

[1] Despite the wealth of research into the role of whiteness in erasing, punishing and exploiting genders beyond a modern Western binary, both through colonialism and within its own borders and systems.

 

*For reasons of clarity: a reference to the fashion/style writing snowclone (see definition here), itself referenced in the Netflix programme featuring Ruby Rose, which is then further referenced by many of the current mainstream pieces on genders outside/beyond the binary that base themselves on Rose and the character she plays in OITNB.

“My actual body suffocates under the weight of the body imposed upon it.”

July 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

In which the first extract from my upcoming book Transgress/Transcend is published by Litro magazine – enjoy.

Practical advice for the non-normatively gendered

June 15, 2015 § 8 Comments

As much as I write about trans issues, particularly those outside of a binary framework, I realised recently that the majority of that writing is about education, media, specific activist events or frameworks.

Not that I think any of that is a bad thing – but it does leave out something that I, and a lot of other trans people, do in our day to day lives – we swap advice on the practicalities of living in a cissexist, transphobic world.

So here’s what I have on navigating the world as someone who does not (or does not primarily, or straightforwardly) live as a man or a woman.* If you’re new to this, I hope it helps. If you’re an old hand, I’d love to hear your advice. It should go without saying that no one should feel obliged to act as I do to have their gender recognised. But this is what works for me.

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Who cares about the vulnerable when there’s a fight to manufacture?

April 9, 2015 § 15 Comments

Evidently not BBC’s Woman’s Hour.

Trans (and potentially trans) children – already a hot button topic – have been pushed further into the spotlight this week with Louis Theroux’s latest, broadly supportive, documentary, aired by the BBC on April 5th. Other arms of the BBC were quick to weigh in, as were the rest of the mainstream press – it made sense that Woman’s Hour, the BBC’s flagship magazine radio show for feminist/gender-related content, would want to add to the discussion.

What I didn’t realise, until they contacted me this Thursday, was that it wasn’t so much a case of ‘adding to the discussion’ as it was promoting their own agenda under the guise of ‘debate’.

Before I say anything else, I should probably touch on my background. I’ve been a trans (and general QUILTBAG) activist since I myself came out at the age of 15. I co-founded the first British nationwide LGBT organisation for young people, started the UK’s first gay/straight alliance, have done outreach and consultation work with groups like the London Assembly, NASUWT, Channel 4, and work as an advocate, fundraiser and writer on trans issues. I’ve done a fair amount of work with young trans people – most recently as a spokesman for Gendered Intelligence – and would describe myself as both trans and genderqueer.

I got an email Thursday afternoon from an assistant producer for Woman’s Hour, saying that they were “doing a discussion on the news story about the rise of children being referred to counsellors for transgender feelings”, and asking whether I would “be able to talk through the subject on the side of having non-binary gender vs transgender”. Two immediate red flags: the majority of non-binary people would describe themselves as trans, and the language around trans/gender non-conforming children – but I was happy to talk to them.

Over the phone, two further facts became apparent. The producer had very little knowledge of the subject – not the language (children are not treated by doctors “for transgender”), not the research, not the organisations – and that I was specifically being invited onto the programme to argue against children receiving age-appropriate care. We talked about the actual issues facing trans people seeking medical care – the fact that non-transgender (cis) doctors often insist on stereotypical behaviour and appearance from patients before they’re allowed treatment, that trans people who feel themselves outside of a gender binary are often denied care altogether, that doctors often disbelieve trans people and deny them referrals. I was told that this wasn’t “the angle” they were “going for”. After a few more messages we spoke again – they specifically told me that they were rescinding their invitation because they already had a “pro” side, and they wanted someone to argue against that. For that role they had picked someone who is not trans, who is known for her anti-trans views, and who has no experience in the field. When I raised questions about the impact of such a framing on trans young people I was told that it was “good to have a debate”. The programme was aired today. (Transcription here by Cassian Lotte Lodge – I want to make it clear that the issue here is with the production team and presenter, not the guests.)

Maybe this seems like a fuss over nothing – but it worries me a great deal, and has worried a great many of my colleagues. Not simply because of the ramifications upon trans children and their families, although that would be enough (and I’ll come back to that later) – but because it is symptomatic of broader trends in the framing of discussion in the mainstream press, and in the use of vulnerable groups as bait.

The BBC stressed that they wanted a debate – as a national, publicly funded organization they have a mandate and a duty to present a wide range of opinions whilst simultaneously trying to present ‘the facts’. I absolutely agree that they must do their best to report from multiple angles, to illustrate complexities, to detail the diversity of opinions represented by the public who fund them and who rely on them for information.

But staging a fight along predetermined lines doesn’t do that. There is nothing in the format of a 6th form debating society (with a limited motion, one “pro” and one “anti” speaker) that is somehow sacred, or especially useful, to the promulgation of free and informed discussion.

We know from weary experience that this is the not the standard way of reporting issues considered neutral. Only something juicy, something scandalous, something with the potential for outrage and conflict, is approached in this way. The way an issue – trans children in this instance – is seen by a producer is already apparent in the way potential discussion is framed.

And then, even within that framing – how is it possible for a producer to construct a debate when they are ignorant of the subject at hand? The producer I spoke to was clearly out of her depth and uninterested in getting even the basic facts right. No one is expecting every journalist to be an instant expert in every subject they approach – but I do expect a modicum of research and engagement. When a journalist hasn’t done that, it makes it very clear that they are not seeking to illustrate the issue for the listening public – how can they be, when they haven’t even done that on a personal level?

You can’t address complex and differing opinions when you don’t even know what those complex and differing opinions are. Reframing an issue to suit your own ignorance and marketing spin is the opposite of a free and informed debate.

So much for broadcasting standards. But with this particular issue – there are many in a similar vein, but this is one that I know – I think there’s another question to be asked: at what point does a national/international organization, relied upon by millions as an information source, have a duty of care towards the people it reports on? At what point does it have to stop thinking of vulnerable people as just a titillating story, a chance for an argument, and start thinking of the ethical implications of programming?

This wasn’t a light-hearted debate about Great British Bake Off, or an argument about party politics – it was meant to be a programme about some of the most marginalised people in our society. Not a robust conflict between two equal parties. A discussion about children who, in study after study, are shown to be disproportionately at risk of self-harm, family rejection, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, homelessness and suicide.

This isn’t theoretical. There is research on the effects of bullying, on how trans children come to know themselves and deal with the terrible abuse they suffer, on how great the risk of suicide is. Conversion therapy – the ‘treatment’ offered as an alternative to supportive counselling and, in some cases, puberty blockers – has been so widely accepted as cruel (not to mention ineffective) that the Obama administration has come out against it. On the other hand, research done into long-term outcomes of supportive medical/psychological care for trans youth has shown tremendously beneficial results. Beyond all of that, there are the voices of young trans people themselves – more and more and more and more – waiting for us to listen to them, to believe them.

But the people listening to this debate on Woman’s Hour, and all the others like it? Parents of trans children, extended family, teachers, school support staff, youth workers, doctors, nurses, care workers, NHS policy makers, politicians – the very people who desperately need the actual evidence on what works best when dealing with trans youth. Who, instead, are served up a wilfully uninformed, choreographed fight that presents lay opinion as equivalent to fact.

Worse – it erases the chance to present facts in favour of courting contentious opinion.

Everyone has the right to their own opinion, but that doesn’t make all opinions equal – and neither does it remove the impact that those opinions have on the world, for good or ill. In making the decision to favour preconceived, ignorant opinion over an informed discussion, the BBC has done damage to a group of people already under attack from too many sides. And I believe that to be shameful.

 

For more information on the issues facing trans youth and their families, and practical support, please see these organizations:

Mermaids

Gendered Intelligence

None of the above…

March 17, 2015 § 3 Comments

…in which I talk to Psychology Today about gender beyond binary ‘male’ and ‘female’.

Leaving aside personal reasons, I’d urge everyone reading this to share the piece if they can – particularly if you’re a cis person, particularly if you know that the people you’re sharing it with won’t have come across people like me before. I think it’s a great, compassionate introduction – and the more people learn, the safer, and richer, our lives can be.

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