Friday, 23 January 2015

My view of Green Party candidate Rupert Read's "apology".

Rupert Read, Green Party candidate for Cambridge in the upcoming general election has issued a so-called 'apology' to trans people for 'offending' them with his transphobic comments. Now I am offended. His original comments I considered dangerous and potentially harmful to trans people but his non-apology has offended me for the first time.

These are his words;

“But I also remain a very strong backer of feminism. All that I have done is join many feminists in saying that it is up to women, not anyone else  – and certainly not me – to decide who gets let into women-only spaces, such as women’s toilets. All women have a right to be involved in making those decisions.”

I am offended that he thinks trans people are stupid enough not to see through his non-apology, that we are going to accept him basically saying 

"I am sorry I got called out on being a transphobe but here are some more reasons why I think trans people should be discriminated against"

Trans people are used to people pretending to be trans allies while endorsing a view of trans people that is based on transphobic discrimination. That is the way his 'apology', covered in PinkNews yesterday reads to me. To me he regards trans women as not women. That is a TERF position. He thinks that 'women' should decide where trans women can go to the toilet; in other words trans women are not women. Sorry Rupe, I decide where I relieve myself not a bunch of transphobes. The most chilling phrase in this quote is "many feminists". The only "feminists" saying trans women should not be allowed into women's loos are TERFs. This part of his statement is in my opinion very revealing, in my opinion he is parroting a TERF point of view.

A few years ago I published a historical deconstruction of the so-called 'toilet debate' and Rupert would do well to have a look at it. It explains why access to public conveniences is a human and civil rights issue. In essence removing trans women's right to use the toilet of their choice is both oppressive and in effect denies us the right to have jobs and take part in civic life, in the way that women were denied the right to take part in civic life in the early 19th century by the lack of public toilets for women. What Rupert Read is proposing would, in effect lead to the same thing.

The implication from his non-apology, that trans women are not women also needs to be challenged. Trans women are not going to be subjugated, as most TERFs want, into the place of being some kind of "2nd class women." Down that road lies marginalisation, exclusion, discrimination and further oppression for trans women. 

In my opinion his non-apology yesterday should be read like this;

"I am not going to say any more about this because my attitudes are transphobic and I will get called out on them but I think trans women are not women and 'real' women should decide whether they get to use the ladies or not which would, in effect, make it impossible for trans people to engage in civil life or have a job."

In my view this is probably the worst thing he could have said and it leaves the Green Party with a problem. The Green Party has, for a long time criticised other parties for being less trans inclusive that them although this is changing rapidly now.  This is why this is important; it is one of the Greens' USPs and one they have pushed to trans and trans allies in the electorate for a long time. 

Not only that but Rupert Read is apparently supported by Cambridge Young Greens which suggests this is not just a one-off/maverick situation, as they originally argued. I would also argue that the fact that Rupert Read can get away with making the statement he did yesterday suggests that he does not feel he will get in trouble with his party for holding such views. That may be more indicative of how things are in the Green Party in relation to trans inclusion. The question that needs asking now should be, is the Green Party trans inclusion policy genuine or only skin deep?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Explaining "Cis-" for Greens...

When confronted by evidence of a problem in its own ranks, the Green Party, pretty much like all the other parties, it has to be said, hastens down the well-worn path of the blaming one individual, the rogue/maverick defence, one that usually unravels fairly quickly. The transphobic attitude of one of its candidates has been shown not to be held by only one individual but by the Young Greens in his local party at the very least. It now seems that, from another set of tweets coming from a Green party member, that this problem is not a local phenomenon. 

The above screenshot illustrates the problem. Whether this misinterpretation of the term “cis” is wilful or simply the result of misunderstanding is not clear, but the writer seems to be engaging in the same practice as the TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists; trans haters who use feminism as a cover for bigotry); redefining the meaning of the word “cisgender” to mean what they want it to mean and then declaring it to be oppressive. A quintessential straw man argument. 

So this blog post is intended to examine the meaning and deliberate misinterpretations of the prefix “cis-“ to clarify and explain why the Green Party’s problems on this issue are important.

The prefix “cis-“ is Latin and originated from historians' need for a word to differentiate between people living in one part of Gaul (now mostly France) and another. In those days some of Gaul was also in the area now known as Northern Italy. This part of Gaul was on the same side of the Alps as Rome whereas the rest of Gaul was on the other side of the Alps. So two prefixes were used to describe these different parts of Gaul. The part of Gaul on the other side of the Alps from Rome was known as “transalpine Gaul” and the part of Gaul that was on the same side of the Alps as Rome was known as “cisalpine Gaul”. The word dates back to at least 1540 and quite possibly to the time of the Roman Empire. Incidentally it was also used in 1796 Napoleon used the words Cisapadene Republic and Transapadene Republic to describe puppet states the French created on either side of the Po River in an area we now know as Piedmont. 

That is where we get the prefix “cis-“ from. It simply means “on the same side as”. Moreover it is most often used in binary opposition to the prefix "trans-"

Note that it was specifically NOT an identity. The people who live in cisalpine Gaul were Gauls, the people who lived in transalpine Gaul were Gauls; one’s Gallic identity was unaffected. The distinction was important for bureaucratic reasons because people from cisalpine Gaul, if they possessed a penis, may, possibly have been allowed to become citizens of Rome, whereas people resident in transalpine Gaul could not have become citizens of Rome regardless of their genital configuration. The residents of the Transapadene and Cisapadene Republics were similarly not affected in terms of identity.

Those who oppose the use of the word “cis-“ like to pretend that it is oppressive because it is forcing an identity onto cis people. Well not according to the original usage of the word cis, no.

These people also like to claim that “cis-“ is an invention of trans people to oppress cis people. Once you have stopped laughing hollowly at the idea that a disempowered and minuscule 1-2% of the world’s population is oppressing the other 98%+ this is clearly wrong again. In fact the prefix “cis-“ referring to gender was first used by a cis man; Dr Herbert Burcher in Berlin in 1914 in an academic publication. 

The term was used for the first time on the internet in the early 1990s in discussion groups where the term “cisgender” was used to denote people who are not transgender. It was used as an alternative to “non-trans” or “normal”. The reason for this is straightforward, if you have a binary opposition “trans” and either “non-trans” or “normal” you have in effect Othered, trans people, we are not “normal”, it is a kind of pathologisation, or problematisation, it says “there is something abnormal, something wrong with trans people.”. It also implies that trans women are not women or trans men are not men. Having a word for cisgender people levels the playing field. That is the intention, and that is the way it is used. It is nothing to do with one’s sexuality or anything else, it is about one’s gender identity. A good explanation of what it means to be cis is written here by Zoe Stavri a cis feminist.

The problem is that a small number of TERFs have started to manipulate and wilfully misinterpret the term for their own transphobic ends. They declared that, because they are not “comfortable” in their gender roles that they are not cis. The problem is that this is not about comfort, the whole idea of “comfort” is a straw man, it is about not being trans, it doesn’t say you have to be “comfortable” as a man or a woman. For the record, being trans is not about feeling “uncomfortable” in ones assigned gender, it is about feeling terrified, it is about feeling suicidal, it is about feeling helpless and hopeless, “discomfort” doesn’t enter into it.

The reason theses TERFs have attempted to do this is straightforward, they consider that trans people are a threat to them, or something. They apparently want trans people to stop existing because they want to preserve “clear lines of oppression” of women. In other words it is a marketing strategy. They want us to cease existing because we are inconvenient and make it harder for them to tell other women that they are oppressed. An inconvenient people.

This is also the reason they want to stop us from using the word “TERF”; “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist” pretty much does what it says on the tin; they claim to be radical feminists and they exclude trans people. Simples. The term is useful because it also differentiates TERFS from radical feminists who are not transphobic. Instead they have started to describe themselves as “gender-critical” feminists. A term as misleading as “big society”. Most feminists, including trans people are critical of gender, but are not transphobic like them, a deliberate blurring. Also they do not engage in critique of gender, they just abuse and harass trans people. They want to deny trans people the language with which to express our circumstances. 

So it is clear that the Green Party has a problem, the TERF narrative seems to have taken hold and is not just restricted to one individual, the fact that the line that "cis is oppressive" is so readily parroted suggests that this is not something that is just emanating from one or two individuals but something that goes far deeper. Attempting to deny trans people the language with which to describe our lives, to make sense of the world and to speak with cis people on equal terms represents an oppressive act. I really can’t believe the Green Party is doing this. I hope they stop soon.

For the record, I don’t think there is anything negative or wrong with being cis. Indeed I was talking to a Green Party activist a few days ago and we both agreed, without hesitation, that we would have much, much, much preferred to have been born cis. If I could have a pill that would make me into a cis woman, I would swallow it without hesitation. I know this is not the position of some trans people, especially those who identify as non-binary, but being cis is something I would dearly love to be. If that makes you feel oppressed, there is no point in any more argument.

What is happening to the Greens?!

Waking up this morning to the news that the Green Party candidate for Cambridge is rehashing the tired old transphobe meme about 'cis' being an inappropriate word for people who are not trans has been a shock.

A shock because the Green Party has long claimed to be a trans inclusive party. As a trans member of the Labour Party who has fought to bring the Labour Party's trans inclusion and anti-discrimination policies up to the level of the Greens at least, I find this troubling. If transphobia takes hold in one party it can spread and affect others too.

The problem centres around a Green Party candidate's use of the transphobic meme that the term "cis" (short for "cisgender") is forcing an identity on to people who are not trans. The old lie that "cis" is an identity.

The idea that "cis" can be an identity, that 95%+ of humanity can have the same identity because they are all cis is, of course ridiculous, it is like saying the word "human" represents an identity. "Cis" is not, and never has been an identity, it is a descriptor for people who are not trans. It means that trans people are not Othered, that we are not the "problem", that we are not opposite to "normal". Without using the word "cis" the descriptor for non-trans people will end up being just that, "normal". Using the word "cis" is therefore a leveller, to ensure that we are taking about trans people and cis people rather than trans people and "normal" people.

The TERFs (a group of trans-haters who use feminism as a cover for bigotry) have consistently peddled this misinterpretation of "cis", this is what makes the Green Party candidate's adoption of this position very significant; he is adopting what is essentially TERF disinformation and propaganda. This is the propaganda of people who, for their own bigoted ends, would like the opposite of "trans" to be "normal" (and some of them would like to see people like me dead).

I hope the Green Party sorts this out, and quickly. The Green Party has, in the past, played on its trans-inclusive policies to attract the votes of trans people, fair enough, but that is what makes this incident significant, it suggests that support for these policies is not as widely accepted in the party as might have otherwise been assumed. This is compounded by the initial defence, by Green Party officials, was that this is an isolated individual. This turns out not to be the case since the Cambridge Young Greens appear to be supporting him. This is starting to look like a party that is deeply split on trans equality.

However for Green Party members to accuse me and others of playing "party politics" by bringing this up is facile. A party that has used trans equality as part of its pitch to voters cannot simply dismiss these concerns as being party political. This smacks of desperation by some people in the Green Party, so I hope they are able to put their house in order rather than lashing out at others. Looks like at least one Green Party member; Lee Williscroft-Ferris has decided to do just that. I wish him a fair wind.This is an issue that affects trans people, and as such it is a legitimate concern for me as a trans woman whose interests are harmed by this, Already one Green Party official has tried to play the "offence" card, putting words into my mouth.

So for the record, I am not "offended" by this, I am concerned that it is harmful. It is harmful for the reasons I have given above. I am offended by the bedroom tax, I am offended by the poverty pay and substandard housing the Tories are forcing on people, I am offended by further erosions of civil liberties by the Tory government, I am offended by tax reductions for the super-rich,  I am offended by the privatisation and fragmentation of the education system, I am offended by the wanton destruction of the NHS, I offended by £9000 a year in university fees for students. In comparison the Green Party candidate's remarks are not as offensive, but they are potentially harmful because of the way they deny trans people the language with which to express our situations and the right to be treated as equals to cis people.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Leelah Alcorn: Don't get distracted, these are the real killers...

Now that Ditum's attempt to shut down debate about Leelah Alcorn has clearly failed, there are rumours that lawyer for Payday Loan company, Cathy Brennan is now acting as lawyer for Leelah's parents, which probably explains why her blog has disappeared. Stand by for attempts to clear Reddit and to prevent any publication of her words; copyright law means that Leelah's parents now own the copyright to everything she wrote; expect vigourous efforts to be made to remove material to continue from all social media platforms.

However we must not let ourselves get distracted. The TERFs, and even Leelah's parents are not the real killers. The reason Leelah died was because of "Christian" conversion therapy, something widely practiced in the US Bible Belt. I would doubt that Leelah was the only trans child to be a victim of this murderous practice, she just happened to be a particularly articulate one who knew how to use social media well.

Her dying wish, all trace of which which I suspect at least one TERF is trying very hard to erase from the internet, was that her death would mean something. The way to make it mean something is to get conversion therapy banned in the US and elsewhere. As I have said before, the TERFs are getting involved because they have an interest in this, since their entire ideology is underpinned by their own claim to be able to "cure" trans people using "feminist" conversion therapy. They will defend the right-wing evangelical churches to the hilt, despite these organisations being profoundly anti-feminist as well as transphobic. We must remember that the Southern Baptist Convention has specifically endorsed this form of hate-crime against trans people whilst opposing the right of trans people to bodily autonomy, in effect a declaration of war on trans people.

It is clear that the religious right in the US has failed in its aim of oppressing lesbian, gay and bisexual people, although it is continuing its efforts to export their homphobic hatred to places like Uganda. It has quite clearly decided that trans children are an easier target and will be doing all they can to whip up hatred against this group. Like the TERFs however, they need to be able to demonstrate that they have a 'solution' to the 'problem' of trans people. Again like the TERFs they may be clutching at straws with conversion therapy but as long as they do so trans children will die.

Friday, 2 January 2015

To save trans lives; listen to Leelah

Sometimes it is necessary to revisit the history of anti-trans cultural processes in order to make sense of the present. That is certainly the case in relation to the furore following Leelah Alcom’s tragic death by suicide. The cause of her death, according to her suicide note, seems to be her parents’ decision to subject her to a “Christian/reparative therapist”, (also known as “conversion therapy”) this “therapy” is, in effect a form psychological torture. This would explain her report in her suicide note of the decision of her parents to isolate her from all her friends and prevent her from accessing social media. Her parents did not want a trans child, and failed to give her the unconditional love every child needs. The problem is that these kind of talking therapies are still widely used in large swathes of North America where right-wing “Christian” ideologies influence the way trans people are perceived, and where trans children are routinely disowned by their parents.

The problem is that it is not just self-styled “Christian/reparative therapists” like those Leelah was forced to see, but “regular” psychiatrists who practice what can only be described as psychological quakery. Significantly these “treatments” are also widely advocated by Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), indeed as long ago as 1979 Janice Raymond advocated such therapies; 

“What I advocate, instead of counselling that issues in a medicalisation of a transsexual’s suffering, is a counselling based on “consciousness-raising”. (Raymond, J, 1979 The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male p181)

This “consciousness-raising” turns out to be exposure to a kind of TERF-ideology designed to make its victim feel guilty for being trans and as such supposedly contributing to women’s oppression. A kind of guilt trip on steroids. Not unlike the “Christian” and medical versions on offer in the Bible Belt today. Another such advocate is Julie Bindel who said, in the BBC Hecklers debate in 2007; 

“Sex change surgery should not be available ...We can offer talking therapies to people who identify as transgender/transsexual”

“[surgery] is now becoming more and more acceptable as a solution to a problem that could well be fixed by talking therapies, but we’re not doing enough of it.”

Now to Sarah Ditum’s article in New Statesman arguing that the media should not have published Leelah Alcom’s suicide note and should have taken more care in reporting her death. She cites the Samaritans’ guidelines for reporting suicides. Her reason for this; that it is likely to result in “copycat” suicides. 

The problem with this is that I suspect that is not her prime motivation for writing this. In my opinion there is more to it, and that goes back to her opposition to the National Union of Students’ policy of no-platforming Julie Bindel. Yes Ditum wrote this article arguing that Julie Bindel should not be no-platformed and that this amounted to “silencing”.

Of course when you factor in Ditum’s support for someone who advocates “talking therapies” that puts a different perspective on the issue. It leaves her open to the charge of wanting not only to silence Leelah but also those trans people and allies who, like myself, have been campaigning against the use of talking therapies for trans children. 

Let’s be clear the TERFs have a great deal riding on this issue. They are a group implacably opposed to the existence of trans people and their only ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of trans people existing is to ‘cure’ us through talking therapies. Evidence not only of the failure of talking therapies but of the fact that even attempting to subject people to these therapies is harmful in the extreme is terminal for TERF ideology. 

Finally it is important to look at the Samaritans’ guidelines on reporting suicides in context. As I said above the context of Leelah’s death is one of the use of dangerous, and theoretically unsupported treatments like “reparative therapy”. This is a treatment that has probably cost untold lives in the past and ruined the lives of countless more trans children. If we do not get to discuss the damage caused by this “treatment” now then when? Unfortunately the way the media works, as Ditum well knows, is that most of us have no control whatsoever over what gets to be news when, and as such Leelah’s suicide, and her dying wish that her death changes things with a clear and coherent suicide note left for all to see on her Tumblr, is an important opportunity to save further unnecessary death and harm from this psychological torture. In any case one of the most important things to come out of this has been the #reallivetransadult hashtag, created to replace the less credible “it gets better” project. So the trans community has already taken the threat of further suicides seriously and acted on it, days before Ditum’s NS article.

As someone who has tried to argue against trans people’s use of the term TERF and the prefix “cis-“, it looks to me as though Ditum is simply trying to shut us up. In fact Ditum is starting to resemble a sort of feminist Nigel Farage; always wanting everyone else to shut up, her attempts to silence trans people either by not enabling discussion of issues raised by Leelah’s death or by trying to deny us the language with which to express out subjectivities.

Leelah’s death is different, it was quite clearly caused by other people’s actions, it describes only too vividly, the lives of young trans people in many countries. Recently statistics were produced suggesting that a very high proportion of America’s homeless young people are trans. We know that there is an accommodation problem for young trans people here in London. This is caused by parents disowning or rejecting trans children, indeed recent figures have shown that trans children being rejected by their parents is a massive problem. Leelah's story is the story of thousands of trans children and young people who suffer at the hands of their families and local communities. Her suicide note is important because it illuminates the way parents fail to give trans children their unconditional love, and the suffering this causes. With over 60% of young trans people attempting suicide not publishing Leelah’s note is not going to increase this risk, it is already extremely high. Indeed publishing it, if we act on what it says, is going to reduce trans suicides.

If you are feeling suicidal, in the UK call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. In the US the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860If you are under 24 the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-7386 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline on 1-800-273-8255