Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Progress will always be uneven.

It has been a week of ups and down for trans people. The ups include THAT photo that the awesome Laverne Cox managed to score with Obama at the Whitehouse (or was it THAT photo that the awesome Barack Obama managed to score with Laverne Cox, I don’t know), the positive reception Burce Jenner has had coming out as trans and Ed Miliband saying he would love and support his children unconditionally if they turned out to be trans.

This has to be set against the tragic death of Rachel Bryk, killed by induced suicide after bullying from a troll. This has to be set against a number of suicides of young trans people since before Leelah Alcorn’s tragic death by suicide. Of course Rachel’s death has to be set in a wider context; the suspicion for her death has to be placed on the shoulders of the Gamergate/4Chan haters and bigots.

Of course the suspicion that this is the indirect result of TERF action (especially via the 4Chan group) will also hang over her death, after all most people accept that one of the prime TERF MOs has always been instigating violence, abuse, exclusion and hatred by proxy.

However it is clear that trans people are advancing in terms of our acceptance. I can remember coming out in the 1980s at school in Scandinavia and promptly having to go back in the closet again when I got back to England. I can remember trans people being warned, in the 1990s not to use the tube unless they was confident of passing. I can remember being told, in the noughties, at the primary school where I was teaching that if I came out as trans, I would be sacked. I can remember the nervousness of the staff at the Guardian when I wrote my first (and massively out-of-date, on many levels) article in Comment Is Free in 2008, and how they wanted me to be online to respond below the line when the article was published. I can remember the awful comments below the line, which nowadays would not be allowed.

Then the elation at the great speech by Juno Roche at a teachers union conference, seeing the amazing Paris Lees on Question Time, with that wonderful line about Ed Miliband having “Oak in his penis”. After all that I feel lucky to be able to be myself all the time even joining in the chanting at the Emirates North Bank, is not a problem any more; Arsenal fans respect red-and-white scarves. Today I use the tube to get to work and around London every day, and the bus, and all the crap privatised trains you get everywhere else.

Yet it is not the case for everyone, progress has been patchy. There are still people and places where being identifiably trans is to invite abuse, harassment, exclusion, bullying and violence. It is fitting that Laverne Cox understands how she is in a privileged position; she can talk to the president of the United States while (mostly) black and Hispanic trans women are murdered, and young trans people are driven to suicide. Change will always be patchy, but it is hopeful that, by working to increase trans visibility at the top, this will change attitudes elsewhere. This is why groups like TMW and AAT have been so important, but it is also why groups like GLAAD, GI, many local groups and Stonewall are still much needed, to work at a more grassroots level. There is obviously much still left to do. While the fantastic work of Juno Roche and others has probably made it possible for trans teachers to come out in work, it is still debatable whether an openly trans teacher would get through a job interview with a positive result in most schools, especially primary schools. There are still plenty of trans people living on estates where they are subject to violence, or indeed are effectively prisoners in their own homes.

I know a number of trans women, mostly from working-class backgrounds, who still have to spend most of their lives pretending to be male, because the massive consequences, either at work, in their local community or for their relationships with their families and children. Trans people are still being denied access to their children or being threatened with that, trans people are still being beaten walking home, trans people are still too scared to come out at work because the stakes are so high and losing their job would have consequences for thewir family and dependents.

So while we must celebrate the victories of people like Laverne Cox and others we must remember that there is still a long way to go for many people. In too many parts of the world being trans is a death sentence; remember Fernanda Milan describing how there were no trans women over 35 in Guatemala because they have all been murdered by then. Yet progress is being made and the visibility of people like Laverne Cox. Paris Lees and Bruce Jenner and their intelligent representations of trans people in the media undoubtably helps generate that progress widely. This does not mean that transphobic harm will abate everywhere and for everyone, but it will help, there is still much work to do.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Simplistic certainties: Has Dawkins chosen the side of the oppressor?

Richard Dawkins has decided to jump headlong into the no-platforming debate with a simplistic tweet about no-platforming in universities. 

To suggest that people should not be at a university of they oppose such a debate is, in my opinion, simplistic, childish and puerile. There is a serious debate to be had about this issue and it appears to be one that people like Dawkins increasingly refuse to engage with. University is not merely about exposing people to old, accepted certainties, academia is about examining the nuances of an issue. I don’t know about Dawkins but my scholarship is about looking behind the obvious, the simplistic assumptions made about the world and exposing complexities, nuances, contradictions and differences which underlie many of the oversimplified assumptions accepted in our daily lives or in public debate. That is what academia is about, challenging certainties and undermining the simplistic. I would even go so far as to suggest that, if you accept the simplistic without question you should not be in academia.

Which is why his simplistic assumptions about the no-platforming debate are disturbing. He has clearly not engaged with the arguments regarding the TERFs, a group of trans-haters, bigots and harassers who hide behind the label of “feminism’ to harm trans people. My arguments against allowing transphobes to speak in universities (which TERFs have conspicuously failed to engage with) are here and here, I have yet to hear any significant challenge to these arguments, the silence is deafening; the issue of no-platforming TERF transphobia is not as straightforward as Dawkins, Bea Campbell or many others would like it to be.

Dawkins’ intervention comes at a time when the TERFs themselves have actually demonstrated how unwilling they are to engage in a genuine debate about their behaviour. Recently pressure was applied by a number of organisations regarding the Michigan TERF Music Festival, a transphobic event from which trans women are excluded. Indeed, in order to prevent TERFs from derailing negotiations about the future of this festival, and ending its transphobic discrimination, a number of people suspended their names from a petition against the Festival, so there would be no impediment to negotiations. But rather than talk to people about the Festival it appears that the TERFs have decided to abandon it completely, in other words when the discussion is about them, the TERFs, when it focusses on TERF behaviour, hatred, exclusion, discrimination, harassment, abuse and violence against trans people, they do not want to engage in that discussion, funny that... 

Yet somehow Dawkins appears to support their right to come into universities and argue against my right to exist. Dawkins also seems to be unaware of the fact that university is the number one place where young trans people come out for the first time, away from hostile or unsupportive homes or stifling and violent local communities, thus rendering any ‘debate’ far from neutral. The mere existence of a debate in a university at all, would be a big advantage to the TERFs. Young trans people don’t want to have to spend their time in halls of residence, the coffee bar, the SU or lectures/seminars/discussions having to justify their existence to other students who have had some half-baked TERF (inevitably untrue) simplistic certainty planted into their heads. They want to get on with transitioning, their lives and their studies. Being "safe" is easy for a wealthy straight, cis, white man. Safety for a young trans person coming out for the first time in a hostile world is very different, as the trans suicide and self-harm statistics suggest.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” There is no neutral position in this situation, a neutral debate cannot be had, there is no fence to sit on, there are no “reasonable” positions to be held in which one can understand the “positions of both sides”. You are either on one side or the other. Dawkins needs to decide which side he is on from a position of understanding the complexities of the situation, not from swallowing simplistic mendacities of the TERFs. He needs to engage in this debate, or maybe confronting these unfamiliar ideas is too far out of his comfort zone...?

Saturday, 18 April 2015


A very quick blog before I go out and canvas for the Labour Party today.

Katie Hopkins latest Nazi rant in the Sun (yes it was just like Nazi oratory from the 1930s) once again seeks to divide and rule, to dehumanise and to portray other human beings as a disease. Her words are designed to be deeply offensive and she comes from a long line of deeply offensive rightwing ranters like Littlejohn and Melanie Phillips; people who make their living out of being deliberately offensive.

Yet we need to step back from the vileness and hatred expressed in her obnoxious tirade and ask why.

Why is Rupert Murdoch giving this woman space in his newspaper? Why does a rightwing neoliberal multibillionaire need someone like her to attack other human beings?

The answer is twofold.

Firstly, business as usual for the Global Neoliberal Establishment (GNE), they are only able to sustain their economic hegemony by divide and rule. This is part of their quotidian everyday propaganda that they need to churn out to maintain their unfair advantage and exploitative dominance.

Secondly it is a classic manifestation of “look over there!” Rupert Murdoch wants to distract you from other things, depending on your gullibility level and political instincts he wants you either to spend time hating foreigners life a disease or to spend time hating Katie Hopkins. Either way he wins.

So what are the things he (and people like him) want to distract you from?

  • The NHS crisis (which the BBC deliberately edited out of the TV debate last week)
  • Zero-hours contracts
  • The racket of schools privatisation (which rivals the extprtion rackets of any mafioso)
  • Low-pay and poverty wages
  • High fees for university students
  • The lack of training and opportunities for young people
  • The housing crisis; high rents and the impossibility for young people ever to become home owners.
  • The deficit which has ballooned under Cameron
  • The scandal of tax avoidance by the super-rich

This is what he is doing. The next three weeks up to the election will be the media vs the Labour Party. The media, from the BBC to the Telegraph and the Sun will be looking to do four things;

They will paint David Cameron in the best possible light on every occasion.

  • They will select for publisction stories that are advantageous to the Tories and deselect those that are advantageous for Labour.
  • They will continue to subject Ed Miliband to personal attacks (something the Green Party has joined in with now).
  • They will subject Labour to microscopic scrutiny while pixelating the Tories.
  • They will seek to focus attention away from the issues I have listed above, especially the NHS.

So what’s the best way to get back at Hopkins, Murdoch and the rest of the GNE and their lackeys in the propaganda machine that our "media" has become?

Talk about the NHS, Zero-hours contracts, housing, tax avoidance, low pay, etc. That is what I am off to do now.

Stay strong and don’t let yourself be distracted.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Rowan Atkinson makes more sense than Woman's Hour.

Reading the transcript of the Womans’s Hour programme broadcast on BBC Radio on the 9th of March I couldn’t help but be reminded of Rowan Atkinson’s TV advert for Barclaycard

Broadcast many years ago, when I had time to watch telly, and paying the licence fee didn’t mean supporting a racist political party, it consisted of Atkinson trying to buy a carpet in an Arab country. His character was under the impression that he spoke the same North African language as the merchant. In fact it turned out that Rowan Atkinson’s character had to admit that he and the merchant were “both fluent, but sadly, in different languages”.

This is what struck me about the Woman’s Hour attempt to set up a fight between a trans person who knows about trans children, and a Radical Feminist; they both spoke fluently but in distinctly different languages. Michelle Bridgeman expertly put the case for trans children to be given access to proper healthcare very well and Finn McKay argued that gender should not be policed in the way it is.

Michelle was talking, in essence, about relieving the suffering of trans kids, and preventing suicide and self-harm. Finn wanted to change the gendered culture of our society which she maintains, is oppressive. They are actually two different things, like Rowan Atkinson and the carpet dealer’s languages.

Probably the moment that summed up Finn’s position was when she said this; 

“if that starts from a position, from a baseline assumption about what is supposed normal and natural femininity and what is normal and natural masculinity, then that is nothing more than medicine based on stereotype and that is only gonna function to actually maintain this brutal gender regime that I think puts pressure on us all, and conveniently blame it on nature instead of blaming it on ourselves.” (my italics).

It is this suggestion that medical care for in this instance trans children “puts pressure on us all” which needs to be deconstructed. What sort of “pressure” is she referring to? Pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, I suspect. Her thesis appears to be that by allowing trans medical care that somehow reinforces gender stereotypes and the reinforcing of those gender stereotypes somehow harms the TERF project of degendering society. The implication is that trans children should be forced to suffer in silence to avoid destabilising the TERF project. This has been the core issue at the heart of the TERF argument against trans people’s existence since its violent inception in the dark days of the early 1970s. This is not to say that there is not a residual element of this in gatekeeping psychiatry as some non-binary people in particular are discovering but as Sandy Stone pointed out in the 1990s, by and large trans people manipulate the shrinks not the other way round.

Unpicking this further the idea is that perhaps 1% of the population changing their gender is somehow acting to oppress the other 99% or as she describes it; supporting “this brutal gender regime”. So 
  • the media, 
  • the courts, 
  • the police, 
  • the education system, 
  • the professions, 
  • the political system, 
  • the economic system, 
  • science and technology… etc. 

are of less importance than a tiny and desperately marginalised and misrepresented 1% of the population? 

Suddenly the word “disproportionate” springs to mind. 

Trans people exist, and do no more to support what Finn describes as a “brutal gender regime” than anyone else, and probably actually do a great deal to undermine it compared to the average cis individual. 

However the section of that quotation which probably most illustrates how Finn and most trans people are actually speaking different languages is where Finn says “it is nothing more than medicine based on stereotype”. Of course MIchelle Bridegman put the real case that this is about making trans children’s lives more liveable, and preventing harm. But here Finn appears to be engaging in the age-old TERF accusation of a kind of pro-active, panoptic medical apparatus that acts to seek out and “normalise” gender non-conforming people. A state of affairs which exists only in the imaginations of some TERFs.

There are two things wrong with this; firstly a fair proportion of trans people are not “gender non-conforming” and there is nothing wrong with this, after all the overwhelming majority of cisgender people are also not gender non-conforming, one would have thought that the Radical Feminist project would, if it were to have any chance of eliminating the “brutal gender regime” attempt, first and foremost, attempt to change the behaviour of that majority. Finn may not like it but trans people have as much right to conform to the gender with which they identify, as cis people and I’m sure Finn would not want to be accused of double-standards in this instance. Secondly, it ignores the inconvenient fact that, for trans people, especially trans children, to obtain any medical treatment at all, requires an enormous struggle. Those who require any kind of medical intervention are normally required to get past a strict gatekeeping regime, obtaining any kind of surgery often feels like an intense struggle against this regime. 

However there is more and I think this is also where different languages are being spoken. Finn seems to be under the impression that being trans is about masculinity and femininity, after all these are central concepts in Radical Feminism, yet in my experience from being trans myself and knowing a large number of trans people is that primarily it is about identifying as male, non-binary or female, it is about how one identifies, rather than whether one adopts particular traits which can be described as either masculine or feminine. I know some trans women who are very feminine, and I know some who are not at all, I know trans men who are masculine and plenty who are not. It seems to me that for most trans people it is primarily about identity, bodily integrity, and being recognised as their real gender, masculinity or femininity take second place for most and are entirely unimportant for a great many.

Finally Finn seems to drag up the old, and very outdated TERF canard that trans people are essentialists. 


...so are the overwhelming majority of cis people, we live in a society in which gender essentialism is the predominant ideology. 

Indeed I would wager that the proportion of trans people who, like me, consider themselves to be social constructivists rather than essentialists is very much higher than among cis people. Of course one doesn’t have to peer into the festering mire that is TERF discourse to realise that this is firmly grounded on an ideology of biological essentialism. Actually, whether one considers trans people to exist essentially or social constructively is pretty much irrelevent, we exist, and we are not going to stop existing for the convenience of an abusive and hate-riddled ideology that may never succeed in enforcing its gender-free utopia sometime in the dim-distant future. 

Ultimately trans people want to live liveable lives and as such are largely (as Catherine Mackinnon put it recently) “aggressively indifferent” to the TERF project of a degendered world which may never come about. This really is a case of “My ideology is more important than your lived experience.” Would trans people not exist in a gender-free utopia? Well I’ll tell you when we get there, or rather my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great great, great, great grandchildren might, if ever they get to experience it, but right now I would just like to get on with my life in a liveable way, just like most trans people. TERFs have failed to sell trans people their utopian ideology, (I wonder why?) and one has to seriously question their tactics. If a gender-free utopia is ever to come about, it will not happen through coercion.

So it seems to me that getting someone like Finn on to talk about trans kids is in effect getting a cricket player to commentate on a football match or a psychologist to talk about quantum physics. Personally I think Finn is trying to sit on an imaginary fence between trans people and TERFism. Well in that case she needs a helicopter; there is no fence, there is only a chasm.

The Way Forward

One has to think of our society as it is currently constituted, as conducting a kind of ubiquitous and persistent  Conversion Therapy for trans people, especially trans kids. In effect society tries to delegitimise trans people, to erase our experience and to tell us we are not who we say we are, in short it deploys the same methods that Conversion Therapists do to try and turn us into ex-trans people.  This is where the TERFs are especially guilty of harm to trans people. Their action has been to try and reinforce this status quo, and indeed to try and return to the status quo ante of forcing trans all people and trans children to submit to “talking therapies” (ie more Conversion Therapy), to conform to our originally assigned genders and situating us as the problem rather than society as a whole. Finn talks about “gender policing” well, outside of school, I have experienced far more gender policing from TERFs than from anyone else.

I have long maintained that trans children need to have access to what Laverne Cox calls “possibility models” from a very early age, to make the knowledge available to them about trans people and trans kids. Trans people should be on the school curriculum for all children from the age of 4 or 5, to ensure trans kids can get to know that there are other people like them, that they are not alone, that there is nothing wrong with them and that they can take control of their lives. This has been the case in California since 2011 and civilization hasn’t collapsed there.

Also we need to go further than President Obama’s expression of condemnation of Conversion Therapy. It should be made illegal to attempt to intentionally change anyone’s gender identity or sexual orientation whether by going to one of these quack therapists or through unofficial coercive methods. This would mean that trying to make a trans child into a cis child or an LGB young person straight should be considered a form of child abuse whether carried out by a school, a religious organisation or a parent.

The problem is that TERFs, along with other transphobes, will try and portray the proposals contained in the above two paragraphs as representing “child abuse”. This is unacceptable and in itself represents TERF child abuse by proxy.

Last but by no means least… The Behaviour of the Woman's Hour Team

At issue here has also been the behaviour of the media, in this instance the editorial team of Woman’s Hour. As CN Lester eloquently explained it in their blog, this is effectively about the BBC manufacturing an argument for the sake of listeners. In the end they got no fisticuffs, which I am sure will disappoint Jenni Murray and Anne Peacock. 

It has to be said however that, trans people are not dancing bears, we are not performing dogs or clockwork toys you can just wind up for the entertainment of the public. Trans people are still a badly misunderstood group and the main reason for this is the way the media has still often failed to tell our stories, to explain to a largely ignorant public, who we are. It was clear that the makers fo this programme were woefully ignorant about trans issues. As CN said this is not merely a case of Woman’s Hour failing to adhere to the standards required of it as a public service broadcast programme but it also represented extremely unprofessional journalism with the programme makers clearly both very ignorant of the issues around trans children and seemingly making no attempt to remedy this. 

So the final question I have to pose is this; although Trans Media Watch and All About Trans have done great things, achieved a great deal in changing media attitudes in general, it seems that we may be getting to a point where some of the media are ignoring these groups. Recently there have been examples of media platforms deliberately not consulting either of these groups because they want to sensationalise a story, and usually that sensationalised story relates to trans children. Do we need a different approach entirely (possibly a more aggressive one) to deal with these type of stories and journalists? When we have “journalists” like Carole Malone proudly saying that she is “no expert” and then going on to talk about trans kids we have a problem. For too long the media have peddled "commonsense" opinions by making ignorance a virtue. It is time for this to be challenged robustly by trans people.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Actual harm

WPATH is a professional organisation for those working in the area of healthcare for trans people. It is constituted by the WHO, (World Health Organisation) and it sets standards and procedures for medical treatment of trans people. The important thing is that this is a professional body and one which deals with provision and standards of healthcare from trans people on the basis of scientific and medical evidence, as well as listening to input from trans people themselves.

It may not always come up with ideal results from the point of view of trans people but it has generally moved in a positive direction in recent years, there is, of course always more to do.

As part of its activities it has started an onilne consultation to enable trans people to have input about its decisions and activities. This is important and good to see an organisation like this listening to those who are directly affected by its deliberations. What it decides is important for trans people, in terms of our health both physically and psychologically.

Unfortunately there are those whose intention is to disrupt its workings and reduce the effectiveness of trans healthcare and trans people’s access to it: TERFs.

The TERFs (Trans Exclusionary “Radical Feminists”) are a small group of individuals who like to portray themselves as engaging in a “critique” of gender, yet almost never engage in any critique of gender. They like to portray themselves as being prevented from engaging in a critique of gender by trans people “sliencing” (ie criticising) them.

Of course this descriptor is wlidly inaccurate to the point of being deliberately misleading since TERFs have since their inception in the early 1970s, engaged in abuse, violence, stalking and bullying of trans people. They have also engaged in intervening harmfully in trans people’s healthcare. Many people believe that TERF interventions in having trans healthcare made inaccessbile to poorer (ie mostly black and Hispanic) trans people in the 1980s resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of trans people in the US since that time. 

Well now this kind of intervention to cause actual physiological, psychological and material harm to trans people is back, giving lie to their claims to be “gender critical”. TERFs have set up and shared a website linking to the WPATH consultation with trans people with the intention of flooding it with views intending to harm trans people and impose their own hate-filled, abusive ideology on standards of care. This website invites TERFs to intervene in trans healthcare by responding to the WPATH consultation.


It directs TERFs, for example, to push for WPATH to include the thoroughly discredited theory of “autogynephilia”. This is dangerous and has the potential to result in WPATH making decisions about standards of care that it would otherwise not make, and to the detriment of trans people.

Fortunately some of us have taken this to senior officials in WPATH and they are now alerted to it and are taking action to ensure that the TERF posts concerned play no part in determining WPATH policy or standards of care. They have also assured us that the World Health Organisation is aware of what is going on and will take action accordingly.

However the upshot of this incident is that WPATH may well be unable to run any genuine consultation exercise with ordinary trans people because of the possibility of distortion by anti-trans bigots. This, in and of itself, is harmful to trans people, and may indeed have consequences for trans people as the consultation becomes less effective. In other words TERFs have not only tried to influct actual harm onto trans people but they have probably succeeded in doing so by dint of the fact that WPATH will be unable to engage in as effective a consultation on ICD-11 as it would otherwise want.

So when the TERFs claim, as they often do, that they merely want to engage in a kind of discursive critique of “gender” they are deliberately misrepresenting themselves. TERFism, is not a critique of gender (indeed their “critique” of gender pretty much begins and ends with trans women, even in the rare instances it occurs) it is a mode of action, as I have said before.

It is common knowledge that TERFs engage in routine abuse, defamation and harassment of trans people both online and offline. They also doxx and stalk trans people, both online and offline, indeed these are probably their core activities. Some engage in deliberately misleading journalism which engages in targeted misrepresentation of trans people and trans people’s allies and our needs and lives. However the intervention in professional issues of trans people’s healthcare has clearly not gone away. These actions by the TERF community are clearly reprehensible, harmful and morally obscene. 

When you next hear a TERF complaining they they  “only want to engage in dialogue” and only want to put their side of the story in a "fair and democratic" exchange of views, remember that they are enaged in deliberate, calculated action behind trans people’s backs to cause us actual physical harm. TERF dishonesty knows no bounds.