Monday, 23 January 2017

How come the only thing up for "debate" is trans people?

Well it looks like School's Out has decided to ignore the complaints of trans people and continue providing legitimacy to a transphobe by including them in their listings for LGBT History Month. This is both disappointing and revealing. The main reason given by School's Out for this inclusion is that there needs to be "debate". The CEO of School's Out said; 

“She has a right to speak just as we have a right to challenge what she says. That is the nature of debate and it allows us to make change happen in society.”

Yet the leaders of School's Out refuse to engage in any kind of debate about their actions. They want to include someone in their History Month listings whose deliberate misrepresentations about trans people in the national press are not at all based on fact and which, in my opinion and the opinions of many others, are likely to harm trans children.  They justify the event by promoting the fiction that we can "debate" and "challenge" what is being said. 

The problem is that challenging something that goes out in the Daily Mail, or on the BBC or any number of other media platforms is completely impossible. Mainstream media have millions of readers/viewers/listeners, trans people have blogs and the occasional article in the Guardian ir the Independent if we are lucky. Challenging the falsehoods, fabrications and deliberate disinformation put out by anti-trans campaigners is virtually impossible, and in case School's Out hasn't noticed it is pretty much open season on trans children in the mainstream media right now. School's Out should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder defending trans kids, instead they are supporting transphobes. 

So, I say to Sanders and Fenwick, CEO's of School's Out, I want to debate this, I want to debate the issue of your behaviour regarding supporting and legitimising a transphobe, I want to debate your suitability, as an organisation to be claiming to be helping trans children. If my existence is to be up for debate as you have stated it should, then your behaviour should definitely be. 

Yet somehow you refuse to engage in any debate around this issue. so it is fine for a transphobe to debate my existence but not OK for me to debate your actions...? By refusing to debate with anyone in the trans community about this you have demonstrated not merely blatant obvious hypocrisy but a profound lack of awareness of how difficult things are for trans people, especially trans children right now. As an organisation claiming to be helping trans kids we have a right to expect more from you and you have a duty to be held accountable and to be judged by your own standards of open "debate". If you can't engage in a debate about your own actions then you have no right to be encouraging "debate" about other people's lives. This is especially important when that debate only ever seems to take the format of us trying to put right mendacious "alternative facts" as the White House would put it.

Update, a friend reminded me of this tweet by Julie Bindel;

More than a little relevent, and linking to this misleading article;

Whether or not School's Out wish to "debate" this with trans people is anyone's guess...

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Emily's story: For Newsnight and the BBC...

Below is a true story, only Emily's name has been changed.

A few years ago my life as a trans activist brought me into contact with the mother of a young trans woman aged 15; Emily. Like me, and many other trans people, Emily had known she was trans since she was very young and attempted to be out as a girl at school when she was 13. Bullied out of her education almost immediately and struggling with living in a body that was not hers she was desperate to have surgery but was told this was not available to her until she was 18.

It was a rollercoaster of a time for her family, she would disappear for days on end and be found off her head by the police; a dread phone call at night which always made them fear the worst. After a while her mother and I realised that, at her 18th birthday, rather than being able to access the surgery she so desperately needed straight away it only meant that she would only be able to book an appointment after her 18th birthday. With a 7 month waiting-list (at the time) for the main London gender clinic she was looking at being 20 or 21 before obtaining surgery. You didn't have to talk to her much to realise that she wasn't going to last that long.

We started to put pressure on the gender clinic and the NHS to allow her to make an appointment 7 months before her 18th; as Christine Burns remarked at the time, it wasn't as though her 18th birthday was going to come as a surprise. After a lot of hassle the clinic agreed to allow this to happen, and Emily got her first appointment about two months after she was 18, and surgery, eventually, six months short of her 20th birthday. In the days and weeks after her surgery she was a changed person; the wild, unstable teenager, out of her head at parties on drink, drugs and whatever else she could get her hands on had gone. The bottle of bubbly I brought to celebrate with her stayed unopened, she didn't need to drink any more. She had had to wait until 18 months into adulthood but had finally got her surgery.

In the last few months before her surgery Emily had been clinging on to life with the fingernails of one hand, you could feel it, her parents were beside themselves, it had really become a white-knuckle race against time. A cancellation threatened to take the surgery date past her 20th birthday, something we all felt would be impossible for her to deal with. But after it came there was relief all round, literally overnight Emily became Emily, a well-rounded, calm, happy young woman, when just a few hours earlier she had been stressed, confused and desperate. The transformation was such a delight to see that I cried with joy for her, it really felt that she was safely with us on this planet at last.

Today a rise in demand coupled with NHS cuts has meant that waiting lists are a great deal longer, and the arrangement whereby 17-year-olds could make appointments before their 18th birthday evaporated in the face of these pressures. So Newsnight and the BBC and assorted transphobes in the right-wing press and elsewhere trying to peddle the lie that primary school children get surgery, are not merely distributing misinformation but their misinformation is so far removed from the truth that even calling it a lie is to do a disservice to liars.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

An Open Letter to the CEOs of Schools Out about LGBT History Month

Dear Mr Fenwick and Ms Sanders,

As a trans woman and someone who has in the past, supported Schools Out to try and make things better for LGBT pupils and teachers in our schools I am writing to you as a matter of utmost seriousness. I also speak as a trans academic who has published research into trans children and young trans people. My concern is regarding journalist Julie Bindel’s talk in Manchester which is being promoted by you as part of LGBT history month.

In this letter I intend to make the following points; firstly that the justification you have made for your support of Julie Bindel’s participation in an LGBT history month events is untenable, and secondly that this brings into serious question the credibility of Schools Out as an organisation.

In Achbishop Desmond Tutu’s famous quote he describes neutrality as harming the oppressor, at least in your case we are not talking about neutrality, representing a kind of passive support for the oppressor, you are engaging in active support. In your justification for including this item in your listings you cite primarily an article published by Bindel in 2004;

She made the comments that questioned the existence of trans women in 2004 and has said she would have phrase things differently now.”

Foregrounding this rather than other publications of Bindel is very highly problematic and also very revealing. She “apologised” for that article under pressure from trans people, however this article, while expressed in objectionable terms, is far from the worst example of her output. It is telling that you have chosen to foreground this in your explanation rather than her, very recent, article in the Daily Mail about trans children which you only mention only at the end of your statement. It is this that concerns me greatly since it appears to reveal some very serious issues regarding Schools Out as an organisation claiming to work for trans children and young people in education.

Bindel’s article in the Daily Mail (Britain’s highest circulation newspaper) a few weeks ago is harmful (and here I am choosing my words very deliberately, and very carefully) to transgender children. In her article Bindel suggests, while providing no supporting evidence, the following;

“If I were a teenager today, well-meaning liberal teachers and social workers would probably tell me that I was trapped in the wrong body. They might refer me to a psychiatrist who would prescribe fistfuls of hormones and other drugs. And terrifyingly, I might easily be recommended for gender re-assignment surgery… just because I didn’t like the pink straitjacket imposed on girls.”

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that this is the case for any kind of transgender or gender nonconforming children. Indeed there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. All evidence suggests, that trans children and young trans people find it very difficult to convince anyone that they are trans: If you are a trans child, you are probably more likely to be regarded as gay or lesbian than trans. In addition you are more likely to feel significant pressure not to come out, or be recognised as your real gender because of a number of different social and cultural pressures, pressures made worse by Bindel’s article. Indeed even for those who do come out, leading anything like a normal life can be a real struggle, with opposition commonly manifesting itself amongst parents of other children at school, school staff and even peers, in many areas of school life from PE to toilet access.

Bindel’s narrative appears to have been constructed to serve a purpose; to delegitimise trans people in general and trans children in particular. It is designed to make it harder for those trans children trying to come out, trying to communicate to parents, siblings, teachers and friends and convince them of who they are. When trans children are unable to do this, or face resistance from their families, communities and schools, in effect they are being forced to undergo a kind of amateur community Conversion Therapy. This is why I use the term “harm” very particularly.

The consequences of this article reaching such a wide audience are difficult to quantify of course. Yet it doesn't take much imagination to see how it is very likely to make many parents, parents of other children and school staff adopt a more dismissive and hostile attitude to any trans child brave enough to try and come out, with the consequent psychological damage to those individuals.

In other words Bindel’s article in the Daily Mail will have an effect on trans children which is opposite from the apparent stated aims of Schools Out. And, in case you're not aware of it, this is not the only attack on trans children in mainstream media; the BBC are broadcasting a program about a mental health professional, widely regarded as engaging in Conversion Therapy on trans children, in a documentary in which the parents of a trans child in Canada are alleging journalistic malpractice. There is a very real danger that a popular media consensus harmful to trans children is developing. Julie Bindel’s article is part of that consensus. Your endorsement of Bindel’s event is an endorsement of those harmful effects.

Your organisation is adding legitimacy to Bindel by including her event in your LGBT history month listings. In effect you are saying that it is okay for someone who produces material like hers to take part in LGBT (not LGB) history month. One of the justifications you use for this is the old canard of “debate”.

“She has a right to speak just as we have a right to challenge what she says. That is the nature of debate and it allows us to make change happen in society.”

With the circulation of the Daily Mail at 2.2 million, and a readership probably in excess of 3 million, perhaps you would like to explain how I am able to challenge her fabrications to this audience. To the best of my knowledge the Daily Mail has not permitted anyone to publish any response to this article, and indeed has published further articles, which will cause harm trans children. Even getting a right to reply article in New Statesman over trans issues has proved impossible in my experience, never mind the Mail.  The current popular media consensus about trans children has largely taken Bindel’s side of the argument with few, if any, opportunities for trans people to “challenge” or “debate” her dangerous narratives in any effective sense or even have our voices heard at all. The “nature of debate” as you describe it, on this issue, contrary to your assertion, is pretty one-sided if it could indeed be described as a "debate" at all...

However what is of more immediate concern is your organisation’s failure to forward the interests of those you claim to represent, namely trans children, over this issue, because this is an issue that is directly relevant to your purview. Indeed it makes me doubt very seriously that you are indeed an LGBT organization if you are prepared to support someone whose actions are harming those you claim to be helping. If you are an LGBT organisation then act like an LGBT organisation. Transphobia and cisgenderism are real and seriously harm children in schools. Transphobia and cisgenderism are not the same as homophobia and discrimination against trans children in schools is not the same as discrimination against LGB children, although it has similarities. Your failure to understand the issues with Bindel and how they affect children you claim to represent or wish to help suggests a profound and fundamental failure on the part of Schools Out.

So in my opinion this demonstrates that Schools Out has very serious problems relating to the way it goes about its business in relation to trans children and young people in schools. As a result I will stop recommending your organization to schools and teachers, which I have hitherto done regularly. I cannot see how it is possible for you to maintain the position you have with regard to Bindel and still effectively help trans children in schools. I do not want to be associated with Schools Out in its current form and I will recommend other organisations instead as a result of your stance on this issue. I no longer have any confidence in your ability to help trans children in schools. In my opinion you have become part of the problem.


Natacha Kennedy.
Goldsmiths College and 
University College London