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Sarah, The Bringer of Tea Below are the 25 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Sarah Brown" journal:

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25th June, 2014
11:48 am

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Open Letter to Academic and Media Feminists – Deal with the Transphobia in your Ranks

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Anti-transgender protestors held a picket at London Dykemarch on Saturday 21st of June, chanting transphobic slogans in an attempt to drown out my keynote speech.

Some of the picketers at the Lesbian Pride march who handed out transphobic literature

Some of the picketers at the Lesbian Pride march who handed out transphobic literature

As I gave my speech, a group of 6 protestors started trying to shout me down, and distributed leaflets amongst the gathered crowd calling me a “lesbian hating man”, claiming that I was part of a “male” takeover of lesbian spaces, and accusing me of appropriating a lesbian identity.

Two of the protestors have since been identified as Dr Julia Long of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, and Dr Lynne Harne, of Bristol University. Both lecture in women’s studies and both are involved in developing equalities policy.

Both academics have previously been involved in the London “RadFem” conferences, which are notorious for their trans exclusionary policies and their linkup of transphobic speakers. The conference lost its venues in 2012 and 2013 due to its transphobic-hate focus, having to find alternate venues at the last minute.

This is the latest incident in a campaign of transphobic harassment of me, coordinated via social media, which has been going on for several months, ever since I declined to engage in a panel discussion with journalist Julie Bindel, also noted for transphobic writing in the past.

Since then, a series of coordinated complaints about me were sent to the Liberal Democrat Party and Cambridge City Council, each of which was investigated and found to be invalid. I have had my blog targeted for a denial of service attack and my email hacked, and have received anonymous hate mail accusing me of abusing my position as a councillor to obtain a “sex change operation” – a charge which would require me to invent a time machine for it to be true.

My family was targeted, with harassers claiming that my wife left me because I “could no longer satisfy her sexually” after “mutilating” myself (my wife and I are together and very happy). The abusers wrote blogs calling me a “privilege denying t****y”, and described my vagina as a “f**khole”.

The harassers make their goal clear

The harassers make their goal clear

More recently, one of the harassers made their intentions clear, saying that, “Sarah Brown should gracefully bow out of public life”. It seems that any trans person who has any kind of public profile is considered “fair game” by these people.

The stress of the constant harassment, coinciding with my relocation campaign cause me to seek medical help for acute anxiety and depression. I spent around 3 months on antidepressants and tranquillisers and much of that period is still a black hole in my memory. After losing my seat, and while coming off the antidepressants, I finally snapped back at one of the people who had claimed responsibility for involvement in the harassment campaign, in response to constant provocation.

I regret saying that, but it was done after months of provocation, the destruction of my mental health and the targeting of my family. This was used as “proof” that I am a “violent male”, and the justification for picketing the London Dyke March.

I am not the only transgender woman to suffer this kind of abuse. I am deeply concerned that any transgender woman who dares to have any kind of participation in public life is subject to this kind of relentless hounding, I am deeply concerned that prominent academics, involved in researching and developing equalities positions and in a position of responsibility over students, some of whom may be trans themselves, see fit to picket a Lesbian Pride march, chant transphobic slogans and hand out transphobic material.

This abuse is performed in the name of “feminism”, and many mainstream media feminists either turn a blind eye, or actively endorse these activities. Enough is enough – this persistent abuse of transgender women by a vocal minority of transphobic radical feminists, pushing discredited transphobic ideology from the 1970s should not, and must not be tolerated.

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3rd May, 2014
02:08 pm

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TERFs and Privilege

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

As I write this, a group of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists are taking a moment from trying to intimidate trans people to have a discussion around privilege on Twitter. Specifically, straight privilege.

This is difficult for them. The problem is that TERFs are horrible transphobic bigots, which becomes obvious if you have a basic understanding of privilege.

Privilege is not a hard concept to understand. There are a multitude of ways in which a person can have privilege, such as sex, skin colour, access to education, etc.. Many of these ways are entirely independent of each other, some are related, but they essentially define a multi dimensional space in which each person occupies a point defined by their various privileges (or lack thereof),

So I, for example, have white privilege, middle class privilege, educational privilege, financial privilege, and a whole bunch of others, but I lack cis privilege, male privilege and straight privilege.

That means that if we’re comparing me to, say, a white male working class heterosexual person who left school at 16 and has a minimum wage job, this person has various things going for them I do not: they’re a white man, they’re straight, they’re not trans all things society values, but I’m wealthier, have a Cambridge degree, and access to people with influence.

So which of us is more oppressed? You cam’t tell, because privilege isn’t a single variable; it’s a multi dimensional space. On one axis I have privilege this man does not, on another he has privilege I do not.

Who is more oppressed? It depends on the circumstances.

But what about the TERFs?

TERF analysis isn’t like this. Their analysis is based on class. There are two classes: the oppressor class (male) and the oppressed class (female), and that’s it, end of. All men have the power to oppress all women, and women can’t oppress anybody because they are the oppressed class.

So their discussion to try and understand straight privilege is a comical exercise in missing the point. At first they argue that it doesn’t exist, presumably because straight women and lesbians are both women, and straight men and gay men are both men. This “feels wrong” though, because they know homophobia is a thing, so how can they include that in their analysis?

The way they’re trying to square the circle is by reducing it to things that men do to lesbians that they don’t do to straight women. Straight privilege exists, apparently, because lesbians are exposed to corrective rape, and straight women are not.

That seems to be about as far as they’ve got. They can only understand the concept of relative privilege in terms of how their oppressor class (men) interact with their oppressed class (women). Any more complicated analysis appears to elude them because of cognitive dissonance.

“But this multi dimensional privilege space doesn’t seem that hard to understand, Sarah! Why can’t they grasp that, or at least think about it?”

TERFs can’t see privilege for what it is because TERFs are awful human beings who use their privilege as a weapon to terrorise trans women. If they were able to conceptualise privilege in a way independent of their oppressor male/victim female discourse, the full horror of what horrible people they are, and just how evil their behaviour is, would suddenly hit them in the face.

Presumably they wouldn’t enjoy this much.

That’s why their clumsy attempts to understand straight privilege are comical. They’re trying to find something in a room that the elephant they’re trying to ignore is sat on.

(Leave a comment)

10th April, 2014
11:23 am

[Link]

A Hymn for the Social Media Age

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

For some reason, this popped into my head.

She who would Valium take ‘gainst all disaster,
Let her, for sanity’s sake, get to sleep faster.
There’s no discouragement shall make her once relent
Her first avowed intent to take the benzos.

Who so beset her round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound – repeat prescription’s sorted.
And with the SSRIs, though she with gaslighter vies,
She will make good her right to take the benzos.

Block button dost defend her, and raise her spirit.
We know she, at the end, will triumph o’er git.
Then worries flee away! She’ll fear not what TERFs say,
She smiles and at last says, “I’m off the benzos!”

(Leave a comment)

28th January, 2014
12:04 pm

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A Member of the Gay Community Responds to my Open Letter to Stonewall

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

In the interests of transparency and airing a diversity of views, I publish the following email exchange, with permission. I have changed the name of the person who sent it, referring to them as “Mr W” throughout. His text is otherwise unchanged. This was sent to me shortly after yesterday’s post went live on Pink News, and here. For clarity, I present Mr W’s comments in mauve.

On 27 Jan 2014, at 15:30, Mr W wrote:

I don’t see why you want the support of stonewall for transsexual people.  I am a gay man and stonewall is for gay men, gay women and bisexuals in same sex relationships. I don’t feel that I have anything in anyway as an insight to offer to a transsexual . As far as I am aware from speaking to some of my trans friends, most believe that they are the sex that they wish to be transitioned to and they want usually to date people of the opposite sex. Its rare a man changes to woman and then dates a woman and the same goes for women wishing to do the same. Most trans people do not believe that they are gay and therefor I fail to see what the gay scene can offer them. It is about time some one with your influence created an established advice line for trans people run by trans people, so that the right information can be given and when problems need to be talked over there is an adviser who will understand more closely  what experiences the person have been through.
Stonewall and other gay charities raise most of the money through the gay, lesbian and bi volunteers collecting money and in this austere time it does not go far,  they need that money for its intended purpose i.e to counsel and advise people in same sex relationships and safer sex. Please stop having a go at the gay scene and try to create something  good for the trans community instead.

On Monday, 27 January 2014, 15:34, Sarah Brown wrote:

Dear Mr W,

You have written to me using my council email. Can I ask, are you one of my constituents seeking help on an issue?

Kindest regards,
Sarah

On 27 Jan 2014, at 16:13, Mr W wrote:

no i am just making a general point about your  attack on stonewall  …..

On Monday, 27 January 2014, 16:15, Sarah Brown wrote:

I wasn’t aware I had attacked them. In the interests of transparency and debate, may I publish your comment as a rebuttal of my piece? I won’t use your name.

Kindest regards,
Sarah

Sent from my iPhone

On Tuesday, 28 January 2014, 11:15, Mr W wrote:

you can use it if you wish yes

oh and by the way if you are using your political position to try to pressure gay charities to do more for the trans community  I think that is a form of attack.
Thank you  

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

27th January, 2014
03:28 pm

[Link]

My Open Letter to Stonewall on the Departure of Ben Summerskill as CEO

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

This is a piece I wrote for Pink News, but I’m also publishing it here:

The relationship between Stonewall and the trans community has never been straightforward, to say the least.

Stonewall in England is, and has been, ostensibly an LGB group, campaigning for those involved in same sex relationships, and has taken the position that they are allied with trans campaign groups, but do not involve themselves in trans issues directly.

On paper you can draw nice neat lines separating “gender identity stuff” and “sexuality stuff”, and have everything work out. Sadly, reality is messier and doesn’t much care for attempts to confine things to neat boxes.

Perhaps this was most obviously seen in 2008, when what was reckoned at the time to be the UK’s largest public protest by transgender people and our allies took place; outside the swanky Stonewall Awards ceremony in London. Trans people were hurt and outraged that journalist Julie Bindel, who many trans people saw as openly transphobic, was nominated as a champion of diversity. I was there, waving a banner and shouting, and the crowd was angry over what it saw as Stonewall promoting its own interests by hurting our vulnerable community.

A similar problem arose more recently, over the same sex marriage bill. It’s fair to say Stonewall were caught napping a bit when, in autumn 2010, the Liberal Democrats announced our commitment to delivering marriage equality. As momentum built, Stonewall joined enthusiastically and published a draft “same sex marriage bill”. It was, as I recall, less than two pages long and didn’t mention trans people once.

Trans people were treated terribly unjustly by marriage law for a long time, and if ever there was an opportunity to right wrongs, it was with this bill. Since the 70s, our marriages were in legal limbo until 2004, when the then government, finally forced to act by the European Court of Human Rights, grudgingly agreed to recognise our true genders (and thus allow us to be protected at work from sex discrimination and a whole host of other stuff), but at a cost; the government wanted to take our existing marriages away, to erase them from history.

When the actual act came forth, not only did the government not want to right historical wrongs; they also wanted to make a new one, the Spousal Veto. If you wanted your employment non-discrimination rights, and other stuff that came with recognition, you (literally) need a letter from your husband, wife or civil partner saying they consent. If they don’t (and it doesn’t matter if they’re estranged and hate you, or in a coma after an accident and unable to consent), the only way you can end your legal non-personhood is to divorce them.

About a dozen-or-so trans lobbyists, of which I was one, met with civil servants, lobbied parliamentarians, and offered amendments and compromises to try and get our confiscated marriages back, to remove or at least time-limit the veto. Despite parliamentarians like Julian Huppert and Liz Barker passionately taking up our cause in the Commons and Lords respectively, the civil service and government didn’t budge.

The Marriage (same sex couples) Act passed into law with a spousal veto, and with no restitution of the marriages confiscated.

Things could have been so different if our little group of people who didn’t really know what we were doing had a big organisation like Stonewall behind us. In Scotland, after work by the excellent Scottish Transgender Alliance and the Equality Network, and where Stonewall does support trans people, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to remove the spousal veto. In England and Wales, we’re stuck with it. At a time when trans people really, really needed the help of a professional LGBT lobbying organisation, Stonewall decided it was nothing to do with them and looked away.

Every time I talked to formed CEO Ben Summerskill about this, he said it went back to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, when trans groups wanted to do things by ourselves. I can’t help wounding if there were personality politics involved at the time, if bridges were burned. Perhaps that’s why we’re left in the cold. Times change, a new generation of trans activists is around today and we feel like we’re being constrained by deals, and perhaps arguments, that happened behind closed doors ten years ago by people who haven’t been able to move on.

My plea to Stonewall, and to interim CEO Ruth Hunt, is to use this opportunity to sweep away old understandings and misunderstandings, and to see if we can’t build something more inclusive, where trans people can turn to the largest LGBT rights organisation in the country (because that’s what everybody else sees them as, regardless of whether they see themselves that way), ask for help, and get it.

We don’t promise to be uncritical, and not say anything when you get it wrong, but wouldn’t it be great if Stonewall at least tried to be on the same side as trans people, rather than leaving us to fight the same battles, against the same people who hate us for the same reasons, alone?

Editor’s note: This piece originally created the impression that Stonewall Scotland was responsible for the removal of the spousal veto and discounted the hard work of the Equality Network and the Scottish Transgender Alliance. This was a drafting mistake on my part, and I offer my unreserved apologies to both.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

7th October, 2013
11:31 am

[Link]

Diary of a Boa Constrictor

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Monday October 7th, 2013

00:00 Status nominal, sleeping in standard ambush pose.

03:47:28 PROXIMITY ALERT! – infra red sensors report a MASSIVE HEAT SIGNATURE. Suspect large monkey thing. Looks too big to eat. It’ll probably fold down, or something, though

03:47:29 STRIKE!

03:47:30 Ouch! There’s some sort of invisible force field. My nose hurts and I knocked a tooth out. Vexing.

03:47:35 Status nominal, sleeping in standard ambush pose.

[the toilet flushes, which she can't hear, because she's a snake]

03:48:50 PROXIMITY ALERT! – MASSIVE HEAT SIGNATURE! This should be good! Tasty, tasty food!

03:48:51 STRIKE!

03:48:52 Ouch! A completely unexpected thing happened! There’s some sort of weird forcefield in the way! That never happened before. Must check this out when I wake up and it’s light. Maybe next year or something.

03:48:57 status nominal, sleeping in standard ambush pose.

11:57 PROXIMITY ALERT! – MASSIVE HEAT SIGNATURE! It’s one of those great big monkeys. I bet they taste epic!

11:57:30 Tracking, tracking, visual senses operative. Vaguely remember they weren’t previously. Wonder why? Tracking, come closer, monkey, clo…ser…

11:57:34 STRIKE!

11:57:35 Ouch! What the hell just happened there? There’s some sort of weird force field! It really hurts! Deploy tongue…

flick flick flick flick

11:57:36 The force field appears to taste of boa constrictor saliva. Has someone else been messing with my patch? I’ll have them!

11:58 The monkey is coming closer. I love it when they make it easier. Soon it’ll be inside the force field, and then I shall dine!

11:59 SOMETHING HAS GRABBED MY TAIL! HOW DARE IT! Turn round quick, get ready to kill it. No, wait! I’m being pulled backwards by something really huge! Just when I was about to get that monkey too. This is intolerable. It’s going to take me outside! It’s scary out there!

HELP!

Grab everything! Water bowl grabbed, hide grabbed, coil coil coil! It’s got my neck! Oh no, it’s no good. This is all over. I’m going to die now. Outside is deadly. Deadly to Boa constrictors and I hate it. This is the end. LET ME GO!

Oh, it’s you. Did you see a monkey round here? This is nice, can I have a cuddle? Ooh, you’re warm!

Cosy Boa

12:04 Status nominal, sleeping coiled round comfy heat emitting thing, Life is good!

12:25 NO! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME GO INTO THE VIVARIUM! It’s DEATH in there! Dangerous things are in there! It’s horrid! I like it out here! Don’t make me!

12:26 Ooh, this is nice! There’s a hide and a water bowl and stuff, and it’s all small and cosy!

12:27 Status nominal, sleeping in standard ambush pose.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)

15th September, 2013
03:58 pm

[Link]

Speech to Lib Dem Autumn 2013 Conference on Internet Porn Filtering

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

20130915-170410.jpgPushed by Baroness Benjamin (she of Playschool fame), the Liberal Democrat 2013 Conference debated a motion to require censorship of the Internet by default on all Internet capable devices, with an explicit requirement to opt-out. The filter is supposed to prevent access to porn, but since computers are bad at identifying what is porn, and what is, for example, an LGBT news site, or a breast feeding advocacy site, these things have a tendency to block all sorts of other sites too. They block resource sites, sex education sites, political satire, blogs, equality campaigns and all sorts of things that it is vital to maintain free and open access to.

I put in a card to speak an, for the first time at a federal conference, I was called! Here is what I said:

Conference, I was recently in Plymouth, and being not overly familiar with it, I asked the Siri assistant on my iPhone for driving directions from one side of town to the other.

It tried to send me via Warsaw, in Poland.

Automatic systems behave like this because they don’t know enough to realise when they’re doing something obviously ridiculous. They just do it anyway.

This is the folly of automatic censorship on the Internet. There is so much stuff out there that you can’t possibly do it all by hand; you have to use automated systems and, like my iPhone’s bad driving directions, they get it wrong.

As an equality campaigner I have seen first hand the effects of Internet censorship. I have been frustrated when trying to access LGBT news sites, or reading blogs of people campaigning for quality, sex education, breast feeding, safer working conditions for those involved in sex work, drugs information, and so on.

I have even been disallowed access to my own blog, which, by the way, was shortlisted for a Lib Dem Voice award this year, because, apparently, it contains “adult content”.

Perhaps campaigning for equal rights for vulnerable and abused minorities is “adult content”, but so-called porn filters shouldn’t be blocking it.

While I do not doubt the intentions of those behind this motion, and the amendment, I do doubt the technical literacy they represent, or rather the lack of it. In seeking to “protect children from porn”, automated filters will block political campaigns, satire, support sites for victims of homophobic bullying, sexual abuse, eating disorders, breast feeding campaigners and the blogs of members of this party.

This motion, amended or not, is unfit for purpose. Conference, send it back so that it can be reexamined with the full participation of minority groups and young people, those affected by it. If you don’t send it back, then please vote it down. It’s profoundly illiberal and it will cause real harm to the things we value.

(3 comments | Leave a comment)

5th July, 2013
08:24 am

[Link]

Why Are UK Trans People Going on About a “Spousal Veto?”

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

I have been given to understand that the issue of the spousal veto in the Same Sex Marriage Bill is confusing to those not immersed in trans issues. I appreciate that, because if you don’t understand the processes we have to go through, then it’s not clear what is being vetoed and under what circumstances. I’ll attempt to explain. It’s long, but if you scroll to the bottom there is an executive summary.

Part 1: Corbett v Corbett

In 1970, the divorce of trans woman model, April Ashley and Arthur Corbett, later the 3rd Baron Rowallan, came before the court. In order to avoid giving up part of his substantial estate, Corbett’s team advanced the argument that the marriage was never valid in the first place, because April Ashley was really a man.

The judge agreed and thus set a precedent that meant that trans people were, from that point on, treated by the government as their birth sex forever for all sorts of legal reasons. This didn’t just affect marriage: it also affected stuff like employment protections, what prison you would be sent to if you were found guilty of an offence, and so on.

Prior to this, trans people had been applying for corrected birth certificates and getting them, effectively being recognised in their new gender. This practice ceased completely, and trans rights in the UK entered a dark age.

Part 2: The Gender Recognition Act

Fast forward 3 decades. The European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the government had to legislate to fix the unfairness inflicted upon trans people by the Corbett v Corbett ruling. The government kept dragging its heels, but in 2004 eventually passed the Gender Recognition Act. In a nutshell, the act did the following:

  • It created a thing called a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

  • Upon issue of a GRC, you would be issued a new birth certificate, and gain the other protections in law that you lost by transitioning (e.g. employment nondiscrimination rights).
  • You could only apply for a GRC if you’d been transitioned 2 years and had a report from your GP and the doctor who originally diagnosed your gender dysphoria.
  • There was a time-limited “fast track” for people transitioned more than 6 years: you didn’t need the original diagnosis (because your doctor may have retired or lost your notes).
  • You didn’t need to have had surgery, but if you hadn’t you had to justify why not.

Never wanting anything to be simple, and demonstrating an enduring instinct for screwing trans people over, the civil service (via the government of the day) included a nasty little gotcha: you weren’t eligible for a GRC if you were married.

Of course, you didn’t have to apply for one, but if you didn’t, you didn’t get your rights back. To deal with this, the act created something called an “interim gender recognition certificate” (IGRC). The name is entirely misleading: it’s not a GRC, it doesn’t grant the same rights or anything. All it does is give you a cast-iron reason to initiate marriage annulment proceedings within the next 6 months, at which point the IGRC expires and you go back to stage 1.

If you complete annulment proceedings with an IGRC, you automatically get a GRC and new birth certificate. Anticipating the 2005 Civil Partnership Act, the Gender Recognition Act then allowed you to enter a civil partnership with your former spouse. 151 couples have since done this (I am part of one of them).

If you’ve seen trans people talking about the “confiscated marriages”, it’s those 151 marriages we are talking about, where we were essentially coerced into giving up our marriages to restore our rights.

Interlude: The Equality Act, 2010

In 2010, a year after my marriage was annulled, the Equality Act 2010 passed. This revoked the employment nondiscrimination protections granted by a Gender Recognition Certificate. Thanks guys, appreciate that.

Part 3: Same Sex Marriage Bill

The advent of same sex marriage brings an end to this coerced divorce, or rather it should, but the government and civil service have cocked it up.

Firstly, you still have to end your relationship if you are in a civil partnership, although you can convert it to a marriage first to avoid that.

Secondly, and more offensively, rather than just ending the requirement to be unmarried when you have a GRC awarded, the Same Sex Marriage Bill requires your spouse to consent to the granting of a GRC. This is significant because, despite being gutted somewhat by the 2010 Equality Act, GRCs still restore some rights (the ones we lost in 2010 we just stay without for good). If your spouse doesn’t consent, you get an IGRC instead, on the same terms as before: start to annul within 6 months of return to square one.

So basically, if your spouse can’t, or won’t sign the consent form, you have to divorce them to get your rights. This creates what is possibly the most passive-aggressive legally sanctioned way to initiate a divorce ever, i.e. “I don’t want to divorce you, but I’m going to veto your human rights until you divorce me”.

The government call this “both parties having a say in the future of their marriage”. What trans people call it isn’t actually printable, but in polite company we call it, “the Spousal Veto”.

Part 4: Lobbying

We don’t like the spousal veto. We really, really, don’t like it. Your spouse doesn’t get to veto your transition, your surgery, or anything else. They get to veto this though. In 2013, we are passing a law in the name of equality that makes the human rights of one party to a marriage the “gift” of the other.

So a bunch of us tried to get it changed. Much of the work around this has been done by a dozen-or-so people, including me. We wrote some amendments, which were submitted by my MP, Julian Huppert, aimed at restoring the stolen marriages and ending the spousal veto, amongst a couple of other things (one being that if your spouse discovers you’re trans and you can’t prove they knew before you married, they can have the marriage declared invalid. We aren’t all that keen on this either).

The amendments were rejected by the government at committee stage, so Julian put them again at Commons Report Stage, and gave what must rank amongst the best transgender-related speeches ever on the floor of the Commons.

And then an interesting thing happened: the minister in the Commons, Helen Grant, rejected the amendments using the exact same words that the civil servant responsible for drafting these bits of the bill had used when talking to our little bunch a few days earlier, when we met them in London.

It also became apparent to us that the veto had arisen on the basis of what sounded, when described, like the civil servants pretending they were married to trans people and writing into law what they would want for themselves.

The bill passed onto the Lords, with the veto intact. By now it had become apparent that the government would die in a ditch over not restoring the lost marriages, and I reluctantly gave up campaigning for their restoration to concentrate on the veto – the thing that we all agreed was the single most offensively transphobic provision in the Bill.

Part 5: Lords amendments

A number of us started talking to various Lib Dem and Labour peers, and it came to pass that while the government was adamant the veto needed to stay, they might be minded to give a bit of ground, and could we draft two amendments: what we wanted, and a compromise for if we couldn’t get it. This we did. The first amendment was no veto. The second was a veto, but if annulment proceedings hadn’t commenced (at the behest of either party) within 6 months, or a decree nisi hadn’t been issued within 12, the spouse lost the veto and gender recognition could go ahead.

Our compromise amendment was debated on the floor of the Lords, with brilliant speeches in support by Baroness Barker of the Lib Dems and Baroness Gould of Labour. The amendment was rejected.

This brings us close to the present day. There followed a flurry of desperate emails to try to salvage something. In the end, this week the government published an amendment. They were going to reintroduce the “Fast Track” for getting a GRC, but only for people who have been transitioned 6 years at the point the same sex marriage bill passes, and only if they’re married. The rationale is that some have waited, refusing to divorce, without their rights, and they might not be able to get the original diagnosis any more. These are couples who have put their commitment to their marriage over and above the human rights of one partner, in what must count as one of the strongest testaments to love that there is.

Oh, and by the way, there’s a spousal veto on this as well. Given what these marriages represent, the government could not have been more crassly offensive if they’d tried.

And that was the end of the battle, or so we believed, until out of the blue came the promise of another amendment, specifically to address the veto!

Part 6: The veto amendment

Here is what the government are proposing to do. Instead of saying you need signed spousal consent to get a GRC, otherwise you get an IGRC, they want to say that you need signed spousal consent for the marriage to continue.

As far as I can tell, this is a bit of legal manoeuvring. It seems that to address our objections that the consent is a veto over the issue of a GRC, the government are explicitly recasting it as permission to stay married.

Of course, if your spouse doesn’t grant that permission, you don’t get the GRC, just the same as before. It doesn’t actually change anything – the veto remains.

Summary

That was long, so I’ll summarise it in a TL;DR version.

  1. 1971 – Corbett v Corbett case removes ability for trans people to get rights associated with new gender, leaving them in limbo where they have neither the rights of the gender they started off with, nor the ones from where they ended up.
  2. 2004 – Gender Recognition Act restores those rights, but you have to have your marriage confiscated first.
  3. 2010 – Equality Act takes some of the rights back
  4. 2013 – Same Sex Marriage Bill proposes an end to confiscated marriages, but your spouse gets to veto your rights while you remain married.
  5. Bill passage – government gets increasingly transphobic while they defend the need to maintain the veto provision.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

15th April, 2013
11:58 am

[Link]

On Being Hounded off Twitter

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

I think I’m noticing a pattern develop in the less than harmonious way social media interfaces with journalism. I’m specifically going to avoid naming names, because I don’t really wish to pour petrol on flames.

However, it seems that there are a whole bunch of people who exist in a space between “random person on the Internet” and “so famous that someone manages their social media presence for them” who have embraced social media, and particularly Twitter, and possibly see it as a way to build their personal “brand”. Often these people are freelance columnists doing bits and pieces for newspapers and magazines. They perhaps see Twitter as a tool which can help them build their career.

And all goes well for a while, and they build a few tens of thousands of followers, and presumably think, “this is great! I get to share my thoughtful thoughts with the world and people will retweet them, and comment on them, and further build my presence!”

And then they say something that’s controversial in a way they weren’t hoping for.

What happens next is becoming a cliché: people object to a thing that’s been said. The author initially engages a bit. It rapidly becomes a self-sustaining blaze. Their phone starts going berserk with mention notifications, and they feel thoroughly got at. Within a few hours, they tend to shut down their twitter account.

The next wave will see their friends who also exist in a similar space, and who are using social media in a similar way, complain that they have been “hounded” off Twitter by “bullies”.

What I have to say next may not be popular, but I think it’s true:

This is your own fault and you need to take responsibility for your actions

Seriously, you engaged with something you didn’t fully understand, which worked well for you for a while, which you discovered can actually be really powerful, but which ultimately is not something you personally control. You were happy to use that power while it was working for you, but because you can’t control it there came a time when it did something else. When it did, it did it with all the power and speed that you previously relished, and which is now making you feel like you’re being buried under an avalanche.

In other words, you played with a powerful tool, the use of which you were not properly trained in, and recklessly concluded that this power was only ever going to work for you.

What would you think of someone who didn’t know how to drive a car getting in one and bombing down the M1, towards London, at 3 in the morning at 100mph? They’d presumably think they were having great fun as they sailed past town and city on a long, straight, empty road at 100mph.

And then these yellow lines appeared in front of them, and they have no idea what that means, and suddenly they’re on the North Circular road, still doing 100mph, with no actual idea how to drive.

That’s not hugely different to someone treating social media as something that will only ever advance their career. Twitter wasn’t built for the sole purpose of making your CV and ego larger and those tens of thousands of followers you were treating as a resource are real people who will just as soon turn on you as retweet your philosophical musings.

You need to deal with that, and not complain that bad things happen when you drive off the end of the M1 at 100mph.

(1 comment | Leave a comment)

12th February, 2013
09:51 pm

[Link]

Text of my Marriage Restoration Amendment

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Just a quick update to post the text of my trans marriage restoration amendment which I am now informed has been tabled by my MP, Julian Huppert (many thanks):

Page 10, line 3 (Section 9), after end insert:
(8) Where a civil partnership formed under part 1, section 96 of the Civil Partnership Act (Civil Partnership with former spouse) is converted into a marriage under this section —

(a) the civil partnership ends on the conversion, and
(b) if both partners so elect,
(c) the resulting marriage is to be treated as having subsisted since the marriage dissolved under schedule 2 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was formed.

If we get mixed sex civil partnership, an equivalent amendment will be needed to restore those as well, but we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

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25th January, 2013
04:29 pm

[Link]

Same Sex Marriage Bill – Transgender Implications

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

The government has published its long-awaited proposals for same sex marriage. This is a technical blog post, looking at what the implcations for trans people are:

I have a non-binary identity

The government’s equal marriage consultation set the tone by starting off talking about “marriage regardless of gender”. This was hopeful in that it suggested that trans issues were being given equal consideration to the comparatively more straightforward issue of same sex marriage in a cisnormative situation.

Note however that this bill is called the “Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill”. This seems like a retrograde step. We’re back to talking about “same sex” and “opposite sex” rather than “regardless of gender”. Indeed, it goes on, when talkming about how “marriage” is to be interpreted in existing legislation:

A reference to marriage is to be read as including a reference to marriage of a same sex couple

Same goes for cohabiting people who aren’t married – extension is to be granted to same sex couples.

Furthermore:

(a) “husband” includes a man who is married to another man;
(b) “wife” includes a woman who is married to another woman

This is pretty thin for non-binary people. If you’re neither a man nor a woman, or your marriage can’t be described as either “opposite sex” or “same sex”, then you’re not included in any of this. Where the consultation simply avoided this “opposite sex/same sex/man/woman” distinction entirely with “marriage regardless of gender”, what we now have in the bill is “marriage for the genders of male and female”.

If that’s not you and you want to get married, you’ll likely have to lie about who you are.

I want a civil partnership

Nothing has changed – you and your partner have to be the “same sex”, even if that’s a completely nonsensical way to describe your relationship. If the concept of “same sex” doesn’t mean anything in your relationship, you’ll likely have to lie if you want one of these.

I’m in a civil partnership and I’m transitioning

If you are in one of these and want a Gender Recognition Certificate, you have a few options:

  • Convert your civil partnership to a marriage before having anything to do with the Gender Recognition Panel.

  • Get an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate and annul your civil partnership. This is the same as at present and there are no proposals to end this barbaric practice.
  • Have your civil partner transition to the same binary gender as you (if one or both of you aren’t binary, lie) and apply for a GRC at the same time. The highly competent and efficient civil servants who administer all this stuff will make sure this works smoothly (warning: sarcasm may apply).
  • Don’t get a gender recognition certificate. This is what lots of people in this situation (both in civil partnerships and marriages) already do, because they regard their relationship as more important than legal recognition as their proper gender. I wish I hadn’t found out I was one of these people until too late.

If you want to transition into an “opposite sex relationship” in the eyes of the state and retain your civil partnership, you can’t. If you have lots of money you may want to consider speaking to a human rights lawyer at this point.

I’m already married and I want to stay married and I want a Gender Recognition Certificate

Congratulations. You fall into the category of “trans people for whom this is actually useful”. You can have one. Your existing relationship will continue to be recognised. It’s not clear if you can get your name fixed on a reissued marriage certificate the way you can on your birth certificate; the bill doesn’t say.

I was married, I had my marriage annulled, I’m now in a civil partnership, can I have my marriage back?

I’m in this situation. The answer is no, you can’t. It stinks, doesn’t it? The government screwed us over and it’s not really interested in sorting that out. It’s not that the bill prohibits restoration of our relationships per-se; it just completely ignores the issue. It’s almost as if they’re really embarrassed about what they did to us and hope that by not mentioning it, it’ll just go away.

Oh, right…

I’m married, my relationship has turned acrimonious. We have a house/kids/shared stamp collection [delete as applicable], it’s all really toxic, does this affect my rights under this bill?

I have some bad news for you. You might want to sit down.

The stuff about marriage being no impediment to getting a Gender Recognition Certificate any more … that’s not entirely true.

When you apply for a GRC, if you’re married, you need your spouse to consent in writing to you getting a GRC.

That’s right – this person who probably has a restraining order against you, and is threatening to never let you see your children again, and has told all your mutual friends that you’re dead, or have been kidnapped by penguins, or anything to escape the shame of being married to one of them, this person has a veto over your legal gender.

It’s only a temporary veto. If they don’t sign the form and you apply for a GRC, you get an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate. You then have to go through the annulment process as before. Your partner can stall this for a bit by not responding to court letters and hiring solicitors and stuff. Basically, you have to go through the pain of an acrimonious divorce before you can have a Gender Recognition Certificate, even if you’ve been separated for years, probably on account of the stress your poor ex partner will have to go through if they realise that you have a piece of paper in your desk drawer which makes them officially gay.

A note on consummation

It’s not clear what this means for trans people who don’t have the expected genital configuration. If the government don’t tighten this up, expect another hilarious court case along the lines of Corbett v Corbett real soon now.

Conclusion

If the government were to publish a bill that provided for marriage for same sex couples, and then noticed that they got the bare minimal bit of Gender Recognition Act reform thrown in for free, but didn’t decide to actually go out of their way to do a single damned thing for trans people, it would would look exactly like this one.

Shame really – it showed so much promise. We’ve been thrown under the bus again, but it’s what we’re used to, right?

I’d better stop, as I seem to be getting a bit cross.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

15th January, 2013
11:48 am

[Link]

What the Hell is Wrong With You People?

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Last week thousands of transgender people, sick and tired of suffering systemic and chronic abuse at the hands of an institutionally transphobic medical profession, decided we were going to tell the world about it.

Or at least the bit of it that reads Twitter.

It was relatively successful. Lots of people looked at the stories of routine and pointless abuse, abuse for its own sake, and were shocked.

So what did our intrepid press do? Did they decide to run daring exposés of this systemic abuse? Bring justice to a minority denied it for decades? Campaign to stop further abuse from happening?

No, they didn’t do any of these things. Noticing that it looked like a bit of a laugh, and the the doctors were getting away with it, they apparently decided to join in themselves.

So far we have the Guardian, Observer, Telegraph and today the Independent joining in (apparently we should be able to take a joke as our “shoulders are broad enough”). Interesting to note that this is mostly the broadsheets too. I await the contributions of the Times and Financial Times with interest. What will it be? A hilarious witty take on how trans women have deep voices, and are ugly, and how we have hairy arms, and smell and are stupid?

A development I’ve also seen this morning is the Dawkins Brigade joining in. Not just the ones who think rape is funny, but some of the ones who are horrified at the ones who think rape is funny, because while rape is definitely Not Funny, apparently trans people are. They can agree on that: laugh at the trans people, they’re funny. Ha ha!

Apparently this is about “freedom of speech”. When a newspaper editor publishes something randomly abusing trans people and then thinks better of it, and withdraws the article, this is an attack on Freedom of Speech and it is Censorship, and because trans people had the nerve to complain about being abused in the national press, it is Our Fault and we are The Censors, and Julie Bindel was right all along about a trans cabal.

The irony of telling a minority to shut up in a forum where we’re mostly being ignored anyway so that the majority can call us bedwetters in a national newspaper without worrying if their editor is going to pull the piece is apparently lost on “freedom of speech” campaigners.

I think, reflecting on this, I have one point to make: Freedom of speech is many things, but what it is not is the right to a column in the national press, free from editorial constraint, where you get to abuse “the little people”, and have a baying mob telling those same “little people” to keep quiet while our betters tell us how rank we are. In caricaturing it thus, you cheapen it.

Meanwhile, trans people are increasingly wondering what the hell is happening us and curling up into balls and feeling like begging for the abuse to stop. I know I am.

Please stop it. Please just stop. Stop.

Please?

(1 comment | Leave a comment)

14th January, 2013
12:09 pm

[Link]

Sarah’s Arts and Media Review

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

A curious thing happened on Twitter, and in the papers over the course of the last week.

As far as I can tell, a small clique of journalists, apparently united by their love for lobster and champagne (yum!), and dislike for trans people (boo!), got upset over the discovery that Twitter isn’t like writing for a newspaper, where you can say something outrageous and any protest is filtered by a letters editor. Instead, if you say something outrageous, people tend to talk back.

One of them responded very badly to this discovery. A few people, most of whom probably weren’t trans, had engaged with her over an article she’d written. Initially this was apparently quite polite – certainly more polite than a lot of the stuff I get people tweeting at me.

In a display of “how not to do social media if you want a quiet life, free from throwing crockery at the wall”, she then tweeted a bunch of stuff about “getting your dick cut off” and suchlike.

This didn’t go down very well, and lots of people told her what they thought about this. Some of them were probably not polite, most of them were probably not trans. This led to what those audience members savvy in the ways of the Internet might term a “flounce” or a “rage quit”; she deleted her account and subsequently claimed to have been “hounded off Twitter”.

This was followed by one of her friends trotting out some line about how trans people are “bullies” and a “cabal”, and another of her friends publishing a letter detailing her resignation from humanity in the Observer (or was it the Guardian? It seems to depend whether you were reading it in dead-tree format, or online). The letter included snippets about how trans people are all bed wetters in bad wigs, how they use strange Latin words which she didn’t like the sound of, had twenty PhDs each, are “shemales”, and how we wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

To be honest, she doesn’t sound terribly likeable when she’s not, especially when it seems she’s previously written stuff about how it would be a good thing to shoot sex workers. Some of my friends are sex workers, and they’re nice people, and I’m not keen on the idea of them being shot, so not liking her is probably not much of a loss.

This whole episode can be seen in different ways. On the one hand, it can be seen as a failed attempt for newspapers trying to embrace social media in the face of a business model brought into decline by the existence of the Internet.

It probably works better as some sort of grotesque piece of theatre, in which trans people are portrayed as a shadowy cult, manipulating world governments through the art of wig-wearing and lobster munching luvvie journos, are pining for the return of the 1990s glory days in a world they no-longer understand; a world which includes trans people and iPhones, and trans people using iPhones.

You should probably skip it and go and see Les Mis instead.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

11th January, 2013
03:37 pm

[Link]

It’s Time for the Media to Change the Record on Trans Healthcare

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Transgender healthcare is in the news again. It’s been widely known amongst trans people for some time, but on the 6th of January, Guardian journalist David Batty reported that the General Medical Council is investigating private trans healthcare specialist, Dr Richard Curtis. In his article, Batty paints a picture of misdiagnosis, patient regret, and inappropriate prescribing.

Those of us who follow this stuff might be forgiven for experiencing a sense of deja-vu. Dr Curtis took over the private practice of Russell Reid from 2005. In 2007, Dr Reid faced a General Medical council fitness to practice hearing which was reported on by no other than Guardian journalist, David Batty. In his reports, Batty spoke of misdiagnosis, patient regret, and inappropriate prescribing.

It’s entirely proper for the GMC to investigate allegations of misconduct, and for the press to report on it, but it’s difficult for trans people not to notice how terribly one-sided it all seems to be. The doctors who seem to end up in front of the GMC seem to be those ones who are generally well regarded by trans people, and who have a reputation for helping us when nobody else will. Press reports concentrate on regrets about procedures which have satisfaction levels beyond the dreams of most other fields of medicine, where much larger regret rates are regarded as par for the course. They rigidly stick to a narrative about a dangerous procedure which gullible people are tricked into by reckless doctors and end up bitterly regretting.

The reality experienced by trans people ourselves is not recognisable from the press reports. In reality large numbers of us are used to being ignored, abused and ridiculed by doctors when we seek treatment. We are denied referrals, denied funding, denied prescriptions and humiliated by a medical establishment which many experience as institutionally transphobic.

Batty’s recent article prompted me to take to Twitter to highlight the hypocrisy of the media in how they report trans healthcare. I wrote:

I had a misdiagnosis which led to surgery I regret, and which has caused long term problems.

Here press press press! I, a trans person, had surgery due to misdiagnosis and I regret it. Come and get it, you know you want to.

The scarring will never fade. My mutilated appendage will never be fully functional again. It’s all true. Nice and juicy! Come and get it!

I was offered surgery after only two appointments with the specialist.

Less than five minutes later, and despite my painfully obvious trolling, the phone rang. It was a newspaper noticing that I’d spoken about surgical regret and could I elaborate? They lost interest when I said it was all true, but I was talking about surgery I had on my right hand in 2011. I apologised for wasting their time.

The misdiagnosis which led to me having surgery on my hand when I shouldn’t have done, and which made the existing problem worse, won’t ever be the subject of a GMC fitness to practice hearing, nor would I want it to be. There’s nobody at fault for what happened; it’s just one of those things which falls within the limitations of modern medicine. I may ultimately lose one or more fingers because of it, but these things happen and I am simply unlucky.

But I could not have wished for a more perfect example of the double standards at work here. Prompted by this, a few trans people started sharing stories of how they had been mistreated by their doctors with me. The next morning, I made a Twitter hashtag, #TransDocFail, to share stories about mistreatment and prejudice at the hands of the medical community. I expected a few dozen. Later that day I stopped counting at 2,000 and several days later, it’s still receiving new reports. Lots of the descriptions are harrowing: people being called “abominations” by their doctors, people bleeding to death being refused treatment by A&E departments, vast numbers of GPs telling people to pull themselves together, or “sacking” them as patients, sexual assault by unnecessary and repeated genital examinations, and so on.

The reports went on and on. Trans people watched it with sadness and resignation. Non trans people stared, open mouthed, barely comprehending how the healthcare system can treat people like this with barely a whisper in the national media. If this was happening in any other area of medicine it would be a national scandal, comparable in magnitude to the Saville affair, staying in the headlines for months and prompting widespread investigations.

I’m thrilled because I managed to speak about it for 5 minutes on local radio.

The media needs to end its transphobic obsession with transition regretters, because this wilful tunnel vision is blinding it to routine and systemic abuse of transgender people when we try to access health services. The LGBT movement wouldn’t tolerate it if the bulk of LGB coverage in the press was about loud and proud ex-gays. We shouldn’t tolerate this either.

(Leave a comment)

14th November, 2012
01:55 pm

[Link]

Some Thoughts on Hot Chilli Production

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

I make no secret of my love of hot chillies. Chilli peppers together comprise the genus Capsicum, which also includes sweet peppers (really just chillies that have lost their ability to produce the irritant chemical, capsaicin, which is what gives chillies their heat). Most everyday chillies which people encounter, such as jalapeños or cayennes, are the species Capsicum annuum, which are relatively easy to grow even at the chilly (no pun intended) latitude of Cambridge, which is 52º north.

However, the really hot chillies, such as the habanero, scotch bonnet, naga jolokia and the current record holder, the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, are Capsicum chinense. Both these species have stupid names; C. annuum is, like all chilli plants, perennial and not annual (this is important). C. chinense was so-named because someone who was presumably having an “unable to brain” moment allegedly decided they came from China.

No chillies come from China. All members of the Capsicum genus are descended from wild plants which originate in the West Indies, Central and South America. The ones we eat are cultivars which have been domesticated over thousands of years. C. chinense in particular comes from Cuba and the Lesser Antilles chain, as well as the nearby bits of South America. This is decidedly tropical, experiencing little in the way of seasonal temperature and daylight variations. They are used to growing in hot, bright, sunny conditions, and they’re fussy about it.

They hate it here. They’re difficult to germinate (naga jolokia won’t unless it spends about 6 weeks in soil which never drops below 28º), make tomatoes look frost tolerant and prone to dropping their fruit at the first sign of environmental stress. C. chinense is a true princess amongst chillies.

Which, along with their blistering heat and amazing fruity flavour, is what makes them so much fun to grow.

Despite the crappy year we have just had, what with it missing a summer and all, I have managed to grow a few viable habanero plants from seed (I started in late 2011) and had a half-decent crop of fruit. Now I’m thinking of next year and since I have some proven producers that managed to withstand a few months in my garden in one of the wettest summers on record. I am keen to keep them. Starting from seed each year is a drag and shortens the time they have to produce fruit.

Overwintering habaneros

The survivors are sitting on a windowsill in my dining room, enjoying direct sunlight. They’re a bit pot bound, so once I have all the remaining fruit from them (they are still flowering, but don’t seem to want to produce fruit at the moment, even when fertilised), they will be severely pruned back. This also keeps them a manageable size because there are six of them, and the window isn’t very big and chillies can make rather large houseplants if you let them get out of hand.

In addition, I have planted some naga jolokia seeds for next year. I’ve got 20 seeds, and this variety is so fussy that I might not get a single plant. To give them their best shot, I have them in a heated and thermostatically controlled propagator. They only take up half the room though, so it gave me an idea…

My propagator

My propagator, with cuttings and seeds, kept snuggly and warm!

Since chillies are perennial, and even though they’re reluctant to fruit at the moment, my habaneros are producing copious amounts of new foliage, I have decided to try my hand at cloning them. A bag of seed compost, a few small plant pots and a tub of rooting hormone later I now have cuttings from my most prolific and tasty performers sitting alongside the (hopefully) germinating naga jolokia seeds. The plan being that each year I can have a stock of plants which can live outside in the summer. In winter I will take a few in, cut them back and overwinter them on the windowsill. In the meantime I will take cuttings from them and clone them in my propagator, ready to have a fresh bunch of plants to put outside the moment the conditions become right (hopefully around April).

In the meantime, I will keep the cuttings and the overwintering originals pruned back so they’re nice and small and manageable and not competing for every south-facing window in my house.

It’s too early yet to say whether this will work, but I have high hopes. Wish me luck! I’ll report back in the spring.

(10 comments | Leave a comment)

24th September, 2012
05:45 pm

[Link]

My Speech to the LGBT+ Lib Dems/Stonewall Fringe

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

This is the speech I gave as part of the panel in the LGBT+ Lib Dems/Stonewall Fringe at the Lib Dem autumn conference in Brighton.

I want to talk a little bit about the nature of homophobia. This is an area where one has to choose words carefully, but if you’ll bear with me for a minute, I’ll attempt a working definition of homophobia as the hatred of someone who experiences same sex attraction, or who is perceived to experience same sex attraction.

The point about perception is important, because not only do you not have to be homosexual to experience homophobia: bisexual people experience it too, for example. You don’t even need to experience same sex attraction. You can be entirely and conventionally heterosexual in your sexual behaviour and desires, and still be a victim of homophobia.

Indeed, plenty of people are on the receiving end of homophobia before they are sexually active at all – we all know that homophobic bullying happens to kids from a very young age.

Actual sexual behaviour isn’t really a causative factor in most homophobic abuse. I have experienced homophobic abuse in public, and I, like most people, don’t actually have sex in public. As an elected representative of the people, that sort of thing is frowned upon.

So when someone screams “faggot!” or “dkye!” at someone in the street, what are they actually keying off that triggers that homophobic reaction? What is it about certain people that homophobic bigots decide to home in on? Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are just like everyone else, apart from the sex thing, right? Right?

Well, no. Spend even a short amount of time in LGBT circles and it becomes pretty obvious that there is something different, not about everyone, but about a lot of people.

I’m going to suggest that what a lot of people are picking up on, and reacting with homophobia towards, is something they perceive as transgressive about the target of their abuse. It could be the way they look, or the way they talk, or the things they’re doing, or whatever. I’m going to further suggest that the apparent transgressions that are being picked up on are, in fact, perceived transgressions of gendered behaviour.

About gay men, homophobes use words like, “mincing”, “flamboyant”, “limp wristed”, “camp”, “ducky”, “effeminate”. Jokes about airline stewards and their handbags are often made. If you’re a lesbian woman, as I am, you might get homophobes telling you that you’re ugly, that you need to shave, that you should get back in the kitchen, that you “wear comfortable shoes” (I do actually wear comfortable shoes – life’s too short not to). If we have short hair or don’t wear any makeup, they pick up on that.

So I’m going to say something perhaps a little bit controversial here. Much, probably most, homophobia which gets directed at people is about what we might call non cisnormativity. Most homophobia is, in fact, rooted in and emergent out of, transphobia.

So what’s transphobia? I’ll attempt a working definition again. Transphobia is the hatred of people who identity, or who are perceived to identify, in a way that is commonly associated with a gender other than the one they are assigned at birth. You don’t need t be trans to experience transphobia. Someone just has to decide that you are not meeting their standards of what a real man, or a real woman should be.

A lot of the abuse that gets hurled is the same as for homophobia, because really transphobia and homophobia are two sides of the same coin. Trans women, for example, will often get called “ducky” and “sissy” and “faggot”, just as gay men will. Trans men will often have “dyke” hurled at them by an abuser. We’re all basically being abused for the same thing – that is we are transgressing what someone regards as acceptable gendered behaviour.

I’m not stopping here though, because I think transphobia itself is a manifestation of a deeper gendered neurosis in our society, and that is misogyny – hatred of women and the feminine.

Think about it: if someone comes out as gay at work and gets abused as a result, a lot of the abuse will centre around whether they are the one who takes on the so-called “female role” in sex. To be penetrated is to have sex like a woman, and that is degrading and not something a “proper man” would permit himself to be subjected to.

It’s similar with women who have sex with women, and indeed with trans men. Both groups are seen as trying to “better” themselves in ways that they aren’t really “entitled to”. Lesbians are derided as never being able to truly satisfy a woman. Only a proper man can do that. We just need to experience the real thing, so the story goes, and we will be straightened out into well adjusted heterosexual women, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

I’m reminded of a sketch on the Catherine Tate show. You know the one – she plays a passive aggressive woman who gets into a trivial situation and starts screaming, “Man! Man!”. In one episode there is a slight twist. Her car breaks down, and she starts her usual mantra. A woman comes along and offers to help and once again she starts yelling for a man. The other woman says, “it’s OK, I’m a lesbian”, and proceeds to fix the car.

Comedy like this reflects society’ attitudes towards LGBT people. We’re a bunch of men who taint ourselves with the effeminate, and a bunch of women who try to shed what’s seen as pathetic femininity to be proper people, i.e. men.

Homophobia is rooted in transphobia, and transphobia is rooted in misogyny, and if we are to challenge any of this we desperately need to engage in joined up thinking. There’s a school of thought that LGB people will gain acceptance if we can convince the homophobes that we’re just like the rest of them, apart from what we do in the bedroom. For some of us, that might be true, but for a lot of us it isn’t. I think this approach to try and address homophobic bullying and abuse is largely futile because it doesn’t deal with the core problem. Some people will always express behaviour which is seen as not gender normative. Our message needs to be that there is nothing wrong with that, and furthermore there is nothing wrong with femininity either.

We need to get our own houses in order. When we see transphobia in the LGB community, we need to challenge it. When we see misogyny an sexism in any part of our community, we need to challenge that. Every time a drag queen refers to women as “fish”, every time the LGB establishment turns a blind eye to transphobia in its own ranks, we serve to further the attitudes that underly homophobia bullying. We need to get this right ourselves, because if we don’t, who will?

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

19th September, 2012
07:44 am

[Link]

Policing The Land – in honour of #LDConf

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Sound the blues and twos, eh boys and sound them far and wide!
Liberals want to congregate, but don’t let them inside!
We know they passed a motion; it’s pathetic that they tried.
Conference is not for these people.

The land! The land! Don’t let them on the land!
The land! The land! Inside the Brighton Grand.
Your name’s not down, your face don’t fit. Just tell it to the hand.
Conference is not for some people.

Hear the baffled voices on the left and on the right.
Liberals are just awkward sods, why do they have to fight?
It doesn’t affect me and mine, so it will be alright.
Conference is not for such people.

The land! The land! Don’t let them on the land!
The land! The land! Inside the Brighton Grand.
Your name’s not down, your face don’t fit. Just tell it to the hand.
Conference is not for some people.

Clear away the protestors, they don’t look very nice.
If they won’t go, then kettle ‘em: squeeze them like a vice.
Their leaders shouldn’t make a fuss; not fighters, more like mice.
Conference is just for nice people.

The land! The land! Don’t let them on the land!
The land! The land! Inside the Brighton Grand.
Your name’s not down, your face don’t fit. Just tell it to the hand.
Conference is not for some people.

Security theatre marches on, all hail the corporate state!
Contracting with G4S, securing your debate!
No liquids, flags or dissent please. You’re trans? Whatever mate.
Conference is not for the people.

By Sarah Brown, @auntysarah

(1 comment | Leave a comment)

13th June, 2012
11:03 pm

[Link]

Itching to get on Some Mountains

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

This blog is ostensibly about climbing, as well as more activisty stuff, because one day I’m going to stop caring about the world and go and be a climber bum, because climbing and related activities are my passion.

Anyway, we’re currently planning a holiday to the Alps in August, about which I’m as excited as a kid with an advent calendar. In the meantime, I’d like to get outdoors in the UK, but the weather is awful, so am currently pretty much confined to climbing gyms.

Here’s me lead climbing a short 5+ route in the Castle in London. It’s quite overhangy and there’s a bit where one almost has to “cut loose” (i.e. cast off with feet and hang on the arms), above my protection which would make a fall “interesting”.

My style could be cleaner in places, but I think it’s fairly tidy, and so am quite happy with this. I’m finding watching it useful though because it’s giving me pointers as to what I need to tighten up.

Anyway, enjoy – I had fun climbing it. I’m only allowed to use the yellow ones.

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11th June, 2012
02:29 pm

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My Response to the Home Office Marriage Equality Consultation

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

The marriage equality consultation closes this week. I have waited until this week to submit my response in order to respond from a position of being aware of issues that have arisen as a result of public debate around the consultation.

However, the consultation closes in 3 days. The homophobes have been out in force and have, as I understand it, swamped the process with negative responses suggesting that the existing discriminatory situation should remain. Many of these objections are based on the idea that marriage is “owned” by churches. This is, of course, nonsense. Marriage predates any currently practiced religion as a concept and civil marriages have outnumbered religious marriages in this country for some time.

Indeed, while a push by certain churches to claim ownership of marriage as a religious, and not civil institution, might be intellectually respectable (even if I don’t for one second agree with it), it is deeply unfortunate that this push comes after years of marriage quite clearly being a civil institution for most people entering into it, and at a time where the government is consulting on extending civil marriage to same sex couples. It’s deeply unfortunate because the genuine concern of these churches ends up looking really, really homophobic, which I expect they’re mortified about.

Finally, the government has made it quite clear that they are not proposing to allow religious same sex marriage (this is something I disagree with, but I understand their need to propose what will get through both houses of Parliament), and that the consultation is about how same sex marriage will now be introduced, and not if it will. This means that the thousands of astroturfed responses suggesting it shouldn’t be allowed at all are basically trolling.

This is why it’s really important to get some sensible responses to the consultation from people who are in a position of being able to take advantage of LGBT-friendly reform to marriage and gender recognition law:

  • If you are gay, lesbian or bisexual, and might one day want to benefit from state recognition of your relationship, this consultation is about you.
  • If you might ever be a participant in the gender recognition process (either you’re trans, or you might one day be in a relationship with someone who is), this consultation is about you.
  • If you are married and feel that it’s a patriarchal institution which you disagree with, but you need to be able to operate a joint account with your partner in an uncomplicated way and would rather have a civil partnership, this consultation is about you.

Please answer it. Do it now, or do it tomorrow or the day after, but don’t wait any longer than that because it will be too late. You can do it online – it takes five minutes. Please just do it.

Anyway, here are my answers. Please feel free to use them as a template

Question 1. Do you agree or disagree that all couples, regardless of their gender, should be able to have a civil marriage ceremony?

Agree

Question 2. Please explain the reasons for your answer, limiting your response to 1,225 characters (approx 200 words):

There is a discrimination issue that needs to be addressed: the current situation where marriage exists for opposite sex couples and civil partnership exists for same sex couples represents segregation in society along sexual orientation grounds. This can make non heterosexual people feel like “second class citizens”.

Those who do not identify as either male or female are not served by either institution and must misrepresent themselves to gain access to one of them at present.

I have been through the GRA dissolution/conversion to civil partnership process. I regard my marriage as having been taken from me under duress and feel a great injustice has been done to myself, my wife and those like us. This must not be allowed to continue.

Question 3. If you identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual would you wish to have a civil marriage ceremony?

Agree

Question 4. If you represent a group of individuals who identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual would those you represent wish to have a civil marriage ceremony?

N/A

Question 5. The government does not propose to open up religious marriage to same-sex couples. Do you agree or disagree with this proposal?

Disagree – religious marriage should be opened up to same-sex couples

Question 6. Do you agree or disagree with keeping the option of civil partnerships once civil marriage is made available to same-sex couples?

Agree

Question 7. If you identify as being lesbian, gay or bisexual and were considering making a legal commitment to your partner, would you prefer to have a civil partnership or a civil marriage?

Civil marriage

Question 8. The government is not considering opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples because we have been unable to identify a need for this. However, we appreciate that there are a number of views on this issue.

Disagree – civil partnerships should be opened up to opposite-sex couples</b>

Question 9. If you are in a civil partnership would you wish to take advantage of this policy and convert your civil partnership into a marriage?

Yes

Question 10. We would not propose introducing a time limit on the ability to convert a civil partnership into a marriage.

Agree – there shouldn’t be a time limit

Question 11. Do you think there should be an option to have a civil ceremony on conversion of a civil partnership into a marriage?

Yes, there should be an option

Question 12. If you are a married transsexual person, would you want to take advantage of this policy and remain in your marriage while obtaining a full Gender Recognition Certificate?

Yes

Question 13. If you are the spouse of a transsexual person, would you want to take advantage of this policy and remain in your marriage whilst your spouse obtained a full Gender Recognition Certificate?

N/A

Question 14. Do you have any comments on the assumptions or issues outlined above? If so, please provide details in the space below, limiting your response to 1,225 characters (approx 200 words).

Religious same sex marriage should be available to those organisations which want it. Equalities legislation should not be used to force unwilling organisations to conduct religious same sex marriage.

Because marriage equality and the existence of same sex civil unions varies hugely internationally, the recognition of relationships originating outside the UK should be done in as flexible a way as possible. Same sex couples coming to the UK from countries where no same sex union recognition exists at all should be allowed to be regarded as married for immigration purposes if that is the defacto nature of their relationship.
 
Question 15. Are you aware of any costs or benefits that exist to either the public or private sector, or individuals that we have not accounted for in the impact assessment? If so, please provide details in the space below, limiting your response to 1,225 characters (approx 200 words).

Those of us who underwent the GRA dissolution process have already had to pay to have our existing marriages dissolved and to be re-registered as civil partners. We should not have to pay again to put this injustice right.

Some who have undergone dissolution under the GRA, and are now civil partners, may have had pension contributions adversely affected. These should be reinstated as if the marriage was continuous.

Question 16. Do you have any other comments on the proposals within this consultation? If so, please provide details in the space below, limiting your response to 1,225 characters (approx 200 words).

Civil partnerships should be made available regardless of gender. This is both for equality reasons, and to prevent coercive dissolution of civil partnerships where one or both partners are transsexual and wish to undergo gender recognition.

The marriages confiscated under the GRA, and converted into civil partnerships, should be allowed to be reinstated. This is correcting an injustice and the reinstatement should be effective from the date of the original marriage. Marriage certificates should be reissued in either the current names and genders of the partners, or the former ones (provide the option). If this is not done, those who undergo gender recognition in future will have their marriages recognised, but those of us who have already undergone it won’t, creating a “lost decade”.

If birth certificates can be reissued, so can marriage certificates. This is hugely important to those of us who want our marriages back.

The GRA dissolution process is bureaucratic and works very poorly. Conversion between civil partnerships and marriage should be made simple. It should be as easy as applying for a passport.

Those in marriages should be allowed to convert to a civil partnership if they wish.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

23rd April, 2012
09:12 pm

[Link]

Political Conference Background Checks – Putting Our Case to the Lib Dem Federal Conference Co

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Political conferences are amazing places – for a few days you’re mixing with like minded people from all over the country, getting to talk to MPs, peers and ministers in briefing, workshop and Q&A sessions, socialising at “fringe” events, and occasionally getting to have a word in the ear of someone who can effect real change in the UK.

Of course, they’re also a bit of a nightmare for security services, especially when they’re being held by a party of government. There have been attacks on them in the past – perhaps most notably the 1984 Brighton Bombing where the Provisional IRA tried to take out the then government.

In the conferences I’ve attended, there have often been airport-style x-ray machines and metal detectors on the way in, and while people grumble about the queues, this is generally accepted as probably necessary (although obviously it wouldn’t have protected against Brighton-style attack). For a long time, the two larger parties in the UK, Labour and the Conservatives, have had “vetting”, where anyone wanting to attend has to first submit to a background check by the police (who, presumably, bring in other agencies).

Liberal Democrats haven’t traditionally had this – we take the view that all party members should be allowed to attend our conference, which unlike the other two big parties, is sovereign in policy making – votes at conference set our party policy. Ordinary members get the choice to speak in conference debates and influence the votes that set our party policy. Most memorable for me was the debate in 2010 which made our commitment to marriage equality and gender recognition reform policy.

Now we’re in government, Federal Conference Committee, the party body responsible for organising conference, has come under pressure to bring in vetting for our autumn conference. This has caused quite a lot of upset in a party that prides itself on a strong pro-civil liberties stance, but I’m not writing about that aspect (although I have participated in that debate too) right now; I’m writing about the effect it has on people who have changed their identity. In particular, I’m writing about the effect it has on trans people.

Last week, myself and Zoe (who are executive members of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats) had a chat with the chair of the FCC about the issues facing trans people and background checks. As a result, both of us and the chair of the LGBT+ Lib Dems were invited today to a meeting of the FCC in London, just over the road from the Houses of Westminster in LD HQ, to talk about the issues trans people face when dealing with background checks by the authorities and answer questions. I spent about ten minutes speaking from notes, which I’ll include here:

Basic problem – lots of trans people are “stealth”. Consequences of previous identity being revealed to their social group are potentially devastating.

Even those of us who are “out and proud” like to keep some control for things like security checkpoints, etc.. It’s a personal safety thing, as well as dignity. In casual public encounters, people can be extremely tactless,
leading to public humiliation. Quite apart from being outed, association with former identity can be extremely traumatic. I suffer PTSD symptoms around it, and I know I’m not alone – the thought of applying to last year’s autumn conference actually gave me acute physical stress symptoms.

Police forces have a track record of institutional incompetence with regard to our identities. What is a simple administrative error to them (leaking old name) can be devastating to us. People can and do suffer violence as a result, have to leave the communities they’re in, etc.

Police track record on this is dreadful. Even when they get LGBT liaison officers involved, they generally don’t get it because most LGBT liaison officers concentrate almost entirely on the issues around sexuality, not gender identity. The mishandling of the public toilets at Pride 2008 in London which led to a trans woman being sexually assaulted was caused, in part, by an LGBT liaison officer getting things disastrously wrong.

Bottom line – convincing trans people that the police can be trusted is an impossible task because we know they can’t.

We are being asked to trade a hypothetical danger of physical harm to someone else against a very immediate danger of physical harm towards ourselves, and it’s not fair to ask people to do that.

Anything that involves a possibility of outing will result in some simply staying away. Setting up a “special channel” for people to apply wont help – the CRB have such a special channel and I know from direct personal experience that it leaks – it’s done so with me.

Some trans people are not in a position to obtain consistent personal documentation, often because of institutional or personal transphobia.

Lib Dems attract trans people because we’re a group which is systematically abused by society, government and other institutions. The world is essentially a hostile environment and so civil liberties and equality issues are very important to us.

Obviously I fleshed these out a bit, and went into details of how the Met Police LGBT Liaison officer got things so very wrong at Pride London 2008, how the Criminal Records Bureau accidentally revealed my old name when I was applying to do healthcare voluntary work a few years ago (and then wrote to the organisation asking them not to open the letter and send it back – somewhat akin to asking someone not to think of an elephant), and talked about how I’ve had friends who have had to move when “outed”.

Zoe added some details too, and afterwards we answered a few questions. Having made our case, we left them to it.

An hour or so after we left, one FCC member tweeted, “FCC very keen to find way of #ldconf being able to go ahead without accreditation, so registration opening will be delayed pending solution

And another said, “Thanks for coming this evening. What you both said was very moving and shocking – such discrimination and abuse is unacceptable.

I guess that means what we said has been taken very seriously, and it’s a case of waiting to see what happens now.

(1 comment | Leave a comment)

22nd March, 2012
09:50 pm

[Link]

My Equal Marriage Letter

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

After chatting to the political journalist for the local paper, Cambridge First, I was asked to submit a letter about the current equal marriage consultation in the UK. The consultation also looks at gender recognition, and if you’re in the UK I would encourage you to respond (I’ll post my response here when I make it). Here’s the letter:

Last week the government launched a consultation into marriage equality in England and Wales.

Assuming legislation on equal marriage is passed in this parliament, it will mark nearly a decade since the signing into law of two sibling pieces of legislation, the 2005 Civil Partnership Act and the lesser known 2004 Gender Recognition Act. These two acts together changed the landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the UK, but they were both half-measures. They created a situation which satisfied neither those LGBT people seeking equal treatment before the law, nor their critics who wanted to retain the status-quo.

The Gender Recognition Act allowed transgender people to gain legal recognition of their gender. This granted them marriage and employment protection rights which other people took for granted, but at a cost – if you were in an existing marriage or civil partnership, you had to have it annulled first, otherwise your rights were kept from you. This was more than an inconvenience; it had profound consequences. A woman who would be seen as such were she naked in a gym changing room would be treated by the law as a man, including being locked up with male prisoners if she was to be given a custodial sentence by a court.

The Civil Partnership Act created a form of relationship which was “seperate-but-not-quite- equal” for same sex couples wanting to recognise their commitment to each other with a marriage. Despite civil partnerships commonly being referred to as “gay marriages” by the press and public, they do not confer the same rights as a marriage. Being regarded as next-of-kin when abroad is not assured even in countries which have full marriage equality, for example.

Couples in marriages where one partner had undergone gender transition were treated particularly unfairly by these half-finished laws. Some of the strongest marriages around were, in a cruel irony, subject to state-coerced divorce, with gender recognition being used as both the carrot and the stick for those who refused to end what had become, in effect, a same-sex marriage. Lib Dem Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, described this treatment as “cruel and unusual”.

I was one of those who suffered confiscation of my marriage. One spring morning in 2009, my wife and I stood before a judge and had our marriage annulled. We had convinced ourselves that this was a matter of bureaucracy, that a few days later when we underwent a civil partnership ceremony nothing would have changed, but it wasn’t true. We left the court in tears and holding hands. Less than 2 weeks later, when a registrar pronounced us “civil partners”, it felt like the final indignity. It was very clear to us that the state regarded our relationship as second class.

We still celebrate the anniversary of our marriage, the real one. This year should have been our eleventh anniversary. It is to us, but to the state that’s a fiction; our marriage never existed – it has been erased.

The plans the government is now consulting on will end this for those who come after. Divorce will no-longer be the price for legal recognition and protection, and same sex couples will be able to be married in civil ceremonies. I am proud that Liberal Democrats in the coalition government are delivering this; we are the only one of the three main parties to have marriage equality as party policy.

I would like to see the proposals go further. While churches which don’t want to marry same-sex couples won’t have to under the proposals, lobbying by some churches has resulted in proposals that will ban those religions which do want to conduct same-sex marriages from doing so. It is an affront to religious freedom that one sect presumes to speak for all in this way. While civil partnerships will remain for those same-sex couples who want them instead of a marriage, they will not be extended to opposite-sex couples who feel such a status better reflects the nature of their relationship. Finally, those marriages which were confiscated by the state, such as mine, will not be reinstated.

I will be responding to the government’s consultation by asking them to go further; to do the job properly this time, to not give in to the bullying of a few religious figures who presume to speak for all, and to put right the grave injustice of state-mandated divorce. I urge your readers to do the same.

Those wishing to respond to the consultation can find out more at www.abouttime.org.uk

Councillor Sarah Brown – LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Transgender Working Group Chair


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6th March, 2012
02:14 pm

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Towards a Less Simplistic Perception of Gender

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

One thing I come across again and again when encountering public attitudes towards gender variant people is just how simplistic a model many people seem to be operating with. In order to illustrate, it might help to briefly consider sexual orientation, the modelling of which has some similar issues;

Everybody knows about the Kinsey Scale of sexual orientation, right? You have 0 at one end, which means you’re exclusively heterosexual and 6 at the other end, which means you’re exclusively homosexual. There’s then a scale inbetween with varying degrees of hetero/homoflexibility and bisexuality. The wikipedia entry I linked to above also includes an X for “non-sexual”.

Most people seem to be able to grasp this model and understand it, and firmly declare themselves to be a zero. Phew, that’s sorted that out then! None of that gayness here, except after a few pints, when they might venture they’re actually a one, maybe. I jest, but Kinsey is a very simplistic model and the way people use it to express their sexuality can often be very simplistic.

Klein extended Kinsey into his “Sexual Orientation Grid”, which was an attempt to deal with some of the shortcomings of Kinsey: Your ideal situation could be different from your behaviour, as could your fantasies, and orientation and behaviour can change over time.

Taking things in a different direction was Michael Storms, who proposed that “attraction to men” and “attraction to women” can be considered two independent variables. I think this improves dramatically on one of the main issues I have with Kinsey and Klein – that they see a spectrum with “straight” at one end and “gay” at the other. Instead, Storms suggests, you can be attracted to men and attracted to women in different proportions. The diagram on the right (click to enlarge) illustrates this. One thing it does which Klein and Kinsey don’t do so well is takes asexuality into account.

These are still simplistic – they don’t take into account non-binary and queer identities, for example, nor do they account for the fact that “man” and “woman” can be broken down into multiple attributes in their own right. Someone can, for example, be attracted to a person with very large breasts (to the point of a fetish – something else none of these models handle well), but be less concerned with other aspects of “femaleness” in a sexual partner.

Regardless of their shortcomings, I think people can generally understand them and realise that there are bisexual people (Kinsey), that you can fantasise about same sex encounters while being straight (Klein) and even that you can be independently attracted to men and women, or not (asexuality). Many people will have a conservative reaction to anything other than Kinsey (or even anything other than heterosexuality) and declare it to be nonsense, or perversion, or symptomatic of pathology, but they can usually understand it.

What about Gender?

What depresses me is that while Kinsey has penetrated (oh shush) the public consciousness, and refinements on it can be understood, the same can’t be said for gender.

A grid for just one aspect of gender identity?

From my perspective, I see that there are multiple variables to gender. You can have identity, visible expression, behavioural expression, and so on. Like Klein, each one of these can change over time, can be “fantasised” about, and can be different in terms of expression and ideal. We can construct a Storms grid for each one of them; there’s one on the left and each person might have, say, twelve, or something, each representing a different aspect of their gender identity (such as their presentation, or their identified gender, or their desired social gender, and so-on).

In addition, each one of these can be fluid, and there are probably a whole host of things I haven’t thought of. This stuff is rich, very rich. Instead what we get are media depictions and a public discourse on gender variant people which is simplistic to levels that I find incredibly frustrating: trans stories have to be accompanies with photographs or video of over-the-top expressions of stereotypical femininity or masculinity; anyone without a simple, binary identity, is considered too challenging; surgical status is everything, “If you’ve got a penis, you’re a man”; “But chromosomes”, and so-on.

I also get the impression that the more “educated discourse”, which ought to have at least moved to a point where it acknowledges that this stuff might be complicated, gravitates all too often to the sort of navel-gazing narrative employed by the Julie Bindels and Janice Raymonds of this world – Gender is bad, it exists only to oppress women, gender must be destroyed, gender variant people are either trying to prop up male gender hegemony themselves, or are unwitting tools of some sort of psychiatric illuminati with the same agenda, gender variant people can’t possibly have anything to offer progressive thought, we hate trans people.

There’s good work being done on this. I have very little awareness of much of it – I’ve mostly picked up my level of understanding, which I don’t claim to be anything like complete or even particularly sophisticated, from moving in gender-variant circles. It depresses me that even this places me in a tiny minority. Some work is done by gender variant people, some of it is done by academics who haven’t drunk the Raymond kool-aid. None of it gets enough attention, and it seems to me that while public awareness of trans people has increased, public perceptions of the rich tapestry of gender variance and gender identity are resolutely stuck in a sort of intellectual pre-stone-age.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

1st March, 2012
08:45 pm

[Link]

Gender Governance Group – Be Very Afraid

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Thanks to “Freedom of Information Queen”, Emma Brownbill, a number of us have been in possession of the minutes of the so-called “Gender Governance Group” (or G3) from 2003 to the present. This is a group consisting of clinicians mostly working in the east midlands and north of England, as well as Scotland and Northern Ireland, who are working in the field of gender dysphoria. They’ve been meeting twice a year for the last eight years, and I imagine many trans people might wish we could be a fly on the wall in these meetings.

Well now, thanks to the wonders of the Freedom of Information Act, we can be! The whole set of minutes are vast, full of administrivia, and take a long time to read. Here, for your delectation, I have presented an excerpt. Zoe O’Connell and Emma Brownbill herself have also blogged on this, and we timed our releases to occur simultaneously. Their entries are here and here.

In general, the minutes present a bunch of people who seem to be generally well meaning, but are disturbingly ill-informed about the range of transgender identities. Their desire to maintain paternalistic style control over trans people is quite apparent, but they do seem to want to do the right thing (even if I sometimes profoundly disagree with what the right thing is – many of them seem to still be in the “prevent transition unless it’s absolutely necessary” mindset).

More recently, they seem to be on the receiving end of a trans community with patients who enter the services with high expectations and with a good understanding of their rights in law. This appears to be causing some considerable flailing amongst the G3 clinicians, and I do sense they’re getting rattled. Anyway, on with the show. It starts somewhat slowly, but do stick with it – some of this stuff is really quite shocking:

April 2004

“Local issues discussed including patients being referred from other clinics and if the assessment has to start from the beginning and if so does the patient have to go through the Real Life Experience again.”

This is the “bad old days”. This question isn’t answered, but it’s apparent from something that is said later on that the answer is quite often, “yes”.

Pickings are quite thin at first. The group is in its infancy and the meetings seem short and preoccupied with admin issues. Fast forward to:

November 2005

[Dr Kevan Wylie, specialist in gender identity disorder working at Sheffield Gender Identity Clinic] had received an email from the [Royal College of Psychiatrists] about an application to a Member of Parliament asking if they could be noted as “no gender” and wanted to know if it was a recognised condition. Kevan had discussed it at a previous meeting but no one had heard of it before and said he would bring it to the G3 meeting.

Tim Terry [vaginoplasty surgeon working at Leicester] said there was a condition called Scoptic Syndrome where they don’t want to be either sex but want to lose the penis and testes.

This is appalling. I transitioned in this month, by coincidence, so I was doing a lot of searching around online for transgender medical resources. Genderqueer and non-binary gender issues were not as prominent as they are now, but there was stuff there, and I came across it quickly. For a specialist clinician working in the area not to be aware of non-binary people is bad enough. For the body supposedly writing a UK Standards of Care document (more on this shortly) to not know of the existence of non-binary people is utterly scandalous. Sadly, this non-binary blindness and resistance to anything other than “traditional binary transition” seems to persist onwards.

By the way, “Scoptic Syndrome” appears to be something akin to dyslexia! edit: It’s a typo – see comments.

For myself, I am aware of a number of cases locally to me who can’t get referred to a gender clinic because they have non-binary identities. It seems that the old advice that you have to lie to clinicians to get treated is still valid for non-binary people. There are a few who are clueful, and we mostly know who they are. Otherwise, beware.

March 2006

[The Royal College of Psychiatrists (the people who had never heard of gender neutral people 4 months earlier, remember?) had circulated their final draft of their Standards of Care document for comment.

You read it right - despite them already apparently realising they don't actually have much of a clue about the range of transgender identities that exist, they're trying to put together a document that describes the care pathway in the UK. This terrifies me.

Kevan said that due to NHS waiting times Sheffield would not be intending to provide support to the prisons.

Yeah, whatever. Prisoners are expendable and stuff anyway, right? Just ask the Daily Mail. Serves them right for stealing a loaf of bread and breaking a window pane, or something.

November 2006

Kevan Wylie reported that Helen Barker, Student Doctor carried out a survey, with a small select group and asked about how they felt about complying with the 'Real Life Experience'. It was found that overall patients felt it was very important.

Of course, patients are going to tell the people who can STOP THEIR TRANSITION AT ANY TIME the complete truth, and not what they want to hear, or anything.

Many patients had raised the issue that they had not been advised fully regarding [scrotal] hair removal prior to their [vaginoplasty] surgery.

This should be explained – if you don’t get that done, you risk vaginal hairballs. These are not funny – they can result in a permanent infection and severe surgical complications. What does “not advised fully” mean anyway? Is it the same as “not told”?

November 2007

Leeds expressed concern over surgery due to Leicester being closed to new referrals. Leicester expressed views on that they were not aware of this…

Riiiight. Left hand, meet right hand. This isn’t the only time this happens, as we shall see.

October 2008

[Northampton's] main problem is patients who come into the service who are already taking hormones bought off the internet. This raises the issue of whether to stop the patient taking them. If this is the case it does depend on how long they have been on them and the individual case. The patient would be told if they are buying hormones it is against medical advice. [Dr Deenesh Khoosal] told the group a patient parted from their service as a way forward could not be reached as they were receiving injections from the internet.

It was noted that Nottingham would start a patient from the “start” even if they had been in the private sector, whereas Leeds will continue a patient on hormones following assessment if they are able to provide evidence that they are meeting criteria for hormone treatment. etc. Nottingham added that they would not take a patient off hormones.

This is serious. Around half of trans people are on hormones before our first appointment at a clinic, for various reasons. Being made to come off them is brutal. Discharging people because they refuse to is disgraceful.

March 2009 – This is … well

[Dr Deenesh Khoosal] spoke to the group about the issue of unintentionally creating ‘she-men’: patients who have breasys and are on hormones but don’t have final surgery as they don’t want to go any further. These patients continue to live full time as female but with male genitalia. Many of the services present at the meeting had examples of this happening.

This is the level of understanding of gender issues of some of the people treating us. Not only do they seem oblivious to non-binary identities, but they have apparently appointed themselves the genital police. If somebody is non-operative, that is no business of their gender specialist, and does not make them a “she man” or a “he woman” or any other transphobic slur.

October 2009

Orchidectomy [castration]
The Leeds service had reported that they have seen an increase in patients requesting for this. [...] the team was wary about patients who only want orchidectomy.

Again, the obsession and fear about trans women keeping our penises. What is wrong with these people? They’re supposed to be helping us.

The Chief Executive for the Department of Health has recently written to every lead reminding them of their responsibilities legally with regards to trans care.

April 2010

Kevan is of the opinion that we as professionals are not gatekeepers unless there are mental health problems or for monetary making reasons.

Or if you want to keep your penis, or dare to take hormones that we didn’t prescribe, or (continued, pp. 94-106)

Entry into GIC
Leeds are recommending for a recent (within 12 months) mental health, together with evidence of physical examinations, plus full bloods.

Nottingham accepts primary care referrals and then asks GPs to carry out physical examinations

As has recently come to light, “physical examinations” means “GP inspects genitals”. The only person who inspected mine was my surgeon. There’s really no reason to insist on this. It’s degrading and unnecessary.

October 2010

York
Vast increase in size of university population, resulting in demanding youngsters being referred. Waiting list is currently four and a half years, most students only at Uni for three years. This means the service users are arriving very unhappy and then going to London for treatment.

The clinician working at York actually seems very upset about this – she’s getting almost no support from the local NHS. A waiting list of four and a half years though. Four. And. A. Half. Years.

Dr Beaini wanted clarification for a patient who has got a GRC already and they have been gender dysphoric for 25 years. Now they have asked for phalloplasty, do they need to seek second opinion or not?

Been in Leeds Gender Clinic for a while and been treated. 20-25 years gender reassignment, done mastectomy etc.

[...]

GRC is not an access to surgery. Need a one to one assessment with the patient. Readiness and robustness is a must. The way they are presenting, they are not robust enough

Yes, here is someone who has been transitioned for two decades. They’ve had mastectomy, they are legally male. They are presumably living their life, but they won’t be referred for surgery because their gender-presentation is “chaotic”. I think that at 2 decades, they might have proven that they’re serious about transition, no?

Equality Bill(SIC – it was actually the Equality Act by this point)
Glasgow would like to know how gender services are going to adapt to the changes. The bill is now allowing that anyone with gender issues are covered by the same legal as discrimination [That was almost English]. Will this have an impact on the services? The easy answer is we are covered by WPATH and standards of care. We are a medical health.

Glasgow currently have a patient who has highly intellectualised the gender issues, he is biological male and in between somewhere. No evidenced based to treat it, but knows he(SIC) rights and how can he be treated.

Equality bill only mentions the male to female or female to male.

So much wrong with this. They seem actually hurt that trans people have legal rights – surely our lives belong to them! HOW DARE a patient “intellectualise” their gender issues. Note also the continued cluelessness about genderqueer issues – “in between somewhere”.

March 2011

North East
A group of young people under 18 created a voice and demanded a service.

My god! They’re at the gate with boiling oil. These people are revolting!

Leicester
Surgery is cheaper on private than it is on the NHS.

I tried to tell my PCT this back in 2007, and they refused to believe me.

Amal reported that surgeons stopped taking mastectomy referrals and no-one told Leeds – they heard from their patients.

Again, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

October 2011

Leeds have struggled recently with GIRES putting pressure on them regarding hormones and real life experience. There is need to clarify RLE for future. Leeds clarified that they have two stages of RLE, the stage before hormone and assessment 6 months, RLE 2 years before surgery.

That’s right – they make people undergo social transition for 6 months with no medical support. They’re then flabbergasted when people self medicate, and increasingly arrive demanding to be treated with a modicum of human dignity. GIRES are a trans activism and research organisation. Leeds seem almost upset that their “turf” is being intruded upon by trans groups.

[On the new WPATH SoC]
RLE, eligibility and readiness – been completely removed from the SoC [...] Amal gave an example of a patient from Leeds going to the GMC.

Leeds also pointed out that the DoH leaflet, doesn’t reflect what they do. When they didn’t do what it said in the leaflet, they got harassing emails which wasn’t very pleasant.

This is almost comedy gold – WPATH, the organisation responsible for publishing the global standards of care document, has moved on and realised that the way we have been treated in the past has been inappropriate. The department of health seems to have certain expectations too. Here we see clinicians realising the world is moving on without them, and desperately trying to hang on to the past.

[On the Equalities and Human Rights Commission's recent document looking at trans healthcare in the UK]
Sheffield, Leeds or Nottingham confirmed that they haven’t been contacted for any information. The teams are not happy with this document.

Note the bemusement. It’s almost as if government departments and equality bodies are talking to trans people (I know they are – we keep in touch regularly), without honouring the unwritten rule that we belong to the medical professionals who treat us.

As I said coming in, these people seem to be generally well meaning, but the way they talk about us to each other suggests a way of looking at us that ignores our humanity and is incompatible with our equalities and rights aspirations.

These people are dinosaurs, and they haven’t realised that the comet they can see is heading straight for them.

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27th February, 2012
03:27 pm

[Link]

Aggressive Secular Workplace Discrimination?

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

There seems to be a growing view amongst some in various religious communities that asking them to comply with equalities legislation in the exercise of their job or public service, or asking that they not impose their religion on others, constitutes some form of discrimination.

I view this as absurd. It is absolutely not the purpose of anti-discrimination legislation to protect the right of groups to themselves engage in discrimination. This much is self-evident; anti discrimination legislation which tried to accommodate this would be an absurdity and constitute an unworkable collection of cascading self-contradiction. Just imagine:

You can’t discriminate against the gays unless you find them really, really icky, and really want to.

Because for some reason, this always seems to come back to some sort of obsession with homosexuality. Personally, I think thinking about gay sex as often as some of these people seem to is really unhealthy, and I say that as a homosexual person, but I digress.

There’s a new report out. It’s called Clearing the Ground and it’s published by “Christians in Parliament”, who are apparently “an official All-Party Parliamentary Group”. The report is described as a, “preliminary report into the freedom of Christians in the UK”, and is the result of the committee being “tasked with considering the question: Are Christians marginalised in the UK?”

Anyway, flicking through, as one does, one can find the following gem:

The Department of Health’s practical guide on religion and belief offers the following guidance:

“Members of some religions … are expected to preach and to try to convert other people. In a workplace environment this can cause many problems, as non-religious people and those from other religions or beliefs could feel harassed and intimidated by this behaviour… To avoid misunderstandings and complaints on this issue, it should be made clear to everyone from the first day of training and/or employment, and regularly restated, that such behaviour, notwithstanding religious beliefs, could be construed as harassment under the disciplinary and grievance procedures.”

Dr Richard Scott gave evidence to the inquiry which suggests that the implementation of this guidance is not always applied with consistency, and sometimes with greater restriction on religious belief than envisioned or permitted under the law. There is also a lack of logic in the guidance because someone who is prevented in the workplace from manifesting their belief, either through prayer or witnessing, may consider themselves harassed on account of their beliefs.

Let’s examine this. To my mind, the DoH’s guidance seems eminently sensible. If you’re working together in some sort of workplace, where your religion is incidental to the task at hand, asking your co-workers if they want to “talk about Jesus” or making a show of praying is likely to make people uncomfortable, and make them feel like you’re pushing your religion on them. In an entirely hypothetical situation where someone who is repeatedly singled out for being asked if they want to talk about Jesus, and happen to be the only out gay person in the office (I’m sure this never happens), they might reasonably feel harassed, and would likely consider taking the issue up with HR.

However, the response seems to be saying that this guideline doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray overtly or engage in unwanted proselytisation in the workplace at all. It’s clear that myself and Dr Richard Scott are seeing this, apparently simple, guidance and coming to two completely different conclusions. Given that Dr Scott got into trouble with the GMC for proselytising to a vulnerable patient, this is perhaps not entirely surprising. Let’s look at what Dr Scott says again:

There is also a lack of logic in the guidance because someone who is prevented in the workplace from manifesting their belief, either through prayer or witnessing, may consider themselves harassed on account of their beliefs.

This looks like a clear case of wanting equalities law to treat religion as a special case, where it has carte-blanche to do unto others as it would not wish to be done unto itself.

Do these people simply not understand that equalities law applies to everybody? I’ll make this as simple as I can:

  • I’m a gay woman (protected by equalities law).
  • In private, I sometimes have sexyladytimes with my partners
  • Note this is in private
  • If I tell my co-workers in detail about my sexyladytimes, that is inappropriate, and I would expect disciplinary action for it.
  • If I go round asking random women in my working environment if they want sexyladytimes with me, that is sexual harassment and I would expect to be subject to disciplinary action, and possibly arrested.

If I don’t get to force homosexuality on you, you don’t get to force religion on me. I have to wonder if people who think like Dr Scott really don’t understand this, or whether they understand it entirely, and are just raging hypocrites.

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21st February, 2012
04:23 pm

[Link]

Hunting Trans People For Sport, Profit, Charity and Teh Lulz

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

My phone apparently knows who I am

A few things happened to me this week which, together, encouraged me to write this post. First is a little toy app I downloaded for my iPhone. It goes and looks at tagged images on your FaceBook and then tries to identify people in them if you point the camera at them. It works surprisingly well – the image on the right is the result of holding the phone up and telling it to use the front facing camera. The image follows me around in real-time.

The second was a revolting advertising campaign by Irish bookies, Paddy Power. They have created an advert which invites people to “spot the stallions from the mares” at the Cheltenham Ladies’ Day, where “stallions” refers to transgender women in the crowd. I won’t go into why this is problematic – Paris Lees has written an excellent analysis at Pink News and I would urge you to read it. She goes straight to the crux of the matter:

The problem with “spot the trans lady” though is that, for one person in the game, it’s really not that fun. Ask any trans woman. Most of us, at some stage, have faced the humiliation of strangers playing it on us - Paris Lees

It has also transpired that in an apparent collusion with the Beaumont Society, who are doing well with own goals at the moment, they’ve arranged for numerous transgender women to be planted in the crowd for Paddy Power’s punters to spot. Hilarious laddish fun, especially for those who happen not to be aware of this “game” and are unwittingly dragged into it. If they’re lucky, all they’ll face is humiliation, but these things can turn nasty very quickly.

The third is the unveiling of a high tech advert by charity, Plan UK, which shows a video to people standing at a bus stop at Oxford Street, but only if it determines that they are women. It does this by using biometrics – distance between the eyes, jawbone shape, nose size and shape, etc.. Essentially it’s looking for the absence of what testosterone does to a skull.

Plan claim it is “90% accurate” at guessing the “gender” (they mean sex) of the person standing in front of it. I suspect their tests were using mostly, or exclusively, cis people. Given the stated biometrics are those which can often give trans people difficulty, and which many trans women endure harrowing surgery to rectify, I can imagine the accuracy of the guess is significantly below 90% for trans people.

In other words, this advertising gimmick doubles up in function as a trans person outing device.

Quite apart from the transgender angle, I can’t imagine what Plan UK were thinking. Really, the scene in Minority Report where the protagonist walks through a mall and is recognised by electronic adverts which call to him by name and try to sell him things was, I suspect, penned as a cautionary tale and not an aspirational one.

Imagine if when this technology becomes widespread – a world in which billboard adverts guess the gender of the person looking at them and then try to target ads based on that guess. While this may sound like an advertiser’s dream (I note that gender seems to be the key determinant when targeting ads online – I’m quite sick of sites that know I’m female trying to sell me diets), it’s pretty much a nightmare to trans people, who rely on relative anonymity in crowds to live a tolerable life in a world which is really quite a hostile place to us.

These ads will misgender cis people too, but for trans people, their constant misgendering will serve to confirm the suspicions of the sort of people who still stare at me even now, after six years of oestrogen HRT (at least they mostly just stare now – it wasn’t always limited to that).

This and the Paddy Power stunt seem to be confirming that when it comes to advertising, no idea is too bad, nor too vulgar, nor too invasive of privacy, nor too unpleasant to vulnerable minorities to run. Trans people are an obvious target – a society as neurotic about gender as ours finds us hilarious, possibly as a way of coming to terms with just how much it feels disgust at existence and what we represent. If we can’t hide in plain sight in the safety of a crowd, then we’re easy prey for those who would abuse and assault us.

Putting all this together suddenly caused a light to go on in my head. Technology isn’t inherently good or evil; its what you use it for that matters. It seemed obvious though that we were only a small step away from smartphone apps which didn’t just recognise your friends; they would soon be able to guess the sex of total strangers, based on the same sort of technology that Plan are using. Furthermore, given the obvious public appetite (so well demonstrated by Paddy Powers) for humiliating transgender people by outing us in public, such technology would soon be used to bully people suspected of being transgender.

And then a second light came on – what if I wasn’t just worried about the future? In trepidation, I had a look in the app store. Yes, a “gender scanner” app already exists, and apparently there’s one for Android too. I’ve tested it out on myself, and what it said is perhaps less important than the possibility that it will be used to bully people suspected of the terrible crime of Being Trans in Public.

Along with Paris, I’ve been the subject of “games” of “spot the tranny”. I’ve been photographed on trains by groups of older kids who seem to find the presence of a trans person hilarious. It was pretty humiliating. I fear that the immorality of advertisers and the relentless march of face-recognition technology are only going to make life harder for us, perhaps in ways we can’t fully anticipate yet.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/253722.html - you can comment here or there.

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