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Sarah, The Bringer of Tea - My Papers Are Not In Order
5th June, 2011
01:18 pm

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My Papers Are Not In Order
I'm a child of the Cold War. I grew up knowing that only a few hundred miles away, the two most fearsome armies the world had ever seen, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, were facing each other across a no-man's land that stretched from the Adriatic to the Baltic. That war could turn hot at any time. That the reason we had to do this was because we were Free and the people on the other side were Not Free; they lived in an Orwellian nightmare made real. This was what we grew up knowing, until it changed on that December day in 1989.

For my impressionable teenage self, the spirit of this was captured in film most memorably by the Clint Eastwood Cold War epic, "Firefox". In it, our hero, a US special forces veteran with who spoke Russian thanks to his grandmother, is recruited to penetrate the iron curtain and steal a web browser, er, top secret fighter jet, the eponymous Firefox. It's the ultimate air superiority weapon, a thought-controlled super fighter that could give the Soviets the crucial advantage they need to outmanoeuvre NATO.

Anyway, there's this bit where good old Clint is in Moscow, posing as an American salesman on a rare trade mission. He's in a loo in a metro station when the nightmare scenario happens - a KGB agent walks in and demands to see his papers, because that's how people live behind the Iron Curtain. Everyone knew that; they had to show their Papers all the time, to any petty official who asked, as a sort of constant low level harassment to keep them in their place. That's why the West was better.

After looking through Clint's papers, the KGB agent declares, "your papers are not in order" and goes for his gun. A fight ensues, Clint kills him and goes on to steal the plane and have gripping dogfights as he tries to fly it home over the icecap.

Some may be aware of the current furore over the new requirements to attend the Liberal Democrat party conference - we have to supply information to the police well in advance so they can perform some sort of background check (to be shared with the conference organisers) and determine if we're suitable people to be allowed in. Apparently the police insisted on this, apparently our insurance for the conference would be invalid if we declined, and it would bankrupt the party or something,. As you can imagine, many of us, who campaigned on the basis of scrapping ID cards and rolling back the security state are extremely unhappy with this, seeing it as the police restricting the right of freedom to associate for political purposes.

Many of us are also rather suspicious that the undisclosed nature of the threat this is meant to counter has less to do with preventing some sort of physical attack (the venue already has airport style security), and more to do with preventing heckling. The elderly gentleman ejected from the Labour conference under terrorism powers for heckling Tony Blair is fresh in the mind. Of course, terrorism is implicated - we live, we are told, in dangerous times (more dangerous, apparently, than when the was an active IRA bombing campaign on the British mainland). The spectre of the 1980s IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton at the Tory party conference is raised, apparently with a straight face despite the fact that the bomb in question was not planted by anyone at the conference.

I'm not going. I'd really like to go, but I object to this in principle, and also for personal reasons. Others have asked me why I don't go and campaign against it inside, but I cant do that because that requires me to submit to the vetting process and I don't want to do that. On one hand, it's a point of principle, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself. On the other, My Papers Are Not In Order.

Let me explain. My Papers are superficially valid. I'm a white, middle class, Cambridge educated, 37 year old woman with a clean criminal record, clean driving licence, good credit history. If anyone asked me that question they like to embarrass politicians with - have I ever taken illegal drugs, I can genuinely answer "no" (sorry, I know it's boring). The problem is, if you scratch the surface it becomes apparent that there is a problem. I didn't exist six years ago, and when that little bit of trivia surfaces, it leads to me being outed as trans.

Of course one might ask what the problem is, given that I am "out" anyway, but I'm in control of that. I'm out in a general sense, but not out to every supermarket cashier, every traffic warden, every policeman in the street and so on. I don't wear a metaphorical sign around my neck that says "Hi. Trans person here!"

That sign does appear, however, whenever someone looks into my background.

A few years ago I had a Criminal Records Bureau check. They outed me to the organisation requesting the check. They weren't supposed to, but they did.

Last year I bought a 3G SIM for my iPad. I needed a credit check. The was some sort of problem. I passed the check, but it involved phone calls and puzzled looks from the salesman, and took a long time.

A few weeks ago I went to the bank with Sylvia and Zoe to open a joint current account for the household expenses. This is the bank who've known me for 21 years. They're quite nice to me, I'm a good customer. Part way through the process the bank clerk noticed there was another signatory to the existing account. "Who's this person?" she asked, pointing to that name which appeared on the screen, which I'd assumed had been expunged. I was mortified.

For trans people, this can be a constant worry. Procedures set up to protect us often don't work because the organisations implementing them are institutionally incompetent. Some organisations don't even have any such procedures. Sometimes broken IT systems out us. That annoying verified by VISA thing? I can't expunge my old name from it - every time I try and buy something online it pops up. The name hasn't been on my credit cards for years.

And every time this happens the person I'm dealing with is in a position of power. In a transaction where it should be irrelevant, they are given information they could use to humiliate me if they were malicious, or possibly just tactless. I really don't like background checks.

And here they are intruding into a new part of my life, and I've had enough. Being trans isn't the only reason for someone's papers to not be in order - I imagine there are lots of minority groups to whom it happens, but I suspect something many of us have in common is the constant low level stress it causes.

This surfaced yesterday, quite unexpectedly, when I was feeling frustrated about this, and angry at colleagues who just didn't understand why I can't just go along with it this one time. Suddenly I found myself thinking about all those occasions when someone probably found out, like the SIM card, or the CRB check, or a whole host of others. I found myself thinking about those months I spent early in transition, in the so called "real life experience", which is a sort of ritual humiliation that the medical profession insist trans people go through because it's funny, or something, when I was constantly aware of being visibly gender variant. People would notice in public, laugh, stare, point, sometimes look at me with real hatred in their eyes.

The threat of having to deal with this yet again, and trying to explain to people who simply don't get it broke me. A huge mental scab was picked off and it all came flooding out. I realised as I sat there in tears that I was experiencing post traumatic stress. I expect it's there in members of lots of minority groups who are exposed to constant low level "othering" in society. Eventually it all comes flooding out.

Well I'm not doing it this time. They're not getting my details to store indefinitely, and grub around in my background, and have random conference officials who check my badge possibly find out how I got to be who I am now (one would hope the supporting IT systems aren't set up like this, but one can get nasty surprises as I found out at the bank).

My papers are not in order, and I can't steal a plane and just fly away to some magical wonderland where it doesn't matter. It's my life, forever, and I refuse to expose myself to more stress over this than I need to, because the routine administrivia of life will do enough of that all by itself.

My Papers Are Not In Order, and so I'm not going to the party conference.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/251810.html - you can comment here or there.

(34 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:darkwaterfairy
Date:5th June, 2011 02:17 pm (UTC)
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I have to say that this imposition bemuses me on several different level. (Are the LDs exactly somewhere on the radar of the IRA/republicans/whatever or Islamist lot? I guess they are higher than Symphonic Metal gigs thou...) The only rational I can think of for it being 'reasonable to impose here' was if it was standing practice by all police forces for all conferences of parties of government. Any idea if it?
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From:auntysarah
Date:5th June, 2011 02:22 pm (UTC)
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Not the question you asked, but I understand Labour and the Tories rolled over and did it without making a fuss.
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From:minnesattva
Date:5th June, 2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
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The Lib Dems have had two conferences (this spring and last autumn) as a party of government with nothing like this being necessary.
(Deleted comment)
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From:becky44
Date:6th June, 2011 10:42 am (UTC)
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That damned WSG & AS again!

I have a credit history that's only 8 years old, a professional history that's 16 years old... and I'm already in a country that has no record of what went before, thanks to a GRC (that the 'Mr' Shifter's' seem to have nicked!). I don't intend returning to the UK ever - and hope to stay as far away as I can for the rest of my life. When I left, I also told all the authorities that mattered that I was going and not coming back... so maybe they've already cleared everything except my pension records....
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From:auntysarah
Date:6th June, 2011 12:25 am (UTC)
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how come these barriers are being so solidly erected in so many other areas of public life?

I think it's the politics of fear. It's populist to be seen to be doing something and it gets a certain type of politician reelected, so they hype up an enemy and then "take action" against them.

Security theatre is, of course, bolting the stable door after the horse has gone and turning a blind eye to the fact that the entire back wall of the stable is missing. It offers (usually dubious protection) against the last act, or attempt (even when that attempt is some pathetic thing dreamed up by someone who's watched too many Hollywood spy thrillers which would never actually work), and pays no heed to the next one.

Any terrorist who isn't a moron won't attack the points you've strengthened. They'll attack the weak points. If I did go to conference I'd be totally physically safe in the venue. Later that evening I'd be in a local restaurant. It doesn't take a genius to work it out...

But Something Must Be Seen To Be Done™, so we get more security theatre, and it's only a minor inconvenience to anyone who conforms to the social norm. If you're a minority, or hell, even just slightly eccentric, it's probably going to screw you up though.

Your background check is a bit weird? Come over here and be searched under the terrorism powers, madam. You want to stand on a railway platform and take pictures of trains and record the numbers? You can't do that - you might be a terrorist and your camera might secretly be emitting anti-train death rays. Want to heckle the prime minister? Well, that's an act of terrorism, even if you are just an angry guy in your 90s wanting to express your frustration.

It's all shit, and we're supposed to be the one party in mainstream politics standing against this stuff. Some of us still do, but others ... well, sometimes politicians "go native" if we live amongst civil servants too long...
From:Dave Holland [org.uk]
Date:5th June, 2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
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That sucks. (sorry I can't put it more eloquently)
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From:auntysarah
Date:6th June, 2011 12:17 am (UTC)
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That's OK, thank you :-)
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From:Chrissy Rogers
Date:5th June, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC)
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... and this is exactly why I don't travel out of the country, or have a credit rating, or access many of the institutions that modern society insists that I need to.
Because, I refuse to flay myself raw whenever people ask what I did more than 4 years ago. It HURTS.
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From:amokk
Date:6th June, 2011 02:12 am (UTC)
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There's a theory called "Minority Stress" and it's basically the fact of being a minority is stressful in society, dealing with all the general bullshit, that it causes general stress, anxiety, and depression. Also, "invisible" minorities, and those who are trying to keep their minority status hidden ("being in the closet" or whathaveyou) actually have higher stress/depression ratings than visible minorities (mainly because they don't have to second-guess their every move wondering if they're tipping anyone off to their minority status).

So yes, having PTSD over it, or PTSD-related reactions, isn't surprising at all.

Life sucks.
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From:jessie_c
Date:6th June, 2011 04:31 am (UTC)
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I wonder whether a complaint to the Home Office (they supposedly control the Police, yes?) would be worth raising? This situation had already caused you measurable stress and hardship, and it effectively disenfranchises you by preventing you from exercising your rights as a member of a governing political party.

You might also wish to turn to your Lib Dem MPs and see what they can do from within the system. This entire situation reeks of police abusing their powers over nothing.
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From:auntysarah
Date:6th June, 2011 02:27 pm (UTC)
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You might also wish to turn to your Lib Dem MPs and see what they can do from within the system.

That is well in hand :-)
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From:jessie_c
Date:6th June, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC)
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I would be very surprised if it wasn't : )
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From:biascut
Date:6th June, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
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Firstly, I am really appalled by this for you on a personal level. It's an amazing testimony of the level of stress you have to live with.

Secondly, it's a brilliant article. If (only if!) you're comfortable with being public about it, would you consider submitting it to Comment is Free or somewhere else where it would get a wider audience?
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From:auntysarah
Date:6th June, 2011 02:27 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. That's something I hadn't thought about. Will ponder.
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From:buddleia
Date:7th June, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
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Would just like to second that. This is an amazing post.
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From:notinventedhere
Date:6th June, 2011 10:14 am (UTC)
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"It's all shit, and we're supposed to be the one party in mainstream politics standing against this stuff."

Very well said. As a fellow LD voter, I am disgusted by the security craziness you have highlighted here. I haven't heard about it from other sources - possibly an indication of how we are all being programmed to accept this sort of abuse of power 'for our own good'.

It is tempting to suggest a boycott. You cannot be the only person who objects (quite rightly!) to this level of personal intrusion and restriction of your right to attend political meetings.

Great graphic, by the way.
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From:notinventedhere
Date:6th June, 2011 10:29 am (UTC)
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Of course, what I meant to say about this behaviour coming from the Liberal Democrats, after all their previous opposition to ID cards and police mission creep, has already been said - better than I could express it:

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

(The inimitable George Orwell.)
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From:auntysarah
Date:6th June, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
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Great graphic, by the way.

Thank you. The Daily Mail were cheeky enough to use it without asking!
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From:matgb
Date:6th June, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC)
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On that as a specific? Please take legal action against them. Their notorious attitude to copyright is appaling, and not everyone notices they've even done it.

(followed link, again, first read the DW post, still annoyed about it)
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From:auntysarah
Date:6th June, 2011 06:17 pm (UTC)
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I'm not going to take legal action against them. They have the ability to make my life very difficult indeed, especially given some of the equality stuff I've pushed through the council. It's the sort of stuff they love to deride.
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From:matgb
Date:6th June, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
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That is actually a fair point. I just really really wnat them to not just be forced to pay up (they will if you present a bill for a reasonable amount, apparently), but to actually lose in court and set a precedent. There'll be another case at some point.
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From:kaberett
Date:6th June, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
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I cheer quietly every time I come across something you've pushed through council, for what it's worth. Thank you for doing it.
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From:auntysarah
Date:7th June, 2011 12:00 pm (UTC)
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Thank you :-)
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From:diffrentcolours
Date:6th June, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC)
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As for not hearing about it through other sources, there's been coverage on Lib Dem Voice and various Facebook groups where LD grassroots members gather - apparently us bolshy ordinary members aren't very good at being programmed ;)
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From:notinventedhere
Date:6th June, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC)
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Hurrah! Good to hear. I'll search out the places where unprogrammable ordinary members lurk!
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From:naath
Date:6th June, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)
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Gah, that sucks :(

Sucks that the LDs are rolling over for the security theatre crap. Sucks that the stupid bureaucracies can't manage to get your papers properly in order. Sucks all round.
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From:Helen Waldie
Date:7th June, 2011 11:46 am (UTC)

the bank mistake

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the bank made a similar mistake for me, only the teller started asking me very loudly within earshot of the long queue who this "other" name was. This despite a little session not one month earlier changing all of their registration documents on me.

that cost them a personal apology from the manager and a case of wine.
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From:Helen Waldie
Date:7th June, 2011 11:55 am (UTC)

the security state

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The police feel obliged to do this for several reasons;-
1) It would look bad if something did happen. Senior policemen would look bad and might even be fired. They generally prefer to avoid this by going over the top, just in case. I suspect this vetting is part of it.
2) Lots and lots of juicy police overtime on the LibDems tab. This is not to be under-estimated as a driver of police officiousness.
3) The senior party hierarchy might complain they aren't being taken seriously if they are treated less onerously than the other two. This might lead to senior policemen looking bad (see 1)
4) If they don't, people might wonder if the security-industrial complex isn't over-exaggerating the problem for hte purposes of maintaining lucrative contracts (as if they would). So they never let their guard down lest anyone notices there's no threat.
5) and surprisingly least. It yields a load of useful background info for the security services.

So, until we have a completely new system of govt, we're kinda stuck with it

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From:pinkdormouse
Date:8th June, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC)
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Ack. I'm going, butI still haven't been able to face finding out what they actually need from me for this thing beyond a new photo apparently.
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From:auntysarah
Date:8th June, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
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*spoilers*

They want your passport numbers (all passports, not just UK ones).
If you don't have one or more passports, they want your driving licence number.
Failing that they want your NI number

If you have none of the above, they want to interview you before deciding whether to let you in.

Also, the police and the party will remain this information, and presumably the result of the background check they perform on you, indefinitely and pass it to third parties.
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From:pinkdormouse
Date:9th June, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
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They can have my passport number, given that the US Embassy were very efficient at sending it back (still no ITIN for my US taxes, but that's another matter: I think that department is powered by hamsters and uses snails to get the documents from London to Texas and back).

Don't like them keeping stuff on record for no good reason, and don't particularly like the idea of getting a new photo, unless they'll accept the one I'm using for my author photos at present.

Mainly it's the principle of the thing that bugs me.
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From:cmcmck
Date:10th June, 2011 12:38 pm (UTC)
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Picking up late as we've been up on the Orkneys again!

Don't blame you for not attending.

The check would have to be carefully handled in your case I guess as they're in grave danger of breaking the law if they out you (even though you are out)

We get closer and closer to an Orwellian state :o(
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From:safaraz
Date:11th June, 2011 06:12 pm (UTC)
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"The elderly gentleman ejected from the Labour conference under terrorism powers for heckling Tony Blair is fresh in the mind."

THIS. This is why giving up any freedoms for temporary "safety" is such utter authoritarian bollocks (excuse the language).

In the words of Frank Turner:

"So if ever a man should ask you for your business, or your name,
Tell him to go and fuck himself, tell his friends to do the same.
Because a man who'd trade his liberty for a safe and dreamless sleep
Doesn't deserve the both of them, and neither shall he keep"
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From:Ha Be
Date:24th June, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)

just a bit of an explanation :)

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hey hun :) just wanted to let you know I read some of your lj posts so far (from way back in 05) and find them quite helpful/uplifting/interesting, and I added you, if that's okay? :)
It's kind of good to know you transitioned in your (very) early 30s, so I'm not feeling too lod yet (although of course, one is never too old *winks*)

*huggles, thumbs-up and all the best for your future*
~Janey :)
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