Some People Are Trans. Celebrate It.

I’ve just filled out the government’s online consultation form regarding the Gender Recognition Act. The reality is saddening but the reform could be inspirational. At heart it’s about the right to one’s identity and the power of self-determination. So many of us get to take our identities for granted. We are assigned male or female at birth and that’s that but for trans, intersex and non-binary folks this is still a struggle that often entails discrimination, humiliation and isolation. We can change this and the epic LGBT+ charity Stonewall has a page on their website which guides you through answering some of the most important questions on the consultation. The deadline is soon, 19th October, and the process only takes about ten minutes.

I learned some pretty shocking things while filling out the form. For a trans person to have their gender legally recognised they have to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. Not only is this process long and costly it also requires a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Yup. Being trans is regarded as a mental illness. But what of the many people who are trans and not suffering from gender dysphoria – how on earth do they have their true identity legally recognised? And what about intersex folk who were assigned the wrong gender at birth and want to change this in law? There’s also the requirement for a trans person to provide evidence of living in their ‘acquired gender’ for two years. What sort of evidence might this entail – wearing enough blue or pink, preferring rugby or cooking, being loud or quiet? And who on earth gets to decide if there is sufficient evidence? We’re talking about people’s identities and their right to self-determination within and without the eyes of the law. It’s as simple and fundamental as that, which is why the intrusive and dehumanising process we currently have in place for applying for a GRC needs to change.

Filling out the form was an educational and empowering process, I feel I’m contributing to the potential for positive change in this country. It got me thinking as well. What if we just stopped assigning gender at birth? What if children are raised as children and there is an opt-in process for gender, with parental/guardian/carer consent prior to the age of 16 and then self-determination from 16+? What if we stopped obsessively gendering children from such a young age and pushing them down pink or blue paths, submission or aggression, compassion or callousness? What if we educated children to be good people – to treat one another with love and respect, to try the things they’re interested in and to never assault or harm? And while we’re doing this of course we can recognise the importance of gonads, hormones and the effect puberty has on different bodies, and maybe the key thing here is to talk about it and to stop shying away from conversations about sex, gender, sexuality, attraction, consent, romance and love. The GRA consultation is about stepping up for trans, intersex and non-binary folks and it’s also an opportunity for everyone else to explore their own genders and identities, emerging from the process with a stronger and more nuanced understanding of themselves. The times are changing and there really is a future in which we all win. Or maybe just a future in which identity and self-determination are no longer competitions rife with discrimination and prejudice but a chance for all of us to be ourselves brilliantly. And here’s the Stonewall link again (it only takes ten minutes!).

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The Trouble With Trans People, Is Cis People

The BBC’s recent documentary Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best? makes one thing abundantly clear – that the BBC does not know best when it comes to how trans kids should live their lives. Before I go on I want you to pause and reflect on how much you know about the experience of being transgender. Nope. Don’t read on, take a moment. I’ll put a paragraph break here to facilitate that process…

Ok, before you get irritated with me for being patronising that exercise was intended more for the people who know very little. Because I’ve had far too many conversations with people who are largely ignorant of trans experiences yet often attempt to speak for and over them. I believe the BBC’s documentary adds to this problem, which is why I want to challenge it. Yup, in essence, it’s another post in which I call bullshit.

“Here’s one of the things that’s lovely about being transgender, we mess with everyone’s theories of gender,” says Hershall Russell, a psychotherapist and activist, with a huge smile on his face. And it’s true. It was only in 2014 that I realised I was cisgendered: that I had always identified with the gender I was assigned at birth. I had never spent particularly long exploring my gender for myself and had always accepted that because a doctor assigned me male at birth, because they saw a penis between my legs, then I must be male. It’s 2017 now and I no longer consider myself cisgender and without going into the details the point I am making is that I have now taken the time to explore my gender for myself. This is something many of us will not do as we remain cisgendered and unquestioningly slot into the readymade binary of masculine and feminine that mainstream society offers us. Of course, as Russell says, everything gets messed with as soon as we realise it’s far less simple than the binary would have us believe and no one makes this more abundantly clear than transgender folk.

So, it’s tough to watch a BBC documentary in which much air time is given to Ken Zucker who, yes, was allegedly the world expert on gender dysphoria as the voiceover keeps reminding us but also an advocate of gender-reparative therapy, which encourages gender non-conforming kids to stop behaving in non-conforming manners. To put it bluntly (and somewhat crudely) this might involve stopping a boy from playing with Barbies or a girl wearing camo (and, once upon a time, may have involved electroshock therapy). There are a few problems here. Firstly, these are issues of gender expression and not gender identity, which the majority of trans activists would acknowledge are different, and don’t necessarily have anything to do with the experience of being transgender. Secondly, this is clearly a value-laden process that encourages/forces kids to conform so they can ‘fit-in’ because Zucker and the like think that will make them happier. However, the documentary gets even lighter on nuance at this point and given the lack of trans education available to the general public, can anyone really be expected to form a balanced opinion when the documentary isn’t even focussing on what’s in the title?

We need better documentaries than this and one reason for that is because I am bored of having the same conversations with ignorant cis folk. We have access to google, Ecosia and wikipedia – please use them. Everyone’s experience of gender is different including every transgender person – it is not up to anyone to make crass, reductive statements on behalf of anyone else. If you just can’t imagine what it might be like to be a different gender to the one you were assigned at birth, or if the thought of sex reassignment therapy ‘weirds’ you out, or if you do think we should all conform to the genders we were assigned at birth, then you’ve got lots of work to do. But I am afraid watching the latest BBC documentary isn’t going to be much help. The best place to start would be seeking out the lived experiences of trans folk by watching interviews or reading blogs. Begin to figure out how to empathise with lives that might be very different to your own and when it comes to gender, why not explore your own rather than dictating to others how they should explore and experience theirs. You could also watch the ace TV series Transparent.

The Friday Night Kindness Kabaret

You know that gay stereotype, the ‘bitchy queen’ one, when the queer in question gives you a lot of sass and destroys your sense of fashion (or lack thereof) in two biting sentences. Then they down a double gin and tonic before offering a witty critique of each person in the room and why they’re all so damn ugly. In fact, I don’t just think you know this stereotype, I think you help promote it. Every time you laugh at those sorts of punch lines, every time you reduce your LGBT friend to a series of tropes and every time you call something ‘gay’, you are overtly/tacitly promoting the culture of queerphobia that still runs so strong in 21st century society. But wait a sec, aren’t I being a little too mean in a post about kindness?

Sure, I’ll be kind, but if you find yourself reading this post and you’re one of those friendly-but-kinda-ignorant straight people then you probably weren’t at the Kindness Kabaret last night in Soho. I was and it was fuming brilliant. There was burlesque from the epic Rubyyy Jones, some ace tunes from internationally ignored superstar Vanity Von Glow, jokes galore from Shon Faye, words of wisdom from writer Matthew Todd and witty banter from hosts Pat Cash and David Robson. But why was it called the Kindness Kabaret? Because Pat and David both feel that there isn’t enough kindness on the London gay scene. And from my own experience I know they’re right – there’s often aloofness, judgement, prejudice, cynicism and a whole host of other unkindnesses. And that’s not because queer folk are all relentlessly nasty but it’s because we have been relentlessly alienated, shamed and abused for being who we are and it’s no surprise that we internalise this Pandora’s box of prejudice and spit it back at one another. So, yeah, I will be kind but first it’s important that you realise the bittersweet fact of the Kindness Kabaret, i.e. that there needs to be one.

And what was even more fantastic about last night was that even though I went by myself I actually met some fantastic people. I got chatting with two friendly guys (and, no, before you jump to that conclusion I did not engage in a threesome and even if I had that does not make me fit your narrow, prejudiced stereotypes) and learnt lots about Sweden’s gay scene, the oldest coffee shop in Soho (I had my first cappuccino and unfortunately I liked it) and British colonialism’s abysmal homophobic legacy that is still present in far too many former colonies’ legal systems. So, in a scene that is often ravaged by unkindness, I thought it was pretty epic I found the opposite and had a bunch of tequila shots as well. As for you straight folks, I know you have your struggles too and one day I’ll post about them but in the mean time I’m asking you to listen to mine. And yes, I’m angry, of course I’m fucking angry, remember that LGBT sexual health and lifestyle education was banned from 1988 until the early noughties in the UK (aka, my entire childhood) and our education system still hasn’t caught up. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Remember this also, that under the frosty, hostile exteriors of those ‘bitchy queens’ there are vulnerable and fragile interiors scarred by a world so often full of hostility, indifference and prejudice. But you can be part of helping heal those wounds. So, yeah, I’ll be nice but you have to be too.

We Need To Not Talk About Germaine Greer

Germaine Greer has made her point – she doesn’t like trans people and she doesn’t like being no-platformed (as a petition has called for at Cardiff University). She’s made her point and so many of us are repeating it for her, amplifying her voice so it drowns out many others. But I think there’s something else we need to talk about.

Transphobia is the intense dislike of or prejudice against transsexual or transgender people. It takes many forms – from extreme violence including murder and assault through to hate speech and everyday-acts-of-prejudice (e.g. hostile stares, offensive comments). One particularly distressing case of transphobia occurred in May last year. Two trans women were assualted on a train in Atlanta, US, and one was stripped. Passengers on the train cheered, filmed the attack on their phones and posted it to social media. The terror of this event speaks for itself.

I think it is against this context that we must understand Germaine Greer’s comments. She is openly transphobic and for anyone who is part of or cares about the trans community this is deeply distressing. I can understand why people would want to no-platform her as her regressive views continue to dehumanise and disregard trans people. However, the problem is that this is the problem – whether or not Greer should be no-platformed, when really the graver issue is the amount of persecution the trans community faces.

Yes, we can debate no-platforming and yes we can try to understand why Germaine Greer holds such prejudiced, transphobic views. But before that we must realise that what she’s saying will not help alleiviate the suffering that the trans community faces. It’s such a shame that the voices in the media that talk about trans issues so often belong to transphobes, where are the trans voices and the voices of trans allies? I think it’s time to stop talking about Germaine Greer and start talking about something else – namely transphobia and what we can do to stop it.

P.S. I’m a cis guy and the opinions in this blog are only my own – I am not claiming to write on behalf of the cis male community, the trans community nor Germaine Greer. You might also mistake me for one of those desperate, over-educated, white middle class people who thinks they have something to say about everything and who really wants to appear right-on and progressive. Well, I’ll let you be the judge.