International Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV)

Published April 1, 2014 by Katy J Went

Yesterday was the International Trans Day of Visibility (ITDoV/TDoV), as such I shrugged off my Harry Potter cloak of invisibility and ‘outed’ myself – oh no I did that 7 years ago, or rather my partner did that for me!

Ironically, as transgender people we are often all too visible to society if we do not “pass” well – something that many trans aspire to and many find psychologically and socially distressing if not achieved. What is true, however, is that for every trans you notice another 9 or 99 are invisible, because they’ve either disappeared into the general hubbub of society and are accepted as people first, and gendered persons of trans history second, or, they may be part of the invisible iceberg of trans not yet out.

KJ in hat Industry Networking NightThis latter group, for whom gender identity becomes a self-aware issue typically by the age of 7 may on average stay hidden till coming out in their 40s. If families, partners, media and society were more accepting, less judgemental and ridiculing, then I am quite sure more would be out and visible. Perhaps, like International Coming Out Day, today is a day we can celebrate increasing safety for more trans to come out, not to be ‘outed’ as I was initially. People call me brave for being ‘out’, but I had no choice, being ‘outed’ to friends and family by my then partner. By then it was “in for a penny in for a pound”, a “sink or swim” choice.

Transgender Day of Visibility was started in 2009 by trans activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker, of Michigan, USA. It began as a Facebook event but grew to encompass all kinds of awareness and visibility raising events.

Events on the day have included protests, actions, sit-ins, poetry, educational and social events, anything to show that the transgender community is a valuable part of society to be accepted and respected.

These positive publicity events are in contrast to the annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) held each 20 November where the tone is remembrance and commemoration of all those who’ve lost their lives, often violently, for being out or outed as trans. A Transgender Awareness Week has now formed in the week leading up to TDoR.

The prevalence of transgender people in our communities is a hotly debated subject and one which is subject to several studies that are each seen as underestimates by the next one to be carried out. Numbers are made all the more likely to be on the low side by the difficulty of polling people who are not out or maybe trying to live discreet post-surgical lives. Surgery figures may only reflect those via recordable national health clinics and not those going privately or abroad for surgery. Similarly being trans covers everyone from transsexuals at various stages of hormonal and/or surgical transition, occasional and full-time crossdressers/transvestites, and some trans who identify as a third or non-gender outside the binary of male and female. Whilst transsexuals may represent just 0.1% of the population, non-surgical trans may be 1% or higher as only a fraction pursue surgery and many are not ‘out’ to everyone. Figures as high as 1.5% have been quoted and the numbers coming out each year are excalating as exponential rates as it becomes more safe to do so. I live in a city of 200,000 adults and know over 100 local trans personally and of another 50-100+. There will obviously be those I don’t know and those not out yet so 1-in-1000 is a gross underestimate and yet that is a figure considered high by the NHS.

More prevalence research data here:
http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/Medpro-Assets/GenderVarianceUK-report.pdf
http://tgmentalhealth.com/2010/03/31/the-prevalence-of-transgenderism/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transsexualism#Prevalence

The best thing you can do on this Transgender Day of Visibility and on every day following it is to reduce the tacit acceptability of transphobia in humour, toilet/bathroom access, and general gendered sexism and stereotyping. Allowing teens to grow up in the gender or expression they are comfortable with. Encouraging teens to be free to be tomboys and/or effeminate, irrespective of birth gender.

In another article Mey, an Idaho based Latina transwoman activist, outlines 15 ways to support trans people on the day of visibility and every day.

In the UK we have many visible trans already such as the comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, Turner Prize winning artist and speaker Grayson Perry, LGBT Pink List topping radio and print journalist Paris Lees, several contributors to the Guardian newspaper such as Jane Fae, Juliet Jacques, Roz Kaveney; Prof of Equalities Law at Manchester Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns and many more besides. In business there is Kate Craig-Wood, an entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s largest IT groups. There’s comedians Bethany Black and Andrew O’Neill, and several other comics too, musicians like CN Lester, Thomas Dolby’s son Harper, and a magician, Fay Presto. I could go on and know of 100s of trans lawyers, doctors, activists in public life here in the UK alone.

In 2011 Channel 4 broadcast My Transsexual Summer and launched 7 British trans people into the limelight including friends of mine like Donna Whitbread, as well as Maxwell Zachs, Sarah Savage, Drew Ashlyn Cunningham, Lewis Hancox, Raphael Fox, and Karen Gale. Big Brother (UK) has seen several trans winners and contestants including Nadia Almada, Luke Anderson, Lauren Harries, Alex Reid and Rodrigo now Rebekah Lopez.

April Ashley, Jan Morris and Caroline Cossey are all well known British women with open transgender histories.

In the US Janet Mock, among others have blazed the way by being out and public in their defence of being themselves. Recently we’ve seen big names like Lana Wachowski of the Matrix films, Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me. Actors like Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne (“Dirty Sexy Money”), Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Calpernia Addams, who recently advised Jared Leto on his Oscar winning role in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”. Nor is “Gender Outlaw” author Kate Bornstein to be forgotten. Dr Marci Bowers, is an American gynaecologist and surgeon and actually carries out gender/sex-reassignment surgery. There’s the US biologist and author of “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan Roughgarden.

The names above are just a sprinkling of the hundreds of thousands of out trans people worldwide and possible even over a million or more yet to come out, I mean 1-in-1000 it would be 6-7 million worldwide.

Here’s hoping that more trans feel comfortable being more visible each day as that would not only make their lives happier but society itself all the more accepting and embracing, which is good for everyone. We are not invisible nor scary – but a little afraid ourselves, talk to us.

For more information about the transgender spectrum visit www.genderagenda.net.

Transgender Visibility Day (31 March)

Bisexual Visibility Day (23 September)

Intersex Day of Awareness (26 October)

Transgender Day of Remembrance (20 November)

Ben Summerskill resigns from Stonewall UK, what is the future of LGB and T lobbying and education?

Published January 24, 2014 by Katy J Went

Stonewall diversity champions?After 11 years in the post, Ben Summerskill has stepped down from Stonewall, the UK LGB lobbying and rights group. I say LGB rather than LGBT as over the years it has been infamous in promoting the understanding of gay or LGB rights, as opposed to the whole gamut of LGBT+, not that many bisexual friends felt represented either. There is no doubt that it has done tremendous work, although it was criticised for being slow to support equal marriage.

Ruth Hunt takes over as Active Chief Executive and has promised to speak to trans voices, but also reiterated that Stonewall had “always spoken to trans groups – I have hosted round tables at Stonewall with trans groups, and there are a lot of conversations to be had with a lot of people who have strong opinions”, in an interview with Pink News.  She went on to say that, “The more conversations we have the better, but I wouldn’t predict the outcome of any of those discussions.” – So no change there then.

Stonewall with the T

Just as there now 2 fewer stripes in the rainbow flag, so too are 2 groups, T&I, excluded from Stonewall’s diversity championing

Transgender activist groups have long been debating whether to give up on Stonewall and go it alone. Many have used the slogan “don’t forget the T in S onewall”.  From one such group‘s About section: “Stonewall UK excludes T from the equality index and other leadership training for UK employers.This is a discussion group to help them understand that they need to be fully LGBT inclusive”.

Of course trans groups and activists are difficult to work with, we are angry and we are diverse – I mean we can’t even agree among ourselves! But that’s diversity for you.

Being a member of the trans community and fighting for understanding and representation of trans, intersex and queer, identities and issues, at various tables, committees and forums, I find that Stonewall has lived up to its name, but not its founders. The original Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 saw a subsequently selective history transmitted. One in which the many African-American transvestites and transwomen were ignored from the original explosion in LGB activism, both for their colour and their gender identity. Stonewall became an edited history of white gay male privilege.

Michael Cashman, MEP and former Eastender’s actor – famous for the first gay kiss on British television, is very supportive of trans rights and spoke at a TGEU conference in Berlin that I attended in 2008. Cashman was also one of the founders of Stonewall UK in 1989. Cashman criticised Stonewall in 2010 for its slow and grudging response to equal marriage.

It should be pointed out that Stonewall Scotland is trans inclusive and campaigns for and with transgender groups, from its website: “Stonewall Scotland works for equality and justice for transgender people, as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

In England and Wales, at least, it seems it would be better to walk our own path and clamour “foul” loudly when Stonewall speak on LGBT or gets LGBT equality funding but only serves LGB ends. I have been fighting for 2 years to get the local police to stop lumping homophobic and transphobic hate crimes into the same statistic when all the other protected diversity characteristics get their own independent stats. I’ve also experienced opposition from LGB activists for trying to get intersex inclusion added to our campaigning and representation, not from the public sector – they were only too happy to follow the European Community’s lead in becoming LGBTI supportive. All this seems reminiscent of LGBT rights history. Anyone who has watched “Milk”, the film about the assassinated first gay in political public office in the US, Harvey Milk, will know what I am talking about. It seems the gay rights movement was reluctant to have lesbian “assistance” and to become LG rights. Even more so were both unwilling to add “fence-sitters”, aka bisexuals, to their campaigns. Finally, they did not want the weird tail to wag the now established, respected and assimilated dog, and let transsexuals be part of their political voice. I’ve been told that to add intersex representation would “confuse issues”.

In 2008 and again in 2010 Stonewall nominated transphobic journalists for journalist of the year awards for promoting equality! One of those same journalists was cited in a 2007 report by Stonewall Scotland for transphobia.

Stonewall has made educational videos raising gay awareness and confidence to come out, and targeting homophobia – but getting it wrong on transgender. One video had a mother hearing her son’s coming out and proclaiming “at least you are not trans”, another gets transgender differences, mixed up, and again, certainly, seen as worse than being gay. There is palpable relief when someone is told “there’s as many ways to be a girl as there are girls”, helping a tomboy realise she need not be trans. The school’s training video also inappropriately explains and uses the word “tranny” for transgender.

In 2012 Paddy Power ran a transphobic advertising campaign including a “spot the tranny” competition on Ladies Day, subsequently banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. This year, Stonewall teamed up with Paddy Power to supply rainbow laces to football teams (largely unsuccessfully) to combat homophobia in the sport. Redemption is all well and good, but when Stonewall’s media manager appeared to endorse the use of transphobic stunts as furthering the issues of homophobia, all was well and good? Apparently, the piece in the Guardian was edited after Stonewall submitted it, but it represents yet another own goal in their dealings with the trans community.

Perhaps, then it is time to realise that LGB and T/I need to go it alone – politically, at least, to reinforce the idea that sexuality and sex/gender are two different things. Although I personally believe there are huge areas of overlap, in identity, sexuality, hormones and gender.

Posthumous pardon for WWII gay codebreaker Alan Turing as Royal prerogative of Mercy

Published December 24, 2013 by Katy J Went

After 60 years “father of modern computing” computer pioneer and WWII Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon. Turing shortened the War, it is estimated, by 2 years saving millions of lives as 11 million were dying annually. He mechanised the manual codebreaking work done at Bletchley Park at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS or GCCS) which in 1946 became GCHQ.

Alan Turing sculptureIain Stewart, a Conservative MP involved in the cross-Party campaign to secure a royal pardon, said:

“Alan Turing was an incredibly important figure in our history. He was the father of computer science and the originator of the dominant technology of the late 20th century.”

LGBT History Month 2013 remembered LGBT pioneers in maths and science including Turing and 2012 was both the centenary of his birth and 50 years since his conviction for “gross indecency” in 1952. Offered prison or so-called “organo-therapy” – chemical castration, he chose the latter, but unlike for a trans person, pumping a gay man full of female hormones was a chemical assault on his gender and sexual orientation not a relief or longed-for medical intervention. His conviction ended his career through his lost security clearance. Two years later, aged just 41, he seems to have killed himself with a cyanide-laced poisoned apple.

Thousands have sought Dr Turing’s pardon over the years, tens of thousands signed a 2009 petition which led to a public apology from No.10 Downing Street at Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the nation or at least the then laws and Government that treated him “so inhumanely”, but as yet no pardon – royal or otherwise. Brown said in his statement on 10 September 2009:

“This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality, and long overdue.” 

Over 4 years later, it is indeed long overdue! LibDem peer Lord Sharkey introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Lords on 25th July 2012 which called for a statutory pardon for Dr Turing. The e-petition that year received over 37,000 signatures. A royal pardon is a rare thing these days, formerly used to waive a death sentence, and usually only granted where a person has been found innocent of an offence and the approach made by a family member. In this case as the Ministry of Justice have said:

“Uniquely on this occasion a pardon has been issued without either requirement having been met, reflecting the exceptional nature of Alan Turing’s achievements.”

The pardon states:

Royal Pardon“Now know ye that we, in consideration of circumstances humbly represented unto Us, are Graciously pleased to grant Our Grace and Mercy unto the said Alan Mathison Turing and to grant him Our Free Pardon posthumously in respect of the said convictions; And to pardon and remit unto him the sentence imposed upon him aforesaid; And for so doing this shall be a sufficient Warrant. Given at Our Court at Saint James’s the 24th day of December 2013; In the sixty-second Year of Our Reign. By Her Majesty’s Command. Chris Grayling”

It is signed by Chris Grayling, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. The pedantic grammatical debate as to whether he should have used St James’ or St James’s is an age old one.

The capitalisation throughout puts emphasis on respect for royalty and the “Royal prerogative of mercy”, an anachronistic and patronising term. It is a throwback to the days of rule by divine right and the monarch being the nearest thing to God, who alone had the power to forgive. It is time this too was ended.

The pardon itself, though gratefully acknowledged, raises other issues, although why should we be grateful for something that should never have happened and should not need a Queen or their representative to enact it? But why him, and not other gay men? Are we rewarding his War-shortening hero status and “excusing” his crime under 1950s laws? Do others fail to receive the same pardon because they were not war heroes, that is a slap in the face for other gay veterans. What about those imprisoned or given chemical castration or ECT against their will to rid them of homosexual desires? What about the medical pathologisation of homosexuality in the DSM an ICD (International Classification of Diseases) that continued after the criminal law was revoked and that of transsexualism that continues to this day?

In an enlightened age, although it may make a mockery of retrospective legal change, it is also mockery of human decency not to pardon all for breaching laws that we now consider an affront to human rights. Turing’s “Royal” pardon should be extended to tens of thousands of people convicted of homosexuality-related crimes, campaigners have said.

Veteran LGBT activist and campaigner Peter Tatchell said:

“Singling out Turing just because he is famous is wrong. Unlike Alan, many thousands of ordinary gay and bisexual men who were convicted under the same law have never been offered a pardon and will never get one. An apology and pardon is due to another 50,000-plus men who were also convicted of consenting, victimless homosexual relationships during the 20th century.”

It is also poignant as it comes at a time when President Putin in Russia has brought in Section 28 style laws that have criminalised educating the young about homosexuality and cast a shadow over February’s forthcoming Sochi Winter Olympics.

Worse, still, is Uganda’s recent passing of a Bill that criminalises homosexuality with terms of up to life imprisonment and makes the non-reporting of gay people also a criminal offence. The so-called “Kill the Gays bill” was passed just 4 days ago and is already raising fears  of an impending tide of violence, fear and witch hunts, as in Russia. Homosexual “gross indecency”, similar to the British law under which Turing was convicted, is still on the statute books of Uganda, and new stronger laws are being made, with many calling for the death penalty for homosexuality. Some of these campaigns are supported by fundamentalist Christians in the USA.

The same argument that Putin has used, that homosexuality and the “genderless and infertile Western tolerance” destroys traditional family, and that people need laws to protect them from it, is being peddled around many of the 38 African countries that ban it. PM David Cameron has called for aid cuts to nations such as Uganda that deny LGBT rights.

Grateful and grudging though my appreciation is for this pardon, it should be the beginning of blanket retrospective amnesties not an act of royal “Grace and Mercy”, though it is fitting that this pardon comes at Christmas, which symbolically, whether you hold Christian beliefs or not, marks the birth of a royal pardon for all.

Whose brave new world? JFK, CS Lewis or Aldous Huxley?

Published November 22, 2013 by Katy J Went

On November 22, 1963, fifty years ago today, John F Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley all died. Whose vision of the future – political, Christian or sci-fi dystopia, was closer to reality or dream as the true prophet of our times? Whose new world? Kennedy’s space race, cold war and “new frontier”, Huxley’s “brave” dystopia or Lewis’s “magical” Narnia?

Huxley's Brave New WorldKennedy’s political vision was cut short after less than 3 years as US President. In that time he was criticised for being lukewarm on civil rights though he was somewhat distracted by foreign policy issues such as Cuba, the Cold War and Vietnam. That said, he was generally supportive of congressional change and led moves to change policy on women, blacks and the death penalty. In 1961 at his first State of the Union Address he said that:

“The denial of constitutional rights to some of our fellow Americans on account of race – at the ballot box and elsewhere – disturbs the national conscience, and subjects us to the charge of world opinion that our democracy is not equal to the high promise of our heritage.”

At the Berlin Wall erection Kennedy criticised communism before a million onlookers in these words:

“Freedom has many difficulties, and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.”

Kennedy called his domestic policy program the “New Frontier”. Among the economic, education and health policies was a raft of measures to end discrimination and create equal employment laws. Fifty years later, how far has America come? Change takes time, but how long is acceptable to generations that have to die before they see substantive social evolution? There has been slow progress on Equal Marriage, just 14 states endorse it; the beginning of an end to gay discrimination in the military; yet a black President is significant – though it took less time and effort to get a man on the moon!

Indeed, Kennedy had urged international cooperation in space as a project that would be “impressive to mankind”, in both January 1961 and September 1963 Khrushchev turned down those offers.

If the moon landing was a vision fulfilled just 6 years later, what of the Sci-Fi visions of Aldous Huxley?

Aldous was a scion of the famous Huxley family which included the agnostic “Bulldog” biologist associate of Charles Darwin, Thomas Henry and several other prominent scientists and writers. His mother was niece to essayist, critic and poet, Matthew Arnold. He counted DH Lawrence among his friends and Bloomsbury types such as Bertrand Russell among his associates. Later, in the USA, he became friends with science fiction author Ray Bradbury.

Huxley briefly taught French at Eton where the future George Orwell was numbered among his pupils and who remembered him for his gifted “use of words”. (Remembering Orwell, Stephen Wadhams, Penguin Books, 1984, p.21) By contrast, his language was something that Walt Disney recognised as “genius” yet did not get! Huxley had written a ten page outline of Alice in Wonderland for Disney but it was rejected as “so literary” with the words that “he could only understand every third word” of it and that “if you want to work in Hollywood it is not good to have brains”. (The Huxleys, Ronald William Clark, Heinemann, 1968, p.295)

Dying on the same day as Kennedy, Huxley had emigrated to the US in 1937, where he wrote Ends and Means in which he explored how most people wanted a world of “liberty, peace, justice, and brotherly love”, yet had no idea on how to accomplish it.

His most famous work, Brave New World, was written in Britain five years earlier, during the global economic depression and nascent rise of the Nazi party in Germany.

Chapter One opens thus:

A SQUAT grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.

Here, in the 26th century, babies are birthed as “Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons” according to need.

…they didn’t content themselves with merely hatching out embryos: any cow could do that.
“We also predestine and condition. We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future …” He was going to say “future World controllers,” but correcting himself, said “future Directors of Hatcheries,” instead.

The artificial womb of TV series Kyle XY already exists, for goats at least!

Before even penning Brave New World, Huxley had written in 1949 to George Orwell, to congratulate him on the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, saying “how profoundly important the book” was. Further, in his letter, he predicted that:

“Within the next generation I believe that the world’s leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience.”

The imagined “sci-fear” social eugenics of the future were not so far from the past of Nazi Germany and even 1950s America with sterilisation programmes. Last year, a journal paper brought the news that some US doctors were researching the use of drugs to prevent overly “masculinised” female babies:

“…fetal engineering, in which doctors are using a synthetic steroid to prevent female babies from being born with “behavioral masculinzation,” or rather a propensity toward lesbianism, bisexuality, intersexuality, and tomboyism. […drugs were given] as early as week five of the first trimester to try to “normalize” the development of those fetuses, which are female and CAH-affected. Because the drug must be administered before doctors can know if the fetus is female or CAH-affected, only one in eight of those exposed are the target type of fetus. The paper claims that this off-label intervention does not prevent CAH, but in fact just targets sex normalization.”

This shocking report show that we did not have to wait for the five imagined centuries of Huxley’s prophetic fear to arrive at a paradoxical world of both increased human rights and potential human interference. A combination of heaven and hell on earth.

We have more freedoms on the one hand, but how are we using them? To “kill all the ugly ones”, perhaps, as Boris Vian, writing as Vernon Sullivan, suggested in his novel Et on tuera tous les affreux, or to engineer only the best hereditary traits as in the 1997 film Gattaca.

Whilst Huxley was writing psychedelic drug influenced essays exploring perception and the limits of the mind in The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956), CS Lewis was exploring heaven and hell on earth through a wardrobe door.

Between 1949 and 1954, Lewis penned The Chronicles of Narnia, publishing the final volume The Last Battle in 1956. Whilst they imagined a world of faith and magic they have been both praised and criticised for their values. Some have noted that dominantly western and male attitudes within the series, which despite inclusion of Greek and Persian mythic elements and the two girls, nonetheless later sidelines the elder of them, Susan, either for non-belief or adult female distractions. Whilst many Christians love the similarities between Aslan and Jesus, other aspects of pagan myth worry some evangelical purists.

Less well known, yet more interesting was his Sci-Fi trilogy written during the war years before Narnia. The main character, Elwin Ransom, was actually based upon his friend JRR Tolkien. The second book, Perelandra aka Voyage to Venus, is an interesting theological look at an Edenic world without the biblical Fall. The final volume, That Hideous Strength, explores some dystopian themes with a scientific institute and human “social planning agency” ironically called NICE (the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) whose superior beings seek to eradicate aspects of humanity and control the chemical phenomena that are emotions, much as in the film Equilibrium (2002).

Lewis had written on heaven and hell themselves in his 1945 book The Great Divorce and postulated a kind of Purgatory. In Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley Peter Kreeft neatly plays with the idea of all three men, who died on this day, meeting together in Purgatory and discussing the philosophy of faith. More interesting would have been a discussion of the real world each had imagined 50 years ago as prophets of our time where Huxley’s “Social Predestination Room” of biological eugenic determinism is part science fact, part social engineering, part political, part media brainwashing – and part here.

CS Lewis, in more depressing mode, wrote:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive….those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) & Awareness Week

Published November 20, 2013 by Katy J Went

We have so many Days, Weeks, & Months of this, that and the other, that it is easy to forget their significance to the communities they represent. LGBT History Month (USA) and Black History Month (UK) have just passed and Disability History Month will shortly begin. On this day a month ago we  had the International Day of Hope and Remembrance for those affected by Hate Crime. The last week of October was Asexual Awareness Week and in the middle of it fell the Intersex Day of Awareness. This week is Transgender Awareness Week which also began with the 1996 UN established International Day of Tolerance on the 16th. Yesterday was International Men’s Day and today the long established since 1954 Universal Children’s Day. This week is also National Anti-bullying Week, attitudes that begin in the playground, can end up down the back alley, in the courtroom, and sadly sometimes in the graveyard.

TDOR 2013Today, though, is also the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a solemn occasion remembering those who have been killed for their gender. Founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 to honour African-American transwoman Rita Hester, whose 1998 murder in Boston, MA kickstarted the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a candlelight vigil attended by hundreds.

Since that time projects have monitored the news stories of trans people killed as part of hate crimes, usually when their birth gender is discovered and in several countries in association with romantic or paid for sex, a reluctant career-choice for many, to raise funds for hormones and surgery.

Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring project reports 238 killings of trans people in the last 12 months. The majority, nearly 80%, in absolute and relative terms are in South, Central and Northern America, namely – Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil and Mexico. In Europe, it is Turkey and Italy that have seen the most deaths with 5 reported murders in each country. Furthermore, it is transwomen of colour that are most at risk of violent death.

Trans people would rather be remembered for their lives, and indeed, left to get on with them. Yet everyday is often a struggle. It is common to be “outed” or have to “come out” almost daily, through misgendering, denial of access to gendered facilities, or shunned for being weird and sufficiently different to be considered a threat to people’s children, or their sexuality.

In Britain, the greatest risk is death to self. Various studies have shown that 84% of trans have considered suicide and between 30-40% attempt it. The most high profile over the last year was trans teacher Lucy Meadows who killed herself after sustained press invasion of her private life, despite being supported in her workplace by colleagues and pupils. Another trans friend took her life this year for reasons undisclosed.

It is heartening that there has been a slow but noticeable improvement in Press reporting of trans stories – though, why we are all so newsworthy is still something of a macabre Victorian freak show. Only today the Telegraph‘s women section ran an excellent balanced and respectful piece, comparing some of the oppression to that experienced by people of colour, though with this caveat as one African transwoman says “People don’t always know that I am trans but they always know that I am black.”

The black female Telegraph columnist, Ava Vidal, ends with these words:

“I have been guilty of making stupid jokes in the past when I was too ignorant to understand the full weight behind my words of which I am deeply ashamed. Don’t sit and allow others to abuse trans people either. Challenge them. You don’t have to be personally responsible for anyone’s death, being complicit by remaining silent is bad enough. Be better. Do better. We can’t bring back the trans people that have lost their lives but we can stop the body count increasing.”

Intersex Day of Awareness

Published October 26, 2013 by Katy J Went

26 October was Intersex Awareness Day.

Intersex Awareness Day fell yesterday but as with the Transgender Day of Remembrance now becoming a part of the longer Trans Awareness Week, we should not limit education and awareness to just one day a year. The more sex, gender and sexuality, are taught about, their differences and their areas of overlap, the better. As a friend has said elsewehere “we are all one but we are not the same”.

I have been told I am the wrong kind of trans, not intersex enough, not bipolar enough, and the wrong kind of lesbian – but I am certainly queer enough, but then some hate the reclaimed, new nuanced usage of queer. The “my difference is bigger/better/worse, more oppressed that your difference” rivalry, “my label is more important than yours” and “issue” oneupmanship has no place in equality and diveristy politics. Labels, even ones we are fighting for recognition of, need to be loose, flexible and tolerant, to truly embrace the diversity of difference. The only label that fits is the one we individually wear by choice, born or acquired. Whether the 6-10% that are gay and lesbian, the unknown 15% or more that are or have been bisexual, the 0.1-4% that are intersex or 0.1-2% that are trans, or more that are genderqueer and non-binary in some way – let us recognise we are minorities of one, but together we are movements and agents of change.

I have fought for intersex inclusion rather than intersex ignorance and invisibility and have encountered most opposition from LGB and even T activists. Gay rights movements were reluctant to embrace lesbian activism or recognise bisexuals as “born that way” rather than judged as “sitting on the fence”. In turn lesbians and gays were reticent to let the weird tail of LGB&T to wag the gay dog in any way despite the strong trans and indeed trans of colour presence if not prominence at the original Stonewall Inn riot. Some of the greatest levels of ignorance of trans and intersex I have encountered have been in the LGB communities, not the wider population.

In 2006 South Africa, curiously the country with probably the highest incidence, was one of the very places to incorporate intersex persons into law as part of an anomaly that until then had meant if you were neither male nor female you were not a citizen. The European Union has for the first time in 2013 included LGBTI, not just LGBT, in policy documents. Several countries including Australia and New Zealand now recognise more than two gender possibilities on passports and official documents. I have been told by LGBT groups that adding the “I” will just “confuse people”, “aren’t there enough letters already?”. Sex, gender and sexuality are different yet overlap and we should recognise that. We should not have to proclaim “intersex persons are people too”!

Being, or having been, each of L,G,B,T,I & Q, gives me a peculiar insight to the almost territoriality of each “identity” and resistance to recognising similarity and intersectionality (sharing common cause with others even if the fight is different) of others. We were all babies, and as such we all experienced the effect of chromosomes, hormones and receptors in the womb, that created the individuals we were born as. That much we have in common.

I was misgendered at birth for a mere hour or so, had genital surgery at 5 for an apparently unrelated issue, suffered more than 6 years of intrusive and dehumanising paediatric investigations for atypical puberty development and as an adult continued to grapple with my gender and sexual identity which were further confused by ongoing underlying sex differences that meant I never felt fully a part of male, female, trans, or GLB identities and communities.

Being told, “don’t worry puberty will eventually happen” and “you’ll turn out normal in the end” by a 1980s male chauvinist doctor who treated me a lump of meat and patronised my intelligent concerned “little” mother was insulting and far from reassuring. I got the most insight and education from sex & body workshops in America and dating a sex therapist who put it nicely that I was “wired like a woman and plumbed like a man”, she didn’t mean just my neurology but all my physical pathways since I never could have typical sex like a “man” being mostly anorgasmic and only getting aroused rarely and in atypical ways. Hormones have mixed that up further! Gender clinics do not usually take well to intersexed or non-binary trans patients.

Not belonging and yet feeling pushed and shoved, sometimes literally, into one gender or another has been an exhausting journey and one I am still not at the end of, and may never yet arrive – at least at times I am beginning to enjoy the trip. What I hope for, campaign for, educate about, is an increased awareness of sex/gender variation and the increasing comfort of self and society with difference and diversity.

The first Intersex Awareness Day (IAD) came about when the American intersex group Hermaphrodites with Attitude (HWA) teamed up with American trans group Trans Menace (named after the lesbian women’s movement Lavender Menace in turn reclaiming former “red” and “yellow menace” US propaganda movements of the 1950s and 60s) to picket an American Association of Paediatrics (AAP) conference in Boston on 26th October 1996.

As with trans, intersex people have long resented and resisted the medical pathologisation that comes from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the US DSM, now on version 5 which refers to intersex persons as having “Disorders of Sex Development” (DSD). Whilst this may sound like a logical description, the word “variation” rather than “disorder” would be less pejorative.

Intersex conditions may only be initially visible at birth for 1-in-2000 babies but can affect up to 4-in-100 people, often discovered later in life, at puberty, or whilst trying for a child, for example. Many may never even know. US Hospital Johns Hopkins psychologist and sex researcher John Money suggested that up to 4% of people are born with ambiguous genitalia whilst Professor of Biology and Gender Dr Anne Fausto-Sterling in Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000) thought 1.7% a fairly accurate figure based upon combining the prevalence of differing conditions. Dr Sharon Preves, author of Intersex and Identity: The Contested Self (2003), says that “the frequency could be as high as 4%”.

What is intersex? It is being born with primary and/or secondary sexual characteristics that are not clearly or typically male or female, although may have characteristics of both. Complete hermaphroditism, an old disused and disparaged term (though being reclaimed by some), having the complete organs of both genders, is extremely rare but has occurred in recorded history for centuries. Medics, scientists, theologians and taxonomists have been noting and describing cases extensively since the 16th century. The use of the term “hermaphrodite” (stemming from Greek myth) as inappropriate has been raised since 1839 and yet in some quarters is still used.

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There are some 80+ intersex variations covering physical organs, chromosomes, and hormone levels that can further result in atypical secondary development. Being male and female is not a simple case of X and Y, or rather XX and XY, cases of XXY or indeed XXXXY exist, not to mention XO or XXXX, and that is just a few of a more than a dozen chromosome differences, some of which have names such as Klinefelter or Turner syndrome. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) has several variations itself and as its name implies is based around atypical masculinisation and hormone development. Chimerism can see people with differing DNA at cellular levels, almost an internal twin at the simplest form of development.

We hear about intersex in the news mostly when athletes have their biological sex challenged. South African athlete Caster Semenya was literally dragged through the media whilst her sex/gender was investigated. Some radical feminists such as Germaine Greer never seem to “get” transwomen, similarly they are bulls in a china shop when discussing intersex, describing Semenya as “Big, blokish and bloody fast” with an “unfair biological advantage”.

After the London 2012 Olympics, in order to continue to compete “as women”, four athletes raised and thought to be typical women from birth but subsequently discovered to have XY chromosomes had surgery to remove internal testes. They were deemed to have a physical advantage from the increased testosterone in them. To all extents and purposes they were and are women, but with invisible to the naked eye XY chromosomes and an increased muscle mass. Yet, muscular XX women exist too. Perhaps in some sports we need more than 2 genders or body types, much as in competitions, like boxing, based upon competitor weight and stature.

The main fight of intersex activists is against early surgical interventions, the tendency for doctors and indeed some parents to want the child to resemble as near to one gender or “the other” as possible. In the past that meant making a lot of girls since surgeons used to inappropriately quip, “it is easier to make a hole than a pole”. The Organisation Intersex International (OII), founded in 2003 by and for intersex people, has as its mission “to attain human rights for intersex infants, children, and adults, particularly the right to bodily integrity and self-determination.”

Activists prefer a child to be allowed to grow up free from gender straitjacketing, shoe-horned into one or other, instead preferring free self determination via non-intervention, hormones and/or surgery as maturely requested. Worldwide, every year, 1000s are operated on to conform to binary gender “normality”.

“Many intersex people are perfectly happy with being men or women and more and more of us are quite happy being intergender and find the notion of trans totally foreign to our identity because we are rejecting binary sex and binary gender altogether and the prefix ‘trans’, just like the prefix ‘bi’‚ keeps the binary well intact.” (OII)

Gender and sex are far more than the feminists’ gender construct or the medics’ surgical one. Sex and gender are at work in us all on so many levels from cells to hormones, bodies to brains, appearance to identities. The ongoing studies of sex, gender and sexuality, continue to indicate that we are more than biological essentialism or societal construction. We all share a physical similarity, in that in the womb for the first 7 weeks we all look pretty much the same – then hormones hit us and depending upon chromosomes and hormone receptors we develop differently – but not only and exclusively into two sexes/genders as traditionally understood or defined. “All gender designation is ultimately sexism” (OII). We are ourselves, not male and female but fifty shades of male to female. A diversity to be celebrated.

Finally, a top ten of intersex falsehoods from OII USA (Organisation Intersex International):

1. Intersex means that a person has both sets of genitalia – False
2. 1 in 2000 infants is born intersex – False
3. When an intersex child is born, they cannot be left to grow up as is, but rather “something must be done” – False
4. Intersex is about homosexuality – False
5. Disorders of Sex Development, or DSD, is the preferred term for intersex – False
6. Intersex is not about gender – False
7. Intersex is part of the transgender movement – False*
8. The intersex movement is an identity movement like the LGBT movements – False**
9. Most intersex people were assigned female – False
10. Intersex is a “condition” which can be cured – False

OII’s definition of “intersex” is as follows:

“THE term intersex was adopted by science in the early 20th century and applied to human beings whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly male or female. An intersex person may have the biological attributes of both sexes or lack some of the biological attributes considered necessary to be defined as one or the other sex. Intersex is always congenital and can originate from genetic, chromosomal or hormonal variations. Environmental influences such as endocrine disruptors can also play a role in some intersex differences. The term is not applicable to situations where individuals deliberately alter their own anatomical characteristics. Intersex people represent a significant percentage of the global population, from 1 in 1,500 to around 1.7%.”

People whose sexual characteristics, chromosomes, and/or hormones, differ from the majority, may or may not accept the label “intersex”, some prefer to reclaim hermaphrodite, some are ok with the current medical Disorder of Sexual Development, some may not see themselves as different at all, and be perfectly content with a minor variation that may not affect their life in any way. Community and activist movements attempts to organise and campaign will always fall foul to lumping discrete individuals together under one umbrella term that not everyone may be comfortable with and as a result there will oft be internal disagreements of labeling and language and even the outcomes campaigned for. The important thing, though, is mutual respect for the right to self-label and freedom of choice over any medical intervention or none. At the end of the day, whatever our birth, development, sex and/or gender, we are human after all – that much we have in common.

Notes:

* Although some would see trans as a part of intersex – at the neurological, possibly hormonal levels.

** Calling something an “identity movement” as opposed to “born that way” which covers us all has a similar stigma to straights or cisgenders calling any or all of LGBTQ a “lifestyle choice”. Furthermore we should not be judging each other on nature versus apparent “choice” either. Being an individual, freedom of expression, are “human” rights. Even a “lifestyle choice” is part informed by our nature and psychological/neurological makeup. “Fashion”, too, is part of self-expression and resides as much in the brain’s thinking as on the body (both externally as clothes and on the surface via tattoos, piercings and body modifications). People should not be judged for who they are however they came to be that way.

No man is an island – Activism and Asceticism, Society and Soul.

Published October 25, 2013 by Katy J Went

Many self-development paths talk about the voyage of self, a transformational journey of our inner being which may be accompanied by external somatic spiritual practices, for example – meditation, yoga, abstinence. Ascetism disciplines the body so as to set free the spirit. The idea can be that as we grow as spiritual beings we become more immune from the chaos of the world around, we can find inner peace rather than need world peace.

To me, though, that becomes a path of transportation, not transformation – a worldview eschatology that is more escapology than soteriology – one that also makes us immune from care, community and connectedness, to anyone other than our own self or conception of any higher being. Our vertical path must be accompanied by a horizontal one – outward, as well as inward and upward.
Some, on an apparent path toward illumination end up in isolation, looking only inward. But as Jesus said:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others…” Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV).

True illumination gives light to others, and benefits society as a whole.
The modern twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton wrote a book No Man Is an Island and in the chapter on “Being and Doing” penned the words:

“what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.”

Merton went on to express the idea that our acts are as a mirror to the soul, but an imperfect and impermanent one. He regarded them as “transient and superficial”, but to me this reeks of “so heavenly minded, as to be no earthly good”, even Jesus was eminently practical about spirituality, “not all those that call me Lord will enter heaven…but those that clothe the naked, feed the hungry…” etc.

Merton again, ponders the paradox that “Stagnation and inactivity bring spiritual death. But my soul must not project itself entirely into the outward effects of its activity. I do not need to see myself, I merely need to be myself.” (p.124)

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Drop Of Water by Jani Rava

Being fully yourself, should naturally overflow, not a glass half-full or empty but a glass over-full, spilling out, giving out… An ocean is never full, but always flowing. The drop that feels it has no effect still forms a ripple on a still sea or joins a wave in a stirred up one. We are not just drops of water in an infinite ocean of humanity, instead, together we are waves, eroding established structures, shaping systems and society. We can make a difference.

Merton was not the first to use the phrase “no man is an island”, the seventeenth century poet and thinker John Donne used it in his Meditation XVII:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
This reflection upon sickness, death and corporate humanity, has lines that have stood the test of time. We are connected, the death of one affects us all, “diminishes” us, as a piece of land eroded and washed away.

I have always struggled with belief systems and practices that separate faith and works, mind and body, self and society. To me, we are not good unless we also do some good, not in a guilt racked, works oriented, aid-based sense of charity – but a transformational change that spills out, from oneself, onto the streets, into communities, makes waves, affects structures, creates policy and which organically organises a better world for all not just for one.As Mr Spock said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn).

To Aristotle, the securing of one individual’s good is great cause for rejoicing, but to secure the good of a whole city or nation was a nobler and more divine result. The Star Trek Vulcan-human paradox of logic versus humanity means that it is also often the right thing to do for the many to sacrifice for the one.

Socially, I disagree with Jeremy Bentham’s assertion that “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.” Serving the majority is easy and far from right. Standing up for the “little ones”, minorities, the oppressed, distressed, disenfranchised, downtrodden or destitute – how we treat the disadvantaged is a far greater measure of ethical attitude.

Some people seek out solitude for an allegedly “higher” spirituality, others go there for refuge or retreat from the pain of the world. Simon and Garfunkel’s song I am a Rock (1965) describes an isolated existence, seemingly immune to pain and grief, but really rather lonely and protected.
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me,
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain,
And an island never cries.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Steve Jobs:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”, Think Different

In the new book The Bite In The Apple by Chrisann Brennan, his first girlfriend, Jobs is portrayed more negatively as having returned from a 1970s transformational trip to India and coming back “sexist” and beginning to “reject the feminine aspect as inferior to the glorious masculine”. Hardly pushing the human race forward. For all his technological genius and advancement, in the world of human relationships and equality, he sounds less evolved.

Bill Gates was the man to be hated as Microsoft grew and grew, but now his health research philanthropy could potentially transform the lives of millions and with even Warren Buffett trusting him to dispose of $billions as part of the billionaire’s pledge where 114 US billionaires are giving away between 50 and 99% of their fortunes. As Buffett has said, “Were we to use more than 1% of my … stock … on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”

Transformative Social Change is a practical philosophy that combines the personal with the collective. The personal is political, true change effects change without as well as within, society is transformed when groups of individuals are. The “no man is an island” analogy, for me, means that spiritual paths that involve separation or escapism from our communities are elitist and in the end non-transformational, instead they can become, for me at least, selfish.

Author and trainer, Alison Clayton-Smith, writes that:

“One of the first issues I identify in my book about self development is that, well frankly, it can all be a little be self-indulgent. Ecclestone and Hayes have suggested that focusing on areas such as self-esteem risks becoming internally obsessed. Not only does this mean we stop wanting to do things for the benefit of the community but also we stop thinking about where society needs to change. I think that we can benefit from shifting to a view of the interconnected self. That is, I am not me in isolation of anything else. I am linked to everything that is around me, whether that be other humans or the rocks and soil. They affect my existence and I affect theirs. This is where ideas from ecopsychology, and systemic approaches, can aid our thinking…we can start to think of a more holistic self development, one which leads us to seek out opportunities to benefit the whole, not just the part of the whole.” http://www.growinginsights.co.uk/2011/12/self-development-moving-away-from-the-self-and-towards-the-interconnected-self/

To return to Merton’s “Being and Doing”, or St James’ faith and works, it is not that we are what we do, but that doing can reflect a truer state of our being, putting our spiritual practice into practice, to good effect, so to speak.

Neurologist Dr Daniel A. Drubach, has written books on the brain, from a holistic standpoint, and on the crossover between Jewish religious philosophy and the neuroplasticity of the brain. He writes that the path to psychological, physical and spiritual transformation, is a Jewish expectation, to constantly re-create ourselves, just as the brain does. In a 2002 journal article on “Judaism, Brain Plasticity and the Making of the Self” he talks about a key Jewish idea, that the “self” is created through action, just as the brain through repeated action, forms connections within from regular activity. Whilst Merton spoke of inaction bringing spiritual death, inertia can also bring mental or physical death.

The inspiration to write this article was seeing a 5Rhythms quote that “All this dance is bull-shit if we don’t take it out into the street”. The late Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms dance movement philosophy is described as a “dynamic movement practice – a practice of being in your body – that ignites creativity, connection, and community.” It is this integrated, connected aspect that I love. Roth termed herself the Urban Shaman and took dance to the kids, the elderly, to New York rather than California, and to those that thought they could not dance, but realised they could move in an individual, unstructured way that expressed themselves rather than conformed to structured time or dance steps. Her 5Rhythms integrated body, heart, mind, soul and spirit; created connection within and community without.

We need psychological/spiritual exercise as well as physical exercise and to exercise ourselves on behalf of others.

The biblical path to illumination was once described by the prophet Isaiah:

“…if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:10-11)

The personal contemplative state can never be a fully enlightened one if it becomes separate from the connectivity we share with people and planet. It’s all very well looking at ourselves as the droplet of water under a microscope of self-analysis and development, but if we want to make waves then we need to fall from our solitary lofty intentions, become a drop in the sea and get rippling. Plop-psychology!