Transgender

All posts in the Transgender category

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.

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.

GenderAgenda_symbol

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.

The Independent on Sunday’s LGBT Pink List 2013

Published October 13, 2013 by Katy J Went

Published since 2000 The Independent on Sunday‘s Pink List always causes a stir. Straights may wonder why it even exists, homophobes see it as a Hall of Shame and celebrities may get recognition over hardworking campaigners and activists. That is set to change as the paper, or at least this year’s judges (actress and singer Heather Peace, long time trans activist Christine Burns, Kim Watson of GTDiva & Meta magazines, and Ben Summerskill of Stonewall) have decided contenders need to be more than LGBT, famous and/or influential – they need to actually “make a difference”.

With 15+ trans entrants compared to 2010’s none and 2011-12’s half-dozen it is topped by the young charismatic upcoming media-savvy trans journalist and activist Paris Lees. Other trans personalities and activists include: model Jackie Green, Trans Media Watch‘s Jennie Kermode and Helen Belcher, politicians Sarah Brown and Tara Hewitt, journalists Jane Fae and Juliet Jacques, poet and activist Roz Kaveney, lecturer and former primary teacher Natacha Kennedy, Big Brother‘s Luke Anderson, My Transsexual Summer‘s Lewis Hancox and Raphael Fox – now filmmakers themselves, and Gendered Intelligence‘s Jay Stewart.

Singer and co-founder of Queer Youth Network CN Lester appears at #41 and is probably the only notable queer and non-binary activist.

Clare Balding is #2 for the second year running having been #4 and a judge previously.

Peter Tatchell, notably forgotten in 2011, is raised to joint #2 after an apologetic re-entry at #3 last year, having featured at #7 and #34 in previous years. It feels like a pop-pickers Top 40 with movers and losers, who’s in fashion and who is not.

It is as if LGBT political correctness was trying to cover all bases and make apologies for previous omissions of all trans people, most lesbians, non-whites and one vocal and veteran campaigner. It would be no surprise if a suitable black bisexual was not shoehorned into #4. Oh wait, let’s google/wiki Nicola Adams … yes she’s bi, having come out last year.

2012 was an Olympic year in several senses, with among other sporting stars, Puerto-Rican Orlando Cruz, another boxer, also coming out. Four out of the first five Pink List places were taken up by sports celebrities. It also opened the list up to gender, disability and colour in ways not hitherto seen.

2013 has been the year of equal marriage, but also “the year when trans people finally began to glimpse the sort of respect and equality that gay people can, at last, expect”, writes the paper, “We hope the list reflects that.”

The aim, according to the Sindie – Sunday Independent – “To entertain and celebrate, infuriate and amuse. Above all, to kick-start a debate around the breakfast and lunch-table.” Well it has certainly done that – celebrate and infuriate in equal measure.

Back in 2010 national treasure Stephen Fry complained about the separately compiled Rogues’ Gallery section which pilloried Pineapple Dance Studio’s Louie Spence for his camp “gay stereotype” whose “fame would soon be up”. Fry described Spence as “An authentic, strong, charming and lovable person, every bit as ‘courageous’ as the others on the list, certainly more courageous than me, Louie deserves respect and support, not insult and derision. Do they want people like him not to count, do they see him as being guilty of a choice in his manner and his demeanour, just as homophobes everywhere accuse all gay people of choosing their sexuality and preferences?” Fry renounced his entry at #3 and gave it to Spence.

2010’s list was criticised for lacking obvious and open trans or bi persons and grassroots activists.

A gay HuffPost blogger tore into 2012’s list describing it as “meaningless” and if “a victory for equality, it’s certainly a hollow one.”

Yet the fabulous LGBT educator, Elly Barnes (#1, 2011), said, “Being awarded the No 1 spot on last year’s Pink List was a massive shock and overwhelming on every level. It not only gave me the confidence I needed to take the Educate and Celebrate initiative forward nationally; it was also the wake-up call to move to be a full-time LGBT advocate. I will be for ever thankful to all who voted and to the judges.”

To make room for younger activists, our campaigning forebears have been moved to a National Treasures List:

April Ashley MBE Model; Russell T Davies OBE TV producer and screenwriter; Lauren Harries Media personality; Phyllida Lloyd CBE Theatre director; Matthew Parris Journalist; Alice Purnell OBE Trans campaigner; Stephen Whittle OBE Professor of equalities law; Sir Cameron Mackintosh Theatre producer; Paul O’Grady MBE Actor, presenter; Neil Tennant Musician; David Hockney OM, CH Artist; Andrew Pierce Journalist; Jeanette Winterson OBE Writer; Boy George Musician and DJ; Eileen Gallagher OBE Television producer; Sir Elton John Musician; Philip Hensher Writer; Julian Clary Comedian and writer; Alice Arnold Broadcaster; Alan Bennett Playwright; Alan Hollinghurst Novelist; Stephen Fry Actor and writer; Sir Ian McKellen CH, CBE Actor; Jonathan Harvey Playwright; Paul Burston Author and journalist; Fiona Shaw CBE Actress and director; Simon Callow CBE Actor; Rupert Everett Actor; Sir Nicholas Hytner Theatre director; Val McDermid Novelist; Brian Sewell Art critic; John Barrowman Actor; Sandi Toksvig Actor and presenter; Graham Norton Comedian and presenter; Colm Tóibín Novelist; Linda Bellos OBE Activist; David Lan Playwright and film-maker; Dr Christian Jessen TV presenter and doctor; Michael Grandage CBE Theatre director and producer; Jackie Kay MBE Poet and novelist.

The shift to younger LGBT role models may inspire the next generation of activists and more people to “come out” – last weekend was National Coming Out Day in the US & UK. May next year’s list evolve to include more Queer, Pan, Intersex and Non-Binary voices. It is easy to find criticism with the list, the very notion of LGBT league tables is abhorrent, but some mention is better than none, and all publicity can be seen as good publicity. It will certainly continue to arouse “debate”, and long may it do so.

Pope, Pat and Tutu all speak out on faith and LGBT

Published July 30, 2013 by Katy J Went
This week has seen Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Pope and firebrand Pat Robertson, speak out on LGBT identity and faith positions. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the usually extreme fundamentalist homophobic Pat Robertson who, when questioned on TV about transgender, said:

“I don’t think there’s any sin associated with that. I don’t condemn somebody for doing that…It’s not for you to decide or to judge.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/pat-robertson-transgender_n_3672244.html

Is age or grace softening him or is he seeking to get one up on the Pope’s latest announcement that being gay or a woman might actually be ok, just don’t ask to be a priest.

Pope Francis has affirmed gay orientation, but not practice (which still requires forgiveness) nor equal marriage. Also, on women, they are to be more proiminent but  “But with regards to their ordination, “the Church has spoken and says no… That door is closed.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23489702

Meanwhile, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, has blown people away with his statement on homosexuality, coming from a continent where even more usually liberal-minded Anglicanism is homophobic. He said that he would rather go to hell than a homophobic heaven and could not worship a homophobic God. He was speaking at the launch of a United Nations gay rights program in South Africa:

“We have to build a society that is accepting and it is not a free society until every single person knows they are acknowledged and accepted for who they are.”

“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.”

“I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.”, “I think it’s as utterly unjust as racism ever was.”

“Can you imagine me having said it’s unjust to penalise something they cannot do anything about, their race or gender, and then to keep quiet when people are hounded, people are killed, because of their sexual orientation?”

South Africa may have deep divisions and violence still but it is the only African country to fully support equality of race, sex and LGB identity, allowing gay marriage since 2006, 7 years before the UK and France. The laws passed with overwhelming political support.

South Africa was also the first country in the world to protect sexual orientation as a human right in its constitution. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender or sexual orientation, has been against the law there since the 1994 interim and 1997 final constitutions.

Homophobic attacks in South Africa are, if anything, on the rise and especially of lesbians. Several having been murdered and even mutilated over the last year.

Of the world’s 76 nations that criminalise homosexuality 39 are in sub-Saharan Africa, with some of their homophobic campaigning allegedly encouraged and supported by American fundamentalist Christian organisations.

Transgender and Intersex people have also had a level of legal recognition for gender change since 2004 when the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act (2003) came in to force, although in 10 years only 95 people have taken advantage of it since medical and/or surgical proof is often deemed to be required and many officials are still transphobic and reluctant to implement the law according to reports.

It’s slow speed ahead, but a seed of change nonetheless. One can easily jump on the ongoing LGBTIphobia, and one should – yet acknowledge too that 14 nations and 14 US states bringing in same-sex marriage laws, with several denominations increasingly and fully accepting LGBTI identities is a gathering storm of progress. Bigotry will not fall in a day and inching towards equality should be celebrated without letting them off the hook for hypocrisy and double standards.

On being an Aussie male…and how to report on Trans in the News

Published October 7, 2011 by Katy J Went

The Canberra High Court in Australia has ruled that characteristics that identify a person as male or female are “confined to external physical characteristics that are socially recognizable.” This recognition does not require knowledge of a person’s sexual organs, the court said. This was after the Australian Gender Reassignment Board 3 years ago had refused to recognise the transmen’s gender without complete surgical reassignment, arguing that “having a female reproductive system is inconsistent with being male”. They had undergone mastectomies and had each been on testosterone for more than 5 years rendering them infertile (although possibly reversible if the hormones were stopped).

Surgical prerequisites for legally changing gender have already been relaxed in South Africa, Britain and some other European countries.

Australia has also passed legislation this year that allows Male, Female or Indeterminate gender options on its passports, a move that Britain announced last month it was also considering. “There have been very many cases of people being detained at airports by immigration in foreign countries simply because their passports don’t reflect what they look like, it’s very distressing, highly inconvenient and frankly sometimes dangerous.”, said Senator Louise Pratt, Australia’s first MP with a trans (FTM) partner,  in an interview with ABC Radio.

News stories such as these must be a nightmare for journalists wanting to write it up with respect and yet still grab the reader’s attention through headlines and human interest. Headlines and grab quotes proliferated, such as “Court passes ruling on what it takes to be a man in Australia” (DT), “Men in Australia no longer need a penis to be legally considered a male” – this one is rather stupid in reverse, since if one loses one’s penis due to cancer, accident (remember that in the Hebrew Bible crushed testicles de-manned one and excluded one from entry to the Temple), or deliberate choice, one doesn’t lose one’s status as a man unless one is explicitly transitioning.

Whilst the Daily Telegraph used “female-to-male transsexuals”, the Guardian and Independent called them “transgender people” but went on to refer to them as not having had full “sex change surgeries”, a phrase deprecated by trans communities in favour of variations on gender confirmation/recognition surgeries. The Telegraph used “gender realignment surgery”. Other terms abound: gender reassignment surgery, sex/genital reconstruction surgery, sex affirmation surgery, sex realignment surgery.

Australia had refused to grant the men “gender reassessment certificates”, a proof of gender certificate which within the UK is called “gender recognition”. Not to be confused with Sexual Attitude Reassessment/Restructuring – an often explicit image and group-work based seminar for increasing sexual health professionals’ comfort and knowledge of different attitudes to sex and sexuality.

A sad, strange, and sick story back in 2010 was headlined “Transvestite had sex with a dog at English Heritage Castle” in the Daily TelegraphWhat sickened the DT most was probably that it was at an English Heritage Castle, anywhere else would perhaps have been okay. They seemed relieved that after calling EH for comment their spokesperson said “This was a very rare incident”! Phew, well that’s alright then! Other papers, if one can call some of them that, ran with “Transvestite rapes dog – A cross dressing pervert…deviant…” (Morning Star). The dilemma is the dog incident and press language describing sexual perversion, whilst broadly appropriate there, is also used for mainstream transgender stories.

The label ‘transsexual’ conjures up in the minds of some journalists the idea of a sexual deviant rather than someone likely to be struggling with gender identity or exhibiting legitimate gender variance. Admittedly transsexual, to me, is an illogical term anyway, first used by D. O. Cauldwell in 1949 (originally with one ‘s’) but which would be better used for someone attracted to trans people, along the lines of homosexual, heterosexual, pansexual etc. This is why transgender or transperson is a much better suited term.

It it difficult to expect the media to stick to one term when the trans community itself can’t agree. We do, however, agree on disparaging the use of “sex change”, “sex swap” and incorrect gender pronouns in articles and undue attention to the birth gender background of the subjects.