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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)

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.

Another One Bites the Dust, why? RIP #chrisieedkins trans role model, parent, performer

Published June 14, 2013 by Katy J Went
Another One Bites the Dust, why? 😦 Chrisie Edkins, in many ways a confident trans role model and advocate, has passed away, circumstances as yet undisclosed. [update: it now appears this was suicide]

“Chrisie passed away in the early hours of Monday 12th June. There are no further details at this time. Her family have requested a period of time to privately mourn and grieve for their loss, after which, they will provide details of the funeral arrangements along with ways her friends and supporters can pay their respects”

Chrisie was a popular performer at many Prides including London 08/09, as well as being signed by modelling agencies Model Moi and All Image Solutions. This year she had offered to perform free at Prides worldwide.

She was nominated for inclusion in the International Transgender Historical Society’s Hall of Fame 2012/13 and 2013/14 classes.

She had appeared on the ITV This Morning and Trisha shows to talk about her transition and promote trans awareness.

Though brave, confident and transparent about her past life, and having been reported on in the Daily Mail and Echo, she was nonetheless as human and upset as the rest of us when media coverage got it wrong and portrayed her as something she was not.

Last year she tweeted:

“What makes life so good… knowing it ends so make the most of it as dead is on only certain thing.” (May 2012)

Here in the UK over a third of trans folk attempt to take their own lives, 80% think about doing so. In other countries such as Northern and Southern America those figures are higher still and transwomen in some countries are 49x more likely to get HIV. This week Greece has been rounding up transwomen on the pretext of sexual health and prostitution checks as if it were a fascist state of the late 1930s.Mental health issues will affect 1-in-4 of us, as I know myself, having attempted suicide on 3 occasions. Being trans may not be a mental illness but living with it can make you ill, and some choose the difficult path of exiting this world. Having lost 2 trans friends in the last year or so to unexpected physical illness, the loss is felt no less keenly, whatever the cause and my thoughts are with the family members left behind.To every trans person, or anyone else living a lie not a life, carpe diem, seize the day, enjoy the present, live life to the full, who nobody knows what tomorrow may bring.

RIP Chrisie x #chrisieedkins

PostScript
Some folk have thought it insensitive to use Another One Bites the Dust in the title, undeniably, it is. Death is offensive, insensitive, untimely, taboo and no respecter of persons. Chrisie’s death was a shock to me as the third trans friend’s death in 18 months. Less than 15 months ago was my third suicide attempt. Chrisie was a performed and singer, I can’t ask her now whether she’d appreciate the Queen song reference. That’s death for you!

Freddie Mercury himself was taken before his time. I was at Queen’s last ever full line-up concert at Knebworth in 1986 where a fan climbed a lighting rig tower to get a better view, just 2m from me, fell off and landed on another annoyed fan who stabbed him. The delay getting through the 120,000 strong crown led to his death. We were all held back for hours afterwards whilst the police looked for and eventually arrested 4 men.

I had a “suicide” playlist on my iPod – now renamed “depressed” as some were offended by it! Bohemian Rhapsody even appears on it based upon the lines, “I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all” which I listened to on repeat before one suicide attempt 4 years ago.  Tears for Fears, Mad World, “The dreams in which I’m dyin’ / Are the best I’ve ever had” also appears.

Twilight, Fifty Shades, Male and Female in Bible, Law, Science and Society

Published May 29, 2013 by Katy J Went
The happiest place to be, Australia, has declared “23 genders” deserving of recognition and protection. Yet the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court continue to assert just 2 “traditional” genders and reject the Yogyakarta Principles.

“Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities shall enjoy legal capacity in all aspects of life. Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom. No one shall be forced to undergo medical procedures, including sex reassignment surgery, sterilisation or hormonal therapy, as a requirement for legal recognition of their gender identity. No status, such as marriage or parenthood, may be invoked as such to prevent the legal recognition of a person’s gender identity. No one shall be subjected to pressure to conceal, suppress or deny their sexual orientation or gender identity.” (Principle 3, Yogyakarta Principles) 

Numerous groups and individuals have defended the gender binary on the alleged absolute grounds of biology, tradition or religion (e.g. The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property – an organisation of lay Catholic Americans). On gender and sexuality, at least, Catholics, charismatics, evangelicals and biblical fundamentalists, not to mention Muslims, as strange bedfellows are ironically united. But are these grounds so easily or well defined? Biology offers plenty of scope for multiple and hermaphroditic genders; Native American tradition and other cultures allowed for 3-6 genders or more, such as: male, female, feminine man, masculine woman, gender-fluid and two-spirited.

As for religion, well God in Isaiah 56:4-5 affirms third gender folk as a distinct group apart yet especially loved and named from sons and daughters (male and female).

“For thus saith the Lord to the eunuchs/circumcised, Those who keep my Sabbaths, and decide for that in which I take pleasure, and take fast hold of my covenant; I give to them in my house and within my walls a memorial (yadh) and a name (shem) good/better than sons and daughters: I give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”

Nice wordplay on eunuchs/cut off! The eunuchs cannot parent children and thus prolong their name nor are they regarded as sons or daughters, being inbetween, but instead of healing, as God offers to the blind, deaf, lame, lepers God gives them a name, nature and status, as shem can mean, as “good” as that of sons or daughters, creating a third category on an equal footing, called “better” to make the point. They are also given a “hand”, not a helping one, perhaps, but yadh can euphemistically mean phallus power or strength, portion or perhaps inheritance. After all, the bad verse division hides verse 3’s ending “Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a dry tree.'”, a phrase indicative of barrenness.

Similarly, Jesus when referring to eunuchs cites three possible origins including “born this way”, “made” or “lifestyle choice” (Matt 19:12). Contemporary first century Jewish rabbis recognised at least 4 genders in the time of Jesus accepting hermaphrodite tumtums and infertile intersex and/or barren women. The Jewish Midrash Rabbah Genesis 8.1 speaks of Adam being created androgyne, bi-gendered, hermaphrodite and then being “cut in two” much like Plato in his Symposion (190 B) when he speaks of three generations: the masculine, the feminine, and the androgynous, and of the latter being split at Creation.

The Bible in Genesis 1 does not say that we are created “male *or* female” but “male *and* female”, “in the image of God”. This makes God male and female, but s/he/they are one entity – in three “persons” if you are Christian rather than Jewish or Muslim. Although “persons” is a problematic later Greek development than earlier Christian thought of God in three modes or manifestations: Father, Son and Spirit. Whilst the Spirit-Creator is mostly seen as female and the Father-Creator as male, nonetheless they are described metaphorically as a mother with nursing breasts as well as other female analogies (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14, 49:15, 66:13; Hosea 11:3-4; Psalm 123:2-3, 131:2; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34, 15:8-10), leaving only Jesus as the XY male – but can we be sure of even that? If Jesus was the incarnation of God, then he too could be male and female, a fully intersexed Messiah), so that Jesus can truly stand for everyman, as in every man and woman, fully human.

The Hebrew word for “and” has a wide range of meaning, it also has the word “either/or” but does not use that here. The same word “and” is used of the animals to be taken aboard the Ark, “male and female” separate breeding pairs. Yet some animals can breed without being in a pair, some can have up to 7 gender variations within a species. Are these animals making a “deviant lifestyle” choice or were they not only born that way, but created that way and part of the “male and female” God envisaged?

It is not about distinction, separation and categorisation but creative variety. Day and night, light and dark are not polarised binaries, but a fifty shades of greyscale, with dawn, daybreak, diluculum, sunrise, morning, coffeetime, midday, teatime, dusk, crepuscule, evening, twilight and everything in between. Gender is similar.

Nobody seriously disputes anymore the ethics of slavery, the Christian equality mantra of Galatians 3:28 stating that “there is neither slave nor free…”, but it continues “…neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. So why are we debating gay, trans, women bishops etc still? Just as God is male and female and yet still one, so are we both individually and as humanity. We are male and female and every shade in between, however gender is counted: 2 genders, 3 genders, 23 genders and none.

Simplistic literalist black and white, male and female theology creates summary judgements of human conditions outside of the binary, neat Sunday school scenarios. Real life is complex, beautiful and individual, and Jesus’ radical solution: Love transcends all these complexities.

The Australian HR Commission report suggested that “people are protected from discrimination without reference to:

  • a binary construct of gender which only protects individuals who identify and present consistently as either male or female
  • a binary construct of sex characteristics which fails to protect intersex individuals
Away with binary and biblical constructs, I say, let gender and Genesis be organic!

Gender turf/TERF wars between feminisms and trans viewpoints

Published May 16, 2013 by Katy J Went
Delilah Campbell has written a slow to the foray catch up piece, Who Owns Gender, on the radfem-trans turf wars – or TERF wars (“trans-exclusive/exterminating radical feminists”). It re-rakes over the Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill Observer op-ed comment is free piece of January that was subsequently pulled but republished in the Telegraph. I found it posted on Julie Bindel’s facebook page, considered enemy territory to some.

Forget biological essentialism, there seems to be more belligerent and bellicose essentialism to the spats between certain radfems and certain trans activists. Rather than seeking common ground the fight continues to draw up definitions, establish battle lines and perpetuate the gender war.

My thoughts below assume you have open and/or have read Campbell’s article.

TERF wars indeed! Not entirely sure that I agree that 1) gender is constructed and 2) gender relations are power relations. I guess as a trans-feminist (and one with whom many trans disagree) I understand the trans search for a scientific basis for gender (cf Pinker and Baron-Cohen, whose books I have devoured,  debated and disagreed with), for legitimacy, and some science does show that trans brains are different, nether male nor female but in-between. Perhaps trans activists would be better fighting the gender binary rather than certain radfems. But some feminist rejection of women-born-men/trans lies also in a power relation struggle, gatekeeping the “who can be called woman” bastion as much as the psychiatrists and surgeons who allow access medically, and the legislators who control its legal definition.

“the trans account puts little if any emphasis on gender as a power relation in which one group (women) is subordinated to/oppressed by the other (men).”

Indeed, trans feel oppressed by the very definition of gender, its differences, division and the power of cisgendered men *and* women to bar admission to its ranks of gender non-conformists. If gender were merely constructed, letting trans “in” would be a rebellion and power statement against its construction.

So the truth lies somewhere between the two (or more!) positions, IMHO.

That those constructions some think are inconsequential is laid bare by both women’s and trans’ experience of gendered prejudice and oppression, often exacerbated for the trans by their internal self-oppression, hatred of external birth gender, and ongoing emotional and psychological confusion and quest for gendered calm in an integrated body-mind-chemical continuum and holism.

Campbell writes that:

“it denies the reality of the alienation and discomfort which leads people to identify as trans. This is a reaction feminists ought to be able to understand, since it parallels our own response to the dismissal of issues like sexual harassment as trivial problems which we ought to be able to ‘get over’—we say that’s not how women experience it…Radical feminists, then, would actually agree with the trans activists who say that gender is not just a superficial veneer which is easily stripped away.”

If she’d stopped there we’d have a starting point for dialogue, understanding and co-fighting of the patriarchic hegemony and false-binary (for many trans oppose the gender-binary, biological and/or constructed, but some buy in to it, lock, stock and all). Instead she says trans have got it wrong and misinterpreted the meaning of feminists as saying that gender constructs are “trivial and superficial”, anyone who is or understands a trans knows that we would never say that. It is the least trivial most plaguing aspect of our existence.

“For feminists, the effects of lived social experience are not trivial, and you cannot transcend them by an individual act of will.”

Exactly, nor can trans transcend their gendered experience and discomfort by an act of will, therapy or otherwise. HRT and surgery provide the greatest (but not always total for some) relief. If society were to change as campaigned for by feminists, queergenderists and non-binarists then it would be interesting to see how a future ungendered utopia would affect both the experience of women and trans. In the meantime the socially unacceptable 30-40% trans suicide rate requires compassion and understanding not turf wars.

Trans and Intersex, not to mention others, have fought to join the LGB and women’s movements and their sexual and gender utopic agendas. Both have been reluctant to add us, not wanting any “tiny and previously marginal minority” to wag the tail of the larger dog.

Whether “born this way” essentialism or “plastic” freedom of choice are true, it is the “one or other” approach that fails, that divides, that reinforces polarisms, binaries and the gendered social construct. By accepting the in-betweeners and in-between positions we celebrate “the [radical] possibility that we can not only imagine but actually create a different, better, juster world.” Long may trans and radfems work together to create just that.

Same Sex, is it Equal Marriage?

Published February 6, 2013 by Katy J Went

As the UK passes the 2nd reading of the bill for Same Sex (but not fully equal) Marriage with a strong majority in Parliament but a minority of Tories, the very party introducing it, I’m left pondering what has marriage got to do with church or state, gender or sexuality? LibDem councillor and trans activist Sarah Brown has ably pointed out the areas of inequality that will still persist for trans, intersex and non-binary people, the eunuchs and tumtums of the biblical period. http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=139

The new Archbishop minces words by saying that he is against the language of exclusion but also against equal marriage. What an oxymoronic thing to say, can anyone in a modern society contrive a sentence that puts together the two words against and equal? Don’t they realise how that sounds, “I am against…equal”! He says we need to create safe spaces for the gays within the church, safe but not the same space, not marriage. And what about trans marriages? What if a male bishop transitioned to female, would s/he have to resign their post because the church hasn’t yet caught up with gender equality? Have they suddenly lost their ability, their theological knowledge, their anointing because of a gender change?
The references that some MPs made to church, faith, bible, natural order, biological complementarity, purpose of having children etc, made me boil. So childless marriages aren’t as legitimate, so the infertile and childless by choice are now second class marrieds. Modern marriage is still defined by semi-ancient edicts, those of men, bishops, state and society. It has often been revised, changing laws about age in 1763 (12 years and older was legal then, probably not far off the age of the mother of Jesus!) and again in 1949 to protect under 16s. A century ago, married women could not own property independently. An institution in the past designed to control and manage inheritance and family, it was about male ownership, heirs and owning women (not just one) as property, slaves. The vows were “take, obey, yield….”. Biblically they could marry 4 women (just as muslims and mormons maintained) so long as you did not marry a woman AND her mother, you could be married off by your father without choice as the daughter or even as the son to your brother’s widow if childless, you could be forgiven sleeping with a betrothed slave for the price of a ram, could divorce a woman for pretty much anything yet she could not divorce a man at all.
Marriage is not between a man and a wife but between a person and other person(s). Marriage is about state-religious control, a socio-religious construct; relationship, on the other hand, is about love, care, companionship, equality, understanding, romance, respect etc. I am with the eponymous misogynist St Paul in Galatians on this “there is neither male nor female, slave nor free in Christ”, so a Christian marriage is not about gender or owner/headship if it is “in Christ”.
Furthermore, I think God affirmed other forms of marriage in Genesis by choosing as father of faith, Abraham, the husband of two wives; Jacob (who became Israel) as father of 12 tribes including Judah and husband of four wives. Not to mention Adam and Eve being the closest possible blood relations, Cain, Abel and Seth marrying their sisters, Shem, Ham and Japheth’s children marrying each other. Then there was Onan/Levirate obligatory sister-in-law marriage, spoils of war marriages. Don’t forget the fact that if we are quoting the Bible to define marriage than only virginal marriages (of the woman, the man need not be a virgin!) are valid according to Deuteronomy 22.
The fear that ‘gay’ marriage would lead to poly marriage or bestiality is ludicrous scaremongering. 50 countries support polyamorous marriage only 1 of those also supports gay marriage, so there is a greater connection between heterosexual marriage and likelihood to allow polyamory!
Another fear that the quadruple lock to prevent religious institutions being taken to court for not allowing same sex marriage, has not been borne out by evidence in Holland the first country to allow it 12 years ago (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21321731), even in Denmark where churches are now obliged to offer it, no minister can be required to perform it, and much like an anti-abortion doctor can pass on the responsibility to another willing minister – if one exists.
The argument from Adam and Eve, as opposed to Steve, as when Jesus commented on divorce, that before the Fall, it was just man and woman, negates the fact that that then legitimises sibling marriage. There is even a Genetic Sexual Attraction Forum for sibling love.
Arguing that marriage without possibility of procreation, is ‘naturally impossible’ and therefore unnatural between same sex couples, forgets that the same is true of infertile couples, many intersex persons etc. Citing the Bible on this is dubious at best, as God is able to intervene in these situations and make it happen or allows a man to sleep with another woman to get a child (surrogacy, often used by gay men).
Jesus was a biological impossibility, sex between a probably 12yo virgin and a unigendered bodyless divinity! Marriage is used throughout scripture as a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel, divorced and remarried indeed on more than one occasion, yet that was not about natural procreation but just love, the gender identity or sexuality of Israel or God are not necessary to realise it is about love and commitment. Love is normal, that comes even before procreative possibilities or impossibilities. God is love, therefore, S/He would sanction expressions and commitments of that love between two or perhaps more loving persons.
In St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai, there is an icon which shows two robed Christian saints getting married. Their ‘pronubus’ (official witness, or “best man”) is Jesus Christ. The happy couple are 4th Century Christian martyrs, Saint Serge and Saint Bacchus – both men.
Yale historian John Richard Boswell discovered this early Christian history and wrote about it nearly 20 years ago in “Same Sex Unions In Pre-Modern Europe“ (1994). In ancient church liturgical documents, he found the existence of an “Office of Same Sex Union” (10th and 11th century Greek) and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century Slavonic).
So let’s not claim that marriage has always been between a man and a woman, for it sometimes been between a man and more than one woman, or between a man and a man, or between a God and a nation or a virgin, in the eyes of some Marian extremism.
A final word on prejudice and bigotry, name-calling never achieved change. Bigotry comes from a millennium old use of “by God” and a mockery of the Norman French, it later came to mean religious hypocrisy and prejudice. Gordon Allport in his classic book The Nature of Prejudice (1954) treats the subject well and distinguishes between prejudgements and prejudice, those that meet emotional resistance during challenge and those that can be explored rationally, “If a person is capable of rectifying his erroneous judgments in the light of new evidence he is not prejudiced”. I once opposed homosexuality and more as an evangelical Christian, it was both ongoing theological and historical study, matched with meeting sincere spiritual people of alternative sexualities, and coming out as trans and queer myself, that led me to reconsider and lose my prejudice. So activists, give the prejudging religious a chance to lose their prejudices via debate, argument and encounter, without abuse. Just as with the recent Suzanne Moore/trans activists/Julie Burchill spat which escalated out of control through invective rather than engagement, debate and mutual learning needs some degree of respect to get anywhere. Blessed are the peacemakers, which does not have to mean compromise, but just the manner of engagement, it is far more likely to win friends and influence people than all out war.

11 year old trans girl Sadie reminds the President Obama what ‘full’ inclusion and equality for ‘all’ mean

Published January 24, 2013 by Katy J Went

Words of wisdom and a personal plea from an 11 year old trans girl to the US President. 

‎”Sadie was so proud of President Obama for including the gay community in his inaugural address on Monday; however, she felt like the trans community wasn’t included,” Sage, Sadie’s mother, told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “That inspired her to write her own ‘speech.'” www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/23/transgender-girl-obama-speech_n_2533298.html

President Obama made history during his Inauguration Speech on 21 January 2013 when he said everyone should have equal rights under the law:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls [the influential women’s-rights Convention, probably the first to be organized by women in the West], and Selma [1965 Black rights marches on the Alabama capitol], and Stonewall [1969 LGBT uprising]…”

The US President continued:

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/21/obama-inauguration-speech-stonewall-gays_n_2520962.html

This the first time that a US president has addressed gay rights during an inauguration speech, but the trans community hoped that he would have gone further and been even more inclusive after mentioning women, Afro-Americans, gays and lesbians and the Stonewall uprising. Trans were a significant if not majority presence at Stonewall. The 1969 homophobic and transphobic NYPD police raid on a bar featured a large proportion of trans people including Afro-American trans and drag queens, and yet both trans and non-Caucasians have been somewhat airbrushed out of this part of LGBT history, not only by politicians but by the gay community and LGB historians. 

It’s a great start and Obama is the best President yet in that department (Clinton was pro-LGBT too), however, some trans have been waiting 44 years for recognition of their leading involvement in Stonewall (it was after all, in part, the NYC ordinance prohibiting wearing more than 3 items of women’s clothing that gave the dubious basis in US law for the raid on the Stonewall Inn – ie it was transphobic & dragphobic repression). 

 

 

It is a shame that many LGB/T organisations such as Stonewall England & Wales (Scotland is more inclusive) forget that you can’t spell S’onewall without a ‘t’. Neglecting trans rights on the basis that it would ‘drag’ the process because we are less politically acceptable could be classed as short-term practical expediency, but 44 years? Take the UK Equal Marriage campaign, no mention of trans, who have to divorce to transition, just of gays and straights. No mention of intersex at all. 

 

Now an 11 year old kid reminds us was true inclusion means. Sadie’s speech in full:  

“The world would be a better place if everyone had the right to be themselves, including people who have a creative gender identity and expression. Transgender people are not allowed the freedom to do things everyone else does, like go to the doctor, go to school, get a job, and even make friends.

 

Transgender kids like me are not allowed to go to most schools because the teachers think we are different from everyone else. The schools get afraid of how they will talk with the other kids’ parents, and transgender kids are kept secret or told not to come there anymore. Kids are told not to be friends with transgender kids, which makes us very lonely and sad.

When they grow up, transgender adults have a hard time getting a job because the boss thinks the customers will be scared away. Doctors are afraid of treating transgender patients because they don’t know how to take care of them, and some doctors don’t really want to help them. Transgender patients like me travel to other states to see a good doctor.
 
It would be a better world if everyone knew that transgender people have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. We like to make friends and want to go to school. Transgender people want to get good jobs and go to doctors like they are exactly the same. It really isn’t that hard to like transgender people because we are like everyone else.”

 

Sadie transitioned from male to female in kindergarten, was then home schooled until recently and is now in public school fifth grade. Her mother is supportive and actively encouraged her to write the ‘essay’ to help her express herself. With affirmation at home, she has remained confident despite open discrimination and according to her mother, Sage:

“isn’t shy or ashamed of who she is,” who adds, “I’m always ‘on’ when we go out because I never know when she’ll strike up a conversation with the person in front of her in line at Trader Joe’s. When she chats with people, she introduces herself as, ‘Hi, I’m Sadie, my favorite color is pink, I’m vegan, and I’m transgender. Who are you?'”

Discrimination does not exist in the womb, being transgender does. It is great when young people teach adults a lesson in history, identity and hope.