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Archive for the ‘Equality’ Category

Michelle has written at http://www.facebook.com/notes/michelle-obrien/middle-aged-family-men-who-become-transsexuals/217309451615035

I have a great deal of respect for Michelle, for her insight, intelligence, knowledge and experience. She has the rare ability to be able to express her views, often forthrightly, while not imposing them on others. I see her a friend.

I read what she writes with more attention than the usual quick scan that written offerings from some others seem to merit. Her latest piece is no different in that respect. It is measured and balanced, managing to be both objective and to take account of her own known and unknown prejudices, which she acknowledges, something that is rare even among scientific papers.

Usually, I find myself in full agreement with what she writes, barring a few minor details, but on this occasion I find myself on the other team, even while acknowledging the truth of some of her observations.

Michelle’s description of a middle-aged transsexual: “a heterosexual man, having a successful career, married with children who had now grown up” and “ prior to two years ago their whole life was a lie; they tell you that their former heterosexual family still stands by them”. This is me, 10 years ago, although I did experiment with male homosexuality for a while. I even said that I “do not see the point of reassignment surgery”, although looking back, I retract that comment, now.

It took me a long time, however, to decide on the degree of inclusivity I hope for from the LGB fold. Even today, it is a debate within the trans community that sees the feathers flying on a regular basis. When I listen in to the debate, I see battle lines drawn with LGBT on one side and T separatists on the other. What always strikes me is that both sides argue in an “all or nothing” way. We are either part of LGB or we are separate from them. It was before my time, but I am told that there was a similar debate about the inclusion of bisexuals and doubtless lesbians before them. Bisexual people still speak of not being properly understood by the LG fold. For me, the truth is that there are issues which are common to all these subgroups, including intersex, queer and questioning and that there are other issues which are individual to each subgroup. The real question is whether the commonalities are sufficient to bind the subgroups into a co-operative whole. There is nothing magic about LGB which creates unity.

I once co-hosted a discussion with a gay man, Tony, delivering training to police officers and staff. On this occasion, I described my childhood and the issues I had faced. Then Tony stood up and said: “Polly has just described my childhood.” When Michelle says: “ the surgery, the pain at physical, emotional and psychological levels as I tried to grow up having a gender reinforced on me that made no sense to me”, she is describing something very close to my life prior to transition at the middle age of 45 years.

And then we come to Michelle’s resentment of us late onset transsexuals “having everything” while claiming to go through various kinds of emotional torture. From one perspective, I think that I can understand that. I will guess, because I have not had this conversation with Michelle, that she had no alternative but to face her issues head on from an early age. Late onset transsexuals, to one degree or another, have the ‘luxury’ of putting their issues into a box and to leave it to gather dust in a corner of their mind. In my case, I can vividly recall the two conversations that led to me making a conscious decision to abandon any exploration of who and what I was and, instead, to play the compliant son. Over time, the suppression of self became largely an automatic process…until, that is, middle age. I had few opinions that I was willing to express, always waiting to see what my consciously chosen role models thought. I wasn’t a very nice person then. I swore a lot, drank, smoked, was misogynistic…you see, I was trying desperately to fit in with my newly acquired peers.

By the time I was middle-aged, I became unable to successfully maintain the pretence. People at work (I was a bank manager) were noticing erratic behaviour, not overtly trans related, but anger, irritability, unreliability and defiance. I spent time off work with clinical depression, I was put on report and I began to feel more and more isolated. I left.

How is it that I (and many others) were able to take a late onset pathway when Michelle (and many others) were not? I don’t know. I will guess that our respective conditions were not identical and that our home and school lives were probably different, different religious backgrounds perhaps. While I can understand Michelle’s resentment because we ‘got lucky’, I can’t accept that it is fair to late onset trans people. It is not a comparison between like and like. Despite having had ‘everything’, I would gladly give it all to her in exchange for the chance to turn the clock back and to have grown up as ‘me’ (an overworked word) in a world that simply accepted me for who and what I was. I have often speculated whether, in such a world, without a gender reinforcing childhood, I would still have needed surgery. I don’t suppose I will ever find out.

The trans people that Michelle describes in her piece seem to me to exhibit behaviour typical of a period around transition. By transition, here, I am referring to the most commonly accepted definition as the point at which a trans person changes their gender presentation. In truth, transition is a lifelong process. The period of transition is arguably the period of most emotional and psychological upset, when the trans person becomes energetic about self discovery and, very often, most dogmatic. Perhaps this is understandable when one considers that they are exploring their very core identity. Understandable, but unpleasant to deal with.

I think of it like a pendulum. For most of my life, the pendulum was held to one side (the male side). As more and more weights are applied, the stay breaks and the pendulum swings to the other extreme (my ultra femine side). With the passage of time (and damping forces), the pendulum stops swinging and I arrive at a state of relative rest between the two extremes.

I have long speculated on the relationship between the various components of LGBTIQQ, but the only conclusion I reach is that the science is poorly researched, especially from a psychological perspective. We have gay men who act and dress effeminately, sometimes morphing into drag queens, we have dykes adopting a masculine style of dress and behaviour (rarely morphing into drag kings), we have some in both camps (no pun intended) falling into and out homosexuality, masculine trans women, defiant gender queers, intersex people (who may or may not be diagnosed early and may or may not have had childhood surgery) who ‘at least’ can point to a biological or genetic difference (perhaps as well the harder to prove psychological issues). There is so much overlap and there is so much that is still unresearched. The “transsexual brain is different”, genetic sex markers have been identified away from the tradition XY markers (which are, in any event, unreliable as sex markers) – stories such as these circulate from time to time.

Michelle resents a trans person who claims to be intersex. Again, I have some idea why, but it does not need to be a disputed issue. I have met at least one intersexed person who was not diagnosed (with some difficulty in persuading the GP) until early middle age. Typically, a trans person will not be karotyped, but it may be the case that is some kind of genetic anomaly. It may be the case that, as other genetic sex markers are unconvered, that the expressions intersex, transsexual and homosexual may need to be revisited at some point in the future.

I think that, if trans people want to be part of society, then they may have to learn to be a little less shouty, although I can think of other examples where basic rights were only achieved by shouting very loudly.

And after all this, I still don’t think enough attention is paid to what I see as the underlying issue here, which is the non-acceptance by society at large of anything and anyone veering away from the statistical norm. A comparison that is often trotted out at this point is the historic ‘curing’ of left-handed people. The principle is the same.

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Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow to play husband and wife – Telegraph.

It seems that even Hollywood realise that transsexual people pre-date the 1950s.  It is a shame that Julie Bindel appears not to be up to speed.

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About a year ago, I was one those transsexual women who opposed the nomination of Julie Bindel for Stonewall’s Journalist of the Year award and her continued attack on trans people in her article “The Operation That Can Ruin Your Life” in November 2009 reinforces why. I was not particularly familiar with her writings, apart from her now infamous article published in 2004. I didn’t and don’t consider myself qualified to gauge her contribution to lesbian and radical feminism issues. I do, however, feel qualified to comment on her contributions on transsexual issues.

More than anything, my opposition in 2009 was aimed at Stonewall. Stonewall is an organisation that campaigns on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) issues, notwithstanding that the original Stonewall riots were triggered by trans people. There may have been a time when they also campaigned on Trans issues, but nowadays it is adamant that it is LGB focussed rather than LGBT. This is odd because there is a great deal of material on their site in support of trans issues, starting in http://www.stonewall.org.uk/beyond_barriers/ . Anyway, be that as it may, there are many places where LGB issues and T issues overlap and there is a strong history of supporting each other in their campaigns. It is against the background of this history and of Julie’s venomously anti-trans article in 2004 that trans people protested outside the Stonewall awards last year. Trans people felt badly let down by an organisation that they believed to be on their side – it simply did not make sense for an equal rights and anti-hate organisation to offer an award to a journalist who was promulgating hate.

Let me say it, again, lest there be any misunderstanding: the protest was against Stonewall. On this occasion it was not against Julie Bindel. A group was set up on Facebook to coordinate the protest and to give protesters from around the country a central place to air their views on what was happening. Julie Bindel came along to see what was being said about her (I don’t criticise her for that)…and that is when it turned ugly. The group became an extremely uncomfortable place to be, where emotions ran high on both sides. Facebook allowed both sides to engage with each other in a way that was previously not possible and engage, they did, rather brutally. This time it is personal.

Eventually, everything quietened down, apart from the odd rumble, and, as far as I am aware, the year since the protest has been fairly quiet. Until, that is, Julie reignited the flames in her recent article. Her decision to write about transsexual people again would be less puzzling if she showed signs of developing her perspective and of having learned, but it is largely a rehash of what has gone before, a malicious cocktail of inaccuracies and distorted facts. She may believe what she is saying, but I suspect her motive has nothing to do with explaining her position – she has already done, often. I have a hunch that she is simply continuing the feud, for its own sake, or supporting her own position as a prominent radical feminist. It is hard to see any other reason for her most recent article.

But let’s have a look at just some of the things she got wrong:

Julie claims that “Gender dysphoria (GD) was invented in the 1950s by reactionary male psychiatrists”. GD was not ‘invented’ by anyone. The condition has been around for a very long time. In any case, the notion of a reactionary wanting to introduce change or invent something sounds like an oxymoron to me.

Aversion therapy was once used to be a treatment for lesbians and gays to stop them being sexually attracted to their own sex. I think Julie Bindel needs to explain how she arrives at the conclusion that transsexual surgery is the modern aversion therapy – how does it some men and women fancying their own sex? This is probably a good time to remind people that sexual orientation and gender identity are unrelated. Some trans people are gay or bisexual,while others are straight. It would be a strange therapeutic approach that considers aversion therapy for both gay and straight patients. While I am about it, let me kill another myth – aversion therapy is not effective in changing either a person’s sexual orientation or their gender identity. Reparative therapy is also singularly ineffective and often results in long-term damage to clients.

She describes the surgery as “brutal”. I don’t agree with her, but if she were right, then it would make one wonder all the more why transsexual people feel the need to put themselves through it. There might be a clue in the findings of the Engendered Penalties report which showed that around one third of transsexual people had attempted suicide at least once as the alternative. She describes the results as far. from perfect, yet there is only a 3.8% regret rate (Landen 1999). Another study (Smith et al, 2005) found that no patient was actually dissatisfied. OK, this may not be perfect, but it is pretty darn close. Does surgery make transsexual people happy? Usually, yes. A study (Weyers et al.2009) on outcomes in transwomen, showed that they function well on a physical, emotional, psychological and social level. On face of it, this seems to indicate that surgery has a remarkably good outcome.

Julie also worries about the lack of rigorous definitions, saying that according to some, a girl who played football could be described as transsexual. She seems to imply that because the definition is so vague, it must be worthless. It is odd, then, that she seems happy to use expressions such as man or woman. I have yet to find a definition for man or woman that fully includes everyone. Definitions can be based around genitalia, or reproductive organs, or chromosomes, or hormones or even behaviour – and they can all fail. Happily, most people tick the same box for each class of definition, but about 1% of the population tick a different box in at least category. These people could be described gender variant in some way. These people are part of nature’s rich diversity. Professor Milton Diamond is quoted as saying: “Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.” Julie’s articles transsexual emphatically demonstrates this hatred.

She says that there is a number of transsexuals who regret surgery and she trots out Claudia McClean as her example. Again. It is strange how it is always the same dissatisfied person who is brought forward whenever someone mentions regret. One dissatisfied person, of course, is one person too many and this is what the Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders are there to try to prevent. A significant percentage of those who embark on the care pathway do not proceed to surgery. If the level of patients regretting surgery were truly an issue, I would have imagined that it would not be difficult to find examples other than Claudia. In fact, it is very rare to find someone who regrets gender surgery, as the satisfaction figures demonstrate.

Julie Bindel’s approach to transsexual people is selective and contains many inaccuracies.

So if the article is not intended to be a balanced, well-researched, informative piece for public consumption, I find myself looking for her real motives.

Could it be a grudge match? She gives some examples of the vitriol she has endured and taken it personally. She says that she has been ‘no platformed’ by National Union of Students Women’s Campaign and that several organisations are too frightened to invite her to speak, for fear of trans lobbyists. I am truly sad that she seems unable to see that gender variant are fighting for the same rights that any oppressed minority in history has fought for – the right to be themselves, to be respected and to enjoy the same rights as everyone else. Sadly, history shows that these campaigns are often hard fought and violence and aggression is by no means unknown. From the suffragettes to black power to gay liberation, violence has been seen in all these fights. It is not something to be proud of, but sometimes it has been seen as the only way to be heard. I am not aware of gender variant people resorting to physical violence (although they have suffered and continue to suffer a great of violence), but they are nevertheless fighting for their very right to exist, in defiance of the bigots..

Julie does a lot of good work for other vulnerable groups including prostitutes and careleavers and I know that she is not an uncaring person. That is why I find it unbearably sad that she cannot rise above the acrimony and see the potential harm that she is trying to do to thousands of people. It was not that long ago, historically, that lesbianism was in a similar place to where gender variance is now. Where Julie might once have been able to claim to belong to an oppressed class, now she plays the oppressor of gender variant people.

She doesn’t want equality.

And this is at a time when homophobic attacks on gays and lesbians seem to be on the increase, reminding us all how fragile society’s acceptance seems to be – the homophobic murder of Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square.

Shame on you, Julie Bindel.

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Freedom of Speech?

Nick Griffin, of the BNP, appeared on BBC’s flagship Question Time, last Thursday. Listening to the public outcry, one might be forgiven that the sky had fallen around our ears. Probably one of the most vocal was Peter Hain, Welsh Secretary and a long time anti apartheid campaigner, who recently appeared on the BBC trying to explain why he thought it was a bad idea. It seemed to me that his basic tenet, and the source of his, was that the BBC should not be allowing Mr Griffin to appear because he, Peter Hain, thought it was wrong. He felt that the Nick Griffin’s appearance could give the BNP a boost. In his statement he makes reference to other parties being democratically elected, yet conveniently overlooks that one million people voted for the BNP and that, in particular, Nick Griffin is a properly elected MEP. His claim that the BNP is an illegal party was spurious. It is a legal party with a constitution that is allegedly illegal, in that it does not admit non-whites.

Some of the arguments for banning Mr Griffin from Question Time have troubled me. Again, the basic tenet seems to be that he should not get a hearing because people didn’t want to give him a hearing. This is a version of free speech that I have seen before and will probably see again, but it does make me think about what free speech means to others. For me, free speech is an equality issue and equality is not something that one can give to just some people…unless it is equality for all, then it is not equality at all. Some people find this a hard position to take when faced with views that are a complete anathema to them. Suddenly, they chuck out all their dearly held beliefs because it is not convenient to their immediate objective of gagging, in this instance, Nick Griffin. These are the very same people that I may have heard to use the “equality is for all” expression. How thin is the veneer of ethical behaviour?

And there was the protest outside the BBC. A protest is a quite legitimate form of expressing opposition to something, but when three police officers are reported as injured in the protest, I feel move to ask the question: when is violence justified? Clearly some of the protesters felt that their cause was good, but again I see an equality issue here. The message seems to be that violence for a cause that you support is absolutely fine, but it is condemned if you don’t happen to support the protest. I wonder if it is a case of applying double standards or whether some people just enjoy a good ruck.

Inside the studio, the flexible ethics were again on show. The audience seemed to have a higher proportion of visible minority groups than one would normally find. It made my heart sink as I watched and anticipated a put-up job. Question Time is a current affairs panel program, but the format for Nick Griffin’s debut was grossly distorted by the fact that his appearance on the show was dominating current affairs. Whether the BBC should, ethically, have compensated for this distortion is probably up for debate, but they were also experiencing a conflict of interest. On the one hand, they were claiming that Nick Griffin should, in the interest of equality, appear on the show, while on the other they had a vested interest in allowing the baying hounds to dominate, turning the whole programmed into the Nick Griffin Show and achieving a 30 year viewing record of eight million.

Most of the of the show was dedicated to stereotypical Griffin-related issues and we never did find out what he thought about the recession or the postal strike or the war in Afghanistan, which I think is a shame.

In the public debriefing room, I have been listening to all sorts of comments, like Mr Griffin made a complete fool of himself or he was sweating like a pig or that he was evading questions or lying – these were some of the more moderate comments. And I agree with all of them, even the less moderate ones.

But here’s the thing. Lying and evading questions is something that many of our darling politicians seem to be prone to do. Jack Straw promised immunity from prosecution within the EU, something that I very much doubt he has the power to do. Baroness Warsi was distinctly evasive on the issue of gay marriage. And have we so quickly forgotten the weapons of mass destruction or MPs fiddling expenses or a government populated by non-elected members or the mantra that Britain is well place to weather the recession as we head for our seventh successive quarter when other countries are recovering? I mean, really, when did we start believing that our MPs were paragons of virtue and integrity? Far from being criticisms of Mr Griffin, I would offer that his performance was very much in line with the political norm.

The BNP may well gain support from Nick Griffin’s appearance, but it won’t be the BBC’s fault for having him appear. It will be the BBC’s fault for allowing the audience to be stacked against the BNP. It will be the fault of the audience and the protesters outside who would prefer to see him gagged. It will be the fault of the people’s government for not listening to the people.

Increasingly, the political arena in the UK is becoming more like a school playground than a mature adult debate.

Make no mistake, I detest the BNP as much as most people and, as a bisexual trans woman, have reason to fear them coming to power. I think that their policies are vile and repulsive. But I don’t think that my disgust is sufficient reason to throw basic equality issues out of the door, because as soon as we do that, we lose the moral high ground.

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Equality? Really?

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What does equality mean for you? I will guess that you are thinking in terms of equal pay for women and the ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents women from achieving positions on boards of directors. People talk about equality as being a ‘right’, but the more I read about how it is handled, the more that I think that it is more of a privilege than a right. And I don’t think that equality exists in Nature, either.

The recent case of Caster Semenya highlighted the issue for me. Miss Semenya recently became the women’s world champion at 800m, but her entitlement to the title was called into question amid accusations that she was man. Part of me can understand this – her physical appearance leaned towards what most people would regard as the male stereotype and she was reported to have a masculine voice. And it wouldn’t be the first time that the issue has arisen in sport. In the early 1960’s, Tamara Press competed in the Women’s shot put for Russia and rumours abounded concerning her gender, which have never been fully explained.

Miss Semenya was forced to undergo tests to determine her sex and which showed abnormally high levels of testosterone (for a woman) in her system. The whole thing was badly mismanaged and Caster was reported to be suffering severe stress and depression, as a result. It is hardly surprising, in the circumstances. For the first time in her 18 years, she was having to address issues of her identity and, unless you have experienced this, the chances are that you will have no idea just how profound an experience this can be.

All this happened in the name of “Equality”. People were asking if Caster had an ‘unfair’ advantage over her fellow female competitors because of the testosterone levels in her blood. I didn’t hear anyone ask the other question – if she had been running in the men’s race, would the other competitors have been challenged for having higher testosterone levels than Caster?

I haven’t seen anything in the public arena that confirms her condition, and that is as it should be, it is after all, private and very personal. But there is wide speculation that she may be intersexed. Intersex is a term used to describe a very wide range of conditions which are at odds with binary sex system that most people regard as absolute. Intersex is a very large and immensely complex topic, which is outside the scope of this piece.

I know many people who have an intersex condition. Two would have been professional sportspersons, except that they would fail the sex tests. That is, they would have been neither provably male nor female.

So let’s look at this notion of ‘equality’ again. It seems inherently unfair to me to bar people like this from all competition. The message would appear to be: ”You are not female. You are not male. Are you even human?” It is a stark example of how cultural values of a binary gender system have fallen behind the science of gender.

Another area where equality is a big issue is in connection with gay marriages. History teaches us that being a homosexual man was a sin, an illness to be cured and illegal, to boot. However, although homosexuality has been neither illegal nor an illness for many years, in the UK it is still not possible for a man to marry another man. Ah, I hear you cry, gays have Civil Partnerships. Is this equality? I think not. If a civil partnership was the same as marriage, it wouldn’t need a different name and its own act of parliament. Gay people still cannot marry and, interestingly, straight people cannot enter into a civil partnership. Being married tells the world you are straight. Being in a civil partnership tells the world you are gay. No one has been able to explain to me what business it is of the world to know my sexual orientation. To me, the Civil Partnership Act did not bring equality – it was offered as a sop to the gay community.

And this brings me to my point. If equality is a right, why do we spend so much time trying to decide who is entitled to it? Instead of saying gays can marry, new and controversial legislation was introduced ratify the legal status of same sex partnerships. In the Single Equality Bill, another piece of forthcoming controversial legislation, transvestites are explicitly excluded from certain protections. Why? Why spend forty words excluding a group of people from protection from harassment, when those same words could have been used to be inclusive. The implication of the decision is that, actually, it is perfectly all right to discriminate against crossdressers. It is a clear statement that transvestites are less equal than other classes of people – I can hear echoes of Animal Farm. One reason given for their exclusion is that there is no evidence of need of protection. What a perfectly peculiar thing to say. Firstly, I cannot see any line of logic that takes you from ‘not needing protection’ to ‘explicitly excluding them from protection’. Secondly, the absence of ‘evidence’of something is not a proof that is does not exist. I can state quite categorically, that transvestites are discriminated against on a daily basis, but it appears that no one has yet bothered to look for the evidence.

This concept of equality is really most odd. Legislative bodies use immense resources in deciding who is ‘entitled’ to it, even to the extent of explicitly excluding entire groups from protection. Equality decided like this is not really a right at all. The fact that a decision has to be taken in order to determine entitlement mean that it is a privilege granted from on high.

Here is a notion. How would it be if we could turn our thinking around and start from a position that stated that everyone is equal? From this position, we might then lend our minds to who we believe is not entitled to equal treatment. I think that this might focus our thoughts marvellously. We would have serious discussions about why we thought that, say, child abusers, should have their rights curtailed and in the absence of specific legislation proclaiming otherwise, the catch all would then truly be a right to equality.
But politics is the art of the possible and it has been suggested to me that any campaign to reverse how we think about the issue of human rights would be doomed to failure because that is not how government works.

But, if no one ever questions how things are done, nothing would ever change.

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