Gender Conversion Therapy

Conversion

Recently, a book club that I belong to featured a book called the “Miseducation of Cameron Post” which is a story about a young woman who is sent to a religious school for “conversion therapy” in response to her homosexuality.  Conversion therapy, (sometimes known as reparative therapy) is a range of discredited practices which falsely claim to be able to change a person’s gender identity, largely through prayer or other religious efforts.

Although the practice has been rejected as “pseudoscience” by mainstream medical and mental health organisations since the early 1990s, some practitioners continue to practice the technique.  The highest-profile advocates of conversion therapy tend to be fundamentalist Christian groups who use religious justification for the therapy in partnership with such organisations as the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and People Can Change. These groups promote the concept that an individual can change their gender identity either through prayer, or through so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapy.

Minors are especially vulnerable, with conversion therapy often leading to depression, anxiety and in some instances, suicide, as in the case of Leelah Alcorn.  Leelah’s untimely death in 2014 prompted President Obama to support calls for “Leelah’s law” which sought to ban conversion therapy across the USA.  Since these calls, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and the District of Columbia have passed laws to prevent licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to minors, and more than 20 states have introduced similar legislation. Oklahoma however, has introduced legislation which would specifically legitimize conversion therapy and immunize it from state oversight.

Since the introduction of legislation, there have been a number of challenges from supporters of each side of the argument.  Those campaigning against the law tend to focus their efforts on challenging the law directly, such as in the instances in California in  2013 and in New Jersey in 2015 and 2016.  Those campaigning for the law have based their efforts on enforcing consumer protection law, by alleging advertisements and business practices which claim they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity constitute deceptive, false, and misleading practices which can cause serious harm to consumers.

There is significant anecdotal evidence of harm to LGBT people resulting from attempts to change their sexual orientation and gender identity. Based on this body of evidence, every major medical and mental health organization in the United States as well as the NHS here in the UK have issued statements condemning the use of conversion therapy.  Even  Psychiatrist Dr. L. Spitzer, who once offered a study on reparative therapy, has since denounced the practice and has apologized for endorsing the practice.

Consider these statistics, that Trans people (and other LGB classes) who are subjected to “conversion therapy ” are  :-

  • More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide.
  • Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression.
  • More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs.
  • More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.

Opponents of a ban (hard to believe they STILL exist isn’t it ?!?!) on the practice believe gender identity in gender-nonconforming children is as-yet unformed. They point out that some grow up to be gay or lesbian, rather than transgender, so therefore efforts to change their gender nonconformity may result in happy gay and lesbian adults, rather than transgender adults “doomed” to what they believe is a a sad life of hormone treatments and surgeries.  For these critics, conversion therapy in pre-pubertal children focuses on changing gender-nonconforming behaviour, asserting that pre-homosexual and pre-transgender children can’t be distinguished before puberty.

The reality is though that conversion therapy has been shown to be extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. In 2009, the APA issued a report concluding “the reported risks of the practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.”

 

Why is the bathroom so important to transgender rights ?

ToiletsJust recently in the USA, the ever thorny issue of transgender peoples use of the bathroom once again flared up with the news that a US judge has ruled against a Virginia transgender toilet ban.  This reversal has simultaneously re-invigorated transgender activists, galvanised conservative opinion and led to confusion among legislators across the USA.  It’s also led to a project to develop a mobile app which maps “safe toilets” for transgender people to use.  Sometimes referred to as  “bathroom bills”, this type legislature has emerged as one of the most contentious remaining battlegrounds over transgender rights.

But why have toilets become synonymous with the fight for transgender rights in the USA and polarised opinion ?  Well following on from my previous blog about my own experiences, I thought it would help to summarise the most recent incidents, offer some statistics and commentary.

Background

Last month, to much fanfare, legislators in Charlotte, North Carolina passed a law to make enable transgender people could use toilets of the gender they identified with.  But then, shortly after, North Carolina state legislators effectively over turned that by passing a bill  which removed that (and other) protections for various minority groups.

Going the other way, an appeals court overturned a Virginia school policy that barred a transgender student from using the mens toilet,  referring to it as discriminatory.  Previously though, a federal judge had earlier rejected the students sex discrimination claim, saying Title IX ( a federal law which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funding) only protects students from discrimination based on biological sex, not gender identity.

These incidents are by no means isolated either.  In Florida, a House committee passed a bill on March 4 that would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly enter a bathroom that didn’t match the sex on their driver’s license or passport.  In retaliation, a number of trans people have started posting pictures of themselves in restrooms across America to highlight the discrimination laws like this facilitate.  In Maine, the state governer stopped his administration from promulgating new rules that would punish schools that do not allow transgender students to use the restrooms, showers, and other accommodations of the opposite biological sex

The two views

Those that argue in favour of “anti” legislation justify their position with the following points.  Firstly, they argue that legislation which allows transgender people to use the bathrooms of their gender identity puts women and children at a higher risk of attack, violence or abuse. Secondly, they point towards transgender people being “deviant and deceptive” and that they have no place in a largely gender binary society.  (Those on the more extreme fringe of the second point actively campaign for the benefits of conversion therapy)

For those that argue in favour of “pro” legislation, the argument is much simpler.   They argue on the basis of equal rights, supplemented by the three key points.  Firstly, in common with all decent, fair minded people, men and women, all transgender people want to do when they use a restroom is use the facilities.  Secondly, labelling transgender people in this way facilitates a misunderstanding of the issue, since there is no documented evidence of a link between people being transgender and being a rapist, abuser or murderer.  Thirdly, transgender people are more likely to suffer attack and abuse in a restroom, than the people laws like this are purported to protect.

Some statistics

  • Currently 18 states have laws protecting people from discrimination based on the sexual orientation or gender identity.
    • Of the states that have passed legislation – media matters presented the following graphic.
  • Three more states have laws which cover just sexual orientation.
  • When polled, Americans
    • Overwhelmingly support LGBT rights.  78% of people support  giving transgender people protections from discrimination in schools and the workplace.  However,
    • They narrowly oppose allowing transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms different than the gender they were assigned at birth by a 38% to 37% margin.
  • Transgender people
    • Are more likely to suffer abuse or violence than any other community
    • 45% of hate murders are against transgender women
    • 87% of transgender people have reported being the subject of abuse or violence.

Discussion

I did a short and admittedly unscientific survey across the groups that I support about hurdles transgender people face in their journey an found that after coming out to friends or family and experiencing violence while out, fear of going to toilet while out was the next biggest fear transgender people worry about.  Kyle Lauder, the facilitator at the Norwich group I support recently made “bathroom etiquette” the subject of a meeting with the graphic to the right. trans toilet

He observed “When you think about it, toilets have a natural order that promotes privacy. Public toilets for the most part are very private places; there are stalls and standard customs that put invisible walls of privacy all around us. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, when I looked at a stranger and decided this was the ideal place to start a conversation.  Lets face it, all that any of us want when we enter a stall, is for it to be clean, have enough toilet paper and water and towels to wash our hands.  Pass a law on that !!”

When you research the “anti” campaign argument in more detail, you notice the point about women and children being at more risk of abuse is often based around assumption that it will come from “straight men dressing as women”. Either from them exposing themselves, staring or verbal/physical violence.  Think about that for a moment.  It’s specifically not singling out transgender people !!!

Even if it was, the fear it infers is based on a definition of Transvestite from the 1960s which suggests “people who dress in clothes (typically underwear) more often associated with the opposite gender, for the purpose of sexual gratification”.  However, most people now understand and accept that “Transgender” (Gender variant) covers a broad spectrum of people – those that wish to move (transition) permanently from one gender to another, those who wish to temporarily wish to present as either gender and those who wish to be neither or even both genders.  None of those definitions have anything to do with the sexuality or motivations of a “straight” man…….  Don’t prejudge them as Transgender simply because you don’t understand the label.  If you want to label the perpetrators of these incidents as anything, label them as perverts or deviants, prosecute them as abusers, sentence them as criminals, reform them as offenders.

Further, I don’t know about you, but I’ve found whenever I catch the tube in London at rush hour, I’m far more likely to be leered at, brushed up against and at worse surreptitiously groped “when someone reaches for something in their bag” (please) than I am in the bathroom.  I’m seldom expectant or demanding that the government passes laws to keep certain people away from me.   These incidents, if they happen, happen at all manner of places and there are existing laws in place to protect ALL of us when they occur.

People being put at risk of being abused by other people is the issue. Transgender people just want to be treated fairly, like all people, not legislated against and have the law protect them.  They need, deserve and are fighting for the same protections as everyone else has. When you see the issue from this angle, you realise that both campaigning interests have the same agenda, protection of people from harm and abuse.  Therefore, they should be campaigning for it as such, rather than trying to score points off, or encourage discrimination against the other !!!!

Here in the UK we have seen in the last few years a number of reported cases of abuse in care homes.  By people who were trusted with the care of frail and vulnerable.  No-one anywhere in the UK has campaigned for care workers to be banned from access to care homes.  It simply wouldn’t work.  Instead, training, registration, background checks, regular surveillance and registration were all parts of the solution.  No-one is or should be suggesting registration of transgender people, but there are other options than legislation.

Moreover, while the transgender community in America is over focussed on their basic rights to use a restroom, bigger issues are being ignored. For instance access to the right medical care, being fired in many states for just being transgender or even the right to exist. On the subject of equality and diversity, surely there’s more significant issues to tackle and work towards resolving ?

 

 

 

Older Transgender issues

Doctor explaining diagnosis to his female patient. Concept of health care for elderly old people, disabled.

Recently, I was chatting to a really sweet friend of mine, Susan*, who I’ve known for almost all my adult life. You’d like Susan.  Everyone does.  She’s generous with her time, home and just one of those nice people that you want to be around.  But she hides a secret, which many in the transgender community would be surprised about.

In her own home, she potters around doing her thing.  Susan is the woman she knows she has always been. However, at work, it’s a different story.  She goes to work in “drab” and uses her male name.  At the male dominated environment where she works, the talk in the canteen is laddish and regularly makes fun of gays and trannies, leers at women, talks of beer and football.  She feels isolated, desperate not to give any signs away.  If you were to ask her, she’d tell you the day she ventures into work as Susan would probably be the day she quits, or is dismissed.

Now approaching retirement, Susan is starting to think about what life after work will look like for her. Although she’s excited about the opportunity she expects retirement to bring in terms of finally being able to express herself as a woman full time,  she wonders if she’ll be able to fund her transition (her plan is to downsize to a flat and put some money away in case she needs to move into care) she worries about the possibility of losing contact with her family and precious grandchildren, even the effects of taking hormones at an older age will be.  She also wonders about the quality of care she can expect to receive if she moves into a care home.

Susan isn’t alone in thinking about these things either. As more and more transgender individuals get older, the challenges they face are becoming more apparent.  But while mainstream media focusses attention on the issues the younger generation face, the challenges early trans pioneers like Susan are facing goes largely un-noticed but grows more urgent.  It’s a situation which has three key elements.

Firstly, studies have shown transgender employees are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than mainstream society. Moreover, where they are employed, they are more likely to be in jobs which pay on or close to the national minimum wage.  At best, many will live in rented accommodation or worse an unstable housing situation.  Life as a trans person can bring a huge financial disadvantage which can continue to spell trouble for them as they age, retire and enter end-of-life care.  Although Susan is one of the lucky ones in terms of her employment status, she’s concerned about what she sees as a life descending into the poverty trap by funding her own transition.

Secondly, there’s the subject of on-going treatment.  In general most of the information or data on hormone replacement therapy is based on experiences for post menopausal women which is some 30 years old.  So there’s a noticeable gap in knowledge surrounding transgender specific health concerns.  Doctors are literally having to learn by seeing their patients. Hardly surprising when you consider that the average time dedicated to LGBT health issues within most graduate medical training programmes is less than a day over their entire curriculum, though this figure is improving. I recently heard at a support group that a transgender woman had to stop taking her hormones, having discovered a blood clot in her leg.  Her doctor told her this could be just one of the little-known side effects of extended hormone therapy.

Thirdly, there’s the subject of end of life care itself.  Research suggests transgender people are afraid of  residential care facilities.  As Susan herself explains “I’m afraid of growing old in care and being psychologically abused because care staff will refuse to let me live in my preferred gender identity, if I can’t afford to transition, leaving me vulnerable to harassment and mistreatment.  While researching this article, I came across the following statement “Transgender people are three times more likely to kill themselves rather than enter a home and be at the mercy of staff”

So, what can be done to improve these situations ?

Although its a long term fix, getting more transgender people into full time, well paid employment will help.  This will require more companies to embrace LGBT diversity recognising it as a business advantage rather than a penalty.  Work and the jobs employees do require skills and behaviours which are independent of gender identity and progressive companies are beginning to recognise this and support and reward it.  Improved support for families is an important aspect too.  There are an ever increasing (and changing) number of organisations which support transgender people, but still comparatively few that offer support to their significant others, siblings and children.  Further, there is the subject of training and education for care home support staff.  These people have enormous power to ignore (and thus erase) an elderly transgender persons identity, for example by using the wrong pronouns or names, an uninformed staff member essentially negates a lifetime of struggle.  These people are often lowly paid and under immense pressure in their roles and, in most instances receive no training on specific trans care issues.  Lastly, more research into the effects of the physiological effects of long terms hormone replacement therapy needs to be undertaken to improve the understanding of this on transgender peoples health.

Still so much to do.

Body image and losing weight

 

shutterstock_114975982Even if we’re not intending to transition, as trans women we’re frequently intense observers of female behaviours in our quest to achieve that elusive ability to be able to “pass in public”.  While there are lots of facets to this “ability”, for many, this is felt no more acutely than the difficult topic of “body image” or more specifically “weight”.   The media bombards us with perfect images and articles on everything from “the benefits of dress size” to “how to achieve the perfect body shape” with all the negative connotations for our self esteem that come with them.  So how can we get to overcome these stereotypes and be happy with who we want to be ?

For many, addressing excess weight or unwanted muscle mass is a key part of the transition process and with the power of the internet at your disposal, within a few clicks, you can be left with a bewildering array of options.  Don’t get fixated on losing weight though, the key thing to a successful transition when you think of it, is being happy with the skin you’re in, whatever shape size or colour it is. Remember, a real woman is whatever she wants to be and so can you be too.

But if you do want to lose weight in a healthy way without resorting to starvation or anorexic behaviours, here are some tips from Vicky and me to get you going in the right direction.

  1. Be Patient, you’ve got time.  The transition process itself takes time and so does  losing weight.   You don’t need to rush either.   Most diets we looked at targeting an average weight loss of between about 2.0 – 2.5 pounds per week  (That’s about a Kg in new money).  This is only an average though, when you start you may lose more (a lot of the additional weight loss will be water weight) and some weeks, you’ll plateau and not appear to lose any.  Both are perfectly okay, relax !!!
  2. Weigh yourself at the same time each day. When you weigh yourself (and record the associated weight) you want the record to be as consistent as possible.  Doing this will take a lot of the swing and emotion out of your efforts which can lead to a loss in motivation.  I personally weight myself weekly because I find it more of a reasonable and better indication of success.  Remember, it’s  a health game and not a numbers game !!!
  3. Plateaus are normal !!!.  A weight loss plateau is a stall in your weight loss, where your body is overcoming latency.  Although its frustrating, don’t lose your motivation.  You’re doing all the right things and you don’t want to change your routine with drastic actions such as starvation.  Just be patient and continue what you are doing and you will break through when your body is ready.
  4. Oestrogen will take care of your shape. While there are lots of exercise products which claim to target specific areas, these claims are mostly not true.  Oestrogen however will redistribute your body fat and reduce some muscle mass, you only need to concentrate burning calories and eating healthy.
  5. Consider Yoga and Pilates.  Its easy to get fixated with losing muscle mass to the point where they will avoid any form of weight training because they see it as a form of “bulking up” which is the last thing they want.  The truth is though that it takes bodybuilders mad amounts of time in the gym to bulk up.  Exercise regimes like Yoga and Pilates help “sculpt” and “tone” muscle leading to a better shape and posture.  You’ll actually develop metabolically active muscles without the fat they are helping you burn.  You will actually get a little smaller.
  6. Make use of a personal trainer.  Lying to yourself and making excuses are easy ways out when you’re struggling, particularly when you are trying to do things on your own.  Taking advantage of your gyms personal trainer is a useful way to make a commitment to your goals and getting support when you need it.  Those things are just secondary benefits though, their primary benefit is to help you make the most of the exercises you are doing and use the equipment safely without damaging yourself.
  7. Whatever you do, exercise should be something you ENJOY.  Ideally, you’re looking for three to four exercise sessions a week (more if you can manage)  So you’ll likely be spending quite a bit of time doing it.  If you’re going to stick to it, it makes sense that you should enjoy it.  If you absolutely hate exercise, it will become to skip sessions or worse quit altogether.  Even if you do enjoy your preferred routine, mix it up every now and again to prevent you from falling into a rut and just “going through the motions”.
  8. It generally takes about 30 days to form a habit.  When you start changing your lifestyle for the better, each change, whatever it is will take time to become “normal” Remember what we said at the start, you have more time than you realise and there are no quick fixes. Transition is a long term plan you’re looking at and losing weight is just one part of the journey.
  9. Take an interest in cooking.  The more you cook for yourself and prepare your own ingredients, rather than microwave a meal for 4 minutes or so, you’ll start to appreciate your food more.  It also is a great distraction from just sitting in front of the TV with a plate on your lap and can be tremendously social too.  It also feeds through into your shopping habits too, when you start to think about cooking something and preparing your own meals, you go through the supermarket with a plan and a list, rather than hunting out bargains and “two for one offers” which tend to be unhealthy food choices.
  10. Don’t think of it as a diet, more of a change in lifestyle. Once you reach your goal weight, going back to your old lifestyle will only take you back to where you used to be.  Your transition and routine needs to be a real lifestyle change. Continue living healthy with good food and great exercise.  Between this and the Oestrogen, you will pull off a healthy woman’s appearance into the rest of your life.

 

So, there you go, that’s our tips – what are yours ?  Let us know – who knows, we may even try them out and get back to you !!

 

 

 

 

Transgender Day of Visibility 2016

Trans day of visibility

Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to consider the trans people in their community, hear their experiences and understand the challenges they face.

This years theme for the day is More Than Visibility (#MoreThanVisibility). This recognizes that while visibility is important, we must take direct action against transphobia around the world. Visibility is not enough alone to bring transgender liberation.

Rachel Crandall started the Day of Visibility in Michigan back in 2009 in reaction to the often-negative portrayal of transgender people. While some consider the event to be a pre-cursor to the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November (commemorating transgender people killed in the previous year) as Rachel herself explains “While TDoR is absolutely vital, we needed something else, something that celebrates life and transgender cultural achievements, and that’s the Day of Visibility !”

I love the fact that transgender topics are now broadcast, analysed, and debated. Mainstream society actually SEES us, they may not agree or approve, but they acknowledge we exist, and that’s important.  Accurate representation of transgender people is becoming mainstream. We’re seeing an explosion in TV shows dealing with trans topics that have trans people in them, and casting of trans actors is way up compared to two years ago. From “none” to “few” is still an improvement; remember, we’re looking for the upside, here!!!! While mainstream representation has been making slow progress over many years, we’ve made a lot of gains in the last year.

Take for example the news that broke here in the UK about Channel 4s announcement that they were appointing Amy Stanning as an announcer for the station (you can catch the announcement here) this coming off the news that Bethany Black had landed a role on Doctor who (see link), Paris Lees appearing on question time and Juliet Jacques and Caroline Cossey publishing memoirs.  Internationally too, people like Laverne Cox, Tiq Milan, Janet Mock, Jay Kelly and Kye Allums have challenged traditional thinking, even Caitlyn Jenner (love her or hate her) has moved the transgender debate forward.  Indeed, so prominent have these people been that time magazine featured Laverne Cox on the cover of their magazine under the banner “25 trans people who influenced American culture“.

transvis-717x1024
Image credit TSER 2016

I’m also going to include a very good friend of mine in this list, Sumayyah Dawud.  Sumayyah regularly puts herself in danger, actual physical danger protesting for the rights of Transgender people within Islam.  She routinely suffers emotional abuse too – but she still finds the courage to keep putting herself out there to promote her beliefs and convictions.  You can learn more about her through your favourite search engine and by joining in the #IstandwithSumayyah campaign.  It’s a really worthy cause.

As a trans person, you may not always agree with these people or their views, they may seem to live in a world of privilege or opportunity that you are excluded from, but on this day of Transgender visibility, now is the time to recognise their contribution, take courage from it and pride in who you are.  The consequences of not doing so are born out in the statistics shown in the graphic to the right.  Taken from last years event – they make sobering reading (don’t forget also the 250 or so people whose murders are commemorated each year at TDoR)

There’s also the underlying work that needs to be done to allow trans people to enter mainstream society.  Did you know for example in the majority of Australian states and territories, trans and gender diverse people cannot change the gender marker on their official identification documents without providing evidence that they have had surgery and are unmarried ?  Also,  transgender youths and their families must apply to the Family Court of Australia for a court order to access second-stage hormone treatment, despite the consent of parents and medical practitioners. This process can cost approximately $30 000.

Here in the UK, there’s the well documented backlog of people waiting for gender reassignment surgery, estimated at 7-10 years at the current rate of progress.  Remember, this is just the number of people “in process”, there are also a number of people waiting to be admitted onto the process !!!  Reported hate crime too has risen in the 2015-2016 year, indicating there is still much work to be done on the acceptance front.

So how can you help ?  Well if you’re a trans person yourself, put yourself out there – safely – be proud of who you are.  If you are in secret, tell a close ally about you.  If you’re more open, blog about your experiences to help people see there is a path to acceptance.  You could even join in one of the numerous events that are being advertised on Facebook, or perhaps volunteer to a transgender organisation and make a contribution to the community local to where you are.

If you’re not trans there’s no need to feel left out, there are things that you can do too !!!  You can promote transgender voices in your community or organisation, maybe you could write to a transgender organisation and ask for some literature or a presentation from a transgender person to show that you are accessible to transgender issues.  Going further, you can support the Transgender people in your life by educating yourself about Trans identities and how gender diversity is different to sexual diversity.  There are almost as many ways to be a trans ally as there are trans people !!

 

 

Transgender Diversity Awareness – Burton and South Derbyshire college

Not long ago, I received an email from the lovely Jane Millar asking if I could come and present to Burton and South Derbyshire college on the subject of transgender diversity.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Jane again, after our initial meeting at a relate lunchtime briefing I gave (so long ago – where does the time go ?!??!) In addition to being a really lovely woman and interesting person to speak to, she cares passionately about equal rights and diversity and more than that, is prepared to stand up for both.

In the run up to the presentation, I had a four hour helpline call from a lady called Wendy. Not ideal preparation. Then there was all the usual Joanna things, getting stuck in traffic, getting lost on the way (even with a sat nav) all of which led to me arriving spot on the time I was due to present, instead of before hand.

After apologies to the group and thanks to Jane for the opportunity, I found myself on Friday afternoon in a lecture hall, with about 50 people and presented the updated 2015 version of our standard talk for universities before answering questions and hanging around to speak to members of staff about how they could make the college more inclusive for gender diverse students.

I was really struck by some of the questions I was asked today. Intelligent, interested, compassionate and caring questions from members of staff who really wanted to make a difference for their students. If you know the surrounding area to the college, you’ll know this isn’t an easy thing to do. Its a hard town, in an area where the gender binary roles are still very much in evidence.

We live in ever changing times though and there’s no better symbol for that change than a place of learning. From learning comes understanding, then acceptance and real change. I cant think of a better place for this than the college, or more capable people to be the change than the team I met on Friday, most of all, my friend Jane.

If you would like to see the presentation or use parts or all of it for yourself, you can find it by clicking on the following links.

(the presentation is best viewed as a slideshow, as you get the effect of all the animations, which are used to illustrate certain points through the talk) if you would like to reuse any of the material, please feel free, but reference myself and the Beaumont Trust when doing so.

Powerpoint version (editable)
PowerPoint slideshow version
Adobe acrobat pdf version

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015

November is a poignant month for the transgender community.  Each year, it see’s the holding of the Transgender der Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which is held internationally on 20th November.  But what is this event and why should we in the UK be concerned ?

TDOR was the brainchild of Gwendolyn Ann Smith to commemorate those victims who were killed simply for expressing the gender they knew themselves to be inside. For being honest and open about who they were, confronting transphobia and prejudice.  Initially, the event was held in honour of Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 led to a candle light vigil in San Francisco in 1999. (Rita Hester’s murder, like most transgender murder cases has yet to be solved.)  From this humble beginning, a web project called “Remembering Our Dead” was launched which grew in turn to the TDOR.

TDOR is now a significant worldwide event, in particular in Brazil, the USA and Honduras. Why these countries ?  The answer is frighteningly simple.  More than half of all transphobic murders worldwide occurred in Brazil.  In Honduras, trans people are routinely killed at the rate of one a week, all in a country with a population smaller than London.  Many people suggest that recorded figures from these countries are actually the tip of the iceberg, since many crimes of this nature aren’t actually recorded.  Further, even the published figures don’t record the stories of trans people who took their own lives as a result of transphobic bullying.

But why should we in the UK be concerned with what appears such a remote event ? Again, the answer is very simple.  Nearly 280 transphobic murders were painstakingly recorded last year by the Transrespect vs Transphobia project (TvT research project (2015) “Transrespect versus Transphobia worldwide” www.transrespect-transphobia.org) This project recorded and gave names to victims of transphobia across Europe.  Here in the UK, we should see TDOR as an opportunity not just to remember the names and lives of Kajal Mansuri, Layla Bursa,  but also to raise awareness of the wider issues of trans-discrimination and transphobia.

Fortunately, we are privileged to live in compassionate times, sensitive to hatred based violence. But even now the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored by the media. TDOR therefore serves several purposes.  It mourns and commemorates the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. It gives our community the opportunity to show the love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference. TDOR puts names and pictures to an otherwise anonymous section of society and reminds it that we are their brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. Lastly, it gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil.

Each year, there are a number of TDOR events held throughout the UK.  Not just in the traditional centres of LGBT population like Manchester, London and Brighton, but also places like Sheffield, Birmingham, Gloucester and Edinburgh.  Add you voice and show your support.  Show the 276 people murdered this year that they’re not forgotten.

The Beaumont Trust has produced a commemoration video, which you can find the full video by clicking on the link here.  If you would like a shorter version, (without the names list) then click here.

More than just a label

LabelsKeeping support meetings fresh and interesting for the people who come can always be a challenging proposition, particularly when the group is well established.  You tend to find people migrate to their familiar friends and cliques inevitably form which can make the group seem intimidating or unwelcoming for “nervous newbies” when they first come. This month at the Stratford upon Avon meeting I support, I thought I’d try something a little different, just to mix things up a little, based on the perennial hot topic of “labels”.  The reason for this being that we not only get a number of helpline calls on this subject, but I knew of two people who were coming were struggling to understand the various labels they were coming into contact with.  Far from an ideal situation and one that was creating other problems diverting from the core issue.

In the end, Wednesdays group meeting had five “newbies” to welcome.  So, after everyone had settled down and got themselves drinks and munchies, I split the meeting into two groups, distributing the newbies among them, dimmed the lights and put up a screenshow……..

“More than just a label….”

Cue the groans.  “Hey, you can’t pre-judge a whole evening on just 5 words, stick with it.  I think you’ll find there’s something for everyone in this.  It will certainly get you thinking and talking” I said as I distributed handouts, pens and post-it notes.

The idea behind the presentation was pretty simple, each slide had a written profile of a person next to a blank outline of a body. No pictures, no clues as to gender, just the words of the profile.  Everyone would then get 2 minutes to write a word on a post-it and then attach it to the blank outline.  No guessing, just based on the profile that was presented.  The persons picture would then be revealed in the next slide and we would share thoughts on the labels we had attached, discussing any that people wanted.  Five slides in total.  The next slide was a blank outline with some hints on writing a personal profile.  Five minutes in total (after all, who knows more about being you than you ?) I would collect them up and then redistribute them among the group for another two minutes and then present for discussion.  Crucially, this was all anonymous, with no judgements.  The presentation then ended with a slide containing each of the common words used within the trans community and then an open discussion as to what each of these words meant to our group.

If you’re interested, you can download an updated version of the presentation here.  (I’ve updated it based upon the conversations we had in the group)

There were some interesting points that came out of our groups meeting that evening

  • It’s really difficult to label a person with just one word !
    • It was interesting to hear the discussion on this point and how it developed.  Initially, people were hesitant, “its unfair”, “how can I ?” were common observations.  It got even harder when everyone’s personal profiles were distributed.  People suddenly became aware that they could potentially upset someone in the room, through the choice of an inappropriate word.  Fortunately, two of the more established group members chipped up at this point and asked “why would the words we choose be negative ?”, another chimed in and asked “if we’re finding it difficult to choose one word to label people we either don’t or barely know, why do we get hett up on one word to describe ourselves, without seeing the damage it can cause ?
  • No-one labelled any of the personal profiles as trans*
    • Kind of weird – it would have been an easy label to attach.  When I pointed it out though, one person commented “you said we could only label based on the profile the person shared and they didn’t say that about themselves”  To which someone quickly replied, “I’m also all those things too, I guess, those are the things I would like people to recognise about me as I do myself.  The trans label, it’s as unimportant as male or female.  Its only part of who I am not the whole.”
  • Trans people can be unaware of their communities Icons, community, history and culture
    • Three of the profiles I showed were of leading trans people through the ages.  People who were either leading activists, public figures or supporters of our community and rights. When we talked about these people though, the conversation seemed to fixate on “who are they ?”, “why have you picked those people ?” or even “That person doesn’t know anything about me, or my struggles, why do they feel they can speak on my behalf ?”  Izzy, one of the new girls stepped up to the plate on these points though and asked “We want to feel we aren’t alone, that we’re part of a community, but look at what we do to those people who put themselves out there on our behalf, shouldn’t we be supporting them ?  These people are clearing a path out in the real world, so that I can lead my life more easily in the open.  They deserve everyone’s respect, but especially my thanks ”  Not everyone agreed with this, but for me, I really thought this was a positive, outward looking perspective, which I really admire in people.
  • Trans people often don’t even agree on the definitions of the labels themselves
    • Oh my golly, if you want to cause confusion, try to get a group to agree on a common definition of labels.  We spent almost 10 minutes talking about this, going round and round before Ester, one of the quietest people you could ever wish to meet stood up and had the following conversation with Michelle
      • Ester :- “If even we can’t agree on this, what’s the point ?”
      • Michelle :- “But they’re critical.  Doctors use them all the time to prescribe our treatments”
      • Ester :-  “are you a doctor ?”
      • Michelle :- “no”
      • Ester :- “So why are you worried then ?”
      • Michelle :- “What if they use the wrong word and it prejudices their diagnosis and my treatment ?
      • Ester :- “Tell them they’ve got it wrong and to try again.  they’re labelling themselves as Doctors not infallible”
      • Michelle :- “That’s easier said than done”
      • Ester :- “nothing worthwhile ever is easy.  Being you shouldn’t be one of the things that is hard though”
      • MIchelle :- “I’m not going to win this am I ?”
      • Ester :- “No dear, if you want a label, try tea lady.  Milk with sugar please”

After the slideshow, a few people came upto me and thanked me for the presentation.  Three of them thanked me for the talk, Sarah even said “thanks for making me concentrate on me and not the label used by others to frame my transition”.  I’ve since had some emails too.  My favourite one said

“Thankyou for this evening.  I had become so fixated on what label to attach to myself it was affecting my health and ability to be happy with myself.  I was quickly becoming consumed with what am I, thinking I needed it as part of my identity, but after hearing everyone tonight, I realised that I could let that go finally and say, I’m me and concentrate on being me.  I like that”

It takes a lot of trust in the group to do this sort of thing and for people to share, but I’m glad I felt I could do it and that people joined in. I can honestly say, I’m really privileged to know such wonderful people, who are prepared to take a chance and support each other.

 

Lili Elbe – lets celebrate good news

Lili

Recently, there was an announcement that Eddie Redmayne would be starring as the lead in a film about Lili Elbe, one of the first people in the world to undergo gender re-assignment surgery in the 1930s.  While for me personally, this was positive news, for some in the trans community, this was something that shouldn’t be celebrated but attacked, with words like transphobic being used in the dark ill-informed forums of the internet…………

But why ?  Well it turns out that some people seem to have one or all of three issues.  Firstly, that in taking the role, Eddie has denied an up and coming trans actor of the chance to star in a major production and “break through the glass ceiling”, secondly, that because he isn’t trans himself, he can’t know what its like to be trans and thirdly, because the writers aren’t trans or the lead, that it will be a poor representation of trans issues and will be awful as a result.

Really ?  That’s a real shame.

Firstly, lets remember it’s called acting.  The vast majority of people performing roles on screen, stage or film have no experience or qualifications to play some of the roles they represent.  It doesn’t mean they can’t empathise with the role, doesn’t mean they can’t come to understand what it means to be the role they’re portraying, even that they don’t do any research in preparing for the role or a good job !!  Actors take these roles on for a number of reasons, obviously money is one, but then there’s also the ones who take roles because they believe in them and want to ensure that the story is told.  We should celebrate that someone as high profile as Eddie is wants to be part of this project and that it marks a step in acceptance where trans culture is becoming more mainstream and understand and accept the possibilities this opens up, rather than “assume the worst”.

Secondly, how do the people making these objections know if a trans person wasn’t screen tested and found not to be good enough ? As has been the case with other trans roles recently.  Although I’m not an encyclopedia of available trans actors, I always wonder who these people are that are looking to break through into films who are being denied. For a project like this, casting a trans lead is one consideration and an ideal one if you can achieve it, but its not the only one if you’re charged with making the film.  Let’s remember, each film is a business undertaking and investors are primarily looking for a return on any investment they make.  It seems reasonable therefore that another consideration will be which lead can attract the sponsorship to facilitate it being made as well as being believable in role.   Studios will also want to influence the cast lead from their preferred pick list of actors.  Realistically therefore, any casting choice will always be a “trade off” between a number of factors, including the actors profile, previous box office records, perceived fit as well as availability for the role.  Not ideal, but necessary.

Thirdly, depending on what period of time the film covers, it may not be a role that a trans person is comfortable with portraying.  It could mean they would be required to play a pre and post transition version of themselves for instance, which could present issues for them that they’re not comfortable in portraying.  Sure you could cast two people, pre and post transition for example, but this can create issues with continuity, shooting schedules etc.  None of these can’t be overcome, but it makes the process more complex.

Lastly, why assume that the finished product will be rubbish ?  There are an increasing number of precedents and good practice examples now appearing which show that this needn’t be and isn’t the case.  Orange is the new black and transparent for example.  Shouldn’t we be thrilled there is genuine interest in having these stories told and that they’re becoming part of mainstream culture ? Yes, it would have been great if a trans person could have been found to play the lead but that day will come, possibly as a result of the possibilities projects like this open up. In the meantime, lets say “thankyou”, trust that the writers and actors will do a good job of telling it and move on.

As a footnote, if you would like to know more about Lili and can’t wait for the film, or maybe would like to see how the film mirrors the original book then you can buy the book via amazon at the following link.  It’s genuinely an incredible story and well worth a look !

All I want to do is, well you know………..

Toilets

If you were to write a list of all the things that you would expect were going to cause issues when you started your journey towards transition, you could easily be forgiven for missing off what for many, comes to be quite literally a “pain in the **** “.  What am I talking about ?  It’s the dreaded toilet issue……………

Three days into a new role, I was called into my bosses office and when I arrived, I saw a rep from HR sitting beside him.  Not the sort of sight you want to greet you, particularly when your boss opens up with “we’ve had a complaint from one of the girls which we need to raise with you”.

Nervous, I listened as he explained “one of my colleagues had complained that I was using the female toilet, when as a trans person, I should be using the male one”.  Taken aback, all I could do was listen to HR offer their proposed solution of using the disabled toilet in another building.  Although, far from ideal and something which for many trans people would be deeply offensive, being new in role, I went with the “ok for now. Anything to keep the peace. I’d like to return to this point at sometime in the future though and hopefully get a more informed and balanced decision.”  As  I said, not ideal, but it seemed to fit for everyone around the table, allowed us to get on with the day and more importantly, allowed me to use the facilities !!

It turned out though that the disabled toilet was a 7 minute walk away making a round trip in the order of 20 minutes, which caught the attention of my boss, leading him to comment that I was “away from my desk a bit more than he was expecting”, so I explained that the disabled toilet was in another building and hence the time.  “Hmmm he said, I guess we haven’t really thought this through, what would you suggest ?”  Taking the initiative, I suggested that I organised an after work party for the following Friday at a bar that I had heard the team talking about and told him to leave the rest to me.

With the promise of free drinks and food, it was easy to get everyone to come along and as we sat idly chatting, waiting for our first drinks order, things seemed to be going well.  It’s nice to meet people outside of work and chat about non-work stuff.  As our waiter arrived with the first round of drinks and obligatory nibbles, I asked him where the facilities were and excused myself from the group for a moment.  Returning, the HR lady asked where I disappeared to, so I replied “the ladies” and no sooner had I said it one of my colleagues asked “you can do that ?”  the awkward silence that followed told me that we had arrived at “that point”, so what else was there to say but “well, yeh, why shouldn’t I ?” .

The conversation then went back and forth for a while, but (possibly thanks to more alcohol) I eventually got the following answers to my question.

  • “You’re not really a woman” and “You haven’t transitioned yet”
  • “You hear so many things about what you sort of people get upto in there”
  • “It’s a personal space, I feel like you being in it will threaten or violate it”
  • “Men are so much more untidy and unhygienic than women, we don’t want our toilet being left unclean”
  • “We don’t have any stand-up urinals”
  • “You don’t need tampons”
  • “Why can’t you carry on using the disabled toilet”
  • “Why doesn’t the company provide gender neutral toilets – I’ve heard they’re popular with you people”
  • “Why do we have to compromise ? We could employ a proper woman and it wouldn’t be a problem.”

Not easy to listen to listen to (and a little weird) but when you’re trying to tease information like this out, I’ve always found that it’s best to be sensitive to the opposing point of view and non-judgemental.  After all, you’re trying to work out what the issue is, so it doesn’t hurt to listen in the first instance.  It doesn’t always work and certainly takes patience, but in my experience, if you launch into rationale based on the law and zero tolerance, people just become defensive, close up and ultimately disengage, resulting in no-one really getting what they want.   You might have to reinforce your case by playing that card, but for me, it’s best to use it sparingly and crucially at the right time.  In workplace situations, like mine, remember, such matters are usually judged in accordance with some form of grievance procedure, which usually features as a first step, communication between the affected parties before any escalation.  You therefore want to be sure you cover that part, otherwise you can risk your genuine issue being masked by “not following procedure”, “being awkward to work with” as well as resulting in bad feeling between you and your colleagues.

So, knowing what the concerns were, I could then offer suggestions, explanations, education even information to help change the perception of these being problems, into things they didn’t know, but were actually harmless.  Approaching it in this way gave people the opportunity to say “oh, I didn’t know that, I guess that’s ok.” It also facilitated them backing out of their position with an amount of “saving face”, which can be another important thing to consider when you’re trying to get someone to agree with you.

What did I say to each issue though ?  Well, lots, but in summary…

“You’re not really a woman and haven’t transitioned yet”.  Correct, I’m not and won’t be transitioning.  However I have the right to use the facilities associated with the gender that I choose to present in and often for me, that’s as a female.

“You hear so many things about what you sort of people get upto in there“.  I’m not really sure what you’ve heard, but I guess you’re talking about having sex.  Usually, having sex is either a solo affair, involves two or more, is consensual or non-consensual.  Firstly, let me stress that I don’t go to the trouble of buying clothes, jewellery, shoes (OMG shoes) getting made up each morning, then coming to work, just to “crack one off in the toilet” – nothing could be further from my mind.  All I want to do is use the facilities, adjust my clothes and check my makeup then get out.  Pure and Simple.   Secondly, we’re all capable of having sex in the toilet, if we choose to, but in just the same way that I assume you don’t, I don’t either.  There are far more appealing places for me to do that, rather than the work environment !!!  Thirdly, if anyone approached me for sex, I would decline, but if it continued, I’d report the person for sexual harassment as again, that’s not what I’m coming to work for, like you.  Finally, statistics suggest I am far more at risk of being attacked as a trans person if I use male or disabled facilities, so carrying on as we are, actually puts me in potential danger as a person, particularly when the disabled facilities are remote to the office I’m working in, as they are.

“It’s a personal space, I feel like you being in it will threaten or violate it”.  I understand that facilities like the bathroom are personal, that you can feel exposed and potentially vulnerable while you’re in there.  I get that.  Remember though, I’m there just to use the facilities, as you are.  I’m not there to ogle, letch or make you feel uncomfortable.  Your feelings of vulnerability while you’re in there are also true for me and it’s far more likely that I won’t interact with you while I’m in there, unless you feel comfortable enough to approach me first.  I’m not asking you to place my concerns above yours, I’m just pointing out they’re the same and as long as we can trust each other to show respect, then there’s really no need for this to be an issue.

“Men are so much more untidy and unhygienic than women, we don’t want our toilet being left unclean”  As far as I’m aware, good hygiene isn’t gender based, it’s actually a human behaviour.  I know that as a group, you buy scented soap, flowers etc for the bathroom to make it a more pleasant environment for you all and I’m happy to join in with that.  Like you though, once I’ve made that investment, why would I ruin it by treating it disrespectfully ?  If you’re talking about things like skidmarks or leaving the toilet seat up, overspray, I consider that it’s my responsibility to leave the facilities in the same state that I would wish to find them, so you can rest assured that those things won’t happen.

“We don’t have any stand-up urinals”.  Correct, I can sit down though……………….

“You don’t need tampons”.  Correct, that’s why I don’t buy them like some other genetic women.  Incidentally, there are also condoms in the machine too…………….  Joking aside,  remember for me, it’s a bathroom, I use the toilet, adjust my clothes, check my makeup then leave.  Pure and Simple.

“Why can’t you carry on using the disabled toilet”.  Initially, in response to the first complaint, the suggestion was to use the disabled toilet.  But now, having done that for a week, the company has expressed an additional concern with the length of time it takes me, because of the distance involved.  The most obvious answer to this is to use the ladies, which is closer.  However, we all have to be comfortable with this which is why we’re here talking about it now.  I understand that you have concerns and you don’t like the company putting you in this position.  I’m asking for you to listen to me and trust me, in the same way that I am trusting you with who I am and extend me the privilege of letting me use the ladies, it’s not a reversible decision though, if you feel that I’m abusing that trust, let me know and I’ll address it, if you feel it is continuing, we return to the current arrangement.  Incidentally, please understand that many trans people consider the use of the disabled toilet as offensive as it categorises them as disabled, which we’re not.

“Why doesn’t the company provide gender neutral toilets – I’ve heard they’re popular with you people”.  That could be a long term solution, but I don’t think I can hold on for that long, so we have to find a way of moving forward with the best compromise we can get.  That compromise has to be the best balance between the company and your position.  I’m not sure where you have heard that from, but for most trans people and an increasing number of companies, the most popular choice is to use the bathroom that the person presents in, we’re people like you – not “you people”.  Options like gender neutral toilets are primarily a preference for architects as they seek to either reduce floorspace or increase productive areas within a given space.

“Why do we have to compromise ? We could employ a proper woman and it wouldn’t be a problem.”  I was awarded the position after a series of interviews and tests, which showed I was the best person for the job.  That process exemplifies what diversity is all about.  In employing me, there are certain things which have to be considered, just as there are for other people the company employs.  In short, if it wasn’t this perceived issue, it could be another, which could lead to a similar conversation.

So, in a nutshell, that’s what we talked about and what seemed to work for us.  There were other bits too and lots of back and forth between us all and crucially listening as well as talking.  At the end of the afternoon though, everyone felt comfortable enough that I could use the ladies and now, 4 months in, it’s not a problem.  Hard work and it’s taken some time to get here.  Will it work for you though ?  I don’t know, but I hope it helps inform your debate, if you’re forced to have it.  Ultimately though, in my situation, rest assured everyone was and is (quite literally)  relieved !!!