Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Met forgets that trans people are people.

The issue of the transphobic sexual assault of a trans person by the Met as they tried to protect Wills and kate from unarmed demonstrators more than a mile away from the Royal Wedding has caused outrage amongst trans people.

There appear to be serious problems relating to diversity training for police officers, yet the issue is much deeper than this. The apparent open sexual assault of a trans person was not simply down to training and diversity. It is an issue of how trans people are perceived. The manner of the assault was something which would never have happened to a cisgender individual, no police officer of either gender would considering doing what was done by the squad in Soho Sq yesterday, to a cisgender man or woman. Yet it happened, in effect without thought, because the individual concerned was considered to be transgender.

As such this represents an issue of humanity. It has often been argued that being intelligble as either male of female (by no less a person than Judith Butler amongst others), is a prerequisite to being considered human. In other words, people in our culture generally appear not to accept as a human being, anyone who does not appear to be gendered either male or female. This is probably the root cause of yesterday's assault. The perception that trans people are not people.

This is an issue which goes beyond policing, it is the reason journalists, "comedians", some psychiatrists and even teachers discriminate against trans people; because they do not see trans people as people. In my opinion it is the theme running through Trans Media Watch's Memorandum of Understanding; the desire for trans people to be accorded the respect that is due any human being. It is the reason why some psychiatrists think they can force us to conform, as though they are training a dog or a performing seal, it is one of the reasons why some Rad Fems incite violence and hatred against us. As the Nazis succeeded in doing in the 1930s, dehumanisation carries with it enormous consequences; once a group of people is considered less than human, any treatment becomes possible.

The issue here is about much more than sexual assault. It is about our humanity, a humanity which is still denied to us by a hostile and institutionally transphobic culture.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Destroying Teachers TV: Educational Vandalism

The government’s decision to get rid of Teachers TV is a deliberate act of vandalism which reveals a huge amount about the motivation behind their policies and the direction they intend to take.

Firstly it shows up their stated commitment to increase the quality of teachers to be a lie. TTV has helped both new teachers and more experienced ones over the years and has won over people, who, like myself, were initially sceptical. If something this popular with teachers is destroyed, how is that going to help improve their quality? The TTV website is even telling us that some of the videos which teacher educators have downloaded and kept may not be used after the 28th April.

The truth is that the government does not want good teachers. A well educated population has never been, and will never be in the interests of the Conservative Party and its big business backers. Gove’s action in vandalising a cheap and easily available resource to help teachers makes this abundantly clear.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

From Farce to Fiasco: The Royal College of Psychiatrists conference debacle.

Newsflash: The Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic has just put out the following statement:

“The team at the WLMHT Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) at Charing Cross Hospital notes the apparent shift of emphasis in the Royal College of Psychiatrists Gay & Lesbian Special Interest Group conference, ‘Transgender: Time To Change’ on May 20th and feels compelled to withdraw on this basis.

When we were originally asked to take part, GIC clinicians understood that our role was to outline the work we do within our own service and explain the very considerable evidence base which underpins it. We are very happy to do this and our more than 55 years of experience as the country’s leading NHS provider gives us a rich and robust data set from which to draw observations.

It now appears that the conference comes at trans issues from a very specific agenda, namely, to explore the validity or otherwise of gender diagnoses as medical and psychiatric phenomena. So long as this is the case, we feel we can’t support it.

Although we were somewhat wary of engaging in what is essentially a clinical discussion with a predominantly non-trans panel, which, moreover, features a non-clinician whose personal opinion is already well known, we agreed to do so in order that discussion might focus on evidence rather than anecdote.

The Royal College should be aware that there is a great deal of disquiet around this event within the trans community and interested parties should note that the discussion as it now stands will be one-sided at best..”


The sudden withdrawal of the Charing Cross GIC from the Royal College of Psychiatrists conference following widespread anger amongst the transgender community and pressure from trans activists, represents a massive blow to the College’s credibility.

If they haven’t already decided to do so, then they should seriously consider cancelling this event, which has gone from farce to fiasco. The RCPsych’s arrogance and unwillingness to engage with trans people objecting to the basis of the conference is now pouring humiliation on the College’s senior management. When you are in a hole, stop digging.

It seems inconceivable that the conference can now go ahead and the RCPsych should bow to the inevitable. Their supercilious attitude to trans people’s wishes and feelings is coming back to haunt them. The contempt with which they treated all efforts to negotiate some sort of compromise has resulted only in increased anger and determination on the part of the transgender community. The Gay & Lesbian Special Interest Group was always an inappropriate forum at which to discuss trans issues, and the RCPsych should have seen that and should be asking questions about the way this group is constitutes and run. Now that their failure to act and to listen to trans people has blown up in their faces for the RCPsych the message is clear; welcome to the real world.

The Charing Cross GIC have obviously put a great deal of thought, both into their position on whether to attend the conference in the first place and subsequently whether to withdraw, and they should be congratulated for a sensible and courageous decision, and one which demonstrates that this is an organisation that truly considers the interests, and the feelings of its clients. It is time the RCPsych realised that trans people are people.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Dawn of the Teacher-Bot.

Chris Woodhead, the first head of Ofsted, and now aiming to be head of a private corporation running a number of schools, ultimately on a for-profit basis, has appeared in the news again.

We have to remember where Woodhead stands on most educational issues; during his reign as head of the educational establishment, he stated categorically and emphatically that teachers should not use their imagination or creativity, and that children should not be taught to think creatively.

This man now wants to make money out of removing the training of teachers from universities, where it has been done increasingly successfully, and dump this responsibility onto schools.

His schools, no doubt.

If I were considering entering the teaching profession (or “craft" as his friend Michael Gove wants us to think of it) the last place I would want to be trained would be in a training school. Especially one of Woodhead's. It is clear that those schools which do bid to become training schools are likely to do so on the basis that there is profit to be made from it, and that students will be treated as unpaid supply teachers. It is also clear that the training would result in my being trained as a drone in order to do as I was told, to deliver pre-programmed schemes of work in a manner decided by someone else. No longer a member of a profession with professional standards and able to make decisions about how best to educate the children in my classes through my own professional decisions. I would simply be a cog in a machine, there to take orders, not to think.

Chris Woodhead’s and Michael Gove’s Brave New World of education will produce Teacher-bots. These automaton-like drones will be taught basic didactic lecturing skills, will have no knowledge of the important educationally relevant theories of Piaget, Vygotsky, Hatano, Bruner, Socrates and even Foucault, they will not be able to integrate pupil-pupil interaction into their classrooms, they will not be able to use active learning and discovery learning techniques. Most of all, they will be much less able to function in schools which have challenging pupils.

This dumbing-down of the teaching profession will be the precursor to the dumbing-down of our children. An ever narrower curriculum taught in an ever narrower way by an group of people with less knowledge of learning than ever before and with no regard to inspiration, motivation or excitement.

The Teacher-bots, will produce dumbed-down boring lessons and zombie-like children who will rebel against this treatment in the only way they know how to rebel…

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Newsflash: Transphobic Conference

Some very interesting news. I have heard through the grapevine that there is a reasonable possibility that the conference may be cancelled! It looks like the pressure is working, so it is time to maintain pressure and be ready to consider our next course of action. I wouldn't like to speak too soon but if this is true this could well represent a significant victory for trans people over transphobia, and we should be ready to make a big deal about it if it does.

No decision has been taken yet, so we should maintain pressure, but the mere fact that this is a possibility should be taken as a battle won. Our actions are having an effect and this is very encouraging. Fantastic stuff everyone!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Email Correspondence with the Royal College of Psychiatrists about the "Transgender: Time to Change" Conference.

Below is the email correspondence me and Jane Fae have been having with the RCPsych. As I am sure you will appreciate, they do not seem to be that happy to discuss anything with us.

Natacha




From: jane

To: efox: natacha kennedy

Subject: Introductions and update

Date: Mon, 4 Apr 2011 10:56:10 +0100

Liz,

Just to update where i/we are with this. As I mentioned, I think, in my last e-mail, I’ve handed over writing about your conference to Jess, who edits Pink News. I therefore passed on both your quotes and your contact details to her and if she decides to run with this nearer the time, she’ll liaise directly with you.

Last night I spoke to Natacha Kennedy (copied in on this mail) who sort of represents the other side of the argument: well, OK…she and I both agree that the RCPsych conference is problematic, but maybe I’m more of a talker/negotiator, she more of a doer.

I told her that I’d been in touch with you and she said she’d like to speak with the RCPsych too: therefore I have copied both of you in on this e-mail. Like myself, she is concerned about the origins of this conference, emerging from within a body that is broadly seen by the trans community as not exactly aligned with our interests. The analogy I drew before, of a neo-Nazi group organizing a conference on Judaism in the 21st century may be a bit extreme…but only a bit.

That’s because of my second point, in respect of choice of speakers, with Bindel not especially representative of current feminist thinking, but on record as effectively calling for the eradication of transgender in its present form. As you can imagine, that is not something viewed lightly by the trans community and as I also said in my initial conversations, seemed to indicate either that the organizers were courting controversy or hadn’t researched the field too well.

Hakeem is also a bit on the eradication side of the fence, too.

I passed back to Natacha your comment that the organizers were looking for someone to present to the Conference from the point of view of trans experience and…I think that means you are both now up to date with all the conversations I have been having.

No doubt we’ll speak again.

All the best,

Jane

*************************************
From: Natacha Kennedy

Sent: 04 April 2011 16:55

To: jane; Elizabeth Fox

Subject: RE: Introductions and update

Dear Ms Fox,


Now that I have been copied in on Jane's emails with you I would like to raise serious concerns with the way the conference "Transgender: Time to Change" has been constituted. The presence of Az Hakeem being one of the main elements to this,
although Julie Bindel's presence is highly problematic also. I have just read Hakeem's most recent paper and I am preparing an academic response to it. I am particularly disappointed that someone who produces such a low standard of
publication should be permitted to address a conference of this type. Hakeem's paper appears to present trans people as problematic in themselves, which is a proposition that trans people cannot, and will not accept. The kind of
problematisation which Hakeem proposes is in itself transphobic.


As such Jane's description of the conference being regarded as analogous to a Nazi grouporganising a conference on Juadism, or indeed Robert Mugabe organising a conference on Homosexuality is, thus far the way this conference is being regarded by the trans community around the country, and indeed internationally.

The fact that Julie Bindel, who is neither a psychiatrist nor an academic has been invited to speak (and then, as Jane says about a version of feminism which is particularly marginal) has further discredited both the conference itself and the RCPsych. Obviously we are not opposed to people discussing trans people and trans issues themselves, however it is highly problematic that trans people do not appear to have been involved in organizing this conference. So far it appears that there is one (token?) trans person speaking, which is not acceptable, especially since there are plenty of trans academics who could contribute to this conference in a much more constructive way.

However the main problem we have with this conference is not merely that people are talking about trans issues
"behind our back" but that a group so constituted is likely to produce outcomes which we believe represent an attempt to alter the way transgender people are treated by the NHS. This is where Julie Bindel comes in. Julie Bindel's close friend in the US, Janice Raymond, is notorious for working with Republicans to prevent trans people receiving the medical care they need. This would appear to be Julie Bindel's position, now that a Conservative/LD coalition government has been installed. There is no other explanation for her involvement other than as an attempt to change the way trans people are treated by the NHS, and she is doing this because she has a particular ideological opposition to the existence of trans people. By including Julie Bindel in the conference, especially alongside Az Hakeem, you are effectively identifying yourself, by your actions, as an organization that is institutionally transphobic and which is prepared to permit a platform for transphobes and involve yourselves in political action against the interests of trans people.

Indeed even the title of the conference "Time to Change" is perceived as a threat by trans people - Why is it "time" now? Is it because there is a new government which wants to cut public spending, is this conference which is attempting to provide it with an excuse for removing treatment for trans people on the NHS? And why "change"? Change can mean many different things and can mean change in positive terms or negative terms. A conference including these two speakers, as well as another that has been accused of transphobic behaviour, which is titled thus, is of course going to be perceived by those in the trans community,
as a threat and treated as such.


As I am sure Jane has already said, if you want to talk about us, you should talk to us as well. To do otherwise effectively represents a hostile act towards the trans community, and to expect it to be perceived in otherwise would be perverse. This is especially the case since it would appear that Julie Bindel would like to use the RCPsych as a vehicle for her own particular political activities, which have nothing to do with improving treatment for trans people and everything to do with trying to erase trans people; a kind of Heidiggerian cleansing of gender.

I know the accusations I am putting to you are rather strong, but believe me they are moderate in comparison to those expressed to me by the majority of the trans community. To be fair, I can understand how you may have come to be at this juncture, not necessarily being a specialist in trans issues nor being aware of the nature of trans/transphobic politics, as such it is your response to this state of affairs that will be crucial. The "About us" section of your website says that you "work with service users". Yet, as things currently stand, service users have effectively been excluded from this conference. Unfortunately your site does not permit me to see your Equality and Diversity section. The trans community already harbours an element of distrust for psychiatrists, adding to this distrust by hosting a conference at which two transphobes are speaking, would appear to be working against this and aimed at actively alienating service users, something which is unlikely to be in anyone’s interests. This conference could not be justified in that it is likely to increase delegates understanding of trans issues, as it would appear to be providing a heavily one-sided view, with little input from a range of trans people themselves. Trans people, to be perfectly frank, are fed up with others
speaking for them, we have the right to a voice also.

I would suggest that, as a bare minimum, you should consider setting up a 'fringe' event at the
conference and adjusting the conference timetable to permit delegates to listen to speakers in that event, perhaps during the lunch break. I suggest this because I suspect that you will find it difficult to find people from the trans community who would be prepared to share a platform, in the main event, with Bindel or Hakeem given what they have written
and what they are advocating, we would not lend them credibility by doing so.

I hope those in positions of responsibility in your organisation are able to consider a way forward to help repair relations
with the trans community and the psychiatric profession and that they will think more carefully about the way conferences about trans issues are constituted in the future. As I said, a great deal depends on the way they respond to this
situation, we are open to suggestions and willing to consider any serious proposal to address the concerns I have outlined above. This could be an opportunity to mend fences and open up a dialogue with the trans community, I hope they are able to seize the moment and respond appropriately.

Regards,

Natacha Kennedy

*******************************

Dear Natacha

As I said yesterday, I forwarded your email on to members of the RCPsych’s Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Special Interest Group (SIG). They have asked me to respond to you.

The conference aims to explore the recent academic, clinical and contemporary thinking on transgender issues. The SIG has invited speakers for their differing perspectives, including a speaker to give a personal perspective on transgender issues. The invitation of particular speakers does not mean that the SIG share the speakers’ views on the topic.

In your email, you raise concerns that the conference is “likely to produce outcomes which we believe represent an attempt to alter the way transgender people are treated by the NHS”. The SIG is not aiming through the meeting to reflect, develop or produce any specific statement or policy from the Royal College of Psychiatrists on this issue. They seek only to offer a forum for various, independent views to be shared for discussion.

You also say that the conference is “going to be perceived by those in the trans community as a threat”. The intention is not to cause alarm and distress to the transgender community, and we regret if our organising this event has done so.

Best wishes,

Liz

***************************

From: Natacha Kennedy
Sent: 05 April 2011 16:55

To: efox; jane

Subject: RE: Introductions and update

Dear Liz,


Thank you for your reply, I understand the points you make but I cannot agree that this is unlikely to be used as a starting point for attempts to alter policy. Julie Bindel would be unlikely to attend if it were not. It is her inclusion and the inclusion of Hakeem, which has caused alarm. As for your point about "Various" views, it would appear that this represents a forum in which a rather narrow range of views is being expressed. Indeed similar views to those expressed in other conferences of psychiatrists which I have been involved with in the last few years. Once again trans people feel that they are being talked about rather than being engaged with over trans and psychiatric issues, it is this which is the problem and it is a problem that your organisation has within its power to do something about.
I appreciate that you express regret at the organising of this conference but as I said, what is crucial now, is how those in charge of your organisation respond to the growing anger within the trans community.



Natacha

***********************

From: efox
To: natachakennedy

Date: Tue, 5 Apr 2011 13:47:38 +0100

Subject: RE: Introductions and update
From: jane
RE: Introductions and update
 Date: Wed, 6 Apr 2011 15:42:54 +0100

Natacha,

Thanks for bringing me back into the loop.

(Liz: if you don’t object too much, I’d be grateful if you kept me in, since I am likely to be involved in discussions with various groups with views on this matter, so it helps to get info first hand rather than second).

At risk of sounding a tad portentous: I think both the politics and perception of trans issues is on the verge of changing rapidly and radically. The culmination of a decade of organizing, awareness building – not to mention legislation to give the trans community a modicum of rights on a par with others in the LGBT spectrum is just part of that.

One result of that change, it seems, is a refusal to put up with what is perceived as historic discrimination against trans individuals: a second is that a polarization is probably on the cards, with views being taken as to which groups are in the way of progress, which are allies. It may or may not come as a surprise to learn that the psychiatric community as a whole is viewed with deep suspicion – and that a conference of this sort is likely only to entrench hostility further.

I hear what you are saying, Liz: I can imagine that many of the organizers have acted from the best of motives; may well have no idea of the suspicion with which this event is being viewed. But I’d add also that I am fairly cynical of platitudes now that we have reached this point.

The proof is in the eating. Furthermore, the battlecry of the disabled community – “nothing about us without us” – is also pretty relevant here.

What I think I am trying to say is: you are putting across a point of view that would probably be acceptable were it not for the long history of mis-treatment of the trans minority in the UK. But that history exists: a view of the Psychiatric position already exists.

You are fire-fighting: but it feels like far too little too late.

That means that if the perceived solution to criticism from the trans community is to continue organizing without input and without consultation, then that, itself, becomes a very loud message going out to all those who view this event with alarm.

That is not meant to be arm-twisting. Merely to suggest, from my long years as someone who has worked in political lobbying and providing advice on PR to political groups, that something a bit more radical than fine words is what is needed now.

At this junction, the RCPsych has a choice: to throw open its doors and engage in real and meaningful dialogue; or simply to seek to manage criticism. How the Psychiatric profession is viewed over the next few years is likely to be influenced greatly by how this conference is organized.

At the end of the day, I really, really hope that the answer will be: positively. My fear is that the outcome will be the exact opposite.

Jane

************************

From: Natacha Kennedy
Sent: 08 April 2011 17:36

To: jane; Elizabeth Fox

Subject: RE: Introductions and update

Dear Liz,

I was, to say the least, somewhat disappointed to receive your reply to my last email. As a transgender person I have grown accustomed to such responses worded in PR-speak, which essentially mean "We do not want to talk to you."

So, once again I would ask that you put your bosses in contact with me and/or Jane, we are trying to discuss serious issues regarding a conference which is causing a great deal of anxiousness in the trans community. The tone and content of your response is only serving to make matters worse. as Jane has said, trans people have grown very suspicious of the psychiatric establishment and the continued refusal to speak to us is only serving to increase that suspicion. Indeed it seems to me that your employers are behaving in a highly unprofessional manner in not engaging with us on this issue.

This is compounded by what appears to be institutional transphobia, since the RCPsych website states the following about lesbian and gay people;

""The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.

There is now a large body of research evidence that indicates that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is compatible with normal mental health and social adjustment. However, the experiences of discrimination in society and possible rejection by friends, families and others, such as employers, means that some lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience a greater than expected prevalence of mental health and substance misuse problems.

Good Psychiatric Practice (3rd Edition) clearly states: 'A psychiatrist must provide care that does not discriminate and is sensitive to issues of gender, ethnicity, colour, culture, lifestyle, beliefs, sexual orientation, age and disability' (page 12, point 13). The Royal College of Psychiatrists expects all its members to follow Good Psychiatric Practice. "

If the RCPsych has a policy that homosexuality is not "treatable" and that such treatments create an environment of discrimination towards gay man and lesbians then it is surely hypocritical of thr RCPsych to provide a platform for a speaker who advocates such treatment for transgender people. The inclusion of Az Hakeem in this conference is contributing to an environment in which transphobia can flourish. Your statement is also clear that being LG or B is compatible with normal mental health and social adjustment, yet you are inviting someone to speak who is trying to associate transgender people with personality disorders. It is the transphobia spread by such people that is responsible for the discrimination by society and rejection by friends, families and others resulting in greater substance misuse and mental health problems.

I can understand why your employers do not wish to engage on this matter if they are fearful of having to deal with charges of hypocrisy, transphobia and acts of deliberate discrimination, which the RCPsych appears to be involved in. Their continued silence on this matter speaks volumes. Given that they also tell us that they "work with service users" and are still unwilling to engage in any kind of dialogue, it is becoming apparent that these charges might actually be sustainable.

There is a saying, with which I am sure you are familiar; "When you're in a hole, stop digging." I would suggest your employers take heed of this. In this case silence is the shovel.


Regards,

Natacha Kennedy

**************************
Date 12.4.2011 15.01
From; dhart
to Natacha Kennedy

Dear Natacha

I am contacting you in my capacity as Director of Communications at the College. Liz Fox passed your enquiry to me as you had asked that it be referred to her line manager.

I note that considerable email discussion that has been ongoing since your initial enquiry. We have passed your enquiry to the organisers of the conference as you have requested, although I cannot guarantee that they will be willing to continue this debate.

The College is involved in organising numerous conferences about a wide range of issues. Any opinions expressed by individual contributors at these meetings are the personal opinions of those contributors and cannot be taken to represent the views of the College.

I feel that the previous correspondence from Liz Fox clarified the College’s position on this issue and that nothing further can be gained by continuing this debate as we have nothing further to add.

Best wishes

Deborah Hart
Director of Communications and Policy
Royal College of Psychiatrists
17 Belgrave Square
London SW1X 8PG

Monday, 11 April 2011

"I would rather have a live daughter than a dead son."

Cemeteries can be pretty bleak places, but when it is on the outskirts of a faceless Dutch suburb under a grey January sky, it feel about as about as desolate as you can possibly get. When you are visiting the grave of a child who killed herself in her early teens, the feeling of despair, especially when accompanied by her mother, gives way to an urge to weep bitterly. It is an urge which I am unable to resist as I do the maths subtracting the date of death from the day she was born. It is one thing to be told Juliaantje* was only 14, but to see it carved in marble was too much to bear. Holding her photograph her mother sobs uncontrollably as I hug her while she in turn hugs a precious photograph.

The picture is of a sunny, smiling, apparently bubbly teenager, with long hair and a grey T-shirt. There is nothing in the picture to suggest that she was transgender, but that is the reason she took her life.

When she was 12 her mother tried to have her put onto hormone blockers to delay puberty. She didn’t want to develop body hair, a deep voice or have wet dreams. She had already self-harmed when young, trying to slice her penis off with a pair of scissors. However, in what was clearly a borderline decision, the psychologists decided to that she should not be given these drugs. She should be given counselling instead. In despair her mother, a single parent, tried to take her to the United States, but the air fare and the £200 a month cost of these drugs was way beyond her means. Her father had no money either and both sets of grandparents didn’t want to know.

Two years later the talking therapy failed. Juliaantje took a massive overdose and died, having self-harmed, abused alcohol and other substances for more than a year before that.

“She was an intelligent and lively girl.” Her mother tells me through the tears and a large glass of Genever in a nearby cafĂ©, probably the only thing that can deaden the pain of losing her only child. “She had a great future ahead of her, she could have done anything, been a doctor, a lawyer her teachers said…” Her voice breaks. Her happy nature had disappeared when male puberty really hit. “Her voice broke and she started to get facial hair and hair on her chest. She wore make up and turtle-neck jumpers to hide it all, but she simply couldn’t deal with the way her body was developing…”

Did she blame the psychiatrists? No. Psychiatry is never going to be an exact science, there will always be people who don’t fit into their categories. She does however, feel that they could have given her the benefit of the doubt. “The effects of hormone blockers are easy to reverse, you just stop taking them…” There would have been no risk to her daughter if, at any time she decided that she did not want to be a girl she could simply have stopped, and male puberty would have started.
Hormone Blockers are essentially a way for young trans people and children to leave their options open. They open an extended open window of choice, which gives them time to think about their future, a time during which young people can decide whether they wish to remain the sex they were assigned at birth, whether that be male or female, or whether they need gender reassignment surgery after the age of 18. Talking to mothers of transgender children in the UK who have been prescribed hormone blockers, usually at great cost (£200 a month plus the cost of a consultation in and flight to the United States) one thing comes across loudly and clearly; “I would rather have a live daughter than a dead son.” One of them told me. One mother had remortgaged her house to pay the cost of these drugs knowing what her child was like, she realised that this would probably be the only way to keep her alive.

Another mother talked of how her young child had been prescribed a cocktail of a dozen drugs, including Ritalin, because of behaviour problems at home and at school. Yet when her child was recognised as transgender everything changed. As soon as she was treated as a girl, the tantrums, the bedwetting, the crying, the screaming, the hyperactivity, the violence, just stopped, as did the need for any of the drugs. “She became happy and contented almost overnight, just because we treated her like a girl! The psychologist who spotted this probably saved her life.”

Predictably the accusation of “child abuse” has been levelled at those who advocate prescribing hormone blockers to children between the ages of 12 and 15 (they already are prescribed to those over the age of 16) in the UK. This flies in the face of the evidence in both the United States and Holland, where these drugs have been successfully, and harmlessly prescribed for many years. It also flies in the face of the experience of parents of transgender children, who have lived a day-to-day existence, hoping that their child is still alive and in one piece. Until her daughter was prescribed hormone blockers at age 16 one mother told me of the anguish she and her husband felt when their child had gone missing for a few days when she was 14. “We really thought we would never see her again. Every time the phone rang we thought it would be the police wanting us to identify a body.”

Now that this technology has been developed, not making it available to all those children who need it is child abuse. Three years ago the trans community was shocked by the suicide of a transgender child who was only 10 years old. The allegation of “child abuse” has been levelled at parents who permit their transgender child to express the gender they prefer and who let them have hormone blockers. Yet this is effectively child abuse in reverse. Not to allow trans children to express their gender identities is actually child abuse. Those who throw accusations of child abuse around without knowing the facts are the ones who are child abusers by proxy; putting pressure on parents to force their children to conform to the gender they were assigned at birth no matter what the consequences
.
Hormone blockers save lives and extend trans children’s options. Whether you believe the studies which variously claim that “50%”, “66%”, “75%”, “90%” or “98%” of trans children become cisgender adults, the fact is that all these drugs do is keep their options open. The fact is that sociological research has shown that these (psychiatric) statistics are based on thoroughly unreliable data, wildly overestimated at best and downright misleading at worst.

Wittgenstein famously said “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” I wish some people would do some serious research before making up their minds.


*Not her real name

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Plural of Anecdote is not Data

If you met Saori Kimura you would immediately notice that she is a very tall girl. In fact at 6’1” she is the tallest player in the Japanese women’s volleyball team. In indeed she, and her team-mates were the only Japanese people you had ever met, you would think the Japanese were on average a very tall race.

The problem is that if you tried to generalise from Saori Kimura to the rest of the population of Japan in terms of height you would be wrong. Even without heels, when I travel on the Tokyo Metro at rush-hour, there are very few men or women who come to anything higher than chin level on me, and when I wear heels, they are mostly staring at my arm-pits. Indeed it is one of the most remarkable things about using the public transport system, compared to London; suddenly I am head and shoulders above almost everyone in the train. And I am only 5’7” tall.

So if you had met Saori and you went around telling everyone that the Japanese were very tall people you would be either lying or stupid.

Yet this is what Julie Bindel has been doing for a long time when it comes to trans people. On her Facebook page she refers to a blog in which an unknown women’s group is taken over by a small number on unknown transwomen, who, because of their supposedly louder voices and more aggressive nature, come to dominate and eventually exclude the other women. The implication from this is that all transwomen who join women’s-only spaces will dominate them and take over.

Julie is a unfortunately a serial offender when it comes to doing this; she finds one example of a trans person behaving in a way she disapproves and then appears to generalise it to the entire population of trans people. The problem is that, in the case of Saori Kimura it is very easy to show that anyone saying “because Saori is tall all Japanese people are tall”. You don’t have to travel very far from Narita Airport to realise that. When Julie Bindel stereotypes transwomen in this way; “All transwomen are more aggressive and take over women’s-only spaces.” It is much harder to prove her wrong.

As such the onus should be on her to provide accurate and reliable data on the extent of what she is implying happens. Of course she has not done this because the plural of anecdote is not data. You will always be able to find one or two examples of what you want to prove, whether it is tall Japanese women or short Kenyans. But generalising from a very small number of examples is either dishonest or stupid.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Coalition takes aim at Trans People

Christine Burns’ excellent blog post about the Equality Act demonstrated how the government is systematically undermining most aspects of it. Christine is an expert on equality legislation and has a particularly good understanding of how it relates to what actually goes on in the public sector – the NHS, schools, universities, etc. She quite clearly explains how the Tories and the Lib Dems are undermining it with a combination of different measures; reducing the ability of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and individuals (through a reduction in Legal Aid) to enforce the law, and reducing public sector bodies’ duty to tell the public what they are doing to reduce inequality.

Rather than come out honestly and openly and say that they disagree with equality for minorities such as black people, trans people, Muslims, women, gay men and lesbians, Theresa May, Lynne Featherstone and the rest of the government seem to have decided to make it appear that they agree with the Equality Act on the surface, whilst behind our backs they are chipping away making it an ineffective piece of legislation. This truly is a government which will say one thing and do the opposite.

However this matters much, much more for trans people than for other minorities. Trans people are one of the smallest minorities in the country. However we are also one of the least understood and most misrepresented. The fact that Trans Media Watch has had to work so hard to come up with its Memorandum of Understanding with Channel 4 and other progressive media is clear evidence of this. Do groups representing women, ethnic minorities, LGB people, Muslims and others have to agree MOUs with the media? The fact that Comic Relief can use a transphobic comedian to raise money for charity suggests that trans people have a very long way to go in the UK compared to other groups.

The experiences of trans children and their treatment in many schools, especially the lack of support they receive from school staff demonstrates the distance trans people still have to go to achieve the acceptance that, for example, ethnic minorities have. In most schools, incidents of racial bullying are dealt with firmly, logged, recorded and patterns analysed to see if there is anything the school can do. In short schools are pro-active when it comes to racism. Transphobic bullying is not taken seriously at all by all accounts.

The Equality Act would have placed a duty on all public bodies to actively plan to ensure that all minority groups are able to access their services. This is called the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) and it means that, all public bodies, especially schools, have to be pro-active and ensure their procedures, policies and activities mean that they consider the impact of everything they do on minority groups.

This is important because many organisations in the public sector already do this to ensure that members of ethnic minority groups are not disadvantaged. However, this does not happen for trans people in very many cases. In fact trans people are not often included in diversity policies for many public sector organisations, especially schools, where incidentally, diversity policies from an LGB perspective are also often lacking.

Relatively small adjustments could lead to substantial improvements in the quality of life and educational outcomes for trans children. Additionally, since trans children do not usually make themselves known to adults at all, schools need to take special measures to educate children that it is OK to be trans, even if they do not know if there are any trans children in the school. With 1% of the population being trans and the modal average age of children becoming aware of their gender variance at only 5 years old, the chances are that a school of 500 children has 5 transgender children. Teachers are told to have a dyslexia-friendly classroom even if they do not know whether or not they have any dyslexic children, the same needs to be the case for trans children.

The fact is that the sort of pro-active measures essential if we are to see trans people treated equitably by public services and public bodies are not going to happen unless public sector bodies are forced to be pro-active. The problem is that, for most other minority groups their needs and problems have at least been acknowledged and actions taken which enable them to access the services provided by public bodies. As such, although the Equality Act is far from perfect from the point of view of trans people, trans people probably stood to gain most from it, and have most to lose from its undermining by the government.
Of course this now raises questions as to the position of Lynne Featherstone, Equalities minister in the current regime. She has been an outspoken and welcome supporter of trans people, however her silent acquiescence over the dilution of the Equality act suggests that she is either a willing collaborator or a pawn who is manipulated by a government that uses her as a cover for illiberal and oppressive policies. Time for her to show whose side she is really on.

Finally, one of the reasons for having a Public sector Equality Duty is because we are all taxpayers (OK except the very rich), and if we are paying our taxes we should expect that we are recieving service which is appropriate for our needs. Most services are appropriate for cisgender people by default. If however, public services are not catering to our needs, why should we pay our taxes?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Why Polly Toynbee is wrong.

As much as I enjoyed reading Polly Toynbee's article; "If the Facts Change - it's OK to Change your Mind." in the Guardian yesterday, I have to disagree with the implications behind it.

In this article she suggested that 'chancellor' George Osborne should change course in his economic policy because the economy is clearly tanking and his current economic policy is clearly not working. She suggested that there is nothing wrong with changing your mind and that Osborne needs to think seriously about doing this in order to save the economy from a deep recession.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with the basis upon which she makes this assumption. In my opinion Osborne is not at all concerned with maintaining economic performance and capability in the British economy, or avoiding economic catastrophe. He is concerned with destroying as much public provision. He wants to close as many libraries, as many Sure Start centres, universities, schools, hospitals, citizens advice bureaux, etc as he can possibly get away with. The economic crisis is just an excuse.

I have always maintained that the Tories don't have policies, they have excuses. Cameron has ruthlessly used the economic crisis manufactured by his friends in the City of London to force policies on the British people that they would not otherwise countenance. Their entire manifesto has been designed around cuts and it is the excuse for the systematic reduction in opportunities for the young with the removal of EMAs, the slashing of funds for schools, the £9000 a year barrier to higher education for students. They want to destroy the NHS and the destruction of public services and the removal of opportunities for those who are not wealthy is the main aim of Tory policy. It is what they want, that is their raison d'etre.

However, they know that they would never be able to implement policies like these unless they have an excuse to do so. This is clear from the farce over student fees for universities; the introduction of fees of £27000 for a degree will actualy mean a cost to the taxpayer of £1billion before the next election. Given that the Tory-led government has said it wants to "cut the deficit" by half before then, it is clear that their cuts to universities will not save any money, they will just result in the reduction of educational opportunities for ordinary people and further economic damage to the country.

So, to admit that the current economic policy isn't working and to change course would mean abandoning the central aim of the most important (for them) element of policy. I suspect that they would rather see mass unemployment, bankruptcies and people being made homeless in their hundreds of thousands than stop their take-down of public services. There is a reason they will not change course, and that is that they would effectively be abandoning any hope of having any, even slightly credible excuse to slash and burn public services, privatise to death the NHS and schools, and impose their narrow ideological doctrines of selfishness and bleak unrestrained capitalist dystopia.