The people who matter

Three years ago today, I came out to most of my friends and colleagues. I don’t know what I expected, but I definitely didn’t expect the outpouring of love and support – both of which are still very much evident now.

I know some people who read this blog are in the place I was in a few years ago: trying to make sense of it all and scared shitless by the prospect of coming out, which will surely mean public humiliation at the hands of angry mobs. But my experience, and the experience of many trans and non-binary people I know, is that the pitchfork-wielding mobs you imagine don’t exist in the real world. Even online, where they appear to be everywhere, they’re a very small minority.

There’s an old phrase I found pretty helpful and pretty accurate: “the people who matter don’t mind; the people who mind don’t matter”. That’s probably an understatement: the support I’ve had from some of my friends and family goes far beyond “don’t mind”.

I’m not going to pretend that coming out is easy or that you’ll get through it with all your current relationships intact. It’s not the easiest road to walk. But I found, and I think you’ll find too, that there are many good people who will walk at least some of it with you.

This is why we change our birth certificates

 

Interesting news from Northern Ireland, where Ava Moore (pictured) has reached a £9,000 settlement with Debenhams over its refusal to hire her because she is transgender.

I’ve written before about how Gender Recognition Certificates, which enable trans people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates, are designed to protect trans people from discrimination. While this case took place in Northern Ireland where anti-discrimination legislation is slightly different from the rest of the UK, it’s a good example of why it can be important for trans people’s documentation to match their lived gender.

ITV News:

Ava said: “This job was exactly what I’d been looking for and I thought that I’d be really good at it. However, during the course of the interview I felt a change in the atmosphere after I provided my birth certificate which discloses my gender history and the fact that I am a transgender woman.”

After being formally informed of the decision by Debenhams not to employ her, Ava received an anonymous email which alleged that she had been unsuccessful in her job application because she is a transgender woman.

I know a woman who experienced something similar: when she was invited to a job interview for a position she was eminently qualified for, she was asked to bring her birth certificate to demonstrate her eligibility to work in the UK. As she was not then eligible to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate to change the gender on her birth certificate, her paperwork revealed her trans history to her potential employer. She didn’t get the job.

While fantasists fill endless column inches with invented scares about the supposed dangers of gender recognition reform, dangers that have not materialised in any other country with more flexible gender recognition legislation, the unnecessary difficulty and expense of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate means there will be other men and women like her and like Ava Moore.

Nobody has to produce their birth certificate to go to the toilet, but many people have to bring their birth certificates to job interviews.

Travelling while trans

Owl Stefania writes in Metro about her experiences travelling as a trans person.

‘Are you sure this is your passport, ma’am?’ the passport controller asked me while writing something down on her computer. With a large amount of anxiety about what was to come, I nodded and said yes, it certainly was my passport. She frowned a little in confusion, then said, while staring intently at me: ‘This passport says “male” but you’re obviously female’.

I don’t travel much these days but when I do, the ID thing is a major source of stress: like Stefania I’ve been the one holding up the queue while desk agents (loudly) try to decide whether I’m trans or a terrorist. It’s excruciatingly embarrassing and you don’t relax until the plane’s actually taken off: until then you’re convinced security is going to come looking for you and prevent you from flying.

It’s a good example of how trans people’s lives are often easier the closer they conform to gender stereotypes (stereotypes they’re then criticised for upholding by anti-trans activists): my passport has a big F on it, and the more stereotypically female I present the less confusion there is at the airport and the less likely I am to be the person holding you up. This is one reason why many countries now offer an X for non-binary people: it eliminates the confusion that can occur when the passport says A but the presentation is neither A nor B.

The stress doesn’t stop when you’re checked in. There’s airport security scanning and pat downs, which is a whole other world of fun – although to be fair we’re relatively good at this in the UK. In the US, many trans people have been treated appallingly by airport security staff.

Given the choice, I’d rather take the train than fly. Train travel is hardly perfect but it’s a more relaxed experience if you’re travelling while trans (assuming your carriage doesn’t contain any arseholes, of course. That’s a whole other set of fears. And of course train travel has many other problems compared to flying).

Being LGBT+ doesn’t just affect how you travel. It affects where you can travel to. Stefania:

Every time I go somewhere overseas I have to consider whether I am going to be safe as transgender person. There are countries that I wouldn’t even consider traveling to due to hostile attitudes towards people like me and with good reason.

That’s something I do too. If you’re cisgender and/or straight it’s something you don’t have to think about, but if you aren’t then something as simple as planning a family holiday involves a whole extra level of research because some countries are actively hostile to LGBT+ people. For some of us, the key criteria in choosing a city break isn’t the price or what’s on; it’s whether those streets are safe for us to walk down.

Nobody should be forced to come out

Popular YouTube beauty blogger Nikkie de Jager, aka NikkieTutorials, has come out to her many millions of followers as transgender.

It wasn’t her choice: as Stylist magazine points out, she came out because unnamed persons were threatening to “out” her to the press.

That isn’t just a gross invasion of privacy, although of course it is: somebody’s decision about when (or if) to come out and who to come out to is entirely their business, and being outed or forced to come out can mean having to deal with a lot of really big stuff before the person is ready or able to deal with it. Coming out is hard even if you are ready and do have support; it’s harder still if you aren’t and don’t.

Outing somebody is also very dangerous.

As Stylist notes:

Online harassment and abuse of transgender people has been on the increase in recent years, and it has been especially prevalent on YouTube.

While the initial reaction to de Jager’s announcement has been positive, she’ll now receive transphobic abuse on every YouTube clip she posts – and she may experience worse. High profile trans women are often on the receiving end of terrible online abuse, some of it orchestrated by even higher profile Twitter users who send the mob after anyone they disapprove of. The abuse some LGBT+ people experience online has led them to take their own lives; the fear of it has led others to do the same.

As Harron Walker writes on Vice, outing trans women is nothing new: it happened to Bond actress Caroline Cossey, effectively ending her modelling career.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, Cossey recalled:

the tabloids were able to destroy my professional career and even my personal life, fueled by the ignorant thinking about transgender people in mainstream society and the laws of those times.

It was a similar story for Tracey Africa and April Ashley, who were also outed by the tabloids. Vice:

De Jager might have been the one to release her coming out video, but only after her would-be blackmailers forced her hand. Four decades after a hairdresser’s assistant outed Tracey Africa on the set of an Essence shoot and News of the World published Caroline Cossey’s backstory without her consent, transness remains a liability to a woman’s career, one that can be weaponized against her even if she chooses not to make it known.

This, incidentally, is one of the reasons we have the Gender Recognition Act in the UK: under Section 22 of the Act it’s an offence for someone in an official capacity to disclose that the possessor of a Gender Recognition Certificate has a trans history, for example by selling the story to a tabloid newspaper (although here’s a fun fact: the number of prosecutions brought under Section 22 in the 16 years since the law was introduced is zero).

Of course, the threat of outing by the tabloids has long been used not just against trans women, but against LGBT+ people more generally. Just this month Lib Dem MP Layla Moran was forced to come out as pansexual because the newspapers were about to out her.

over the last couple of months journalists have been sniffing around this story. They’ve asked friends, made indirect approaches, and more recently, very direct approaches to people I know, asking for information about my personal life.

One of the newspapers that was about to out her, the Mail on Sunday, then accused her of “weaponising” her sexuality to “look woke” and quoted the usual rabble of Mumsnet trolls saying awful things. Hell hath no fury like a tabloid deprived of its salacious scoop.

And salacious is all that it is. What kind of people Layla Moran loves, what genitals Nikkie de Jager was born with, are none of our damn business. Moran isn’t hypocritically pushing an anti-LGBT+ agenda in her politics; de Jager’s history is not relevant to her celebrity. And yet the tabloids and their demonic helpers will happily expose and potentially damage their private lives for a fast buck because web clicks matter more than ethics.

Many of us will look back at the 80s outing of Caroline Cossey and consider it a despicable invasion of privacy, but in 2020 the tabloids are still doing it. Not only that, but they’re approaching LGBT+ people with Hobson’s choice: try to stay closeted and we’ll out you; spoil our scoop and we’ll do our best to destroy you.

As Moran wrote:

It’s possible that to some journalists and readers this is a jolly jape where they get one over me, but to me, this is my life.

What you call others says a lot about you

Cartoon by – I think – SamWitch13 on Tumblr (Click for bigger)

Owl Stefania writes in the i Paper about the singular “they” pronoun, voted word of the year and word of the decade, and pronouns more generally.

Pronouns themselves might not seem important to people who’ve always been comfortable with theirs, but for non-binary people (and transgender people in general), pronouns carry a lot of weight.

Owl mentions something many trans and non-binary people know very well: some people are very mindful of the pronouns they use for dogs but won’t extend the same courtesy to human beings.

Most people will assume and use the pronoun ‘she’ to refer to my dog, and then profusely apologise when I tell them his name is Soldier and refer to him as ‘he’ and never make the mistake again.

The same can be said about academic or professional titles and other honorifics, the possessors of which can be awfully huffy. Here’s one of them, Alan Sugar, on people asking to be called “they” a few months ago:

They need to pack it in, it’s nonsense. The people promoting it need to be shipped off to Mongolia. Send them away, get them out the country. Go away. It always boils down to a small bunch of people that promote it.

Unlike, say, the similarly small bunch of people swanning around demanding people call them Sir this or Lord that. Eh, Alan?

Cheap shots aside, I wouldn’t call Lord Sugar “Alan” to his face any more than I’d call my doctor “David” or refuse to address anybody else using their professional title: it’s inappropriate and profoundly disrespectful.

Whether it’s professor, lord, lady, baron, he, she or they, calling people what they prefer to be called isn’t difficult. It’s just basic politeness. If you choose not to do it for particular groups of people, that says much more about you than it does about them.

“Biology” as a cover for bigotry

Katelyn Burns writes about the Maya Forstater case for The New Republic.

Cases like this—which pit the actual lives of trans people against the beliefs of somebody who decided to test her colleagues’ patience by posting over 150 anti-trans tweets in a single week—are a win-win for anti-trans activists. If they prevail, they have a new legal basis to treat trans people like garbage without reprisal. If they lose, they can bang on about how trans people are spreading a totalitarian belief system that crushes anyone who might disagree.

Symbols mean whatever we want them to mean

I’ve just been to pick up my Christmas food order. It was too early to bother with putting on my face or worrying about wigs so I did the lazy-tran thing of slapping on a beanie hat to hide my hairline before jumping in the car.

At the checkout, the man on the till and I noticed each others’ Apple Watch straps simultaneously. His is the pride rainbow; mine is a combination of two straps to make the trans pride colours. And just like that, we went from fairly tired early-morning people to chatting like a couple of old pals.

Symbols matter, whether it’s the strap on your watch or the pin badge on your messenger bag. In the case of my watch strap or the pins on my everyday bag, they’re a cheerful hello to others, a way to communicate without words that you’re on the same page, travelling in the same direction, part of the same family. It’s a way of communicating with people when it might be uncomfortable or unsafe to speak out loud.

Words are symbols too, of course. When I talk about family in this post I don’t mean a biological or legal family; I mean something bigger and more inclusive than that, a family of people that may have very little in common with each other but who nevertheless have something that connects us.

Words are symbols, shorthand for much bigger things. And we must be careful how we use them, because if we use them carelessly we can exclude people or marginalise them.

On Twitter, the writer currently calling themself Merry Magdalene has posted a great thread about pronouns. As they say, “pronouns are not biological; they’re things we use to demarcate classes of people”.

Magdalene’s thread is about the word “woman”, and how it’s shorthand for a collection of different characteristics that together we use to classify someone as female.

There are women without vaginas. Women who do not have periods. Women who cannot give birth. Women who don’t have uteruses. Women whose uteruses do not work. Women with ambiguous genitalia. Phenotypical women with XY chromosomes.

There is no *single* common characteristic.

But if you bundle those experiences together you can build an understanding of what “woman” means in English, functionally: that you’re on one side of a two-sided social structure, within which certain traits predominate but are not universal.

Anti-trans activists generally define “woman” in the tropes of biological essentialism: you can’t be a woman if you don’t menstruate, perhaps, or if you can’t bear children. But that isn’t the gotcha they think it is. It’s just a way of trying to use language to exclude people you personally don’t want in your club, and which can be used to exclude other people too. There are many cisgender women who don’t menstruate, or who can’t bear children.

And it’s no coincidence that many of the people so hung up on dictionary definitions are so violently opposed to the use of the word “cisgender”, in much the same way anti-gay bigots were so opposed to being described as “heterosexual”. Both groups demanded to be called “normal” or “natural” so they could automatically classify everybody else as abnormal or unnatural. That argument isn’t biological. It’s ideological.

“‘trans women’ are men, not women” isn’t a biological statement; it’s an ideological one about who we’re going to apply that word to, who we will admit to the class “woman,” and more to the point, whether these taxonomies can be transgressed.

These taxononomies are highly subjective. Just yesterday Sharron Davies, the former athlete who’s found a new career as an anti-trans activist, argued that real women are “juggling kids, rushing out a wholesome dinner, doing the laundry & cleaning” like it’s 1953.

It wasn’t so long ago we bundled women into asylums on grounds of insanity because they refused to make “wholesome meals” and do the laundry and cleaning for their husbands. And of course there are women still alive who were excluded and even attacked by so-called feminists because they were gay, because they were bisexual or because they were black.

the things we universalize as traits of women are just *one historical bundle* of traits; in the past, there have been behavioral and temperamental tests as well, where nonconforming women were shunted off into side categories like “virago” that explicitly QUALIFY their womanhood in exactly the same way “trans” does.

Like gender, language is fluid. Unlike bigots, it evolves.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Bigots

Today’s story of JK Rowling and an anti-trans tweet is a good example of how lazy reporting reinforces bullshit.

If you missed it (and you probably didn’t; it’s been all over the media today): last night, the author tweeted in support of the anti-trans activist Maya Forstater, claiming that her defeat in a tribunal was an attempt to “force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real”. #IStandWithMaya, she wrote.

That’s been reported as Rowling supporting free speech, but it isn’t.

It’s Rowling telling her 14 million followers to support a bully.

Forstater wasn’t forced out of her job; her employer chose not to renew her fixed term contract. She wasn’t told she couldn’t state that “sex is real”; she was told that she didn’t have the legal right to create a hostile and humiliating environment for her co-workers.

Forstater has said publicly that her case was intended to establish a legal precedent: the precedent she wanted would give anti-trans activists the legal right to be as abusive as they liked towards trans colleagues without consequences.

That isn’t how this is being reported. It’s being reported as “cancel culture”, the sinister “woke mafia” picking on a national treasure.

But Rowling has form for this. She was an unapologetic follower of anti-trans activist Magdalen Berns, who claimed that there was a Jewish-funded conspiracy to turn the world trans and that trans women are “fucking blackface actors” who “aren’t women” but “get sexual kicks from being treated like women. Fuck you and your dirty fucking perversions… you pathetic, sick fuck”. She’s publicly liked anti-trans tweets claiming trans people are “men in dresses” and when called out on it, she had her PR team claim that it was a “clumsy and middle-aged moment” because she doesn’t want to upset her significant LGBT+ fanbase.

By misrepresenting what the Forstater case was actually about, Rowling is fuelling anti-trans sentiment. The reporting over this is perpetuating the myth that women are being silenced by the sinister trans lobby while giving those women global press coverage for their supposedly silenced views.

Here’s journalist Laurie Penny.

Trans people, and trans women in particular, have for years been under attack by dedicated cohort of the British press, egged on by a small group of transphobic extremists. Transphobic views have been normalised in Britain. That’s the context for JK’s comments today.

It’s not what you believe. It’s how you behave

One of the many similarities between anti-trans activists and anti-LGBT evangelicals is their belief that they have an absolute right to be nasty to anybody they disapprove of.

Inevitably, that means some of them lose their jobs for breaking the terms of employment or find their employers unwilling to renew their contracts when those contracts expire. Those people then go running to the papers and to lawyers. The right-wing press here and in the US hails them as free speech martyrs who will be vindicated in court, and when they lose – and they always lose – the same papers are spookily silent or claim conspiracy.

Yesterday, Maya Forstater’s case for unfair dismissal was rejected by a tribunal. Forstater worked for an organisation that campaigns against inequality, and her contract was not renewed when it emerged that she’d been using offensive language about trans people and advocating against their rights.

It’s important to understand what this judgement is about. The full document is here. It is not about freedom of belief.

You can believe anything you like. It’s how you act on those beliefs that matters. So for example you might personally think Dave from accounts is going to hell because of his sexuality, and that’s perfectly legal. Standing up on your desk shouting “FUCK YOU DAVE YOU’RE GOING TO HELL”, not so much.

The claimant alleged that the decision not to renew her contract – a contract, remember, with an organisation that promotes equality – was discriminatory because behaviour her co-workers found offensive was driven by anti-trans beliefs that were “philosophical beliefs” and therefore protected under the Equality Act.

The tribunal found that they were not, and in particular they failed item (v) of the”Grainger criteria”, which define what counts in law as a philosophical belief:

it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

It’s a long and considered judgement but here are some key takeaways:

It is important to note that if a person is guilty unlawful harassment of others that conduct is likely to be the reason for any action taken against them, rather than the holding of a philosophical belief.

Under the Equality Act, it is harassment to engage in “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic” when that conduct violates the other person’s dignity or creates an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for them. Deliberately and aggressively misgendering a trans person or banging on all day about how you hate trans women would meet that definition.

It would also fall foul of Article 17 of the EHCR, which says that your rights do not allow you to “engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms” of others. So for example if you refuse to accept the correct gender of someone with a gender recognition certificate, which gives the holder the right to be recognised as their correct gender, you are breaching Article 17.

In this case, the tribunal noted that when the claimant was told her behaviour was offensive to her co-workers and asked to stop, she said “since these statements are true I will continue to say them.”

Behaviour, not beliefs.

…the Claimant’s view, in its absolutist nature, is incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others.

…if a person has transitioned from male to female and has a Gender Recognition Certificate that person is legally a woman. That is not something that the Claimant is entitled to ignore.

…The Claimant’s position is that even if a trans woman has a Gender Recognition Certificate, she cannot honestly describe herself as a woman. That belief is not worthy of respect in a democratic society. It is incompatible with the human rights of others.

The case is significant because anti-trans activists expected it to set a legal precedent that would allow bigots to bully trans people in their place of work. That’s backfired.

It’s also significant because it was a waste of an estimated £80,000 in crowdfunded donations – donations that would have made a huge difference to charities that work to help vulnerable women and girls.

Gender recognition reform: here we go again

The Scottish Government has published its draft gender recognition reform bill. It’s here. The consultation closes in March 2020.

The Scottish Government does not wish trans people to go through procedures which are demeaning, intrusive, distressing and stressful. That is, quite simply, not right for our citizens.

The draft bill goes into great detail about the possible effects of reform on the rights of women and girls.

The Scottish Government is clear that reforming the GRA does not diminish the rights of women. The Government remains committed to the protection of women as well as achieving equality and challenging discrimination.

…The 2010 [Equality] Act exception for single sex services will not change

…there are a range of exceptions in the 2010 Act which can be used when appropriate to protect women, which might in some specific cases require the exclusion of trans women, if the conditions within the exception are met. These exclusions will not change following GRA reform.

…The key question in this context is very much about whether a change in the system for obtaining legal gender recognition would adversely affect women’s rights. The Scottish Government has concluded that it would not.

In reaching this view, the Scottish Government has considered international experience. As outlined in Annex E, there are a variety of systems for obtaining legal gender recognition in other countries. There is no evidence from overseas which the Scottish Government is aware of which would suggest that moving to a statutory declaration-based system for obtaining legal gender recognition would impact adversely on the rights of women. Under the system which the Scottish Government is proposing for Scotland obtaining legal gender recognition will remain a serious step which could not be undertaken lightly.

You’re going to hear and read a lot of lies about this during the consultation period.

I’m dreading the next three months of media scaremongering and social media abuse.