Why we remember

It’s Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) today, the day when the trans community and our allies mourn the deaths of people killed because they were transgender or gender non-conforming.

2019 isn’t over yet but so far 331 trans people have been murdered, hanged or lynched. Those are just reported and recorded crimes; the real number is higher.

I’m lucky to live in a relatively safe part of the world: just one trans woman was murdered in the UK for being trans this year. In the US, where “trans panic” – “I discovered she was trans and I was so upset I stabbed her 27 times in self-defence” – is still a legal defence against murder in many states, there were 30 murders. In Brazil, there were 130.

I’m not a black, poor trans woman in North or South America, so my life expectancy isn’t 35. But just because “only” one trans woman was murdered in the UK doesn’t mean that people don’t die here because of fear, intolerance and hatred of trans people – although inevitably the bigots claim exactly that, while dismissing TDOR with uncanny impressions of the men who ask “but when’s international men’s day?” on International Women’s Day. We have many days to remember and raise awareness of violence against women, so for example International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is next week; the bigots are well aware of that but pretend otherwise.

You don’t need to be murdered to die because you’re trans. For example, trans people are more likely to be homeless than cisgender people. They are more likely to be forced into sex work, to be exploited. If a homeless trans person freezes to death or or if a trans sex worker dies of a drug overdose, it isn’t murder. But they’re still dead.

And then there are the lives we lose to suicide. Trans people kill themselves because they feel they can’t come out. They kill themselves when the years on waiting lists become too much to bear. And sometimes they kill themselves post-transition because while transition may fix your body, it doesn’t fix the world around you. That world is often hateful, and not everybody is strong enough to endure it.

Here in Scotland, the LGBT groups from the main political parties have released a joint statement to mark TDOR.

…visibility cannot be conflated with progress when it also makes you a visible target for abuse. For the last two years, the UK media coverage surrounding the Gender Recognition Act’s reform has concentrated on rights outwith the remit of the legalisation itself. Trans people have had hard-earned rights endowed by the Equality Act 2010 brought into question. For many trans people, it has felt as though the very foundations of their daily lives are being pulled from under their feet.

Here’s former Times editor Katherine O’Donnell.

Trans people are less than 0.5 per cent of the population but face overwhelming levels of hate and violence.

Here in the UK, some politicians, journalists and others with influential public platforms seek openly to take away the trans population’s legal protections. In Scotland, MSPs Joan McAlpine and Jenny Marra had chosen today to invite to the Scottish Parliament speakers who agitate against the human rights of trans people and call us parasites and perverts.

The event has been postponed but the intentions of these members of the SNP and Scottish Labour are plain.

The consequences of preaching hatred and division, of stripping away legal protections are greater discrimination and violence. The evidence for that is written ultimately in the hundreds of murders we remember, the suicides, the beatings, the healthcare, housing and work denied, the bullying and the daily anxiety.

I speak now directly to those journalists and politicians here in Scotland who have given platforms and lent credence to the ideas that propagate this hatred.

What you are doing is wrong and the consequences are real and terrible.

I see you. We see you.

Stop this today.

Study: you can’t turn your kids trans

Newsweek reports on the largest ever study of trans kids, which found that – surprise! – you can’t turn your kids trans even if you try really really really hard.

This is not surprising to those of us who spent most of our lives trying not to be trans.

[being] responsive to a child’s expression and needs is not going to ‘make them transgender’; enabling a child to choose freely toys, clothes, hairstyle, a name and pronoun, or even to present in the experienced gender outside the domestic environment does not ’cause’ children to become transgender or later transsexual adults.

I’m sure the Daily Mail, The Sunday Times, The Spectator and The Telegraph will give this study the same prominence they give to the anti-trans ramblings of idiots, activists and extremists.

A song about Grenfell

My band, Stadium*, is releasing two more EPs this month: one political, one festive. The various download links should go live in a couple of days.

I’m very, very proud of these records. I think they include some of the best songs we’ve ever written, and some of the best lyrics I’ve ever scrawled, so I’m going to post about them over the next wee while.

I want to start with one of the simpler songs, 72.

This is from our overtly political EP, Bring The Good Times Back. I wrote it in anger and sadness a few months after the Grenfell Tower disaster, which killed 72 people; the story that emerged is one of residents’ fears being ignored for more than a decade – in one of many lows, the council threatened one blogger with legal action for suggesting that the tower was a fire risk – and of lives sacrificed to cost-cutting and the removal of so-called “red tape”.

Grenfell was the result of multiple political decisions. Choosing flammable cladding because it was £2 cheaper per square metre. Choosing not to spend money on sprinkler systems. Choosing to cut fire stations and firefighting staff. Choosing to ignore the fact that the building did not comply with building regulations. Choosing to ignore twelve years of warnings from residents.

I wrote the song before the official inquiry began, singing that “soon you’ll conclude no-one’s to blame / no-one’s ever to blame”. I think I was too optimistic. The inquiry’s early findings have been deliberately leaked and spun to try and pin blame on the fire service, and Tory MPs have suggested that the people who died did so because they weren’t clever enough. Even at my most cynical I never expected anyone to try and blame the dead.

I write songs like this when I can’t find any other outlet for my anger and sadness about terrible tragedies. I’m under no illusions that the people I’m writing about will ever hear it, let alone be haunted by it like I think they should be. But I think that if you have a voice it’s important to speak out, no matter how small your audience may be. Grenfell wasn’t a natural disaster, a tragedy nobody could have predicted, a one-off event from which no lessons can ever be learnt.

The survivors and bereaved families of the Grenfell Tower fire have a website, Grenfell United, where you can find out more and help support their battle for justice.

This is why trans people self-medicate

Sometimes Murdoch-owned news outlets manage to do something amazing: they publish something about trans people that isn’t untrue, isn’t malicious and doesn’t show us in a terrible light. In the same week The Sun is banging on about predators in changing rooms, The Australian is calling us dangerous extremists and The Sunday Times is no doubt accusing us of child sacrifice again, Sky News asked and answered a simple question: why do so many trans people self-medicate?

Self-medication is when you go on the internet and source hormones: estrogen for trans women, testosterone for trans men (incidentally, it’s much more difficult for trans men because testosterone’s use as a performance-enhancing drug means it’s a controlled substance). Like many people I self-medicated before moving to an (almost identical) NHS-approved regime.

Why do we do it? Because if we don’t, we have to wait years and not all of us can do that.

Sky asked the GICs how long people have to wait for an initial appointment. These are the results.

This graph shows the average waiting times for a first appointment with gender clinics (GICs) in the UK. Awful, isn’t it? And the reality is even worse, because the clinics have clearly provided figures that show them in a comparatively positive light. For example, Belfast isn’t accepting any new patients; Wales didn’t have a clinic at all until two months ago.

As trans health expert Dr Ruth Pearce notes on Twitter, the GIC’s figures aren’t accurate. For example in Leeds the figures (0.7 years – the number isn’t on the graph here for some tedious technical reason) appear to refer to pre-appointment screenings; the wait after that for an initial appointment is three years.

Another Twitter poster, MichaelT, goes into detail. Leeds’ own website reports a 30 month wait for a first appointment. He also notes that while Devon claims an 18 month wait it’s currently keeping people on hold who were referred 40 months ago and who do not have any current indication of when anybody will see them. That’s over three years. The Northumberland figures are wrong too. They told Sky 0.9 years, but their website says 26 months.

The waiting times Sky has published are not the waiting times to get hormones. These are the waiting times for an initial assessment, which is followed by a second assessment, which is followed by a decision on hormones.

For me, the gap between initial referral and being prescribed hormones was three years. For others it’s even longer.

In Newcastle, the waiting list for the first appointment is two years; you’ll then wait up to two years for your second appointment. In Northumberland it’s 30 months for an initial appointment then at least 30 months more before a hormone clinic appointment, a total of five years.

As MichaelT says:

The GICs know perfectly well that in the context of questions about the impact of waiting times on patients, the relevant time period, certainly at all adult English services is 2.5 years plus.

But they’re not talking to trans people. They’re talking to the wider public, so this is really PR.

They know patients know this. They know the trans community knows this. So in giving this kind of nonsense to media enquiries, they’re actively speaking to cis people, not trans people.

The Sky piece is pushing back against the “fast track” nonsense, which is good. But (many) GICs still prioritise trying to make themselves look good over accurately representing the situation for the patients they’re supposed to serve.

Here’s a pretty realistic description of the process by writer Ed Davies in response to a “hilarious” tabloid prediction that Prince Harry would have a “sex change” and become Harriet by 2027. The short version: if you’re being referred in 2019, 2027 is incredibly optimistic.

Many, many people experience obstacles that aren’t accounted for here — from being held back until they “fix” their mental health after crises caused by these very wait times, to being “lost in the system” repeatedly, to being discharged for spurious reasons. People of colour, gender nonconforming trans people, trans lesbians, trans men perceived as confused lesbians, those too young to be believed at their word about their experiences, transfeminine people, those from other countries and cultures, disabled people, autistic people… many groups tend to struggle more than “average”, too.

Self-medication can be dangerous, but so can doing nothing: some people die on waiting lists. As Edinburgh GP Jo Gardiner told the BBC earlier this year, trans patients:

…often don’t have the same support as other patients. Family and relationships break down when they transition so it can be quite distressing for them.

Some patients are very isolated and alone and at high risk for things like suicide.

These problems are not unique to trans healthcare; they’re the symptoms of ongoing lack of investment into the NHS by successive governments. But because trans healthcare is such a niche area, it’s suffered particularly badly: the gender clinic I use is desperately understaffed, with even simple admin tasks like typing letters taking three months.

But there are two things that make the current trans healthcare crisis particularly galling.

The first is that the government and the NHS were told that it was going to happen and did nothing; the Gender Identity Research Society, GIRES, provided the Home Office with extensive data in 2009 demonstrating the increasing demand for gender clinic services – particularly among younger patients who are coming of age in a world where trans existences are subject to less shame and stigma than in previous generations.

As the report noted:

The only safe assumption for commissioners and providers is that the present growth rate in the incidence of new people requiring medical and other care is likely to continue, which is usually the basis on which service provision is planned. At a growth rate of 15 % per annum compound, the number of new cases will approximately double every 5 years.

…the mounting requirement for services has serious implications for resources, especially for specialised adult surgery and adolescent endocrinology.

The report predicted pretty much everything the press is scaremongering about now: an increase in referrals from people assigned female at birth (it’s been a 50/50 balance in Europe for many years, but in the UK there were more trans women than trans men accessing services); the growth in adolescent referrals; the increasing number of people transitioning as the world becomes (slightly) more accepting.

That was ten years ago.

And the second thing that’s happened is of course the press, which continually lies about the supposed fast-tracking of trans people and which has made the issue politically toxic: fixing the trans healthcare crisis may be necessary, but which politician is going to risk the wrath of The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Times and The Spectator, who will frame it as evil trans cult members stealing resources from kids with cancer?

So we self-medicate, and the people who come after us will self-medicate, and we’ll continue to do so for as long as the UK system fails to meet its own waiting list targets, let alone internationally agreed standards of best practice. The system isn’t fit for purpose – it’s overly medicalised, far too complicated and desperately underfunded – but right now it’s the only system we have.

Trans people know that self-medication is dangerous, and that in some cases it’s illegal. But sometimes doing nothing is even worse.

I can’t tell you that I like you

Have you ever wanted to swipe right on a dating app, or tell someone who makes your heart beat faster that you like them, but stopped yourself because you’re too scared of being rejected – not because of how you look, act or think but because of what you are? I have, and I think quite a few other trans people have too.

This tweet, by YouTuber Mia Mulder, struck a chord with me and many others: it’s been liked more than 3,500 times.

Any other trans women out there feel scared of expressing any form of attraction ever, even to actual current partners, for fear of seeming predatory or seem “male aggressive” to the point of absurdity?

My answer, like many other trans women’s answers, was “all the time.”

Here’s the writer and playwright Harry Josephine.

yeah sex is good but have u tried being a transfem n thus so fundamentally alienated from your desires n so relentlessly problematised in all social space that instead you just stay at home and read a book???

If you think a trans woman likes you, you may be right. But she may be far too scared to tell you. I certainly am.

Here’s why.

I’m under no illusions about who I am: I’m a giant, excitable puppy in a dress, an overweight, middle-aged trans woman who likes women and who hates her body.

But I’m scared that you see something very different. Someone who’s a deceiver. Delusional. Mentally ill. A mutilated man. A pervert. A predator. A fetishist. A fraud. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A fox in the hen house.

I could go on.

I worry you’ll think that because that’s what we’ve been told since childhood, and because you’re still being told it today in the newspapers you read and the social networks you use. Again and again very vocal and often vicious people, many of them with high profile media jobs and/or thousands of social media followers, tell us that trans women cannot be trusted. They tell us that trans women are predatory, damaged, dangerous men full of male entitlement and male aggression, that we go through what we go through purely so we can prey on vulnerable women. The decades of mocking and shaming our appearance weren’t enough. They want you to be scared of us too.

So we’re scared of you.

And if we’re not scared of you, we’re scared of the people you know. I worry that even if you don’t think that I’m a fake, a fraud, a fetishist, your friends or your colleagues or your family members will.

So I don’t swipe right. I don’t tell you that I like you. I stay home and read a book.

I don’t swipe right or tell you that I like you because I believe that if I do you’ll be horrified, that you’ll think I’m just being predatory. And if I’m wrong about that, if you’re not horrified when we match in an app, you’ll be horrified when  you hear my voice or see what I really look like compared to my carefully chosen, better-makeup-than-usual selfies. And if you’re not horrified then, you’ll be horrified when you see me without my makeup, or when the question of what bits I do or do not have comes up. And if you’re not horrified by that and we see each other again, your friends, your family or the people who just see us talking in a restaurant will make it clear just how horrified they are on your behalf.

Better not to swipe right in the first place.

Don’t worry, I’m fine. This isn’t a cry for help. But on this, the last day of trans awareness week, I wanted to write about this because it’s something I don’t think many cisgender people are aware of – probably because we don’t like to admit to any kind of weakness in case bigots try to weaponise it against us. But you’d have to be pretty tough to survive decades of being mocked and shamed and demonised without internalising any of it. I’m neither pretty nor tough.

This will change. It’s already changing. Young people’s attitudes are completely different than my generation’s were; the bigots are on the wrong side of history, which is one of the reasons they’ve become so vicious. But while I’m happy to see progress, I’m sad that it came late for me. The lake is being drained of poison, but I spent forty years swimming in it.

Money for Mermaids

Mermaids, the charity for trans kids and their families, is trying to raise money to better help people. The video above does a really good job of demonstrating just how toxic things are at the moment: I thought I was pretty much desensitised to the constant barrage of anti-trans articles, but it turns out I’m not – to see the onslaught on-screen is still horrifying, especially when it only represents a tiny, tiny proportion of the newspaper scaremongering and online abuse.

The Mermaids crowdfunder is here. I don’t agree with everything they’re raising money for – I think their planned billboards, which they hope will raise positive awareness of trans kids, are going to be completely ineffective; when you’re up against the overwhelming majority of the UK media and much of the political class too, having a couple of billboards is like taking a pea-shooter to a nuclear war – but they’re also raising money to fund more helpline volunteers and improve the information on their website, practical steps that will genuinely help people.

And while they’re hopelessly outgunned, the point they’re making with their #IfIHadAVoice campaign is an important one. What’s missing from the so-called debate about trans kids is the voices of the children and of their families (and the medical professionals who are active in this field), all of which are drowned out by ill-informed, self-proclaimed experts. For example, the right-wing press’s favourite  “expert” on trans kids is a former religious cult member whose expertise is in sculpture, not medicine; their go-to anti-trans transsexual “Dr” isn’t a medical doctor but a physics teacher; many of the voices given airtime are simply bigots.

Mermaids:

the amount of negative coverage of transgender kids over the last 8 years has grown massively. The press and a small group of anti-trans campaigners have decided to make transgender children – and the few organisations supporting them – the target of deliberate misrepresentation.

While transgender children and their families feel increasingly afraid to speak out, some of the country’s most influential speakers are content to speak about them, speak for them and speak over them.

“The biggest threat to single-sex services is insufficient funding from the Government”

I hadn’t seen this before: a Q&A on gender recognition by the Fawcett Society, a leading feminist charity campaigning for women’s rights. It strikes me as nuanced and fair-minded, so for example:

The tone of the debate in some quarters, and on extremes of both sides, has been a problem. Amplified by social media, a small minority whom we believe do not represent the views of most people have gone far outside legitimate debate and strayed into violence, or aggressive, intimidating, or dehumanising language. We believe there is no place for that in this discussion.

Events appear to have overtaken this bit:

It is notable that in Scotland, where there has been an ongoing dialogue for some time between women’s and trans organisations, that mutual understanding and respect is stronger and there is a common agenda. We think this is valuable and needed in the rest of the country too.

That was written in February, but while it’s an accurate description of women’s groups and single-sex services it sadly doesn’t apply to the majority of Scots media and the most vocal parts of social media. Our newspapers and current affairs magazines are relentlessly one-sided; they frequently go “far outside legitimate debate” and do nothing about comments pages full of aggressive, intimidating and dehumanising language.

Trigger happy

One of the things I’m really interested in is where words come from and how they’re used. For example, I’ll happily bore you senseless about how “shambles” has changed meaning several times. In the 15th century what originally meant a stool or money changer’s table became used to label the table butchers used to display the meat they had for sale. Shambles then became synonymous with slaughterhouse, before arriving at its current meaning – a state of great disorder and confusion – in the early 20th century.

Sometimes that evolution just happens, but sometimes meanings are changed deliberately. Take “politically correct” for example. It began as a left-wing in-joke, sarcastic and satirical, with left-leaning people taking the mickey out of their own tendency to go a little too far sometimes. It didn’t develop its current pejorative meaning – “political correctness” as a supposedly malign force to be resisted by right-thinking people – until 1987, when the book The Closing of the American Mind told its readers that the real bigotry was telling bigots to stop being bigoted. Since then it’s been used almost exclusively by right-wing politicians and pundits to rail against feminism, LGBT+ rights, anti-racism and anything else that stops them being awful to people.

If you’re a UK newspaper reader, you’ll recall a very similar process occurring with “Health and Safety”. The Health and Safety Executive aims to stop factory workers having their arms ripped off by faulty machinery, agricultural workers from suffocating in grain silos and miners from contracting fatal lung diseases. According to the right-wing press in stories that often turn out to be exaggerated or completely fabricated, what they call “elf’n’safety” has, like political correctness, “gone mad”.

It’s no coincidence that the pundits who rail against “elf’n’safety” also rail against “political correctness”. They are, after all, two cheeks of the same arse: how dare the proles demand safe workspaces and protection from discrimination? Whether it’s railing against red tape or LGBT+ rights, the pundits are firmly on the side of, and punching down on behalf of, the people who have all the power.

Something similar has happened more recently with “triggered”. “Trigger warnings” began in discussions of male violence towards women, particularly sexual violence. Because victims often experienced the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, potential triggers would be flagged up in advance of discussions or presentations so that vulnerable women wouldn’t find themselves mentally reliving their ordeals. There’s some debate over whether the tactic actually works, but clearly it comes from good intentions: it doesn’t want to add to the trauma of sexual abuse survivors.

It’s worth bearing that in mind when you see boorish men – right-wing, anti-feminist pundits, politicians and comedians, some of whom have very dubious attitudes towards women – using “triggered” to assert their superiority over whichever minority they want to abuse.

It’s particularly galling when you see the son of the pussy-grabber-in-Chief using a term originally designed to help the victims of people like his dad as the title for his book. Donald Trump Jr is currently touring the usual right-wing outlets to promote Triggered: how the left thrives on hate and wants to silence us. 

This week he was heckled off stage – silenced, you might say – at one of his readings.

Here’s Arwa Mahdawi writing in the Guardian.

One of the big themes of Triggered is, to quote Trump Jr: “A victimhood complex has taken root in the American left”. But let’s recap the situation shall we? Trump Jr (who describes himself as “hyper-rational” and “stoic”) has just published a book complaining that he is being silenced by the left. He is touring the US talking about how he is being silenced. He has been invited on primetime TV to talk about being silenced. And he is complaining about being silenced to his 4 million followers on Twitter. Maybe I am missing something, but that doesn’t exactly sound like being silenced to me.

What’s interesting about this particular event is that the people who actually did silence Trump Minor weren’t from the left. They were from the far right.

Mahdawi:

…the Trump administration has emboldened so many bigots that Maga-hat-wearing supporters are now coming after Jr for not being extreme enough. There has been a 30% increase in the number of US hate groups over the past four years, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center – a trend the civil rights organisation blames on Trump’s radicalising influence. Dangerous fringe groups have crept out of the shadows and are shouting at the top of their lungs.

The column articulates something I’ve been thinking for a while: there’s a common thread that unites the people who call their books or TV shows “triggered”, who delight in “triggering” audiences on social media, in print or in their shows, and those opposed to workers’ rights, LGBT+ rights, women’s rights and vegan sausage rolls. They genuinely believe that they are an oppressed minority.

A delusional victimhood complex is at the very heart of rightwing ideology. Immigrants are invading and stealing all the jobs. Jews are taking over the world. #MeToo is intent on destroying innocent men’s lives. Gays are destroying family values. The right never see themselves as racists or bigots; they see themselves as victims who are fighting back against the imminent extinction of western civilisation. Forget being stoic or silenced; they are constantly triggered and they never shut up.

Love and you will be loved

It’s world kindness day today, which is a great excuse to post one of my favourite Kurt Vonnegut quotes:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

I wrote a song about it several years ago (the piano was played by my brother, who’s now in Stadium* with me). The vocal’s a bit ropey but I still love the song.