Saturday, 18 February 2017

Breaking down those walls of stone

    If someone had told me I'd see over forty transgender people in a room expressing something approaching agreement, I'd never have believed it. We are by our nature a very diverse grouping, you might say a broad church. You could safely expect an argument over whether the sky is blue on a clear day.
     But yesterday it was something of a surprise to see just that. Stonewall, the national LGBT campaigning charity, were holding one of a series of consultations on a document intended to lay out their trans strategy now that they are embracing the T in LGBT.
    Stonewall, you see, are an organisation with a bit of a problematic history in these matters. In the past, they have quite happily pretended to be LGBT when in fact they were more LGB, or a bit more accurately, LG. If you're being brutally honest, LG. Even LGGGGGGGGGGG, some people will tell you, such was the attitude of the coterie of middle aged gay men that once held sway at its helm. They'd take money on an LGBT ticket and even talk to politicians on that front too, but when it came to the crunch they'd throw us under the bus every time. Thus you'd see its name sometimes written as "Sonewall", because there's no T in it, or even occasionally "Sonewa", because at times there could be precious little L either. Not an organisation that had much trust from within our community
    A couple of years ago against this backdrop along came a new Stonewall director, Ruth Hunt. She immediately set about refocusing Stonewall to be genuinely LGBT, and to facilitate this she had the organisation recruit a trans steering committee. This committee put together the draft document, and yesterday's event was one of a series in which they placed it before the trans community.
    It was a document into which a lot of effort had been put, and it shows how much they have changed. In front of us we had a well-thought-out enunciation of trans rights and experiences, both as they are and as they should be. And here we come to the agreement between the attendees, while there was plenty to tweak around the edges the tone of the document was as far as I could see universally approved.
    Since I was there wearing my trade union hat I made a few suggestions on workplace rights. I always feel as though I've said too much or even made a fool of myself at these occasions, let's hope I made a valid contribution. We'll see the completed document in the coming weeks, and then its contents will be the subject of Stonewall's campaigns on our behalf.
    A long day involving a sprint across London between connecting Tube stations to get back home for another engagement in the evening meant I couldn't afford to hang around and socialise. My fellow attendees were a diverse bunch among whom was my friend Paula, and there could have been a lot to chat about had I had the time.
    I'm still beset by the crushing onslaught of my recent GD relapse, which isn't ideal when you're in the icily polite loneliness of a packed British commuter train. A self-important middle aged lawyer kept trying to invade my space with his elbow, then fell asleep and toppled onto me. I proceeded to invade his space with my elbow, placing him upright and awake in no uncertain terms.
    Before my evening engagement, an online conference for one of my current part-time employers, I went to the toilet in their office building. In the mirror, despite all the annoying stuff, I saw an image I liked.
    Pictures of me are not common, so it was the first time I'd been tempted to take a selfie in many years. It shows how far I've come, even if in some ways I'm no further forward.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

What a difference a few years makes

    So yesterday morning, there I was in my doctor's waiting room. I've gone back seven years, asking to be referred to a gender clinic again. Only of course it's rather a different situation, I'm asking to be referred back to the clinic. Not the same clinic, in the intervening years another one has opened up a lot closer to home.
    Into the doctor's office, and explain why I was there. Discuss where I am in the process and where I want to be, and that I need to be referred with my referral stating very clearly that I'm there only to get surgical referrals, I have served my time.
    The difference between now and seven years ago was this. Back then my GP, a different one from today, had that rabbit-in-the-headlights look. Transgender people were something of an unknown to him. Yesterday, completely different. I went in expecting to have to explain the whole process, and was pleasantly surprised to find this GP fully clued-up. We're coming out of the woodwork in huge numbers, and of course the professionals have had to learn about us. It would be difficult to explain to a cis person how positive this is, but it's evidence of an inexorable process. A decade or so ago you would never have met a transgender person in an average small British market town, now we're part of things. The dinosaurs in the media who still have a go at us on a regular basis can't fight that, when their readers all know people like us it becomes ever more difficult to demonise us.
    It'll be quite a few months before I get an appointment, and thereafter there will be more delay as I traverse the final few hurdles. But I'll get there.
    One thing's for certain though, I'll heed the advice a friend gave me quite a few years ago. Transition, she said, doesn't end with any particular medical procedure. It never ends, and there is always more to learn.
 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

BBC Transgender Kids programme: the second salvo.

    After the BBC transgender kids documentary a few weeks ago I made a complaint, and received a standard cut-and-paste response that was breathtaking in its lack of saying anything other than they were blameless.
    Though it's likely to be a futile effort, I've made a response, which I've pasted below.
Your response to my earlier complaint did not even try to address the subject of the complaint, instead it was a content-free cut-and-paste form response full of meaningless platitudes and bogus half-truths.
You did not address my question as to why the programme failed completely to engage with the UK medical establishment. Perhaps it is because in the time since the broadcast the various medical bodies involved have come together and issued a statement condemning utterly the practices put forward in the programme, and you knew that they would not have supported the view you were trying to put forward.
You maintain the pretence that the programme presented a balanced argument, while in practice a simple analysis with a stopwatch reveals a huge time advantage to the views of Zucker and his supporters.
You justify the programme by saying that you had input from opponents of Zucker, and from families with transgender children. Why is it then that the activists and families involved are now saying that the producer of this programme misled them as to its content? Surely that is against whatever rules you are supposed to abide by.
Continuing to pretend that this programme was without fault is putting the BBC on the wrong side of history. Trying to ignore the objections of the transgender community will not make us go away and will not help you. We are the victims and survivors of abuse like that practiced by doctors such as the ones you featured, and we will not stand idly by and see it put onto a new generation. Transgender youth support organisations are already reporting an upsurge in hate incidents as a result of this programme, when the first young trans person has committed suicide because of it what are you going to say to the transgender community then? You can count on it, we won't let you get away with a cut-and-paste answer.
    These things are an exercise in postbag size and in capturing their resources. When they get a large number of complaints, they are forced to take notice, and the aim of our community was to make this one of the most complained about shows of the year. It is likely that my reply will be printed and filed, but will effectively go in the round file. However it's worth doing, because if enough of us follow suit it adds to that complaint volume figure and causes their complaints department to have to work extra hard. We'll see what the coming weeks and months bring on this front, the BBC can be rest assured they haven't seen the last of us.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Freight train

    I'm told that this is something that comes eventually to most of us in this sphere, the point at which your transition comes to a head and it hits you like a freight train that you need to move, and quickly. After a year or two settling down and reinventing myself following the turmoil of my first year after going full-time, it came to me. Going back seven years, losing the ability to sleep, hit again by wave after wave of dysphoria as though I was still hidden in the closet.

    Yes, it's taken a few months, but the anti-androgens have hit with a vengance. All the good stuff is accelerating, building on all the estradiol patches of the previous year or so with much nicer skin, less body hair and a pleasing resumption of breast growth. But I didn't expect to be hit in this way, and to be honest I'm rather embarrassed about it. I've always pursued a "Better slow and right than quick and wrong" approach to transition, and it has stood me in good stead. It's allowed me to build a successful life as a woman unencumbered by other considerations, and I strongly believe it's given me an advantage in that I have less baggage than some contemporaries I've observed.

    So I'd always taken a view that some time in the future when I was ready I'd go forward and talk to the medics about surgery, but there was no point in pushing it if things might go awry. I imagined it would probably be another year maybe, and I'd get on with my life. It therefore feels a little silly to be reduced to a gibbering eejit by it all, I didn't think I was like that!

    Normal service will be resumed. I've made an appointment to go back and talk about it all, then no doubt I'll see psychs and all sorts again before one day taking a trip to Brighton, or West London. It'll be a couple of years, plenty of time to regain my composure.

    I feel as though I have gone back a year or two though, I thought I'd mostly dealt with this kind of dysphoria. That's weird!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The BBC respond to the transgender kids complaint

   I've had a response to my complaint over the trans kids documentary. Well, when I say "response", I really mean "Cut and paste a pretty meaningless response which says in effect 'we did nothing wrong'.".
Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?’ broadcast on the 12 January.

We understand you had concerns with the programme.

With a rise in the number of children being referred to gender clinics, this programme sensitively presented different views from experts and parents on gender dysphoria in children.
For more than thirty years Dr Kenneth Zucker ran Canada's biggest child gender clinic and was considered a recognised authority on childhood gender dysphoria until he lost his job. He believes he was fired for challenging the gender affirmative approach.

This documentary examined Zucker's methods, but it also included significant contributions from his critics and supporters of gender affirmation, including transgender activists in Canada and leading medical experts as well as parents with differing experiences of gender dysphoria and gender reassignment.

Thanks again for contacting us with your views.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints Team
    I feel as though I'm repeating a trade union speech I gave at a Pride a couple of years ago when I say that we're the last minority they think they can legitimately have a go at. You can't take a pop at ethnic minorities any more, Jewish people are off limits, gay people can't be touched, and women are beyond reproach. But transgender people? Hey, yeah, come on and weigh in, nobody will touch you for that!

    It can't continue, we can't let it.

    Last Saturday I was lucky enough to see Helen Belcher from Trans Media Watch speak to Swindon Transgender Group. She covered several aspects of her work as both a trans campaigner and parliamentary candidate, but as you'd imagine the documentary occupied a significant proportion of the time. It's safe to say that the transgender community will not let this one rest at merely a meaningless email response, and that awkward questions will be asked and BBC executives will be held to account.

    When I say I may soon be spending an evening standing on a pavement in Central London, it's not what you think. Last time we had a demo on this theme, it got results.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Complaint to the BBC re Transgender Kids programme

    The BBC is a respected national broadcaster with a long record of balanced reporting and quality programming. If something comes up on the Beeb the chances are you can trust it, a reputation it has won over many decades of cherished independence from government through its unique trust status.

    Sadly though, even the BBC sometimes falls short of its usually impeccable standards. Yesterday they aired a programme: "Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?", which presented a very one-sided view of the treatment of transgender young people drawing largely from the input of the discredited Canadian Dr. Kenneth Zucker. I was not going to watch it because I thought it might be too triggery, but I decided this morning I had to catch it on iPlayer because sticking one's head in the sand is never the best option.

    It does not, I am afraid to say, make inspiring viewing. I saw a very one-sided portrayal of transgender medicine for young people which presented Zucker as an expert beyond reproach and failed completely to feature the professionals who work with young transgender people here in the United Kingdom. The BBC has failed, and they have done so badly.

    For what good it will do, I have submitted a complaint, which you can find below. If you saw the programme and found it objectionable I suggest you do the same, and if you haven't seen it and live in the UK I suggest you find it on iPlayer and give it a look. it's too important to ignore. Handy details about making a complaint have been collated by UK Trans Info if you wish to complain as well, perhaps we can make this one of those shows with so many complaints that the BBC have to make amends.

Here's the text of my complaint. Write your own, don't copy mine word-for-word.
This programme relied heavily on the input of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a discredited doctor from Canada who was removed from his post due to his use of conversion therapy methods which caused untold damage to his patients. It presented him as a foremost expert in his field, which given that he has been so comprehensively discredited is hardly accurate today, and it glossed over the excesses of his clinic's work. 
It did not feature the providers of gender clinic services to trans children here in the UK such as the Tavistock Clinic, nor did it feature the work of support organisations who are active in the field such as Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence, or GIRES. The majority of the example patients featured in it were not from the UK, and the view it gave of how youngsters with gender dysphoria should be treated was in sharp contrast to either that of the professional bodies in the field, WPATH, or the NHS. 
It treated adult activists in the transgender community as dangerous meddlers in the treatment of others when in fact they are the survivors of exactly the kind of abuse that doctors like Zucker practice, and which the programme promoted. 
This programme was nothing short of an outright attack on a vulnerable and marginalised minority, and in particular on members of that minority who are too young to speak for themselves. Transgender people have a significantly higher incidence of suicide than the general population, and because of attitudes like those presented as mainstream by the programme that suicide figure is increased. People kill themselves because of the views the BBC is promoting with programmes like this one. 
The BBC should present an abject apology for this dangerous and objectionable piece of programming, and immediately take steps to rectify it by presenting the views of real experts in the field from the United Kingdom, who do not have episodes like Zucker's in their pasts.
Edit: This isn't the first time...

Monday, 26 December 2016

Risotto Finire

   I lost something today. My sister.

   That's not a statement that will of necessity be followed by an obituary, because she's as far as I know in rude health.  Instead it's a statement of sad fact, that I don't think I want to associate with having more than one sister any more.

    I've not really talked about it here, there's an air of washing your dirty linen in public. But over the last few years my relationship with my eldest sister has not been easy. A ramping up of hostility and a series of incidents best described as outright slander, in which she has tried very hard to discredit me in very nasty ways to family members and other people. I'm not prepared to say it's as a result of my transition, but it's definitely been a feature of these last few years.

    This last weekend over Christmas has seen some particularly bizarre manifestations of it as she's gone out of her way to be verbally nasty to me, instantly rubbishing things I've said, and coming out with more than her usual quota of spiteful remarks. All in front of other family members, so at least they're now seeing something's amiss. Funnily enough though it was a risotto that pushed me over the edge into seeing that it's no longer worth my while acknowledging a relationship.

    It's a family tradition of ours, to make a risotto with left-over turkey. I did ours today, the slow way. Caramelised onion with lots of oil, add the turkey and then fry the risotto rice with it all for a while to cover it with the oil, then add some cider (Italians use wine, I didn't have any but since I make cider it makes sense!), then hot stock bit by bit over about twenty minutes. Finally some cream and cheese, soya cream and feta here because of a cow's milk allergy, and you're done. An amazing risotto, though I sez it myself.

    So I had a big pot of risotto with a ladle poking out of it, and I brought it to the table to serve. As I am lifting the ladle, my sister wrests it from my hand, barges in and pushes me out of the way. In front of the rest of the family, so rather obviously. Perhaps it was wrong of me to ask if she'd like to seize the piece of bogroll from me to perform the task when I wanted to wipe my bum, but I felt something appropriate was called for.

    It's not every family that is cloven in two by a ladle covered in sticky rice, but there has to come a moment at which a point of no return has been reached.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Farewell old friend

    It's been a year of putting this moment off, ignoring it, and wishing I didn't have to do it, but it's come to that time. I've called a local recycling company, and they'll pick up the Rollerskate some time next week. It's over a year since it broke and was too expensive to fix.
    In my life I've scrapped a lot of cars. It's a pretty easy process, and I've done it without a thought. But not this time, this car is different. Not because it's special, after all a diesel VW Polo isn't fast or anything.
    Instead, this car is special because it's our car. My wife and I bought it new 15 years ago, and went to so many places together in it. Losing it is losing another part of our relationship, another piece of security gone.
    It will live on, in that its parts will be salvaged and sold to other owners. And I won't have the sadness of finding it in my usual scrapyard. And there will be other cars, like the tatty old estate car I'm driving at the moment. But there will never be another car that means this much, or that has this much effect on me when I part with it.

    I don't think I'll let that happen again.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Your point of view is always invalid

   Back home after a weekend being seditious. My experiences as a transgender person in employment have led me to over the last few years spend a while of my time doing my best to advance the awareness of workplace rights for transgender people under the auspices of my trade union. So it was off to a seaside resort on a chilly November day for a weekend annual conference. Taking stock of the previous year, learning new things, and looking forward to the next.
    Interestingly it was not just LGBT people present. People involved through other minorities, as well as a good number of workplace reps keen to understand more about workplace rights for people like us. And also a group of retired trade unionists. Useful people to know, this last group, for with their lengthy experience there is little they do not know about the intricacies of a harmonious workplace.
    As you might expect from such a gathering, there was a significant array of political activists. My interest in trade union membership is as a means to advance workplace rights for people like me, I'm a member of no party. Others however come to it through left-wing politics.
    We've seen what feels like a decade of political news in the last couple of years, and particularly with respect to the recent American election it seems as though we've lost the ability to find our common ground. I was pleased to see a spirit of  broader political consensus and engagement from a section of my trade union friends, but it saddened me that among another section there was only room for their narrow brand. The damage wrought by this kind of blinkered view is only too obvious every time we turn on our TV sets, and to see it on the increase here doesn't bode well.
    The retired members didn't have much time for it I was pleased to see. I watched three of them take down a hardcore socialist - all questions about Karl Marx and calling people "Comrade" - with a loud discussion of the praiseworthy works of Tony Blair - centre-left former Labour Prime Minister, reviled by those on the far left. When our zealous comrade had stalked off in a huff it was very amusing indeed to see three old guys who are probably as true to their political principles now as they were in the 1960s break down in helpless laughter. As I said to them, I need to watch and learn.
    I will engage with anyone who will listen on the subject of trans rights in the workplace. Whoever they are, and whatever their politics. Good people can be found in nearly all parts of the political spectrum, just as can arseholes.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Pay to play again

    It's evidently a way to become alarmingly sought-after, to write a blog as a transgender person. People always seem to want my views on things with a transgender slant. Back in February of this year I wrote about the usual approach of someone wanting me to talk about a book, but sometimes it's a newspaper article or a film, and now it's someone seeking my views on a medical product. Wow, I never knew being transgender could make you so popular!
    Of course, there's a catch. These people all want my views on their stuff for free, which would be fine if they were coming from a non-profit-making industry, but of course they aren't. They're seeking free publicity and valuable search engine rankings for the products of industries that involve huge amounts of money, and quite naturally they want to keep all that money for themselves.
    I wrote in February about how the PR side of the publishing industry works, how there is a cosy relationship between the industry and a set of journalists, each of whom scratch each other's backs with a bit of wine lubricating the process. It's the same in other industries, almost anything you see in the papers or on TV will have got there as a result of some behind-the-scenes PR work if it's a straightforward feature on a commercial product. It's understood, and all parties have their own revenue streams that ensure the wheels keep turning.
    Evidently the problem is that among all those journalists with whom the cosy relationships are formed there are no transgender people. Often this is because the few that have transitioned tend to have been forced out by dodgy media companies.
    So faced with this problem of a transgender storyline to push but nobody within the community to take it from them, they go hunting for some trans people of their own. And because they think trans people don't know how all this works, they think they can get away with all that hard work for free if they only butter them up a little. Hence a regular set of emails I and no doubt others like me receive from hopeful PR people looking for a freebie.
    I explained in February the level of work that goes into writing a review. It's an in-depth task that takes a significant amount of time, you can't just bang them out. You need to understand the subject and possess authority on it, then you must spin a tale that draws the reader in. Much of my days are spent doing just this in another place, so you might say I have some authority on this subject. There is a reason that journalists draw a salary cheque, and it ain't because we look pretty sitting at a typewriter.
    So I'll repeat what I said earlier in the year:  I ain't doing that kind of work for free, and neither should you. If the person who asked you to write earns money from it, then you should be paid.
    If they keep pestering you when you don't respond, ask them what they'll do for free for you. Damn, I should have thought of that with the latest one who prompted this post!