Tuesday 21 November 2017

TDOR 2017.

It was TDOR yesterday – the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

This year I made it to the Nottingham vigil. In view of the relentless, bludgeoning media assault on trans people by right-wing and alt-feminist commentators – churning out malicious scaremongering on a daily basis ahead of proposed changes to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act – it felt more important than ever to remember what ignorance, bigotry, and everyday hatred can lead to.

Forty (perhaps more) of us stood together in the near dark. There were readings and poems, and we lit little candles while the names of our dead were called: people killed due to anti-trans prejudice. Even more of them this year – 325 victims – again mostly trans women of colour, mostly in the Americas, in Brazil, Mexico, and the US.

What we didn't hear is how they all died, Naturally not, because no one would be able to read that out loud. If you want that information, the list of names can be found here, along causes of death. Please take the content warning as given.

Back at the vigil a light wind repeatedly blew the small flames out... only for candles very often to relight themselves. I don't really believe in symbolism, in signs and omens and such, but it seemed kind of hopeful all the same.

And on that faintly positive note, I'll leave this, my 100th, blogpost there.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Trans "vs." feminism. (5)

I've avoided writing anything on this subject for over three years (my last was in 2014), regarding it as a waste of both time and spoons. However, it becomes harder to refrain in the course of another clickbaiting run in the opinion pages, following an incident at Speakers’ Corner (about which Sam Hope writes perspicaciously here). Fortunately for me, a lot of papers are now paywalling their online content, and I'm certainly not going to part with actual money to read anybody's tripe. The Guardian, on the other hand, has so far kept its access commendably free, thus requiring me to exercise strength of will to ignore it, something I can't always manage to do. Latest in the Guardian's own series is a piece by radical feminist, Claire Heuchan, aka Sister Outrider.

I'm not going to critique her article line by line here, since it contains little which has not been said (and answered) a thousand times already. I might perhaps reiterate that, as history has repeatedly shown, most recently post-Brexit and in Trump America, normalizing prejudice contributes in no small way to the incidence of prejudicial violence, so she is being somewhat disingenuous in downplaying that factor for violence (etc) against trans people. If you help to foster an atmosphere in which such violence (etc) proliferates, in this case a dehumanizing atmosphere of disbelief and disrespect, you are at least partly culpable for it.

But leaving that aside (supposing you complacently can) to focus on feminist politics, I just want to highlight one short passage which, like the author, I think gets to the root of the "problem" – but, unlike her, think it's a problem that some (not all) radical feminists continue to make for themselves:

The tension between radical feminists and queer activists stems from two contradictory ways of defining gender. Queer politics positions gender as an innately held identity. The radical feminist understanding is that gender exists as a political system, not an identity. Recognising gender as innately held, a factor that should be enshrined as a protected characteristic, totally contradicts radical feminist principles.

Because, no, it does not contradict them. The fact that some people are trans has no impact at all on feminist principles, radical or otherwise. More specifically, trans feminist politics (more relevant than queer politics here) in fact position gender as a personal identity and a political system, without any contradictory issues. It's simply a matter of allowing a word (in this case “gender”) to have meaning in more than a single context. Whereas radical feminism, at least as Claire Heuchan describes it, understands gender only as a political system.

Within that context radical feminist analysis is indeed very powerful. Statements such as “Gender roles are the pillars of patriarchy. Therefore, challenging gender is a necessary step towards the liberation of women.” are ones with which most trans feminists tend to agree, even if we might not express it in quite the same language.

But crucially, a radical feminism that cannot consider gender in any other way is also unable to understand it in any other. For instance, the author's use of “innately held identity” above (never mind its immediate association with "born this way" narratives, which many of us find problematic) is then always misrepresented, logically but fallaciously, as the belief that gender norms are therefore innate, which we definitely do not believe. On the contrary, trans feminists are natural allies of radical feminists here, both being severely critical of gender roles and of essentialist notions that they might be somehow fixed according to binary sex. Cordelia Fine's work is as much revered in our feminist world as it is in hers.

To put it bluntly, given such a monolithic view of gender, radical feminism has virtually nothing useful to say about trans. Which is totally fine, by the way. There's no need for radical feminists to theorize about trans. It's not their turf. And trans realities are not a threat to radical feminist principles, whatever Claire Heuchan might think.

Nevertheless, some radical feminists do seem to be completely obsessed with trans, to the extent that they've been perpetuating a pointless and hateful conflict with us for over forty years (and are still being given endless platforms from which to do so). Throwing in lip service now, as the author does, to trans rights (their equivalent of “I'm not racist, but...”) isn't a whole lot of progress to have made in all that time. Similarly, criticizing one's obstreperous sisters, while repeating the essence of their views, is little more than tone policing – or, to paraphrase Stewart Lee, cloaking their inherent transphobia behind more creative language.

So it can't really be a surprise, can it, if trans people (and very many others nowadays) are utterly uninterested in listening to certain radical feminists blather about trans, no matter how impressive their feminist credentials might be. From a purely trans perspective, after four decades plus of your not listening to us, why on earth would we want to listen to you, let alone "debate" you? Instead, we're increasingly resorting to the only sensible option left, to tell you in so many words to talk to the hand, a strategy I shall now revert to once more myself.

See you again in another three years no doubt.

Saturday 30 September 2017

How Not to Be a Boy.

Given the endless twaddle about trans that gets trotted out in the media – week in, week out – it's almost a relief to read a book about gender (partly) which has nothing to do with that.

In his autobiographical ‘How Not to Be a Boy’, Robert Webb, the comedy partner of Victoria Coren's husband (sorry, but that's how I think of him) writes about his life growing up in Lincolnshire, concentrating on his childhood and teenage years (usually the most entertaining if done right), and hanging it all on the hook of gender. Or, more specifically, gender conditioning in the form of “The Trick”.

As Webb describes it: “‘The Trick’ is the family code-word for the incoming tide of gender bullshit that Ezzie, Dory [his two daughters] and their friends (including the boys) will spend their lives wading through. The idea that boys and girls, men and women, have different roles to play in life according to the different contributions they make to a shared reproductive system is one they are going to have to deal with whether we like it or not. So they might as well have a name for it.

Or as I might put it: How children (and adults) both learn and are taught to suppress, according to the presumed arrangements of their genitals, certain parts of their personalities in order to fit in with arbitrary and oppressive cultural notions of binary gender.

Or as his daughter, Esme, more succinctly put it (aged six): “The Trick that makes boys unhappy and girls get rubbish jobs”.

In telling his story – of relationships (familial and otherwise), of feelings, of secret thoughts (referring to his – *facepalm* – teenage diaries), and relating how all of these were unhelpfully affected by gender expectations – Webb exemplifies the view that being (sometimes) a bit of a dickhead is a universal facet of the human condition and, consequently, he doesn't spare himself any on that account. It's not an easy thing to pull off. Self-castigating honesty, however admirable, can quickly prove tiresome if it's of the “aren't I terrible” variety, whether with a wink or a sob. But Webb totally succeeds by being funny about it, very funny, even if it's often cringe humour:

‘If I get this right, Tess Rampling will definitely want to have sex with me.’ The idea slouches through my fifteen-year-old brain and disappears before I've had time to ask it exactly why a sixth-former of Rampling's cosmic beauty would want to have sex with a GCSE pit-sniffer like me. I take Rick Astley's ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ out of its paper bag and gaze at his pink face.’

Those are the first three sentences, by the way. If they already have you smiling, you're probably going to like this book. I won't quote any more such since there is a narrative of sorts, if not a strictly linear one, and I don't want to spoil it for you. And it's not really relevant to this blog anyway.

More so: On page 48 Webb throws in a recommendation of Cordelia Fine's ‘Delusions of Gender’. Okay, he's definitely got me on his side now. (In my opinion, Fine's book should on the National Curriculum.) And he reinforces this further with a passage on page 87:

I promise I am not being wilfully dense about this. I don't know what the words ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ have to offer. Avoiding them, we still have a massive language of more precise words to describe individuals and their behaviour which somehow manage not to come pre-loaded with a steam tanker of gender manure from the last century. If we want to say that David Beckham puts a lot of thought into his appearance, then we can say ... oh, I've just done it. I didn't need to bring his sex into it. Or his attitude to his sex. I don't have to view his personality through the prism of his famously golden balls, assuming that were either possible or desirable. I could say Lily Allen's songs are full of swearwords which are at odds with her ‘femininity’ – or I could get a life.

Abso-fucking-lutely. And without the useless baggage of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, we might eventually get somewhere like page 322:

I mean to offer (...) a wider understanding of what it is to be a boy. That it's OK to cry. It's OK to talk about what's wrong. It's OK to play with girls if you like them, to dress like girls if you want to, to like the colour pink if you like it, to want to hang out with your mum if you love her company, to not be all that bothered about football if you're not all that bothered about football.

I'm certainly down with all that. Bring it on right now – or preferably even sooner. Apart from the bit about football anyway. Obviously everybody likes football.

As a footnote, I'd just add that none of that has very much to do with trans. Trans is not about gender conformity. (The trans community is hugely gender diverse.) In particular, seeing as Webb has since tweeted concern on this subject, gender non-conformity in children is not an indication that they're automatically trans and need to be "fixed" by switching binary genders. No gender-literate person – and trans people tend to be extremely gender-literate – would ever claim as much. That's why we mostly favour gender-affirmative approaches, whereby vulnerable children are simply given space and support to be themselves (ourselves), gender-wise, without any destination in mind, clinical or otherwise. In the meantime, if the rest of society would please hurry up and get its stupid gender shit together, that'd be great – for them as well as us.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Dorothy Perkins.

Tonight was a good night out.

We talked about music and football and books and music and people and work and music.

I wore my long, furry, denim coat from Dorothy Perkins (which I bought secondhand on EBay), even though it was a bit warm for it really.

And although people stared at me a bit, no one gave me any hassle at all, which is as it should be.

I caught the last bus home and walked back through the village and all the stars were out in a clear sky.

And when I got home I listened to Us and Them by Pink Floyd on headphones and ate strawberries.

Tonight was a good night :)

Sunday 30 July 2017

Another Pride, Another Planet.

I can face your threats and stand up straight and tall and shout about it...

“We're here, we're queer, we'll never disappear.”

Or as Robin rephrased it: “We're here, we're trans, we had no other plans”, which is nicely blasé about the whole thing, even if we're not.

Anyway, this is us towards the front of the parade, some of us...

According to the Post, yesterday saw the biggest ever turnout for Pride in Nottingham. Hurrah!

But step away from the main strip – Long Row, Pelham Street, on into the Lace Market – and the straight city was going about its Saturday almost as if Pride never existed. Just an occasional brightly coloured rainbow something or other amidst a mass of drab.

I think I'm on another world...

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Trans Like Me.

Now that the part-euphoria part-relief of the UK election result has abated somewhat, I've been able to get back to what I was doing before, which was reading – and then re-reading – CN Lester's just published Trans Like Me: A Journey for All of Us (Virago 2017). The word “re-reading” is significant there: I never read a book straight through and then, having finished it, pick it up and read it again. But I did that with this one.

Because Trans Like Me is a major event in trans literature in the UK. Not quite a polemic, it's nevertheless a political book, addressing trans issues, defending trans realities, demanding trans rights. As far as I know, there's been nothing quite like it here before. We've had numerous trans memoirs, such as those by Jan Morris, Julia Grant, Mark Rees, Alex Drummond, and (most recently) Juliet Jacques; but not a book where personal honesty is an adjunct to the politics, used for illustration and emphasis. For that we've had to rely on authors and activists from the US and Canada. (Note that most of Juliet Jacques’ “Top 10 transgender books” were from North America; and most of my favourites listed here were too.) Not any longer.

In their book, CN deals with all the pressing issues, explaining, revealing, persuading, rebutting:
  • misrepresentation and hostility in the press;
  • trans celebrity, with particular reference to Caitlyn Jenner;
  • trans language, finding words for ourselves that make us visible;
  • why we can't be talked out of being trans (an excerpt on this subject appeared at The Pool);
  • binary sex and gender, and dysphoria as proprioceptive discordance;
  • trans children and trans youth, gender-affirmative therapy, puberty blockers and so forth;
  • the difficulties in having a mental illness while being trans;
  • the importance of family support and reciprocal peer support;
  • intimate relationships, desirability vs. objectification;
  • the realness of trans identities, inclusion in gendered spaces;
  • trans history and how it is often misportrayed, with a serious critique of The Danish Girl;
  • non-binary identities, their history and (lack of) recognition;
  • the T in LGBT, why we belong together and should stick together;
  • trans feminisms, intersectionality, and why trans realities are (obviously) not anti-feminist;
  • the future, the “trans tipping point”, where we might be heading, and what we might achieve.

I'm just giving basic outlines of the chapters there; CN includes much, much more along the way, and if they've missed something out, I can't think what it might be right now. I can't find much of anything to disagree with either, whereas there was plenty that had me nodding and smiling to myself...

After a year of reading absolutely everything I could find about being queer, I started noticing the breadcrumb trail left in the margins, in the footnotes. Alison Bechdel, author of Dykes to Watch Out For, was a godsend: the background detail of her comic strip often included the names of influential LGBT works and authors. I discovered Kate Bornstein, and ordered a copy of My Gender Workbook from America. I felt as nervous as if I had ordered porn through the mail.

Yes, I can relate to all of that – “reading absolutely everything” for sure (see here again); I have all of Alison Bechdel's DTWOF books; and I felt similarly nervous taking a copy of Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw up to the counter at Mushroom.

I am so thankful to all the people who have helped me to unlearn the defence of believing my particular truth to be universal. They taught me to really listen to other people, and to accept the limits of my own knowledge. I have never really liked putting my self into words. Listening taught me that the labels that confined me could liberate others. That the right answer for one person could become the wrong answer for another, and that all we could do was lend support in our shared individuality.

Absolutely; or as Patrick Califia put it: “The best we can do is speak our own truth, make it safe for others to speak theirs, and respect our differences” (which I use as my signature on most trans forums, and last quoted here in the post ‘Speaking our own truth’).

There is the tendency for some cis people to believe that being trans is about fixing some kind of defect, that we have to alter our ‘transgendered’ selves in order to slot back into place into a gendered society bound about by struggle and by rules. For myself, I think it could be the other way round.

That a gendered society, bound about by struggle and rules, needs to fix itself rather than require us to try and fit into it? Yes, indeed.

When I was much younger I wanted, like many idealists, to create a manifesto: a document both clear and concise, and, of course, universal in its application. With hindsight, it is clear that there can be no such manifesto of trans rights, of trans justice – unless it were to be one without an end, in which anyone could write.

One without an end, in which anyone could write... That's so sweet :)

Those are a few snippets that resonated with me and are therefore fairly random; but they're indicative of CN's style, which is both intimate and incisive, drawing on their many years as an out non-binary trans person and campaigner for trans and queer rights.

“Writing is still revolutionary; writing is still about changing the world,” Dorothy Allison once said – and everyone “who tells the truth about their life becomes part of that process”. With Trans Like Me, CN Lester has written “a book about what it is to be trans” today, and what it might or could be tomorrow. They've written a book to change the world.

Monday 17 April 2017

More on Clothes.

Talking of looking at other people's clothes, I'm currently re-watching the complete run of Sherlock Holmes on DVDs. The Granada version, that is, starring Jeremy Brett, who is the best ever Holmes, no question about it. Followed perhaps by Basil Rathbone. (Nuts to Benedict Cumberbatch.)

Anyway, as a sort of period drama, or a period detective series at least, it's all in appropriate period costume. The men are all in their period suits and waistcoats; while the women are all in their period dresses with huge skirts. I know which I prefer. Okay, the bodices might sometimes be a bit tight, and the period corsetry is probably uncomfortable. But just for the look of them, I have to ask myself: why would anyone of whatever gender want to wear these suits rather than these dresses?

Pictured there from the top with Holmes and two different Watsons are: Mary Morstan, Violet Hunter, and Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope. Well, yes, Holmes is quite dapper too. But never mind that...

More generally, seeing as I have no urgent desire to dress up in Victorian or Edwardian costume, I'd also ask (rhetorically): why would anyone actually choose to wear clothes off the men's racks, when they could wear clothes off the women's racks? When the latter are so much more colourful, so much more varied and more interesting in every way. (Yes, I can think of several reasons too, including trans-related ones, but never mind that either...)

The constant gendering of stuff is silly. As Grandma Walton once said: work is work. And as she almost certainly wouldn't have said: clothes are clothes. Which brings me to something I wrote back in 2011:

“Pretty clothes de-gendered are now just pretty clothes. Pretty clothes re-gendered are now just men's clothes (literally: clothes worn by men). Using this logic (which, I have to say, is not originally mine) we are not cross-dressers, whatever anyone else might think. We are just men wearing clothes that society has arbitrarily designated as female.”

I was pleased by those assertions, despite not being totally convinced then of their correctness. Six years on, they strike me as utterly banal. Clothes are clothes, and I'm coming round to the viewpoint that people (especially men) who limit themselves to their "designated" clothes are just plain weird.

And, incidentally, I have a new coat:

Sunday 26 March 2017

Creepy Behaviour.

A couple of years ago, I posted about a survey conducted by Laurie Penny into men's attitudes to Sex, Gender and Feminism. One of the questions – and my answer to it – was as follows:

How has sex affected the way you feel about yourself as a man? Have you ever worried about being 'creepy'? — It hasn't. But the “creepy” question is quite pertinent. As a transvestite, I'm very interested in clothing and in how clothes fit bodies, so I look at how people are dressed quite a lot. This seems to make some people uneasy, presumably because they think the "male gaze" is inevitably sexual. So men think I'm cruising them, and women think I'm mentally undressing them or generally being creepy. As I answered in one of your earlier surveys, what I need is a big sign that says: “I'm looking at your clothes not your body. No, really!”

Right. But since it has never worried me enough, and since I'm such a considerate person, I've very generously given myself a free pass to keep on looking. Or I did, until a regrettable incident last weekend. This was at a family gathering, a meal in a Manchester pub/restaurant with my nephews and nieces (and their significant others), to celebrate my mother's, their gran's, 81st birthday...

My youngest niece has recently dyed her hair turquoise. It always delights me as a “gender unconventional” person (to use Julia Serano's formulation) to see anything even slightly out of the ordinary in another person's appearance, and turquoise hair certainly meets that criterion. So, when we were all saying goodbyes, I took the opportunity to try and compliment my niece on her hair, and touched it casually at the same time. Yes, there's an immediate facepalm for a start, and it gets worse. Receiving no response I waved my hand in front of her face to attract her attention, until she quietly said “Stop it!”.

Okay. Being socially rather inept, slow to pick up on other people's feelings, and otherwise just plain stupid, it was only later I realized that my niece hadn't responded because I had totally creeped her out. Shit. (Sorry, Libby.) Since then, and since “creepy uncle” is not the sort of reputation I want, I've been re-evaluating my general behaviour and have come up with two resolutions (so far):

1. Do not touch people's hair without asking first. Or even at all. Jeez. This shouldn't require a resolution at all. In any case, as I said in the same survey: “I'm not big on physical contact or even physical closeness. I have a rather wide sense of personal space and don't usually like that being invaded.” In other words, I don't like being casually touched by anyone either. No. Stop it!

2. Do not stare at people no matter what your reason might be. You haven't got a big explanatory sign, have you, so they're not going to know your supposedly "valid" reason, are they. You dickhead. (A reason that might well creep them out even more.) And if you look someone up and down, they're probably going to think you're checking them out. And if your eyes go down from a woman's face, she's probably going to think you're staring at her tits. Facepalm again. This is pretty obvious stuff, isn't it. How I've managed to go through life without being beaten up on a regular basis, I'm not sure.

Well, anyway, the first of those resolutions is easily accomplished; as I say, no touching is my default position. The second one I'm finding a bit more difficult. From the survey again: “I rarely find normatively gendered people (i.e. most people) attractive”. Which is true. But I do like to look at what they're wearing. Sigh.

But there's now a more pressing question: Is that worth being thought creepy by my family over? No, it isn't. It definitely isn't.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Trans Space Notts.

In this, my sixth anniversary post – tarantara! tarantara! – I was going to write about being “Not Trans Enough” which I've been feeling quite a lot lately.

As in: What exactly does “trans” mean? What am I in fact trans-ing, given that I'm not moving from one gender to another and don't believe that cultural notions of binary gender (which I do trans) are anything other than arbitrary, oppressive and false.

But such a post would have been rather depressing. So I went down to the Trans Space Notts meeting and said I was feeling “Not Trans Enough” there instead. And that turned out much better.

TSN is my regular trans group, which meets once a month in Nottingham city centre. It's also – as I very much like – a structured, facilitated meeting, which means there are group leaders (facilitators) who sort of plan what we're going to talk about, and who are there if anyone needs help with anything on a personal level.

We generally start off with the chairs in a big circle, and go round the group (sixteen of us this time) for “introductions”: names, pronouns, and a short something we might want to say about whatever. We subsequently break into smaller groups to discuss whatever in a more intimate, less formal setting, before coming back together again towards the end.

For instance, re introductions: “I'm Jonathan, they pronouns; I identify as genderqueer and femme, and recently I've been feeling Not Trans Enough, so the (suggested) topic What is Trans? is quite relevant to me right now.”

My concern was answered straight away by an affirmation that the group didn't consider anyone to be Not Trans Enough, and that our trans experiences all vary and are all valid. Which I knew already “on paper” as it were. But feelings is still feelings, so it was reassuring to have someone say that out loud, and in a group context, where most people (not including me) seem to be (or have been) involved with the Gender Identity Clinic to some extent.

This evening we split into three groups to discuss, variously, and vaguely: Fear of Surgery; Coming Out; and What is Trans? (that is, to each of us personally, rather than a debate about definitions). I joined the “What is Trans” group, where I mostly listened while other people spoke – I hardly ever say much, and even then not very articulately; I much prefer written language to spoken – about gender fluidity, non-binary identities, fluctuating ideas of gender, and so forth, all of which I could relate to and made me feel like less of a border-dwelling outsider.

I didn't actually resolve the issue of being Not Trans Enough, in the sense that I'm not sure how trans I am at all a lot of the time, and my profile still reads “on the nebulous border between cis and trans”. But, and more importantly, I resolved my feelings to the extent that it no longer seemed really to matter.

I also bought a knitted bobble hat in trans flag colours, and someone said they liked my jumper. So I was glad I went. Even if the shoes I was wearing were inappropriate for the weather and my socks got wet.


After blogging for six years, I was coming to the conclusion I didn't have much else to say here. Indeed, I'm mostly blogging about chess these days. But if – as I learned from my TSN subgroup – queer disability theorists describe their lives as a journey without any particular destination, that must mean there's never nothing left to say.

So here's to another six years :)