Friday, 23 March 2018

Unqualified, middle-aged lesbian swerves abruptly out of her lane to talk about trans issues.

In fairness, a huge transphobic lorry is shedding it’s load right in front of me so I kind of have to. 

Yeh about this whole transphobia within feminism thing. I’m not really enjoying it tbh. It was kind of funny for a while, but then I read an earnest think piece on the inherent dangers of Milo Stewart and realised we might be in trouble. I’m seeing so much misinformation flying around every day that I’m compelled to write this piece even though I usually only write in song form - and whilst ‘Terfandot’ is absolutely an opera that needs writing, I wanted to pull together some thoughts and information right now in the hope that it might be a helpful resource to friends in my community who I know are increasingly seeing others swayed and/or confused by this pervasive trans exclusionary rhetoric.

I don’t know what it’s like to be trans, but I do have the relatable experience of having something integral to my life called into question “because biology”.

My adopted son is my son. I know it, he knows it, it is an unshakable truth to us. Yes, it is possible for a child to have two mothers. No, this is not because I ‘identify’ as being the actual person who gave birth to him and/or believe the sperm was conjured up with pure lesbian enthusiasm. But our children have two mothers and we have two sons - this is a reality, and we expect the same legal protection and respect as any other family.

However, if we apply “because biology” to my family (and there are plenty who are keen to), it isn’t actually a family at all - we’re just a couple of single mothers with bastard only children in an unusually cosy house-share situation.

Luckily for us, we live in a time and place where the law actively protects our family from this wilfully ham-fisted interpretation of how biology relates to actual human people. It is not something we take for granted.  

We owe a debt of gratitude to our elders in the LGBT community who fought through decades of activism to help achieve the security my family enjoys today. Trans people have been intrinsic to this movement from the very beginning, and so to defect from the fight for trans equality at this point would feel rather like pulling the ladder up behind us.

But it is not due to blinkered loyalty that I oppose this growing hostility coming from areas of my own community. It is because the issues being presented are distorted, divisive and hysterical.

Gender and sexuality are of course not the same thing. However, there is a relationship between the two that is especially pertinent when comparing the shift in social attitudes concerning sexuality in the last fifty years, and the kinds of claims that are being made about trans people today.

i) Dismissing LGBT lives as ridiculous: “enabling transgender people is like the emperors new clothes!” is the new “Equal marriage? we may as well let people marry their dogs!” 

There is evidence of trans people existing in almost every culture throughout human history. It’s not just a new Western trend those spoilt, blue haired millennials have invented to annoy you. 

There are various hotly contested hypotheses regarding the existence and potential cause of trans tendencies, based on elements such as brain structure / foetal hormone levels / androgen receptor genes / cerebral blood flow psychological  disorders / gender socialisation /  blue haired millennials just trying to annoy you.

There are also hotly contested hypotheses regarding the evidence and potential cause of homosexual tendencies based on elements such as the search for the ‘gay gene’ / prenatal environment / chromosome linkage / psychological  disorders / satan.

Whilst neither have a clear, singular, conclusive biological trait or explanation as to their existence, it is widely believed that a combination of genetic, hormonal and social influences are at play. 

The interplay between social factors and human biology is increasingly understood as a highly complex relationship, and so “because biology” can’t really serve as the definitive answer some want it to be. Current scientific understanding suggests that my being a lesbian will have been influenced by social as well as genetic/biological factors. This doesn’t make my sexuality a delusion - I’m still a lesbian, regardless of how I became one.

In her acclaimed 2007 book ‘Whipping Girl’, writer and biologist Julia Serano refers to opening talks with the question: “If I offered you ten million dollars under the condition that you live as the other sex for the rest of your life, would you take me up on the offer?”. 

The majority of people of course say no, because changing something so fundamental is unthinkable to them. Most of us do not experience what Serano refers to as ‘gender dissonance’ - when someones deep rooted sense of gender (or ‘subconscious sex’, to use the 2007 book’s language) contradicts their assigned gender. 

Even without knowledge or experience of any trans issues whatsoever, surely anybody can recognise  that someone making the decision to transition - with all the complications, danger, discrimination, social insecurity and risk of rejection that is likely to entail - is highly unlikely to have come to that decision for any lighter reason than that living as their assigned gender is impossible to them. 

If ‘WELL maybe I ‘identify’ as a wooden spoon today!” is your preferred stance on the realities of the issue, you’re deriding a wealth of research, evidence, lived experiences and ultimately social progress towards better inclusion of a highly misunderstood minority group - but congrats on being hilarious. 

ii) Interpreting growing LGBT numbers as contagion: “the Trans Lobby are turning our children trans!” is the new “the Gay Lobby are turning our children gay!”   

Remember before the 90’s when there were 0% gay youths and then Beth Jordache happened and suddenly 100% of children were homosexual and society collapsed and we all died? 

Well the same diabolical model is in place now, only this time it’s being spearheaded by the ‘Trans Lobby’ who apparently exist for some reason. 

Rather than recognising the rise in young people ‘coming out’ as trans as the positive outcome of a society growing to understand and support trans youth, it is being suggested that actually those crazy kids are just copying each other, mainly to annoy you.

There is talk of a condition called Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria - whereby teens meet trans teens online and then catch teen trans from out of the interwebs, like something out of Brass Eye. Here is a quick list of important facts about ROGD:

1) It isn’t an actually a condition.

It’s premise is obliterated with glorious precision in articles such as 'Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria' is Biased Junk Science” from The Advocate and Rapid onset gender dysphoria”: What a hoax diagnosis looks like” by Zinnia Jones, but to summarise:

The entire theory is based on a single poster abstract of an online survey completed by 164 *parents* of gender questioning teens. The surveys were only posted on 3 websites that are specifically aimed at parents who do not support their child’s transition - a bias that is not acknowledged anywhere in the abstract. None of the actual children concerned were involved in the collection of information on them. 

As Jones observes, ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’ actually perfectly matches the description of the already established condition of late onset gender dysphoria, where dysphoria reveals itself in puberty or much later, due to an individual perhaps remaining closeted or having not yet identified their experience as something that has a name / that others also experience.  

There is a belief that so many teens assigned female are wanting to transition that it is causing ‘lesbian erasure’ (which is also the name of a tribute band I totally want to exist, btw - please make it happen for me). 

The idea is that in UK society, as we all know, becoming a trans man holds wayyyy less social stigma than being a lesbian - so teens are taking the easy road and simply tra-... wait... what!? 

“Oh it turns out my child simply wants to change genders which is SUCH a relief because I was terrified they were a lesbian, which would have been devastating -  but I was worried for NOTHING! More T dear?” said no parent ever. 

Gender clinic statistics do currently reveal a higher number of youths who were assigned female at birth ‘coming out’ as trans as teens. Whilst there is currently no consensus on the reason for this, it is suggested the intense social stigma is even higher for youths assigned male at birth, and so it often takes significantly longer for them to ‘come out’. 

A nuanced and thought provoking angle on butch women and trans men can be found in Mark Mulligan’s article Fight and Flight: “Butch Flight,” Trans Men, and the Elusive Question of Authenticity.

It’s really important to note that there is no discernable evidence that a person can be ‘convinced’ to change their gender identity - the story of David Reimer and also the track record of gender-reparative therapy reinforce the idea that it’s just not possible.    

You might hear a frequently recited statistic that some 80% of trans teens would desist in time if they weren’t coerced into transitioning by their gaudy, infectious interweb pals and weirdly completely-homophobic-yet-incredibly-trans-inclusive parents and go on to ‘just be gay or lesbian’ (I think we’re supposed to ignore that trans people aren’t necessarily straight at this point).

This 80% desistance figure refers most commonly to a study by Steemsa in the 1980’s which is refuted for a number of significant reasons, such as that the majority of children involved were simply untypical in their gender expression, rather than appearing to suffer from dysphoria - meaning it was inevitable the majority did not want to transition in later life - i.e. it’s not desistance if they weren’t trans in the first place. There are a number of detailed and qualified articles refuting the credibility of the study by academics such as Julia Serano (the Desistance Myth).  However a great promoter of the statistic has been Kenneth Zucker, whose reputation as an advocate of reparative therapy and other questionable practices are summarised in The End of the Desistance Myth by Brynn Tannehill. Well THEN the refuters were refuted by Jesse Singal in What’s Missing From the Conversation About Transgender Kids and THEN this refutation of the refuters was refuted in Media Misinformation About Trans Youth: The Persistent 80% Desistance Myth by Kelley Winters, and then everybody clapped.

[EDIT: A short time after I wrote this piece, Jesse Singal actually acknowledged he had been misinterpreting the results of the Steemsa data, read his account here: A Lot of People, Myself Included, Have Been Misreading the Single Biggest Published Study on Childhood Gender Dysphoria Desistance and Persistence. ]

[EDIT2: chuck in the… oooh trifling matter of... The International Journal of Transgenderism recently publishing a peer reviewed article entitled ‘A critical commentary on follow-up studies and “desistance”
theories about transgender and gender-nonconforming children’ (Temple Newhook et al, 2018) that meticulously and comprehensively addresses the
problems and inaccuracies associated with the 80% desistance statistic, and I think we’re done here. Go home, famous desistance statistic, you’re drunk.] 

Erroneously conflating untypical gender expression with an intense gender identity issue like this enables the wilful misinterpretation of the current situation from those acting like they believe all ‘tomboy’ girls and ‘effeminate’ boys are in danger of being marched off to the gender clinic for re-assignment surgery. 

In reality, the majority of young people who are even referred to the NHS Gender Identity Referral Service leave again with no medical intervention whatsoever. For example - based on 2016 figures, of the 605 people who had been discharged from the program in the last 3 years, 160 had gone on puberty blockers and 92 of those continued onto hormone replacement therapy. The UK has 13 million kids in it by the way. 

The reason that transition (medical or non medical) is the clinically approved response to intense gender dysphoria is that from over fifty years of clinical studies, it is the only action that has proven to help alleviate dysphoria and the associated depression, self harm, and suicide risks. 

And if you’re now thinking "YEH but everyone knows those suicide stats are COOKED’’ don’t worry, I’m coming to that in a bit.

Oh and if you’re thinking about THAT Swedish study where the results are used to argue against transitioning, you can read the frustrations of Cecilia Dhejne (the author of the study), on the many ways it’s been deliberately misinterpreted here

The NHS will not perform any form of gender surgery on anyone under 18, and will not prescribe HRT to anyone under 16. Even then, an individual will have had measured and thorough psychiatric/clinical assessments and observations from a number of professionals who all need to agree on the course of action. They will have to have counselling and displayed an insistent, consistent and persistent belief that they are not the gender they have been assigned, and expressed a constantly strong desire to transition. It’s common that they will have already been living as their identified gender for some time.

For someone outside of the situation, it’s understandable to think ‘surely just let them make the decision when they are adults’ - but the reality for many is that a) their child’s dysphoric misery so profound that making them wait an agonisingly long time to reach an arbitrary date seems cruel and impossible and b) going through the ‘wrong puberty’ not only massively intensifies dysphoria so can be extremely traumatic, but will also have a big impact on a future transition, once secondary sex characteristics have developed.

It is standard practise to let the teenager enter the first phase of puberty, to see if the dysphoria dissipates or exacerbates. If it exacerbates, they will be offered puberty blockers to put puberty ‘on hold’. The idea with this is that it gives the individual more time to decide if this is what they want, and allows them to reach 16 without having already gone through puberty if they remain determined to receive HRT.

Whilst the NHS refers puberty blockers as a “safe and fully reversible” treatment, it is still seen as controversial as the long term effects are not fully established. The reason the NHS can refer to the treatment as “safe” is that it’s been in use for over 20 years, is approved for use by the GMC and there is not sufficient cause to deem them “unsafe”. The drug is also used to treat precocious puberty, endometriosis and prostate cancer - but there isn’t a large body of evidence of it’s long term effects yet (though there is a concern that it has an impact on bone density). As unsatisfactory as this sounds, it is not a particularly unusual scenario in modern medicine - there are hundreds of treatments that have not been in practise for more than 1 or 2 decades, so naturally there is a limit to how much information there is on long term impact. Potential side effects of any treatment are often worrying and/or uncertain, and one can only weigh up the issues and make a decision based on the information that IS available, hopefully with the guidance of an experienced professional.

If I’m honest, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to see your kid go through this kind of anguish, and be confronted with these kinds of decisions asking your teenage kid if they understand that they’re signing something to say they’re aware this treatment might make them sterile? or cause other health problems down the road? it sounds incredibly difficult. 

And the really hard part? Doing nothing isn’t a neutral option.

Whenever I see the vile attacks on parents for finding themselves at this juncture and choosing to support their child in transitioning, I always wonder at the arrogance of the person doing the attacking who clearly think they are in a better position to judge the best course of action. It reminds me of the people shrieking “what kind of a parent would take their child on a dangerous journey like that!” about fleeing refugees - and the question I want to ask back is “in what situation would YOU make that decision? What would the alternative have to look like for YOU to make that massive choice?”.

There does seem to be a small percentage of those that transition who experience regret, who as Serano points out, need to have their voices heard not only so that improvements can be made in the future but also because those individuals need support from the LGBT community and not be simply brushed under the carpet.

She points out that within that within this number, a significant number of people detransition due to how intense their experiences of rejection and transphobia are, and so then actually retransition further on in life. Whilst the potential for sensational headlines is less for happy trans people, it is important to place detransion figures along side the overwhelming majority of trans people who do not experience regret, and also of those that regret not transitioning earlier.  

iii) Belittling LGBT problems / dismissing discrimination - “all those trans suicide/violence/discrimination stats are exaggerated/flawed/made up” is the new “do they REALLY need a parade and a gay rights movement? They’re not oppressed, they’re just attention seeking”

There is a charity called Mermaids UK that works with the NHS in assisting young people and families of ‘gender questioning’ children / teens. They use a highly contested statistic regarding the risk of suicide in trans teens. The reason it has been questioned is that the figure was supposedly calculated with too small a survey group. If this is indeed the case, I agree that 27 respondents [EDIT: their stats actually come from Stonewall so larger sample size] is surely not adequately far reaching to extrapolate that 48% of ALL trans youth attempt suicide. So we just forget about dysphoria related suicide altogether then, right? there’s a dodgy stat and that’s that. Phew.

Whilst misrepresented figures are unhelpful, they do not negate the fact that even the briefest google search reveals similar sounding results in multiple research projects in the last decade from the US, UK, Ireland, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia all citing the suicide risk in trans people to be around 8-10 times the national average.

It’s been somewhat bluntly asserted that the actual body count does not match up to this repeatedly occurring statistic. The suggestion is that if 1 in 10 suicide attempts result in death and 1% of the population is trans (current estimates range from 0.4% to 2% but it’s not actually possible to be certain) then that would mean there should be an astronomically higher number of deaths by suicide than are actually showing up in national statistics. 

Firstly, I don’t know if this ‘1 in 10’ figure has come from anywhere legitimate - the American Association of Suicidology estimates 1 in 25 suicide attempts result in death and the World Health Organisation estimates 1 in 21. Secondly, comparing ANNUAL suicide statistics with the percentage of trans people who have attempted suicide at least once IN THEIR LIVES is automatically going to produce a major flaw in the calculation.  

Taking these points into consideration, it IS possible put forward a credible calculation that debunks this idea that it’s ‘impossible’ that young trans people are at a massively higher suicide risk than the national average.  However, when the figures have such vast uncertainties (e.g how many trans people there actually are, over what timespan, how are we dividing age groups etc) I would argue that this morbid number crunching is significantly less worthwhile than simply *listening* to the people who have the lived experiences of being trans, and the severity of personal and social difficulties they are confronted when attempting to navigate existing.

There seems to be a determination to render every single piece of research regarding the vulnerabilities of trans people as flawed or dishonest. Stonewall UK’s 2018 trans report interviews 871 trans people and finds results such as 1 in 4 of them have been homeless at some point in their lives, 1 in 8 employees had been physically attacked in the last year, 1 in 10 had been rejected by their families. The 2017 School Report involved nearly 600 trans identified 11-19 year olds and yes, here it is again, almost half of them had attempted suicide. These reports and many more are subject to this same criticism whereby it’s claimed the results of these reports are null and void due to the sample groups being too small. 

It really does beg the question - how many survey groups of tens, hundreds or thousands where a consistently large proportion of participants refer to suicide attempts, violence, instability and discrimination does there need to be before they might *possibly* be considered genuinely representative? have you ever seen a survey of trans people that presents the community as NOT suffering much higher instances of these adversities? 

Rejecting repeatedly occurring evidence that a marginalised group is at risk or needs help makes them easier to vilify. See also: most rape victims actually lying / depressed people actually lying and lazy / people on benefits actually lying, lazy and greedy / refugees with smart phones actually lying, lazy, greedy and rapists. Etc.

iv). Equating LGBT inclusion with various forms of violation. “Those scary trans folk want access to our children / changing rooms / quivering cis bodies” is the new ”those scary homosexuals want access to our children / pets / irresistibly standard hetero bodies


First off, if you think you’ve never been in a public toilet or changing room with a trans person, you’re mistaken. Because ~plot twist~, trans people have been here this whole time. So ladies, if you object to sharing these spaces with trans women, you’re actually just objecting to sharing these spaces with trans women that don’t meet your criteria of how a woman should look

Are you trying to uphold oppressive binary gender standards? Because that’s how you uphold oppressive binary gender standards.

Proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act would mean that an adult trans person will no longer need a diagnosis of gender dysphoria or to have lived as their identified gender for two years to have their gender recognised legally. This alteration would be in line with legislation already in place in Ireland, Denmark, Malta, Argentina and India. 

The reason this change is welcomed is that it will remove the medical gatekeeping and the associated arbitrary obedience to gender stereotypes and performative hoop-jumping inevitably required to meet a gender recognition panel’s criteria of how an individual should present themselves.

 Gender dysphoria is a symptom of being trans and not the state of being trans itself - therefore the requirement to be ‘dysphoric enough’ to have ones gender legally recognised is inherently problematic.

The fear is that this means “just anyone” can change their gender. Well... “just anyone” who wants to legally change their gender on every form of official identification and commit in the presence of a solicitor that they intend to live as that gender for the rest of their lives, yes. But as there’s not even the aforementioned 10 million dollar prize on offer for doing this, it seems highly likely that such an action will only appeal to trans people who need to legally change the gender on their documents to match their gender.

There’s a great deal of concern for what this means for women’s spaces - but the impact this change in law would have on current rules is actually commonly misunderstood, as observed in this highly concise and informative article by Peter Dunne and Tara Hewitt: Gender Recognition, Self-Determination and Segregated Space.

To paraphrase the article: although the belief seems to be that this change in the law will create a new right for trans women who reject medical transitions to enter women-only spaces, the reality is that section 7 of the 2010 equality act already affords trans women the right to access gender appropriate spaces and services, regardless of their medical status or if they have a gender recognition certificate. The assertion that there is a risk of cisgender men abusing this legislation in order to cause harm overlooks the fact that a) there is little to no evidence to support this proposed scenario as being a legitimate concern and b) denying the trans community beneficial reforms because of a perceived potential of abuse perpetrated by cisgender males is not rational or fair - the government should rather address that risk though appropriate channels such as existing criminal law.  

Professionals who work in women’s spaces such as refuges have a duty of care to protect their service users and therefore make risk assessments on individuals when they are referred - if it seems there is reason to suspect someone’s presence will be problematic for other service users, it is dealt with accordingly, regardless of whether or not they are trans.

There is an informative link on women’s equality and associated front line services in Scotland here: Women’s equality and the Gender Recognition Act but to quote part of the statement:

All violence against women organisations that receive Scottish Government funding provide trans-inclusive services. The requirement for trans inclusion plans has been in place for six years, and has not given rise to any concerns or challenges of which we are currently aware. Rather, trans women have added to our movements through their support, through volunteering, and as staff members of our organisations. In order to provide a definitive statement on this in our consultation response(s), national umbrella violence against women organisations will be systematically gathering data on how well these plans are working at the frontline.

The social media discussion on the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act has included concerns that victim-survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse may be placed at risk. Rape crisis and women’s aid services prioritise women’s safety, confidentiality, privacy, dignity, and wellbeing above all else. Over decades of practice, services have developed ways of managing any risk to individual women’s wellbeing that may arise from interacting with other service users.”  

It seems that rather than fighting to exclude a small subset of vulnerable women from these spaces, energies might be more positively directed towards fighting for more resources for all.

There was a recent furore in the UK tabloids that ‘nearly half of trans women in prisons might be sex offenders’. Might be. The data that these articles were based on came from ‘Fair Play for Women’ - an organisation who are specifically interested in excluding trans women from women’s spaces. As Owl Fisher points out in the article “A recent study claimed that 41 per cent of transgender prisoners are sex offenders – this is why it's false”, the report claims that at the time the study was made there were there were 113 trans women in prisons in England and Wales - whereas the Ministry of Justice records there being 70 trans identified prisoners in total (not just trans women). Fisher also observes a significant inaccuracy regarding the prisons they claim exclusively house sex offenders - and as records available to the public do not state what actual offences have been perpetrated, we can see that a lot of guess work has led to that ‘might be’.

As with the women’s refuges, risk assessment should dictate decisions regarding placement, rather than whether a woman is trans or not. Those decrying ‘men’ entering women’s prisons seem to overlook the fact that actual men are systemically present in women’s prisons in the form of prison guards - and that abusive sexual behaviour is all too common - as explained in Shon Faye’s excellently articulated article “If you really want women to be safe in prisons, it's not transgender prisoners you need to be wary of, which gives some much needed perspective on the issue of trans women in women’s prisons. 

What I’m really struggling with is this idea that changes in legislation that look to improve the lives of a vulnerable minority group can be framed as being in direct opposition to women’s rights. That trans women are being vilified to such an overwhelmingly hysterical degree that educated people who enjoy accusing the rest of us of ‘rejecting science’ for accepting trans women as women simultaneously cling on to outdated theories like Blanchard's autogynephilia theory to justify hyper-sexualising/fetishising the ‘motives’ of trans women (and totally ignore trans men). 

Blanchard’s case for the condition relies heavily on assuming that participants that didn’t fit his model - who conspicuously appeared in EVERY ONE of his studies - were lying to him. This echoes historic studies of homosexuality when participants were assumed to suffer from a depraved mental illness which would naturally also affect their ability to tell the truth. Throughout the history of investigating transgender tendencies, there seems to be a habitual lack of actually listening to the experiences of the people involved. Julia Serano beautifully annihilates the Autogynephilia theory via 'The real "autogynephilia deniers"' in which she lists six peer reviewed scientific articles (one of which is her own) that roundly relegate the theory to junk science history. 

The sexuality of trans women is being policed to such degree that any conversation that seeks to investigate their place in lesbian communities is twisted into an unpleasant hyperbolic caricature, unrecognisable as mature discourse. I’d like to think it would not be necessary for me to utterly condemn any form of sexual coercion between individuals based on any form of ideology whatsoever, but hey, this is the internet - and where the ‘cotton ceiling'  is concerned, woe betide anyone who enters the conversation who doesn’t want to be accused of being ‘rapey’. But if you want to read some clarification on the issue, The Advocate offer some perspective here.

I got a small look into this dumpster fire of a conversation when I recently found myself being told in no uncertain terms that I am not a lesbian if I am attracted to trans women. And it’s just, like, uhhh…really? Does this really feel like a worthwhile pursuit? A lesbian using their time and energy to aggressively tell another lesbian they are not a lesbian? Is this honestly where we are?  

Fear is being used to convince us that the progression of trans rights threaten our safety. We are familiar with the old trope, of painting the ‘enemy’ as a threat of sexual violence against women -  it is used to justify war, it is used to justify racism and it is being used here to justify transphobia. I’ve seen it claimed that trans rights are “the biggest threat to women right now” and well... wouldn’t life be awesome if that were true? Alas no.  The biggest threat to women right now is climate change (Why is Climate a Gender Issue), war (Women's Refugee Commission - Facts and Figures), austerity politics (Women bearing 86% of austerity burden, Commons figures reveal) and the toxic combination of capitalism and patriarchy under which ALL women suffer. The progression of trans rights is the progression of human rights. When we fight for equality we strengthen our intersectional alliances and increase our power to achieve common goals. 

I urge intersectional feminists to speak out against this distorted, divisive and hysterical anti-trans rhetoric. It’s subscibers do not speak for all women, and they do not speak for feminism.  And anyone who says women don’t have penises have obviously never looked in the trunk under my bed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an opera to write.