Be Yourself! But Not Like That!

A while ago, I tweeted something like this:

“Cis society: Be yourself!
Trans people: Yes, okay
Cis society: No, not like that!”
It’s been running through my head a lot since. I figured it deserves a blog post.

I see this as a sibling post to my often shared post about the pressure I feel as a bi person to “choose” to “be straight”… Because I feel a similar pressure to “choose” to be cis.

There is a very strong message that often comes from within trans communities as well as from cis society that says that being trans is so, so intrinsically awful that nobody would (or *should*) be trans if they could possibly avoid it. Indeed, many people spend months or years trying to convince themselves that they don’t want to transition when they actually do because of this very prevalent idea.

And just as with sexuality where most people will concede that some people can’t choose not to be gay, it’s understood that some people can’t be cis but it is frequently suggested that some people do have a choice – and that the “correct” choice is to be cis if at all possible.

I would be rich if I had a quid for every time someone tried to convince me that I should be able to live as a cis woman instead of as a trans man.
People told me (as if I somehow didn’t know) that women can dress in men’s clothes, that women can do and be anything men can, that it’s okay to be a lesbian, that it’s okay to be butch, that women can be androgynous and still be women… And I don’t disagree with any of these things! They just aren’t reasons why I should be someone I’m not.

I also frequently get told that I’d be “prettier” as a woman, that more men would be attracted to me if I lived as a woman, that more women would be attracted to me… And I don’t believe that. Authenticity is much more attractive than forced cisnormativity ever could be and even if it weren’t, I wasn’t born to be attractive I was born to be my best self.

The ways people have tried to convince me to stop being a man say a lot about why they think trans people transition. I’m not trying to become more attractive, I’m not looking at the clothes I want to wear and trying to make my identity “match” the side of the shop I find my clothes in. I don’t think that men are any better than women and I’m not trying to avoid homophobia. I know that women can be butch or androgynous – I’m not trying to escape one set of restrictive gender roles by fitting myself into another set.

I am, quite simply, trying to be myself.

While pretending to be a girl / woman made me deeply unhappy and caused me mental pain and anguish, that isn’t even really the reason I live as a man. I live as a man because THAT IS WHO I AM. There is no good reason why I should try to “be” anyone else but me.

Think about it, especially if you aren’t trans. Can you really imagine people telling you that who you are is wrong and you should be someone else instead? Imagine for a minute being told to act like someone else for the rest of your life and being told that the other made up, false “you” was actually more real than anything you thought or felt about who you are. Like going undercover or acting, say, but forever. It’d be doable, sure, but could you be happy? Could you be even satisfied with a lifetime of being someone else, even someone almost but not-quite like you? Or would the not-right-ness wear you down? Would the pressure of hiding anything that might blow your cover eat away at you? Would you be tempted to call it quits and just be yourself and hang the consequences?

I could, in theory at least, live as though I were a cis woman. But why on earth would I trade my integrity and authenticity for a thin veneer of cis privilege?

If you feel like you’re pretending to be someone else and you want to try being yourself, you don’t need to wait for the facade to be killing you to be “allowed” to drop it. Whether that’s a gender, a sexuality, a religion, a relationship, a career or something as simple as having a name that isn’t working for you, you don’t have to wait for things to feel completely intolerable to make a change. You deserve to be your self, with integrity and authenticity, right now.

I don’t need to earn the right to be myself or to suffer through every possible attempt to find a way to me kinda like myself but not trans before I can be the trans man that I am. No one should have to exhaust every other option before being who they are just because who they are is trans.

To expect otherwise (and many people do expect otherwise) is to insist that being cis or appearing to be cis is innately better than being trans. It’s not.

We all deserve to be ourselves. So don’t you dare tell me it’d be better if I was someone else instead.

For Gender Recognition For All People

I’ve tried to write this post dozens of times. Trying to explain why I, as someone who is broadly opposed to the entire concept of “legal gender”, spend so much time and effort trying to get the UK to recognise the genders of myself and my friends without first subjecting us to invasive and institutionally transphobic questioning. Why is this even important?

If no one were given a “legal gender” in the first place, I’d not want anyone to be given one. Since people are given gender assignments at birth and those are recorded and have legal consequences, I want them to be as easy to change or update as any other piece of information attached to an unwitting infant at birth is. It’s *assumed* that the name, race, ethnicity, religion, and, yes, gender ascribed to a newborn child will remain the same for most or all of that child’s life – yet these can and do change or are updated based on new information. All of these have important legal consequences (as do other ascribed “facts” such as the disability status and sexual orientation of a person) but updating your name, race, ethnicity or religion in government and non-government records is just as easy as updating your address – you don’t have to “prove” the accuracy of your new information to anyone, just tick a different box or write a new answer on a form and it’s done. You can update these things as frequently as you need to and you’re the sole arbiter of their accuracy. If you say you’re White British, Christian and called Jonte Abellard then you are. Yet if Jonte Abellard is trans, it doesn’t matter what gender he says he is – the government want to insist he’s whatever gender he was assigned as a baby unless he convinces a panel of government appointed strangers that he’s done enough to earn his gender.

And that’s the crux of the matter for me. Any system of gender recognition that automatically accepts genders handed to newborns as accurate until rigorously proven otherwise makes gender into something that people can’t be trusted to figure out for themselves. It takes autonomy away from people and gives this part of their identity away to others to determine for them. It takes the genders of cis people as well as trans people and makes them into something requiring an external opinion – your gender isn’t yours to determine in any place that treats gender as something that needs medical “proof” of any kind.

Your gender is yours. Mine is mine. Nobody else should get to decide it for us. Almost everywhere in the world, including the UK, you don’t have the final say on what your gender is – some combination of doctors and bureaucrats do. And that’s not okay and shouldn’t be acceptable, never mind normal.

There have been times and places where doctors and bureaucrats have been allowed to decide what race people were – with legal consequences such as who they can marry. There still are places where bureaucrats get to decide what religion people are – with legal consequences such as who they can marry. Here in the UK, I can’t marry *anyone* unless I either call myself a woman (which I’m not) or I get the UK government to agree that I am a man first (by subjecting myself to medical and bureaucratic scrutiny and consenting to be listed in a government list of the current and former identities of transgender people). By not only recording but also deciding these parts of people’s identities, states more or less assert ownership and control of people’s identities – controlling who you are allowed to be and who you are allowed to become.

The more difficult it is to change the identities we are handed as children, the more fixed and “natural” they appear. Making it difficult to assert an identity that we have claimed for ourselves while simultaneously making it easy to keep the identities ascribed to us by needless bureaucracy gives the bureaucratic identity a sheen of permanence that it has never earned. Even while I live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year as a man, with “he” pronouns, socially accepted by my peers as a man, my gender listed as Male on the census, my NHS records, my academic records, my benefits records… the government of the UK doesn’t see that as a reason to think I’m a man. I don’t get to be a man in their eyes until and unless I apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate and my application is successful. This effectively means that there is nothing I can do myself to change the “Female” gender assigned to me – even being a man doesn’t disqualify me in any way. Yet if I apply for a GRC, use of names or pronouns deemed not sufficiently masculine could prevent my male gender from being recognised. So could things like being pregnant or breastfeeding, not wanting surgeries, having a “feminine” job… any little thing that suggests that I might not aspire to cis male masculinity. Being a man apparently isn’t reason enough to alter the records to show I’m not a cis woman but any sign of woman-ish qualities could prevent me being recognised as a man. This is a hugely unjust double standard.

I write about gender recognition a lot and I don’t doubt that I’ll continue to do so. Until gender is recognised by self-definition alone, allowing everyone free and equal access to a simple process to change or update their gender information as often as they need to (whether that’s “never” or “a hundred times”) I’m going to keep insisting that we deserve better. Because we do.

Links to my previous posts on gender recognition:
Whose Gender Is It Anyway?
Write to your MP about Gender Recognition

Equal Marriage? Not Really

Social Care Update!

In my last really personal post, I talked about how reablement services can be (are) really abusive and gaslight-y and how I was told that my care needs had been found to be “moderate” rather than “substantial” or “critical” so I was to be left with no care and no support to find any… Well, I was very brave and I complained to the council. I was prepared to fight, to take it right to the top and get the press or my MP or the Care Quality Commission involved if need be. The council saw that my complaint was very serious. They reinstated my reablement care and appointed me a different and more senior assessor who listened to me and took my (quite severe) mental health problems into account.

Quite a lot more was written onto my new assessment form. A support worker came to my assessment to help me talk about the very difficult and distressing details of what care I need and why. My new assessment, full of details about my mental and physical ill health, was taken back to the council and I was (finally) awarded long term care.

From the beginning of next week, I will have people making sure I eat and wash and look after myself. I’ll even have someone to come round and help me keep my bedroom tidy. With the assurance that I will be prevented from neglecting myself with regard to these basic needs, I feel like I have a foundation upon which to base myself as I try to build a life in my new city. Knowing each day that I definitely will eat an evening meal and when that will be, keeping myself and my surroundings reasonably clean, with these things taken care of I can do anything – write a novel, get a voluntary job, survive the therapy waiting list, go to social events… maybe even get on a bus to somewhere I’ve never been. Without support, those basic needs quickly stop getting met and I have no foundation on which to build a life of new experiences, of practising and learning old and new skills, a life in which happiness is not a fleeting dream but a real possibility.

Less than a hour’s support a day makes that much of a difference to me. Without it, just surviving is incredibly difficult; with it, a life full of wonders becomes possible.

When your council next cuts support for adult social care, as councils regularly do, think about me. Less than £10 a day of council money is for me and many others like me, literally a world of difference.

Whose gender is it anyway?

I’ve deliberately chosen an amusing title because the topic I’m writing about isn’t remotely amusing for those of us caught up in it. Gender recognition is something I’ve blogged about on yetanotherlefty before and some of what I write here will be a repeat of things I already said in March. Once again, there is news that has prompted this post. This time the news is that Denmark is joining Argentina and becoming the second country to have gender recognition for trans people based on self-definition with no requirement for medical interventions, proof of social transition or any other criteria beyond a declaration of membership of another gender. From September 2014, people in Denmark will be able to have their gender recognised provided they are over 18. The system seems to involve filling in a form declaring the wish for gender recognition followed by a 6 month waiting period (in case people change their mind) after which the person’s gender is legally recognised in Denmark. This will make Denmark’s Gender Recognition process the best in the European Union and the second-best in the world. The only country to have a better Gender Recognition process is Argentina – there is no lower age limit, allowing transgender and/or intersex children to re-register themselves as an appropriate gender provided they are capable of understanding what they are doing and the process takes just one form, recognising each person as the only true authority on their gender without requiring the intervention of doctors or psychiatrists. Whilst Argentina and Denmark are world leader in gender recognition and their progressive and modern laws are advocated as examples of best practice by Amnesty International, there are still notable difficulties with both laws. Not least among these is that, so far as I am aware, neither country allows the choice of any gender other than “Male/Man/Boy” or “Female/Woman/Girl”. While there are countries that do offer legal recognition of other genders (India being the most notable example) many of those allow only for trans people to switch between being recognised as their incorrect birth gender to a third option (such as Transgender, Other or Indeterminate) which for many trans men and women is just as inaccurate.

Having laid out to the best of my understanding what the international situation is, I will now briefly discuss the current situation in the UK. Whilst a person can change their name instantly and for free in the UK, can (in theory if not always in practice) change the gender on their NHS record on request and (again, more in theory than in practice) change their gender on college/Uni records, bank accounts and at other organisations with just a letter and happily tick or not tick either, neither or both gender boxes on the census however best represents their identity, changing the gender recorded on a passport, birth certificate and/or as recorded with HMRC, starts to include requirements for medical evidence. To change the gender recorded on a passport, you need a letter from a Doctor saying that you have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, that you have begun living in your new gender and that you intend to continue to do so for the rest of your life. This letter can be from any doctor and may or may not cost money. A GP can write it but may not want to if they don’t feel like they know enough about transgender people (there really isn’t much to know but this still happens). Many people have to get to a gender specialist, either privately at some cost or via the NHS which is chronically beset by delays and unlawfully long waiting lists, before they find someone willing to write this letter, meaning months and even years living with a passport that cannot be used as ID.
Changing the gender recorded with HMRC involves getting an updated birth certificate. This requires a person to provide evidence of two or more years of social transition, including continuous use of a “gender appropriate” name in addition to TWO doctor’s reports, one from a gender specialist, detailing a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder and details of any treatment undergone and/or explanation of why further treatment has not occurred. The implication here is that, while treatment is technically not necessary for Gender Recognition in the UK, not having had certain treatments will prejudice the Gender Recognition Panel against you. It is commonly (yet quietly) advised that at least one of the doctor’s reports state that you are “waiting for the standard of surgery to improve” or that you “intend to have x, y, z surgeries within the next few years but these have not yet been scheduled” whether you actually intend to have surgery or not. In addition of the “proof” that you changed your name permanently two years or more ago, the two doctor’s reports and the form itself, a statutory declaration that you are X, formerly Y, you are over 18, have been living in your gender for two or more years and intend to continue to do so for the rest of your life and that you are not currently married OR, if you are married, that you are married. In that case you also need a statutory declaration from your spouse that they consent to the marriage continuing. If you’ve spent off ALL OF THAT, plus an administration fee, then a panel of strangers will review your case and either accept or reject your application. After all of that, this panel of complete strangers can and sometimes DO reject your application – which you still have to pay for. Compared the UK, Denmark’s law sounds like paradise for trans people!

The hope is that the UK will follow or even expand on the example set by Denmark and Argentina, as they clearly show that the sheer amount of fuss, bureaucracy and intrusion of privacy required by the UK’s Gender Recognition act is simply unnecessary and, to put it as politely as I can, damn near inhumane.

I return to the question I titled this blog with: Whose gender is it anyway? The UK’s current system makes it incredibly clear that my gender does not belong to me, but to doctors, solicitors and to the state. The state can and will employ people purely to examine and judge the gender of its people. This is wrong and grossly unfair. My gender belongs to me and me alone, it is part of my identity and should not be decided or imposed upon me by anyone else. In my ideal world, no state* would even think to record the gender of its people, seeing this as just as ridiculous as recording whether people were “Black”, “White” or “Coloured” or registering every person’s religion from a state-approved list (yes I know these both are things that have happened and do happen). Why record everyone a gender from a state approved list and make them jump through hoops to change that registration? Yet whilst registering of genders is a thing, it is important to make it as easy as possible for a person to re-register as another gender, with many different options available to all and no requirements for “proof” of anything beyond that the person wishes to re-register and understands any consequences.

* Okay, I ideally wouldn’t want there to be any states at all but assuming there are states then…

Hope

I actually said it out loud today and because I wasn’t immediately told to shut up, I’m going to dare to say it online too.

I am so disabled by my various impairments (I counted and I have ten different disabling conditions and illnesses so far) that whether or not I will ever be able to work a full time paid job or work for money at all is in doubt. Like pretty much all children, it was always assumed when I was growing up that as an adult I would work and earn wages. There was no question of “if” I would work, only “what” I would attempt to get employed to do. Now there is a question of “if” I will ever be able to work and, whilst some days that uncertainty fills me with fear, much of the time I actually find it quite…. Freeing.

Yes. I did just say that. Being chronically ill and disabled is painful and upsetting but still gives me a freedom that I could never have if I was still tied to the notion of working for money. Give me somewhere to live and enough food to eat and I will do so much more with my life than I could if I had to work full time. I will write and I will make friends and I will fall in love and I will parent children. I will help people, I will try to make the world a better place.

Being free of the expectation of work makes me feel free to be and do whatever I need. Free to disregard assumptions about what adult men are supposed to be like and follow my own hobbies, my own dreams – no matter how others might see them. My future is massively uncertain, and yes that scares me, but from that uncertainty I draw hope.

Hope that I can craft for myself and those I love a life that is joyful and full of caring and love. Hope that despite the ridiculously unlucky hand I was dealt in life that I can play that hand beautifully. Hope that I can continue to have the strength to disregard other people’s ideas of who I should be and how I should live and live a life as unconventional as I am.

I don’t always feel like this and I’m surprised to be feeling this way whilst writing my PIP form. But I know that disability is far from all bad. I love the people I’ve met through being disabled, I love the ingenuity and creativity we as disabled people tend to develop as we navigate a world that wasn’t built for us, I love how strong and tenacious we become and our sheer audacity in continuing to demand lives that we can live not merely survive.
Being chronically ill and mentally ill may have taken away the life I thought I was going to lead – but it left more than just nothing in its place. I have been left with the challenge of creating a life around myself that suits me and mine.

When I’m struggling, I hope I can remember that this is what I’m fighting for. Not an ordinary life, not someone else’s idea of a “normal life” but a life for ME, a life that I can live.