Gender Recognition: Our Absolutely Non-Negotiable Terms

I know I’ve talked about Gender Recognition before. And I know I’ve promised to write about my research that recently shows that I, along with hundreds of other UK based adults, essentially CANNOT GET MARRIED but I’m still dealing with my own emotional response to being told I either have to be okay with being misgendered at my wedding, misgendered on my civil partnership certificate, elope to Scotland or… well, or get my gender recognised at both considerable financial cost and by submitting myself to bureaucratic torture. And allow my name to be added to a secret government list of trans people. Just so I can safely and legally get married to the person I want to marry. Read this by D H Kelly  or any of my many previous posts on the topic to get an idea of how difficult and expensive and transphobic the current system is. There’s apparently going to be a consultation “in the Autumn” so now seems like a good time to write down our lines in the sand – those things that are absolutely necessary and not negotiable.

For any Gender Recognition system to work at all it must be:

  • Available to all ages, including children.
  • Available to all people, including those who are not citizens
  • Free or extremely low cost
  • Available for every gender and none
  • Possibility of having more than one gender legally recognised as the genders of one person
  • Possible to change over and over again with no limits on how many times or how often
  • Based entirely on self-definition with no medical opinions, no length-of-time-you-must-be-out first and no panel with the ability to refuse to recognise someone’s gender
  • Everyone who has a gender recognition application currently waiting to be seen by the Gender Recognition Panel should be approved for gender recognition right away, before the new self-definition method starts – they’ve waited long enough
  • No veto power given to spouses, parents or anyone other than the individual whose gender needs to be updated
  • No records kept of who updated their gender and when.
  • The destruction of the current Gender Recognition Register and apologies (and compensation) to those whose information was stored in it
  • Updated birth certificates available as quickly and simply as possible and at the same cost as obtaining a copy of any birth certificate
  • Immediate ability to marry in the updated gender (if adults otherwise able to marry)
  • Immediate ability to have updated marriage or civil partnership certificates, change from a marriage to a civil partnership or vice versa or update names and genders of parents on a child’s birth certificate
  • The minimum possible number of people and pieces of paper should be involved to update a gender. Ideally, one would be able to update your own gender by writing a letter to HMRC but I would also accept a deed poll like system (see below).
  • A legal assumption that a person’s gender is what they say it is regardless of what their paperwork says and paperwork only required for the tiny number of occasions when one’s gender is legally relevant

In the UK, we currently treat names very much like I wish we treated gender. Your name is whatever you say it is, you are assumed to be named whatever you say you are named, you can have more than one name and you can change it instantly and easily as often as you like. Where it is legally relevant exactly what your name is, you might need paperwork. Updating your paperwork name can be done instantly with one piece of paper and a witness or two. No courts, no fee, no solicitor required. Even changing the name of a child can be done without a court or a solicitor if everyone with parental responsibility agrees to the change. Although deed polls don’t change birth certificates, the mechanisms to change information recorded on birth certificates does exist – if your parents marry after you were born, even decades afterwards they can still re-register your birth to show them as married and change your birth name to their married name if that’s different from what your birth certificate says your name is. It’s not that the structures needed to update names and genders on birth certificates on request don’t exist – it’s really that the people behind some of the current laws on gender recognition and on marriage would really like to make it very difficult for trans people to legally exist as ourselves.

Other things I really, really want to happen but am not sure should be considered absolutely essential:

  • EVERY BIRTHING PARENT be given the option to be listed as “Parent”, “Mother” or “Father” on their child’s birth certificate (currently you have to be a “Mother” if you give birth, even if you are legally male). Same for the other parent.
  • Any adult of any gender(s) be legally able to marry any other non-related adult regardless of their gender(s). This would require significant changes to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act which long time readers will know I advocated for *before that bill was passed*. Unfortunately, the Act doubles down on making marriage gendered and essentially created “ManWithWoman Marriage” and “Same Sex Couple Marriage” as two different, still separate institutions.
  • Phasing out recording sex at birth in the first place. This would really, really solve a lot of problems for everyone and one state or another is going to have to go first. If we stopped assigning people legal genders, we’d eventually no longer need to have structures in place to update those genders. People would have genders in the same way they currently have races and religions – by ticking boxes on the census and on equality monitoring forms without anyone telling them they’re wrong if one year they start to tick a different box.
  • No step between “Fill in this form” and “Get your records updated”. Currently you have to wait to receive your Gender Recognition Certificate and then use that to get a new birth certificate. That doesn’t seem at all necessary and has lead to a lot of orgs demanding (illegally) to see your GRC before they’ll update your gender records
  • Give all trans people the protection of privacy that GRCs are supposed to give to just some of us. If it’s against the law to out some of us as trans, it should be for all of us with or without a piece of paper
  • Honestly I wish they would fire every single person in the civil service who came up with the Spousal Veto
  • Updating your gender to no longer be considered grounds for divorce (and preferably for the UK to get “no fault” divorce already) or grounds for a celebrant to refuse to marry someone

Please think about how much the current system must suck if I can put some of this stuff into “Nice to have” instead of “absolutely essential”. Some of those could easily go into “Absolutely Essential” and that’s where some other people are going to want to put them. Other people are likely going to look at my list of “Absolutely Necessary and Non-Negotiable” and think “We’re never actually going to get all of that” and will demand the much less they feel we’re actually likely to get. If you are that way inclined, please don’t. Please don’t drop trans children’s or nonbinary trans people’s needs so that binary trans adults might get ours. Please don’t settle for a system that’s LESS traumatic rather than one that’s NOT traumatic or one where fewer people get a say on your gender but you still don’t get to assert it yourself.
We might not get the sort of system I’m asking for but if we don’t AIM to get a radical, self-definition only, updates to certificates etc on demand for everyone, no fucking secret list of trans people, all genders and all ages system then we will guarantee that we don’t get one. Aim for the best not what you think you can get away with. Please.

There’s a consultation coming up. We’re not sure when yet. When it does, please, please make all of these demands as clearly as you can. Our genders are ours and the government has no right to dictate them to us.

And I really think I’d like to get married without misgendering myself. Please, I need your help to make that even possible.

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.

Where Babies Come From: A Lesson For All Tories, Whether Blue, Yellow or Red

Contains: multiple references to sex, pregnancy, birth control,brief description of birth

I’m writing you all this lesson because you recently voted for, abstained on or were absent from a Bill that will limit Child Tax Credits to two children per family from 2017 and in doing so have shown that you clearly don’t understand how children happen.

Children are small people who are not yet adults. They require adults called “parents” (or guardians) to look after them, feed them, clothe them and love them until they reach adulthood. Adults are people over the age of 18, they are generally fully grown and somewhat capable of looking after themselves. As MPs, you are all adults, whether you can behave like adults or not. When people are very, very young, they are called “babies”. Babies rely on their parents for everything and cannot look after themselves even a little bit. Neither babies nor children can work and much time and money must be spent by the parents to ensure the survival and development of their children. Before you complain that all these non-working babies and children are clearly “scrounging” of their parents and the state, I must remind you that ALL adults were once babies and unless there are new babies there will be no adult workforce in the future. So even Tories like you should love babies and children because even if you can’t see the point of them now, they have the potential to grow up to be “hard-working tax-payers” and you love those.

Right, okay, here’s how babies happen: Adults have sex with each other.

If they don’t use birth control methods or those methods fail and one of the adults has a working uterus and another of those adults produces sperm, the adult with a uterus can become pregnant. Pregnancy is when a new baby begins growing inside a person’s uterus. The baby grows inside there for many months and is then pushed out of the person’s vagina or cut out of the person’s uterus by doctors. Once this has happened, the new baby has human rights, including a right to life. The person/people who take the baby home and name them and care for them and love them is/are the baby’s parent/s.

An arrangement of one or more adults living with one or more children and babies they love and care for is called a “family”. Usually, the family will contain at least one of the adults who had the sex that made the baby begin; sometimes it doesn’t. So: babies come from sex. I’m assuming you all know what sex is? It’s when adults play with each other’s genitals together because it feels good. Got it?

Sex is pleasureable, it’s fun and it’s free. Any collection of consenting adults can play, it’s cooperative, it can fill whole days or fit into a lunch break… It’s something that lots of people do in their spare time. (Spare time, in case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, is time not spent working, sleeping or travelling). People like sex. People are going to have sex – especially if they can’t afford other forms of leisure, like TV, cinema, sports, arts and crafts, tourist attractions, computer games, shopping, the internet, going to cafes and restaurants… When you’re poor, sex is one of the few pleasures that’s still affordable. And sex can make babies.

There are ways to have sex without making babies. And I believe completely that people are using them. But none are perfect. All take time to find and get hold of, many cost money. All require knowing where you can find accurate information on how to use them and where to go to get them for free or low costs. It’s no surprise that people sometimes end up with an unexpected pregnancy. Pregnancies tend to lead to babies.

And babies need love and care (which is free) and milk and clothes and bottles and cots and nappies and toys and prams (which cost money). Until the baby is 5, a parent will have to stay with the baby almost constantly and will thus not be able to work. If/when the parent does go into work, the baby will need to be left with childminders – who need to be paid. The baby needs what they need regardless of whether their parent has enough money saved to provide for those needs or not. This is why Child Tax Credits are paid to families in the first place – so that all babies and children have a decent quality of life, with their needs met, no matter who their parents are or how much money they saved, no matter whether someone had sex with the intention of causing them or they came about without anyone intending them.

Child tax credits were for every child regardless of how many siblings they had too. Because a first child and a third or fifth or twelfth all deserve the same dignity and the same shot at a half-decent life. They all equally deserve enough food to eat, clothes to wear, warm beds, school equipment and, YES, toys to play with and books to read. Because they all have human rights and not one of them asked to be born or played any part in bringing themselves about.

So, when I hear your “reasoning” for what is essentially a cap on two children per family is to “encourage responsible behaviour”, what I hear is: “We want to punish poor children for their parents having sex”.

Make no mistake, this doesn’t reward or encourage anyone, this cap is a punishment. And it punishes innocent children because some adults had sex – which is not itself illegal, immoral, harmful or wrong. So why punish anyone for it?

And why leave middle class and upper class people unpunished for the same actions you deem so irresponsible from people like me? While they won’t get the Tax Credits for their third and fourth children either, they will still be able to feed and clothe them even if not to the standard their first child enjoyed. No millionaire will be over-worried by an unexpected new member of the family while every poor family will be terrified of broken condoms and accidentally missed pills.

You might as well admit it. This was never about the money – children start paying tax from shortly after birth through parents and family buying things for them – this is about keeping us poors from having sex as often as you imagine we do. And it’s about keeping us thinking always about whether we are affordable, thinking of ourselves and our families as “burdens” on a state once designed to support us, a state that would grind to a halt without our labour and our purchases. A state that wants us thinking about our bank balances instead of enjoying ourselves while we have sex.

You’re Not Homophobic But… Actually, Yes You Are

About a week and a half ago, the Supreme court of the United States of America declared that all States had to have marriage available to same gender couples as well as mixed gender couples. And this is probably a good move even though I think a lot of other things would have been much more important to secure for LGBTQ people… but that can always be a different post.

This post is about the rise in online homophobia I’ve seen since the court ruling. Not just the people literally resigning their jobs, threatening to get divorced and crying on camera over how unfair it is to them that people like me have a chance to do something that they have enjoyed relatively freely for decades. Not just them but also the people likely to start a sentence with “I’m not homophobic but..”
But “I don’t accept gay “marriage””
But “Homosexuality is wrong”
But “marriage is between a man and a woman”
But “I don’t think same sex couples should be allowed to marry”
But “Same sex relationships aren’t, like, REAL relationships so why do you need to marry?”
But “I don’t want to explain this to my children”
But “Gay couples can’t have kids so they don’t need marriage like straight couples do”
But “I believe homosexuality is sinful but we can still be friends”

But but but but but…

All these and more have been thrown at me and mine recently online. Often while those same people insist that they believe all humans are equal and bullying and attacking LGBT people is wrong and something they would never, ever do…

But. These people are being homophobic – and often seeking out their gay and bi friends in order to explain to us that while they think *who and what we are* and *who and how we love* are wrong, false, immoral or lesser but we should know that they still love *us*. Just not, y’know, a major facet of who we are and a huge portion of our life.

To spell out clearly why this is homophobic, let’s put it this way:
If you believe that
a) Marriage exists and people should be able to get married
and b) Marriage affords social protections and advantages to married couples and their family
and/or c) Marriage is a way of celebrating the love shared between a couple
and you also believe d) Marriage is only for couples containing one man and one woman

then it follows that you must also believe either that same gender couples don’t need those social protections and advantages or that the love between members of a same sex couple doesn’t deserve celebrating (or worse, isn’t love).

Why would I want to be friends with someone who likely thinks my love for another man doesn’t deserve to recognised and celebrated as love but my love for a woman would? Or who thought my love for a woman should grant me and her advantages over other couples who weren’t man-woman pairs? This question isn’t rhetorical, I really want to know.

I love and have loved other men. I love and have loved women. I love and have loved nonbinary people. My love for current and ex partners who are women doesn’t feel to me to be of any different, special or unusual character compared to my love for current and ex partners who were not women. Society is/was less disgusted and less intrigued by my relationships with women than it is/was by my relationships with men, yes but the actual love and the actual relationships I don’t experience as substantially different by gender.
And when people tell me that loving men as a man is wrong or it’s okay but I shouldn’t be able to marry or it’s okay but not in public… I feel like they are telling me that my love for other men is different, somehow lesser, less real, less important, less worthy; just LESS than my love for women. And it’s not.

My love for women doesn’t need a pedestal to celebrate its social acceptability. My love for other men doesn’t need to be kept behind closed closet doors.

I’m not all that keen on the idea of marriage itself but when you tell me that the gender of the people I fall in love with should determine whether or not we can marry, what I hear you say is “I’m not homophobic but I think your relationships with other men just aren’t love”

Religious Abuse

I’ve tried to write this post many,many times and I never manage it because there are parts of my past I still find too desperately painful to write about. But right now I’m seeing both atheists blaming Christianity (or more often “religion”) as a whole for the tragic and avoidable death of Leelah Alcorn and Christians insisting Leelah and others like her could be saved if they only found a different (but still Christian) church or community to be part of, that they ones they are in aren’t “real” Christians and real Christians will love and accept trans youth for who they are… And I need to say something.

I need to say something because I and other trans people, from children to old people and every age in between, have been subjected to religiously motivated abuse from people who “disagree” with our lived realities as trans people. I need to say something because responding to that abuse is NOT as simple as “find another Church” or “stop believing in God”. BOTH of those reactions – and others – can be good decisions for a particular person experiencing religiously-motivated abuse but neither is as easy or as likely to help as those suggesting them as a general solution appear to think.

To those suggesting to hurt and vulnerable people that they just stop going to church or find a different church or stop believing in God, I want you to know:

With very, very few exceptions, anyone who recognises that they are being harmed in the name of a religion is *already aware* that there are multiple branches of their religion. With even fewer exceptions, they are likely already aware that atheism/ agnosticism exists.

Telling someone to just leave an abusive community – whether or not you suggest an alternative community to leave to – is pretty much *exactly* like telling someone to leave an abusive relationship or family. The person in the abusive situation likely knows better than you what harmful consequences would occur if they tried to leave and what they would need to have in place in order to leave – if you’re not offering practical and *unconditional* support to leave saying “There are other options” is close to useless.

Going to reiterate that on UNCONDITIONAL support. If you only plan on being there for someone *after* they take the leap out of an abusive religious community and not while they are still in it and trying to figure out what to do, your support is not really support. Same goes if you only intend to support someone if they make the choice *you* think is best – that’s not support, it’s paternalism. If you want to help people in these kinds of situations, you have to show that you care about them no matter what and you trust them to try their best to do what’s best for them.

Religion often isn’t “just” a belief system – it can be a huge part of a person’s life and identity. It can be their main or only community and family. Leaving one particular Church could potentially mean never seeing almost all your friends and family again – it’s not up to you to decide whether or not that risk is “worth it” for someone else.

You can’t look at a person and see how strongly they feel about their religion or what it means to them or what parts are and aren’t important to them. Telling a Catholic that Unitarians exist and welcome LGBT people is not helpful if the Trinity is spiritually meaningful to that Catholic. Telling an agnostic Jew to give up Jewish rituals that are important to her because her family refuses to accept her gender wouldn’t be helpful either.

Don’t argue scripture with people uninvited. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Don’t argue about scriptural interpretation or different ways of looking at certain passages or practices without explicit consent to do so. More likely than not, they are getting plenty enough of this within their community / family. Make sure they know that YOU will respect their boundaries and won’t try to force them into discussion.

To those who find themselves experiencing a conflict between who they are and what their religious community teaches, I want you to know:

 

First, you’re not alone. Lots of people all over the world, of many different faiths (and occasionally atheists brought up within the moral codes of a religion) are in the same position as you. It’s difficult and there are tough choices to be made but whatever you choose, someone else is doing the same – and maybe with the help of the internet you can find them.

Second: it’s okay if you don’t want to call what’s happening to you “abuse” – and it’s okay if you do want to. Trying to rationalise what’s happening to you by telling yourself that people are just trying to help you or that they don’t know that what they’re doing / saying is harmful is okay too. If it helps you survive, think and feel anything about the people hurting you – they can’t control what you think or feel even if they want to.

The position you are in – seemingly forced to make a choice between your*self* and your religion – is an extremely difficult and complex situation to be in. It’s unfair and it’s wrong and it’s NOT your fault this is happening to you. Anything you can do to keep your self safe and alive is an okay response to this situation.

Staying closeted or going back into the closet can hurt you but as a short to medium term response it can be a good choice.
Being out only with or around particular people and not in general or in specific places can be a good choice.
Keeping your own beliefs in your head and performing the religious practices of the community you are in until you can safely get out can be a good choice.
Losing your belief in God or changing religion can be very scary – it can also be the right thing for you to do.
Finding a way to stay in your religion and still be open about who you are is also likely an option. It might be the best option for you. It also might not.
Leaving and then going back is okay. Leaving and never going back is okay. Drifting in and out of belief in God is okay.
Griefing over losing a religion or belief in God is okay. Not feeling grief at all is okay.
Staying and trying to change things is okay. Burning bridges is also okay.
Wishing you could go back is okay. Being glad to never go back is okay.
There is NO one right way to deal with this.

You are going to need friends. Friends within *and* outside of your religion. Look for groups for people of your religion who are trans / LGBT, look for groups for people who *used to* belong to your religion but left. Make friends that have nothing to do with your religion. Make friends outside of your community so you know that if you do decide to leave, you won’t lose all your friends.

Find someone to talk to about your feelings. Get an outsider viewpoint if you can. Find someone sympathetic who won’t push their own solutions on you – a helpline for people in distress might be a good place to start.

If you are a child / teen, remember that you soon won’t be and you’ll be able to choose your own place to live, study, worship and your own therapists and support when you’re an adult. If your parents or school *aren’t* religious / are supportive of trans and LGB people, they might be able to help you find a supportive adult to listen to you now.

Talk scripture if you want to, don’t if you don’t. I can happily discuss why Judaism is a good religion for me but I still feel terrified and ashamed if people try to discuss Christian responses to trans and LGB issues with me because of stuff that happened to me when I thought I was Christian. You don’t owe ANYONE an explanation of why you do or don’t attend certain services or do or don’t believe certain things.

And finally:
Whatever you feel about and however you experience your gender and/or sexuality is real. Nothing and nobody can take it from you. I and thousands like me will believe you instantly and completely if you say “I am trans” or “I am a woman” or “I have no gender”. No one else can tell you how you feel about yourself, only you know and only you can say. Nobody can make you become someone you aren’t – not even you. Whether it will be easy or difficult for you to find a way to live as your self, there are thousands of us who want to help and support you to do it – whatever you think and feel about God or religion and whether you want to stay in a particular faith or not.

You deserve to be happy and to live your life authentically. Yes, you.

To my fellow men with love

This post has been a long time coming. I was working on it in my head for weeks before some guy decided to go on a killing spree because “hot girls” didn’t fancy him. In the wake of that, it didn’t feel appropriate to publish a post like this, not while people were still mourning, not while every woman I know was feeling terrified that any of the men in their lives might secretly think like that guy… women were hurting and their needs ultimately came first. Yet the aftermath of that tragedy showed me that this post had to be written, that men and boys had to be presented with another, better, truer view of the women and girls in their lives. The post below draws on stuff that I already tweeted about on the #AllMenCan hashtag and it’s stuff that men and boys need to hear.

So, here it is. From man to man, I want to teach you some things that you maybe already know or half-know or maybe never learned before at all. If you didn’t already know this stuff, that’s not your fault but it doesn’t mean you’re excused from learning it now. Every man, whether heterosexual, gay, bi, queer or asexual, cis or trans, young or old, needs to learn these things and practice them until they are as natural to him as breathing.
Why? Because every single one of us knows at least one woman or girl and every woman and girl deserves to be surrounded by people who treat her with respect and dignity. Why? Because all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and it seems that men, as a group, have been taught that we don’t have to respect women. We can and must change this for the better – not just for the women and girls in our lives but also for ourselves.

Here are the lessons you need to learn:

1. Women are people.

Not only if you find them attractive or only if you find them unattractive. Each and every woman you meet in your life is an individual with her own desires and her own goals and her own life. This likely doesn’t surprise you but I want you to really, really keep it in mind whenever you interact with a woman – from the barista to the cute woman on the bus to your girlfriend to your mother. Every woman is unique and has her own independent life going on. The extent to which her life is going to involve *you* cannot be decided by you alone, only by you and her together.

2. Women are all unique and different from each other.
Because women are all different and unique, anyone trying to teach you tricks or skills for interacting with women (particularly for dating women or initiating sexual relationships with women) is selling you snake oil. To be blunt, they either don’t know what they are talking about or they know they’re telling you bullshit and are hoping to gain something by getting you to fall for it. Treat ANY dating advice that claims to work on all or most people of one gender only with extreme SUSPICION. While there are some very general skills for interacting with *people* you can learn, skills that are gender-specific and dating-specific are few and far between. If you think you may need help (and indeed even if you don’t think you do) I recommend Dr Nerdlove, Captain Awkward and Real Social Skills as good places to start looking.

3. Sometimes women don’t fancy you and you’ve got to be okay with that
If a woman (or any other person) doesn’t like you or isn’t interested in you in the way you’d like her to be, there is likely nothing you can do to change that and you shouldn’t try. I know this is hard to hear but it has to be said. No matter how much you like her, she doesn’t have to like you back or date you or give you “a chance”. You remember how she’s got her own independent life and goals? If she doesn’t want to spend time with you, she doesn’t have to. If you’ve ever been assigned a “friend” by a parent or teacher who you didn’t actually like, you’ll see why. Hanging out with someone you don’t want to hang out with is no fun – can you imagine dating someone you don’t like? That doesn’t sound fun either and if you insist someone give you “a chance” that’s what you’re asking them to do.

4. Nobody owes you.

Friendship, love, romance, sex, dates and social time are all great and I hope you experience lots of these throughout your life. However, nobody owes you them. You can ask people if they’d like to share them with you but you can’t demand them from anyone or take them without asking. These things can only really exist if everyone involved wants to be there, with those people, sharing that experience, at that time. It’s mutual and consensual and that means that it stops the second someone involved wants it to stop – even if you’d rather continue. This applies to every person you ever meet, whatever their gender or relationship to you. And it applies to you too! If you’re not feeling it any more, sex or a date or a friendship or a relationship can stop. You don’t owe it to anyone to continue and they don’t owe that to you either.

5. “No” means “No” not “I secretly hate you” or “You are objectively undateable”
This one follows one from lesson 4. Remember how you can ask people to share experiences with you (like a date or a friendship or a sex act or even to get married) but not *demand* those things? The difference between asking and demanding is that you have to be able to hear and accept a “No”.
A “No” to, say, “Would you like to go on a date with me?” can be upsetting to hear and it’s okay to be upset. The slightly more difficult lesson to learn here is not to read loads of things into that “No” that aren’t there. If someone doesn’t want to go on a date with you, that means she doesn’t want to date you. It does NOT mean that she also secretly hates you or she thinks you’re ugly or undateable. If she later says “Yes” to an offer of a date from another man, that doesn’t mean she thinks he’s better than you objectively, just that *right now* she individually is interested in going on a date with him. As a unique person with her own tastes and her own life, she gets to make her own choices – even if you don’t like those choices or can’t understand them. She is not a stand-in for “all women” so her not wanting to date you tells you absolutely nothing about whether *other* women might want to date you.

6. “No” means “No” not “Talk me into it”

If you ask for something from someone or offer someone something and they say “No”, respect that. No matter what your genders or your relationship or their age. You cannot argue someone into wanting something they don’t want and it’s inappropriate to abusive to try. If someone doesn’t want to come to your houseparty, accept that. If someone doesn’t reply to your message on a dating site or replies saying she doesn’t want to talk to you, accept that. Read Captain Awkward’s Guide To Dating for more on this. Where this links with the previous lesson is so important I’m going to make it into its own lesson.

7. YOU CANNOT PERSUADE SOMEONE INTO BEING ATTRACTED TO YOU.

Sorry for the allcaps but this is important. Attraction, whether romantic or sexual or both, is a feeling. Feelings are not things you can talk someone into or out of. Trying to persuade someone to feel a certain way about you or to persuade someone that you know how they feel about you better than they do is wrong and abusive. I can see why it’s tempting (like, I am gorgeous and awesome so why wouldn’t people be attracted to me?… because they are individuals with their own separate independent thoughts and feelings that’s why) but please never do this. And if anyone ever tries to do it to you and you notice it, please run. Either they are a bit clueless and going to learn the hard way that you can’t make people feel things they don’t feel or they don’t have your interests at heart. Please don’t wait around trying to work out whether they’re clueless or harmful – you don’t owe them a second of your time either way.
If you’re inclined to believe that feelings are things that people can be argued into and out of, please read these three links on Geek Social Fallacies for more information on difficult situations this mistaken idea can cause and ways out of them.

8. Being single and/or not having partnered sex for some time won’t hurt you
There is nothing wrong with being single, even if you’d prefer not to be. It doesn’t really say anything about you as a person or reflect on you. If your friends are taking the piss about you being single, tell them to knock it off and even get new friends if they don’t. The world doesn’t owe you a partner and no particular person owes it to you to become (or indeed, remain) your partner. Being someone’s partner is a wonderful experience to share with someone – doing so out of a sense of obligation is awful for all involved.
Being a virgin or having been without partnered sex for any length of time is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you’re not attractive or that no one will ever want to have sex with you – all it means is that the people you’ve asked have said no and you’ve said no to any people who’ve asked you. If you haven’t *asked* anyone if they’d like to have sex with you, that is probably part of the reason it isn’t happening. Remember that everyone (including any women!) who you ask could say “No” and you have to respect that and not argue. You’re going to hear a lot of “no”s. We all do. Remember that “No” isn’t an indication of how attractive or manly or awesome or whatever *you* are, it’s about the other persons feelings, desires and choices not lining up with yours right now.

9. Women are not all the same. Neither are men.

We’ve all heard sentences that start with “Women like…” “Women don’t like…” “Women want…” but beyond “respectful, equal treatment as a human being with her own interests capable of making her own choices” there is *absolutely nothing* that all women want. There’s a lot of people very invested in getting you to believe that women want things like flowers and teddy bears and diamond engagement rings.. and some women do want those things! And some women don’t want those things and they aren’t being a woman “incorrectly”. There are as many different ways of being a woman as there are women. So, if you’re a friend, boyfriend, husband, son, brother or colleague of a woman, you’ve got to learn to recognise that she is not just “a woman” she is one particular woman with her own likes, dislikes, goals and desires that may or may not be similar to those of other women you meet. How will you find out what she likes, dislikes, wants etc? The only way is to ask her. Ask her and take her words at face value even (especially) if they aren’t what you expected or wanted to hear. This applies equally to other men – don’t assume, ask and then accept and respect the answer.

10. Set an example to other men and teach any boys you know

Whether these lessons are new to you or just a refresher of stuff you already know, just knowing this stuff isn’t enough. You have to practise it in real life, treat every woman (and man, and nonbinary person and child) you come across as a unique person with goals capable of making her own choices. You have to ask people for things you want and be able to hear and accept “No” as the answer. You have to ask the people you know what they want and like and accept their answers even if they go against gendered norms. If other men try to tell you that women owe you “a chance”, tell them why no woman owes any man any such thing. If they try to tell you “tricks” to “making” women like you or insist that “women don’t know what they want”, tell them they are wrong. It may not be their fault if they were never taught this but all men (and people of other genders but primarily men) need to learn how to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Teach your sons and nephews and cousins and godsons and students that girls are not strange alien creatures totally different from boys, but just as much people as they are. Teach them to ask for things and to accept and respect “No”. Teach them now so they can teach the next generation of boys when they are men.

We didn’t ask to be born men in a patriarchy. We didn’t ask to become so alienated from women as to need reminding that they too, are people. We can change things now so the men of the future will never so much as question the humanity and equality of women.

The world can be freed from patriarchy, piece by piece and you and I and every man and boy we know can help by learning to treat women as our equals from today.

Questions Strangers Ask Me – Part 1, Religion

This post is intended to be revised, updated and added to as and when new questions are asked of me by strangers. UPDATE: I’ve decided to split this into parts. This post contains Part One. (Links to subsequent posts will be added here)

Intro

Lately, I’ve been roped into unsolicited conversations with strangers pretty much every time I leave the house. Everywhere I go, I am treated like public property, like something that *owes* strangers answers to questions that are none of their business, answerable by a quick look in a dictionary, library or search engine or frequently both. My time and energy and whatever I am trying to do are all treated as less important than some stranger’s question and yet I answer them politely and calmly.
I am afraid of Causing A Scene or Making A Fuss. I am afraid of being labelled Uppity, Selfish, Ungrateful… and of those labels being attached to whichever minority group my assailant has noticed that I am. The questions are usually about that – an acknowledgement that I have been seen to be Jewish / Disabled / LGBT / Neuro-atypical and therefore for the sake of “awareness” and “acceptance” and “understanding”, I am supposedly obliged to answer any and all questions put to me.

Due to the combined effects of my complex PTSD and the toxic influence of years of my life spent raised as though I were a girl living under patriarchy, I am not currently even *able* to refrain from answering all but the most personal of questions. My PTSD searches for the quickest escape route from strangers and often concludes within a couple of seconds that the safest, fastest way to get rid of them is to do whatever they want. I’m trying to reprogramme myself to respond “I do not answer questions about my religion / disability / financial circumstances / past / sexuality / etc” but right now I can’t really do that. I’ve also unfortunately discovered that saying “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers, please go away” repeatedly whilst backing away / closing the door *does not actually work at ending the conversation*. Yes, people will literally stand on the doorstep arguing with me about whether or not I’m allowed to talk to them.

So: that was an unexpectedly long intro leading up to the questions themselves. These are all things I’ve been asked by complete or near strangers on numerous occasions. Often they aren’t even precluded by a “Hello” and the conversation usually ends as soon as I’ve answered.

PART ONE: When people notice I am a Jew

“How do you keep that hat on your head?”
I get asked this a lot and I sort of understand it because my combination of several inches of wavy spikes of hair, buzzcut sides and a hat that maintains an improbable fixed position on the back of my head seems to defy explanation. The answer’s actually fairly simple. My yarmulke is clipped to my hair with hairclips. One on each side, one pointing forwards and the other pointing backwards can effectively keep my yarmulke firmly on my head even in strong winds.

“Do you wear that for fashion or for, er, religious reasons?”
I’m Jewish and Jewish men keep our heads covered when we pray. They easiest way to do this is to wear a hat all the time in case I’ll need to recite a blessing for seeing a rainbow, eating a sandwich or unexpectedly meeting an old friend. A yarmulke or kippah is a traditionally Jewish hat for this purpose but any hat (or hood or scarf or any other head covering) will do just as well. Sometimes round the house or even as far as the corner shop I’ll just put up the hood of my hoody. So why wear a yarmulke when I could just wear any hat or my hoody all the time? That *is* a choice – the choice to be publically visible as a Jew despite the harassment and anti-semitic abuse this gets me. Because being Jewish is, in a not-small part, about refusing to assimilate. I could blend in and pass for a white gentile probable-Christian… and I refuse to. I am a Jew and I am proud of who I am.

“What part of Israel / Germany / Poland / Russia are you from?” / “When did you / your parents move to the UK?” / “Where are you from? … No, where are you REALLY from?”
I am from the UK. So are my parents. And their parents. And their parents’ parents and so on for as long as anyone has bothered to check. I am not an immigrant and my race on the census is recorded as “White British”. Until fairly recently, no one ever questioned the assumption that I was white, British and born here, nor did anyone suggest my parents must be immigrants. But now I wear a kippah and sometimes speak in Hebrew and don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter – so my race, my nationality and my right to live here are called into doubt in the minds of strangers.

“Are you, y’know.. circumcised?”
In the politest possible terms: FUCK OFF. Whether or not I’m circumcised is between me, G-d, my Rabbi and my partners. If you’re not G-d, my Rabbi or dating me, you do not need to know. If you want to date me, asking me personal questions about my genitals is NOT how to flirt with me. This applies to other Jews who know I’m a convert too – you don’t need to know.

“Why do Jews do X?”
MyJewishLearning.com is your friend and I am not a walking, talking Encyclopaedia Judaica. Whilst I often do answer these questions if I know the answers, waiting to encounter a stranger who is Jewish and ask them all your questions is just laziness and entitlement in a world with internet and libraries.

“You should join our (evangelical Christian) Bible Studies group! We could learn so much from your Jewish perspective!”
Yes, this has been said to me several times by different people, none of whom were able to explain to me what I was supposed to gain from teaching Christians my “Jewish Perspective” on ancient Jewish texts that Christians also include in their canon of holy books. Again, I am not an Encyclopaedia Judaica nor am I a Rabbi – I am not in any way obliged to offer my time and knowledge for free in order to provide people with perspectives they could gain as I did by reading books written by Jewish scholars and/or they could actually contact a Rabbi and ask them to come and give a talk at their Bible Studies group instead as it would at least fall under the Rabbi’s job description.

“People can convert to Judaism! How / why?”
Yes they can and yes I am doing. The how mainly involves study, self-reflection, synagogue attendance and (this may surprise people) writing essays for Rabbis to read over. Then there’s answering questions for a panel of Rabbis and a ceremony involving prayers and a big pool of water and once you’re out of the pool you’re just as much of a Jew as any other Jew. Why? Because I feel this is the right choice for me and the kind of life I want to lead.

“You’re Jewish AND transgender?! How does that work?” / “You’re Jewish AND bisexual?! How does that work?”
Very well, thank you very much.  A lot of Jews are LGBTQA. A lot of synagogues (including some Orthodox ones) are very explicitly LGBTQA friendly. There are LGBTQA Rabbis, there are trans-friendly blessings and rituals, there are midrash about trans characters from the Tanakh. There are current and also historical trans Jews to serve as possibility models. Basically, this religion has been around and figuring out how to interpret our holy book for a few thousand years and very experienced in applying Torah to whatever new situations we may find ourselves in – trans people and LGBQA people? Really not a huge problem.

“Racist comment about Palestinians, Muslims or Arabs”
You are completely wrong, being racist and you should feel bad, learn about Palestine / Islam / Arabic culture and also fuck the fuck off.
Racists have an awful tendency to assume I’ll agree with anything bad they have to say about Muslims because I’m a Jew. Well, sorry not sorry, this Jew feels a deep love and kinship with Muslims everywhere and will stand up to racism and Islamophobia wherever he sees it.

“I pray for Israel and your people!”
Erm, okay? Do that if you must but: I’m not Israeli (see above) I’m Jewish. I pray for peace.

“Anti-Semitism isn’t really a problem any more, right?”
Well, actually…
“I mean it’s not as bad as it was. It’s basically over now. Right?”
I can describe several anti-semitic hate crimes that have happened to me in the last year…
“Like, no one’s really anti-semitic any more. Right? In Britain at least, yeah? I’m right, aren’t I right?”
And so on. I’ve had several versions of the this conversation where it becomes startlingly clear that the only answer they’re going to accept is “Anti-Semitism is not really a thing any more” and they’re likely prepared to go all the way back to the 1930’s or even earlier to find a time when anti-semitism was *definitely* a real problem by their standards in order to try to get me to say that, of course, compared to that time, anti-semitism is basically nonexistent now.
Here is my answer:
1. Anti-semitism NEVER stopped. If anything, it’s on the rise again.
2. Stop moving the fucking goalposts. Any anti-semitism at all is too much anti-semitism happening.
3. Anti-semitic hate crimes and microaggressions are part of every day life for me.
4. Fuck the fuck off, I’m not here to make you feel better about yourself because you personally haven’t said or done anything to me that you think counts as anti-semitic. Several times now, someone has had this conversation after saying something blatantly anti-semitic to me.

More “Look at me cos I have noticed that you are a Jew” questions I’ve got recently:
“Are you a Professor?” No “So, you’re training to be a Professor?” No. “Ah, so you’re an ACTOR?” Still no. “But you’re Jewish!” Yes, yes I am. Being Jewish doesn’t mean I am automatically intelligent, studious or successful.
“You must be very wealthy!” Erm, no. Again, Judaism doesn’t come with wealth, business, the ability to run businesses or even the ability to get and keep a job attached as part of the package. And before you ask, no my parents aren’t wealthy either and that has nothing at all to do with them not being Jewish.

And no, I can’t play a musical instrument. My talents are writing, public speaking, teaching and magic tricks – none of those are because I’m Jewish, they’re because I’m ME.
Even these “positive” stereotypes people assume about me are anti-semitic microagressions because they involve presuming to know lots of unrelated things about me just because of my religion and treat me as your own idea of “the Jew” rather than as an individual person.

No, I don’t know this other person you think might be Jewish. No, my penchant for finding the best food in the clearance sales has nothing to do with me being Jewish. No, I don’t know whether or not that guy who over-charged you that one time is Jewish and it says absolutely nothing about Jews as a whole if he is.

“What do think of Jesus?”
I am a stranger you just met on the street, why are you asking my opinion of a Jewish guy who may (or may not) have lived thousands of years ago and many miles away?

Part 2 will be about questions people ask me because they notice I’m disabled and/or neurodiverse. Part 3 will combine questions about gender and sexuality.

Born This Way?

I’ve written and deleted four drafts of this post already because this is difficult to say and because I don’t want to keep sounding exactly like a philosophy graduate here. There’s some complicated stuff to unpack and I want to keep this blog as clear and accessible as I possibly can – especially on this because I think this is really very important.

So. It seems to be quite popular these days to assert that LGBTQ people deserve equality because we were “born this way” and can’t help or change how we are. I really hate this line of argument, I would like it to go away and I think it’s bullshit.

I happen to believe that was, in fact, born trans. I think there is something about my brain structure that caused me to regard myself as the same sort of a person as the boys and men around me and as a different sort of person from the girls, women and androgynous people around me. Whilst I believe as I have touched on in previous posts (here and here) that I had a choice about when and how and whether to come out as trans and transition, I believe that I had no choice but to be trans. My brain, my body and the society around me determined that from the very beginning of my life I would regard myself as a kind of person others did not think I was.

Similarly, I was born autistic, dyspraxic and dyslexic in that I was born with a brain and body that deviates from the “typical” human brain and body into a society that is built on the flawed assumption that everyone is or can become typical. I did not choose my brain any more than I chose my eye colour. G-d or nature or chance or evolution gave me that brain – a brain which differs significantly from the norm in ways that the society that I live in often cannot accommodate.

I was not born mentally ill (though I may have been born predisposed to mental illness). I was not born with fibromyalgia. I was not born Jewish – I chose it. And regardless of whether or not I was born innately bisexual, I actively choose to maintain a proud bisexual identity (even though it’s hard).

What I’m trying to say is: some parts of who I am have always been there, some have not, some parts I actively chose, some I had no choice in.
All should be respected.

Not because “he can’t help being that way”. Not because “he was born like that”. Not because “he has no choice”.

Because I am a human being like any other and I deserve to be treated with respect, justice and compassion. I am a person, whether I am “just like you” or not and whether or not I choose to be different.

Whatever my gender, sexuality or disability was caused by, whenever it first came into my life, whether or not it has ever or will ever change, whether or not I could change it if I wanted to… none of that matters if the question is “Do I deserve just and equal treatment?” The only thing that matters is that I am a person and therefore deserve to be equal with every other person. We all deserve liberation. We all deserve not to have to beg for it.
It doesn’t matter WHY I’m autistic or WHY I’m bi or WHY I’m a man. I just am.

I am a person. I am your equal. “Born this way” or not.

“does being trans ruin ur life” – An Open Letter

Hello,

I don’t know you but I’ve been thinking about you a lot these past few days. Last week, for whatever reason, you searched google for “does being trans ruin ur life” and you ended up on my blog. I hope you found something here that was more helpful or at least more hopeful than something noted transphobe Julie Bindel wrote in 2009 or the well-meaning but ignorant comments of people on ask.com telling people to just choose not to be trans. I hope you read my post about choices and my reblog of the beautiful and necessary Trans 101 for Trans People. If not, please do go read them now, this post will still be here when you get back.

I want to be as honest as I can with you. There’s no point in sugar-coating or scare-mongering here. The answer to “does being trans ruin ur life?” isn’t “yes”. But it isn’t “no” either. And that’s something that can make being trans feel really, really hard indeed because there is no one-size-fits-all guaranteed-to-work-fine-or-your-old-life-back answer to finding the way you think of yourself to be very much at odds with how society thinks of people with bodies roughly like yours. Whatever path you decide to take, whether out of or deeper into a gender closet comes with risks that are big and scary. That sound potentially life-ruining.

I’m not going to tell you that coming out definitely wouldn’t ruin your life, because I don’t want to lie to you. And since I won’t lie to you, I’ve got to say that staying in the closet can have life-ruining consequences too. BUT, and this is very, very important, neither staying in or coming out will definitely have life-ruining consequences. Both can be healthy well-considered choices to the fucked-up situation that modern trans people find ourselves in.

We are living in a world that isn’t prepared for us and largely acts like it doesn’t want to be. That’s not our fault. It’s not your fault or my fault but it’s the world we find ourselves in. It is changing and moving towards actively accepting trans people for who and what we are instead of treating us like broken or misguided cis people who need fixing. It’s easier for everyone to pretend that the problem is trans people existing rather than, y’know, centuries-old false ideas about sex and gender and stuff like that. Things are getting better but I know that’s not much help to you, right now.

What you probably want is for someone to tell you that it’s all going to be okay, that whether you come out or not your friends and family will love you and support you, that discrimination is unlikely to affect you, that nothing will go wrong and no one will harm you. Someone will likely tell you all that and maybe they’ll be right. But I promised you honesty and honestly? There are no guarantees.
So what can I give you since I refuse to tell you what to do and won’t predict either good fortune or disaster for you?
I can give you hope.

I came out as trans in 2008. I was 19 and I had never even heard of trans people before. As soon as I heard that trans men existed, I was pretty sure that I was one and that I wanted nothing more than to start living my life as a man. Within weeks, I’d changed my name, my pronoun, my clothing, my hair cut, started binding my chest and come out to friends, family and my Uni as a trans man. I did this without really thinking about the possible consequences. I naively expected to be immediately accepted and understood by everyone.
I was, broadly speaking, accepted. But I did lose friends who couldn’t accept me for who I was. Relationships with my family became strained and upsetting as they struggled to understand what I was going through. I was bullied, harassed, stalked, attacked, fetishised, sexually assaulted, misgendered and publicly outed without my consent all within the first year. Most or all of those things wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t come out. Yet if I had my time over again? I’d still come out as trans as soon as I possibly could.
Why?
Because nothing beats the joy of living and loving with integrity. Because hiding myself away like an awful terrible secret hurt me deeply. Because the idea living a whole life pretending to be someone I’m not sickened and terrified me and I knew I couldn’t keep doing it for long. The closet was suffocating and stunting me and I needed to get out – whatever the cost.
The life I’ve had since coming out has contained things I would’ve expected to ruin my life. They didn’t. Because I am still alive and here and loved and known for who and what I am. I get to live my life instead of someone else’s. I can’t describe how wonderful that feels. It’s like a storm finally lifting and a rainbow appearing in the sky with the eternal promise “It will never be as bad as that again”.

Coming out and transitioning in whatever way seems most sensible to you is kind of like taking a leap of faith out of a frying pan. I’m mixing my metaphors quite deliberately here. It’s the decision to leave a situation that is uncomfortable (or worse) for an unknown. It’s scary and you’re right to ask could this ruin my life?
And my answer is still “Maybe or maybe not”. Yet the things I thought would ruin my life – hate crimes, sexual assaults, losing people, upsetting my family, becoming infertile, discrimination, street harassment – very much haven’t. Those things might or might not happen to any given trans person, but so many trans people I know love their lives despite the awful things other people have done to them because society is transphobic. It’s not our fault. I wish I could tell you nothing bad will happen to you, but I can’t.

There are so, so many people in the world who can and will love you for who you are – not in spite of you being trans, not because they don’t know you’re trans, not because you’re trans – just because you are you. Whether you come out or not, find them. Find trans people and their friends and allies and surround yourself with as many people who “get it” as you can. They will be on your side whatever happens.

If you want to contact me to talk about coming out or not doing, please do. I want you to be okay and to do whatever you need to do for that to happen – including staying closeted for now or for always if that’s what you need.

I also hope people will say nice things in the comments and link to coming out resources that I don’t know about.