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.

Hanukkah, The Closet and the Assimilation Trap

It’s the fifth night of Hanukkah. My candles have burned themselves out and I’ve not yet started another DVD to aid my continued attempts at hiding from the ever-present Christmas that has taken over the supposedly multicultural country and definitely multicultural city in which I live. I worry from time to time that my friends might get the impression that I hate Christmas… I don’t. But the apparent compulsoriness and seeming inescapability of the celebration is hurting extra hard this year and I feel like I am drowning in Other-ness and alienation.

And so I thank God for Hanukkah and its timely message about what to do in the face of overt and covert pressure to conform and to be something I’m not: hold fast to who you are, to what you are and the truths you hold dearest. Yes, you’re different and that’s okay.
I take Hanukkah every year as a challenge to re-dedicate myself to living my truth as a bisexual, transgender, disabled Jewish man and insisting on being all those things at once no matter how many people tell me I can’t be. I accept the challenge to be who I am as openly as possible; refusing closets and refusing the false comfort of assimilation into the surrounding norms.

Hanukkah reminds me of the miracle of the Jewish people still existing after thousands of years and hundreds of attempts to stop us. And I think also of the miracle that is every LGBTQ person and community surviving and thriving despite the oppression we have and do face. The miracle of Autistic communities and people insisting that we do not have to pretend to be non-Autistic to be acceptable, Disabled communities and people insisting the world change to accommodate us rather than expecting us to change to fit into it. And this year especially I think of Muslim people and communities and of Black communities and People of Colour communities continuing to exist in a world that is increasingly hostile.

I light each flame and watch as they light up the darkness and are not consumed by it. I remember the times I have felt pressured to hide my “light”; times I have been pushed to be less visible, to stand out less, to be more like what surrounds me. I try to picture myself as a flame, burning bright amidst dark surroundings.

I have never “fit in”. Sometimes I have wanted to. Sometimes I have suffered for my inability to stop being “different” from others or Other than what I was expected to be.
Sometimes I have tried to blend in. Let people assume that I’m straight or let them assume that I’m gay. Deliberately suppressed my Autistic body language or desperately attempted to hide my difficulties with numbers and writing. Taken off my yarmulke when it would have been safe but uncomfortable to be recognised as Jewish. I spent years trying desperately to be a girl out of fear of the consequences of admitting that I’m a transgender man.

The message of Hanukkah, for me, right now, is this: Be yourself. Assimilation is a tempting option but don’t let it trick you into being someone you aren’t.

As I’ve explored frequently on this blog, not feeling like I could be openly who I am and trying to at least appear to be something else has caused massive mental harm to me and right this second this same harm is happening to thousands of people. Hanukkah reminds me that one way I can help bring about a world in which no one has to hide the truth of themself away for fear of the consequences of living openly is for me to insist, as much as I can, on living openly now in this imperfect world, letting my light shine to banish just a bit of the darkness.

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

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.

World AIDS Day 2014

It’s World AIDS Day and I’m struggling to find the words to describe quite what that means.

What it means that I left compulsory schooling without learning about the AIDS crisis.
What it means that I was 20 before I understood how to protect myself from HIV if I had sex with other men.
What it means that the LGBT community is still at high risk of contracting HIV.
What it means that so many of my LGBT ancestors died of AIDS.
What it means knowing as many as 50% of trans women of colour will get HIV.
What it means knowing some of my friends are HIV positive and facing discrimination daily.
What it means that I have sat with terrified people in clinics and held their hands as they wait for the test result.
What it means that I have learnt all my sex ed as an adult and learnt it all from community resources.
What it means to know my own HIV status and know that most people have no idea what theirs is.
What it means to know enough history to know that the wider community didn’t care about HIV AIDS until it started killing straight cis people too.
What it means that the LGBT community was brought together by the tragedy of the AIDS crisis and yet LGBT people my age and younger barely even know it happened.
What it means that bisexual men like myself are stigmatised by many because they blame us for spreading HIV.
What it means that even CHILDREN with HIV are discriminated against because the world still thinks HIV only happens to people who have lots of sex.
What it means to know that others believe God created AIDS as a punishment to my community for daring to exist out of the shadows.

What it means to know all that and also know that HIV is no longer a sentence of certain death. With appropriate medical care, HIV positive people can live just as long as anyone else.

Today is World AIDS Day. And I don’t have the words to explain quite what that means.

The extending road to surgery (Guest Post)

I keep meaning to “retire” from trans activism. I even occasionally announce that I *have* retired. And then things like this happen and I remember why I will never be able to retire from trans activism until transphobia and cissexism are history.

Today, I am hosting a guest post written by Kay, about the recent changes to Gender Reassignment Surgery provision for women getting needed treatment on the National Health Service in England and Wales. Kay’s story is not unique to her, dozens of women are in similar circumstances. What she describes are the very human consequences of a broken and twisted system becoming more broken and twisted – NHS Gender Services for trans people have been beset with delays and gate-keeping and unreasonable demands for as long as anyone I know can remember. Now the service is in crisis and it is not the doctors, pyschs, surgeons or administrators who will be harmed by this crisis, those most harmed are the women (and also nonbinary people) who need surgery or at the very, very least need a clear fixed date when that surgery will be.

Kay in her own words below this line. (Note: Kay is a pseudonym, if you think you know who Kay is, please do not tell anyone or contact me or Kay to ask)


Going on WLMHT (also known as Charring cross) GIC’s ideal roadmap for surgical intervention at the time I got into the system (Febuary 2011) was after 2 years real life experience (RLE) one would be referred to surgery, in the case of me as a person assigned male at birth the surgical intervention I am interested in is vaginoplasty in particular a technique called penile inversion. Since starting at the clinic it has been nigh on 3 and a half years and I still haven’t got a surgery date and I am unlikely to do so for at least another year. The question stands why am I in this situation?

So by my own calculations I have so far lived 5 to 6 years in a gender that is not male, however the NHS in its erasure of non-binary identities only counted the time within which I was for all intents and purposes a woman having gotten round to formally changing my name, even though I had been going by a gender neutral name for years, this resulted in the NHS’ definition of RLE only reaching 2 years as of August last year, showing the absurdity of this situation. Then with the requirement of two psychologists to sign off on the surgery, one of my psychologists failed to turn up for an appointment, putting off my sign off date into November. From here it would normally be a 7-9 month wait for the actual surgery, which is in itself over the NHS’ 18-week waiting list rule. I want to make a point here that this section whilst sounding like a series of errors increasing the waiting time for my surgery it actually is a concerted attempt by the consultants to put one off having not to mention completely unnecessary and part of this idea that somehow a cis person might sneak through all these levels of ‘protection’ and end up having surgery and regret it at the expense of the extensive time, effort and psychological torture of having an incongruent body for the trans person.

So as it stands now, I’ve been referred and seen by Mr Bellringer one of the two surgeons capable of performing a vaginoplasty in the UK, whom I then find out has resigned due to disagreements over commissioning. Having been in contact with him and requested that my surgery be forwarded to Mr Bellringer’s private clinic at Parkside hospital, Imperial NHS trust have completely failed to get in contact with me to discuss what they intend to do to rectify this situation and I assume have rejected my request for private surgical intervention. This is frankly not good enough; the statement they issued gives us essentially no guarantees of surgery dates and shows how little the NHS values trans patients.

This overall has left me essentially in limbo, I was expecting for my surgery date to be this summer, in-between the final year of my undergraduate degree and going into my masters degree which would have fit incredibly well with my plans, however I am now looking towards September 2015 before I can even start thinking about surgery. This leaves me in a situation where I am dysphoric and will be for another year, something that has plagued me throughout my undergraduate degree and I feel has affected my marks as well as the uncertainty as to when I will have surgery as I might fall out of the system and have to re-apply again leaving me to the possible conclusion that I might cancel my masters and use the funding that my grandparents left in their will for me to do so and use it on self funded surgery as I can no longer tolerate constantly being messed around by the NHS.

This has to change, I could go on about how the NHS Gender Identity Services should be reformed, but that’s an argument for another day, frankly now all I want is my surgery and those others in the same situation as me to have some dignity afforded to them, rather than having to essentially beg for life saving surgical intervention.

Going forwards I implore you to share Jess Key’s open letter, read Mr Bellrigner’s side of it get in contact with your MPs, if you have media contacts link them to this situation so that the message gets out there!

 

 

Anti-Homelessness

There’s been a fair amount of talk recently about how various architectural features are “anti-homelessness”. This has lead on to discussion of various laws and practices in the UK and beyond that are “anti-homelessness” and how awful this is and how the world should just be less shit already. This is good and worthy discussion BUT one important thing to remember: these architectural design features, laws and practices are NOT “anti-homelessness”. What they are is anti- homeless PEOPLE. Ridding the public sphere of safe-ish, dry-ish places to lie down and sleep outside will not getting rid of homelessness. Making begging illegal does not get rid of homelessness. Tying most social security, employment opportunities, bank accounts, GPs, forms of ID and other vital services to “having a permanent address” does not get rid of homelessness. All this does is make being homeless less visible, less safe, less escapable and, to be quite blunt, less SURVIVABLE. All this does is condemn people who are vulnerable and have already suffered great misfortune to more suffering – and force them to take their suffering elsewhere so those of us fortunate enough to currently have somewhere warm, dry and relatively safe to live can go about our days without seeing people who are homeless.

So, what would it actually mean to be “Anti-Homelessness”?

I am against homelessness. I believe that safe, warm, dry homes should be available to *everyone* who needs them. I do not think it should even be possible for a person to find themself without somewhere to sleep, eat and socialise. Everyone should have a home.

There is only one long-term solution to homelessness that has any chance of actually working. It’s breathtakingly simple and obvious – and could realistically be implemented in the UK within the year if people wanted it enough.

GIVE PEOPLE HOMES.

There are enough empty buildings to house everyone. If everyone had somewhere to live, some space that was theirs where they could sleep and eat and work and play, no one would be homeless.
Note that I have not said “Sell people homes” or “Let people homes” or mentioned the word “affordable” even once. If we really took the idea that shelter, safety, privacy and family life are human rights seriously, people would be given somewhere safe to live for free. No rents, no mortgages, no “but do you have a local connection and also do you really need a home?”, no “but why can’t you just live with your parents well into your thirties?”.
I know a lot of people would find this unfair and claim that the years they spent renting / paying a mortgage / buying and letting houses / inheriting multiple houses from their Dad means that they somehow “deserve” a place to live more than other people who didn’t or couldn’t do that. I see why they might feel cheated but ultimately I disagree. Somewhere safe and stable to live and a bit of space for yourself is not a luxury that you can “deserve” any more or less than anyone else and it shouldn’t be something you have to buy – it shouldn’t be something you can lose in the first place. There should be homes for all. We all deserve somewhere to live.

That is how you end homelessness. Until the only condition required for safe, decent housing is “be a person” there will be people who cannot meet the required conditions and find themselves homeless through misfortune.

“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.

Apparently, it’s World Mental Health Day…

…and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know by now that I have several mental health conditions. Sometimes I describe myself as “mentally ill” or “crazy”, sometimes I call my collections of symptoms “illness” or “problems” or “difficulties”, other times “conditions”. Whether I’m “ill” or not, what I’ve had to learn to live with is the fact that my mental health conditions aren’t going to go away. They can be treated, yes, managed, yes but not ever really “cured” if cured means “Not experiencing symptoms again” rather than “Knowing how to fairly quickly deal with symptoms as and when they appear and how to prevent symptoms becoming worse”. Rather than ceasing to have these problems, I just have to learn how to live with them, how to work with my brain instead of always against it and how to treat symptoms promptly to stop them from developing into something more difficult to fix. The way my brain works simply becomes my normality.

Today people are sort-of expected to tell their stories of life with mental health problems in order to “stamp out stigma”. I’m not going to, not just because it’s easy to find other posts on this blog where I have written very frankly about my experiences of life with various mental health conditions. I’m not going to because I don’t believe the approach of telling our stories to convince others of our humanity, to show that we are “just like everyone else” or to show that we are people who deserve compassion, is the best approach or even really a good approach to solving the problems of stigma, prejudice and discrimination facing people with mental health problems. It is *an* approach and one that I have participated in before and will do again but I dislike that it has for many organisations become *the* approach. Because, well, it looks good, it’s easy to arrange and free or low cost. It generates good publicity very easily…
But it also places the onus on people with mental health problems ourselves to solve the problems caused by stigma by making ourselves vulnerable to the very people presumed to hold that stigma in an attempt to change the minds of individual people. This is slow, inefficient and not good for the health or safety of mentally ill people who try to do it – especially as there is some shame attached to not wanting to do it.

People should not feel like they have to risk the possible consequences of stigma and prejudice – which range from social ostracisation, to job loss, to being sectioned – in order to do something about stigma and prejudice.
THESE ARE NOT INDIVIDUALISED PROBLEMS, THEY ARE SYSTEMIC PROBLEMS AND NEED A SYSTEMIC SOLUTION.

Part of that solution can be encouraging people to view those of us with mental health problems as people – as members of their families and communities. But that cannot be the whole of the solution.

So as my part towards building a better world for everyone today, I’d like to leave you links to (UK) organisations you can contact if you’re worried about your own mental health. No worry is too big or too small and they’ll be able to help you find local help.

SANEline

Samaritans

MIND

NHS Direct Mental Health Symptom Checker