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.

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

Words

When I look back on my childhood as a trans, queer, autistic, mentally ill and disabled little boy, I often see the things that were missing. The problem with hindsight, always, is that it can only occur late, very late or far, far too late.

What was overwhelmingly absent, what I desperately needed was WORDS. I lacked the words to articulate my trans, queer, disabled reality. And that makes me angry, even now. Because in many cases those words existed but were kept from me. In other cases, people like me are still working to cobble together words for who and how we are, in order to communicate in a language that wasn’t built with lives like ours in mind.

If you aren’t already nodding your head in familiarity and remembering the times when you couldn’t or can’t articulate who and how you are, then please try to imagine what it’s like. To exist in a world where there is no word you’ve ever heard of for you, where what you are or how you feel or how you experience the world is so unthinkable, so unimaginable, so (it seems) impossible that there are no words for it. You are unspeakable. You exist but… the never-ceasing feeling that maybe you ought not to, maybe what you are is never spoken about because it’s bad. Wrong. Not allowed. Not okay.
Nobody knows that you are how you are. You feel like you should tell someone… and at the same time that you definitely shouldn’t. You don’t have the words for it, anyway. Nobody seems to have the words. You can’t exist.. and yet somehow you do.

I have felt this way about being trans. I also felt this way about being bisexual. And having developmental disabilities. And experiencing mental illness as a child. Even as an adult, I am still not always sure that who I am is “allowed” or “okay”.
From my teens and into the present, I found myself tinkering with words to try to get a handle on who and how I am. To try to communicate it. To try to validate it.

Sometimes that means grasping tight onto existing words like “man” and “love” and “sex” and “independent” and forcefully insisting that my life can validly form part of the meaning of those words. My gender is man, love and sex are part of my relationships with my partners no matter what their gender, I am independent because I see that my own needs are met by ensuring the provision of carers and equipment.

Sometimes I need vocabulary I didn’t have before. Concepts like “trans and cis”, “neurodiversity”, “the social model of disability”, “intersectionality”, “heteronormativity”, “structural oppression”, “sensory overload”, “stims”, “meltdowns” “selective mutism”… become necessary to my continued understanding of myself, my life, the world and my place in it.

As a child, words to describe my own disability were few. Words to describe relationships and feelings other than heteronormative boy-meets-girl were even scarcer. Words to articulate mental distress were not available to me. Words to even begin to understand my gender as a trans little boy? I had none.
Lacking these words did not prevent me from experiencing myself as a disabled and autistic, proto-bisexual, transgender little boy in increasing mental distress.

All it did was make my life more frightening and unpredictable as things happened to me that I could not explain, I had feelings I did not know how to express and I did not know how to get any help or guidance from the adults in my life because I had no words to explain what was wrong.

I scoured fiction and nonfiction books and TV shows for validation, looking for someone, anyone, who was “like me”. I found the occasional gay person or mention of the possibility of same sex relationships. I found a few fictional characters whose mental distress echoed my own (though they never had anything that was canonically acknowledged as mental illness). The fictional wizards, demi-gods, cyborgs, mutants, faeries, changelings, aliens, rebels and rejects of my childhood reading felt more like me than anyone real I ever saw on TV or heard about in school. Erasure of trans and bisexual realities left me feeling alone and alienated. The sparsity of realistic representations of autistic people kept me feeling broken and unreal. I’m scared of over-stating this but also when I look back at my teenage years I mainly see a child who didn’t know how to be because he lacked the words to express himself and no way of knowing that being someone like him (like me) was an okay thing to be.

When adults won’t talk about same sex relationships or LGBQ people or trans people to and around children, this is what it does to LGBT children. When disability is a taboo topic and disabled people are rarely the heroes of their own stories, this is what it does to disabled children. When autism isn’t identified and autistic reality isn’t treated as valid, this is what it does to autistic children.

When children are living in a world of structural oppressions, some of which they are themselves facing, and the adults around them do not acknowledge that this is happening; this is what it does to those children.
Not telling children that LGBT and disabled people exist will not stop them from being LGB or trans or disabled. It will only make things harder for them if they are and harder for their LGBT and disabled peers if they aren’t.

This is a structural problem, built into what we teach in our schools, read in our books, watch on TV, who we hang out with and a million tiny-huge other things as well as what we each say (and don’t say) to the children in our lives. It can’t be fixed with a conversation here and there or a special book or Special Episode. But we have to try.

To be entirely clear:
This isn’t about my parents or my teachers (though it is a bit about Section 28). It’s about the society I grew up in and the resources that were and were not available to me as a child. If you’re reading this as a personal attack, I’m very sorry to have upset you but it really isn’t one. This blogpost describes what it was like to grow up trans and bisexual and disabled in 90s and 00s Britain. I hope it doesn’t describe growing up in 2010’s Britain as well.

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.

Whose gender is it anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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!

 

 

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.