Write to YOUR MP about Gender Recognition

Here on YetAnotherLefty, I’ve written about the current state of gender recognition for trans people in the UK, it’s effects on Marriage and contrasts with other countries before. These posts have been widely shared as people came to learn, often for the first time, quite how awful, humiliating and blatantly transphobic the current set up is. People have contacted me to tell me how upset and angry this makes them as cis people and how terrified and overwhelmed they feel as trans people. After another case of someone apparently being denied recognition of her gender by the Gender Recognition Panel *because a magazine reported that she had got her wife pregnant within the last two years*, the messages I’ve been getting have changed from just “This is so wrong!” to “This is so wrong! WHAT CAN WE DO?”

Here is the start of my contribution towards doing something about this awful situation: A Guide for individuals and organisations on the how and why of writing to your MP to stop this awful situation continuing.

You read that right, I’m an anarchist asking you to write letters to MPs. It’s not the only tactic but I think for once it may be a useful place to start.

So: before we go any further, here is WHAT WE WANT
In quiet discussion with a large number of trans people and trans organisations, the following goals seem to be more or less agreed upon.

FIRST: The Gender Recognition Panel should be *immediately* instructed to APPROVE gender recognition for all those currently on its waiting list and to approve Gender Recognition for ALL SUBSEQUENT APPLICATIONS until…
SECOND: The Gender Recognition Panel is disbanded and replaced with a simple method of updating one’s gender based on self-definition rather than medical or social “evidence” of transition. A similar system to that already in place for updating one’s address or name or a single Statutory Declaration would be much preferable to the current system.

How to Write To An MP
1. Find your MP’s contact details here
2. Send a physical letter rather than an email if you can or email through something like Write To Them
3. Be polite! We want to get them onside so if you’re angry be angry but polite with it.
4. If you are going to publish a copy of your letter and/or their reply (such as on your blog) remember to say so in your letter.
5. If you have twitter / facebook / etc tell people when you have sent the letter.

Your letter should include:
– a brief description of the problem,
– how it affects / how it makes you feel and/or how it affects your MP’s constituents,
– what you want your MP in specific to do about it,
– your hopes of a swift but considered reply.

Below I’ll write some stuff to help you write each section. Try to use your own words as much as you can – MPs tend to ignore form letters.

What is the problem?

Problem 1: transphobic and patronising law
The Gender Recognition Act has been fundamentally flawed for the entire decade of its existence. It is built on the transphobic assumption that doctors and lawyers who have never even met a person are better placed than that (ADULT!) person to decide what that person’s gender is.
The process for getting your gender recognised in the UK if you are trans is lengthy, costly, invasive and humiliating. (Consider briefly describing the process in case your MP is not familiar with it).

Problem 2: Coercive sterilisation / invasive focus on medical treatment
There is also increasing evidence that, while no medical procedure, treatment or surgery is required per se, in actual fact the Panel is systematically biased *against* trans people (and especially trans women) who do not have genital surgeries and those who delay or forgo treatment in order to preserve their ability to procreate. This has led to an ongoing situation where people feel that they *must* undertake treatments and surgeries that they might otherwise have not had for several years or even might not have had at all out of fear of the Panel denying them Gender Recognition if they do not. The current situation is one of coerced medical treatment – especially medical treatment that results in irreversible sterilisation. The UN, the World Health Organisation and others condemn forced or coerced sterilisation and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez recognised forced or coerced medical treatment for trans people as torture. His report is here and a very detailed reflection on his report from The Anti-Torture Initiative is here. As both of these reports are on torture in health care settings, please read with caution and take breaks if you are triggered or otherwise harmed by reading about the actions mentioned in the reports.

If nothing else, the form’s insistence on knowing intimate details of all treatments for Gender Identity Disorder that an applicant has undergone or will undergo needs to be immediately removed from the form as this information is private and irrelevant.

Problem 3: Unnecessary and Unhelpful pathologization
A further problem with the current system is that it unfairly allows only those who have a medical diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” or “Transsexulism” to have their gender recognised – despite the fact that being trans (ie considering oneself to belong to a gender other than that assigned at birth) is not in itself a medical problem or diagnosis. It is quite possible to be trans yet not be able to get that diagnosis if a person is not greatly distressed by being trans or if the person is intersex. The Liberal Democrats have active policy to remove this requirement – if your MP is a Lib Dem, ask them what the Lib Dems are doing towards this, if they aren’t ask them what their party’s policy on this issue is.

Problem 4: No gender recognition for under-18s or for people of nonbinary genders
The current system also denies gender recognition to children who may need it and provides no recognition at all for anyone who has a gender other than “man” or “woman”. Many people are neither men nor women and they have just as much right as anyone to have their identity legally validated and recorded correctly on any documentation including birth certificates.

Problem 5: No one can work out whether or not I can legally marry *anyone* as myself
Under the current system, it is unclear whether or not a trans person *without* a gender recognition certificate can legally marry any other person without committing perjury by gendering themself correctly during their wedding ceremony. (I’ve talked to several lawyers on this, they couldn’t agree). This essentially leaves every trans person in the UK with at least two years of their life in which they may neither marry nor reproduce and no certainty that those two years so constricted in their right to a family life will yield a usable birth certificate and recognised identity. It’s a high price to pay and thousands of trans people are being left with no option but to pay it.

Problem 6: the Spousal Veto
Another HUGE problem with the Gender Recognition Act as it is currently, is something UK trans people have named “the Spousal Veto”. I find it hard to explain but it essentially allows any person married to a trans person to delay their legal gender recognition *potentially indefinitely* by refusing to either consent to remaining married to the same person under their new gender or consent to a divorce. Sarah Brown explains the situation much better than I could and also goes into a fair amount of the social and legal history that led to UK-based trans people having such a bizarre and draconian set of legal hoops to jump through for basic recognition of who we are. Incidentally, the Lib Dems also have policy against the Veto.

Problem 7: Monetary Cost to individual trans people
The current process requires sums of money that many will simply not have access to (due to discrimination in the work place, trans people are disproportionately under- and un-employed). Two doctors notes (for which NHS doctors may charge up to £200) and a notarised statutory declaration (costing between £5 and £50) are needed in the case of a single trans person (two stat decs would be needed in the case of a married trans person), in addition to the (means-tested) admin costs and the costs of any treatment the trans person has been unable to get on the NHS… It’s an amount of money many will be completely unable to spare yet the cost of going without gender recognition is also high. Being unable to marry, unable to provide a birth certificate as ID and knowing that somewhere the wrong name and the wrong gender are recorded as your identity has a huge psychological and social impact on trans people both as individuals and as a community.

Problem 8: Cost to the state
The existence of the Gender Recognition Panel – a group of people literally employed by the UK government to judge and decide the gender of British and UK-residing trans people – is also costly and inefficient to the state. Trans people can and do legally update their gender details on absolutely everything else, including passports, medical records, the census, work records, school records, exam certificates, bank records etc etc perfectly well without a panel to decide whether or not they can. The panel is simply not necessary and needlessly adds distress and delay to the lives of trans people and their families.

Updating one’s name has always been straightforward in the UK, requiring no court or lawyer or external body to approve or disapprove. The UK trusts its citizens to choose their own names, why not also their own genders?

How it affects you / your friends / other people
Talk about the distress, the delays (at least two years before you can apply, under 18s cannot apply even with parent’s permission, exploding queue situation with applications) monetary costs and the rights to family and private life that trans people cannot exercise with a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Words I’ve heard used to describe the present system include: absurd, ridiculous, kafka-esque, draconian, evil, wrong, repugnant, invasive, degrading, dehumanising, pathologizing, transphobic and inhumane. It shows a complete lack of trust in trans people’s ability to know themselves (ourselves) and what they (we) need. Talk about how it does or would make you feel to have to submit to a Government panel to decide for you who you are. Perhaps ask your MP how they would feel if they had to go through this process.

Even by the most conservative of estimates, something like 1 in 100 people is some kind of trans. There will be dozens, even hundreds, of children in your MP’s constituency who are trans – what kind of gender recognition system would your MP like them to encounter if they ever need one? One based on the assumption that they are wrong about their identity until and unless several doctors and lawyers *most of whom they will never meet* decide it for them? Or one which assumes autonomy and gives them control over their own identities?

If you have gone through the Gender Recognition process, you might like to write about how distressing it was. If, like me, you haven’t gone through it because it would be terribly distressing, invasive and/or costly it is then consider writing to your MP about that. If you are cis (i.e. you are not any kind of trans and consider the gender assigned to you about birth to be more or less correct) please say so in this section and write about why this issue still matters to you because it is e.g. distressing to think of anyone and potentially friends, partners or family feeling forced to go through this awful system.
Mention that there is a general consensus among many trans people and organisations that the Gender Recognition Panel MUST GO – this includes people who have gone through the Gender Recognition Process and people who campaigned FOR the Gender recognition Act.

Mention that Argentina and Denmark now have Gender Recognition on demand and that this has been widely welcomed and celebrated by trans people and their communities.

Perhaps point out that the UK doesn’t tell people what name, race, sexuality or religion is theirs: why should gender be any different?

What Do You Want Your MP To DO About This
There are several things you might ask your MP to do.
-You could ask them to ask in Prime Minister’s Questions what the Government intends to do to solve the many, many problems with the Gender Recognition Act or even to ask specifically if the Prime Minister will agree that Gender is a personal matter that should be decided on by individual people rather than by the State.
-You could ask them to draft an Early Day Motion or (if someone already has) to support an existing EDM.
-You could ask them to arrange to meet with trans people to discuss these concerns.
-You could ask them to do all in their power to lobby for the Gender Recognition Panel to be abolished and replaced with a simpler system based on self-definition and to approve all applications in the mean time.
-You could ask them to publically acknowledge and support trans people’s rights to autonomy over our bodies and our identities.
-You can ask them what THEY plan to do to make sure this awful coercive dehumanising system does not continue as it is. Or what their party plans to do.

Conclusion

Use the concluding paragraph to wish them well, say you hope they will consider your letter carefully and reply within two to three weeks. Remind them again that this issue is very important to a lot of people and you hope they can agree to help in some way. Add a method or two for them to contact you if they need anything clarifying or explaining before they reply. And remember to state clearly whether or not you intend to publish your letter and/or any reply online. If you feel like it, you may want to remind them that the elections aren’t all that long off now and trans people and their (our) supporters will be watching what the various parties do to support trans rights between now and then.

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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.

Born This Way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re here, We’re Trans, Expect Us

Dear cis people,

Please start to expect us. Please actively expect that sooner or later you’re going to meet someone who is trans and you need to know the basics of trans etiquette before you do. That’s what I most need from you. Expect there to be people like me in your life.
This goes double if you work in a job that involves meeting people. If you work in a hospital, a school, college or Uni, if you work in social care, if you answer helplines, if you see people and talk to them as part of your job: Expect trans clients, customers and co-workers. Learn how to respectfully address people no matter what their gender and no matter how that gender relates to the one they were originally assigned.

You don’t need to understand why some people are trans. You don’t need to know the medical processes that some trans people might make use of in their transition. You don’t even need to know which people in your life are trans and which aren’t. Just please know that you are going to meet trans people and it’s your responsibility to be prepared.

You need to learn some basic trans terminology like “gender assigned at birth”. You need to make sure you know what “trans man” means, what “trans woman” means and what “nonbinary person” means. You need to know that some words used to refer to trans people are transphobic slurs and not to use them (Hint: if mainstream porn uses a word to describe a trans person, that word is probably a slur). You need to know that “trans”, “transgender” and “transsexual” are adjectives and never nouns. You need to learn and use the word “cis” or “cisgender” to describe people who are not trans. You need to already know that “You look just like a real man!” is almost never taken as a compliment.

You need to expect us. And not to expect us to educate you about trans people. It’s your responsibility as a human being to try your best to treat other human beings with care and respect. So once you know to expect that there will be trans people in your life, the responsibility to make sure you know how to treat us with care and respect is obvious.

I know it sounds like I’m asking a lot but I’m really not. The resources are out there. Ask in the comments if you need some links.

It all boils down to some very simple things you need to make sure you know:

  • There are trans people and there are cis people. It doesn’t matter why but there are.
  • Trans people’s genders are just as valid as cis people’s genders.
  • Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and care.
  • Treating people with respect and care involves acknowledging the validity of their genders by referring to them with the names, pronouns and gendered words they would want to be used for them.
  • Appearance, genitals, internal organs etc do not decide people’s genders for them. People are who and what they say they are.
  • You won’t always know if someone is trans or cis and this is okay.
  • If you need to know things about a person’s genitals, medical history or trans status, be polite, kind and sensitive in how you ask and make sure you actually do *need* to know.
  • Trans people aren’t obliged to educate you or to do so nicely. If you need to ask a trans person something about trans terminology or etiquette, be polite, kind and sensitive and make sure you are clear that they do not have to answer you. It is not their fault (or the fault of trans people generally) that you don’t know. It is not their responsibility (or that of trans people generally) to educate you. No one is born knowing this and everyone has to learn it. It is the fault of society as a whole that you don’t know this stuff – and part of changing our society into one where people are taught to show respect and kindness to all people is for you to do your best to learn this and to pass it on to others.

I know it feels much, much easier to just wait until you’ve got an out trans person in front of you and ask questions then and apologise when they wince at how you phrased something or be shocked when they tell you to fuck off. I know that seems easier. But please imagine for a minute what it is like to be regularly expected to explain your gender and how to respectfully treat you to almost every doctor, teacher, social worker, carer, nurse, bank clerk, pharmacist, new friend, new partner, class mate, cleric, lawyer, MP…etc… that you meet. And to smile and be nice about it and never show that you resent having to do this over and over again because so many people didn’t spend a few minutes online finding this out for themselves. I can explain what a trans man is and what it means that I am one in under a minute *because of the sheer frequency that I’ve had to do it*.

Help make this into a world where I and others like me will not have to constantly explain ourselves as an entry price for being treated like human beings.

Please educate yourself. Because you expect us.