Monday, 10 September 2018

Free Speech

You may be aware of the current academic discussion, deciding who gets to be called a woman. Some professors are speaking publicly, defining their view of women as one that excludes people with transgender histories. As a transgender person and woman at Oxford University, it has an impact on me personally and such discussions are enabled by the fact that the Equality Act of 2010, the Act, is vague enough to allow this.

To be clear, I think we should be treating people like people, not academic exercises. The idea that we can go after a group of people based on 'technicalities', academic loopholes, feels wrong to me. We should not use excuses to put a group of people in a less advantageous, possibly dangerous, position. Yet for some reason, trans people are not given the same equality as other protected groups. This is because of the prevalent thought: that being transgender or gender non-conforming is a choice. If we say it is a choice then it is easy to shift the blame for hardships onto those trans people.

Still, some professors take the ambiguity of the Act to academically discuss and define 'what makes a woman'. Others use whatever tools they have to oppose that, as demonstrated by Natacha Kennedy I understand the frustration she holds. This is not a choice between free speech or silencing people. British Universities need to be clear and define what dignities we give to our staff and students. What protections do I really have as someone who is transgender? What limits allow others to discuss who or what I am? 

From a cynically POV, as we drive to improve diversity in universities, these clarifications become vital as they will impact the opinion of an institute.

I think we allow discussion of trans people on a loophole: the difference between sex and gender. The Act protects my gender as female but different guidelines cover sex, and at no point are these equated. James Morton suggests these terms need to be treated as one to prevent legal ambiguity It is implied that the sex of any trans person is protected in line with their gender but it is not explicit, which becomes problematic as the Act states that gender reassignment does not need be medical.  

Practically, Oxford University has policies that say I should use the bathroom in line with my gender identity, yet a professor may argue that a woman’s bathroom is for women: something predefined at birth that cannot be changed. Selina Todd states “I then began to question the whole premise that someone can ‘transition’ from being a man to a woman or vice versa. You can’t change sex – biologically, that is impossible”. The impact of this statement is that I am a man, as gender and sex are not legally linked. Todd is a co-convener of Women in Humanities, a group that specifically trying to further gender equality. Such a group leads world class research so the idea that a head does not include trans people within the scope of the title means that I will avoid their events.

Because we are often told that views made on blogs (like mine) are personal and in no way represent that of the employer. Here I have to ask, can a person separate their private views from their work? If a colleague stated on their personal blog that women should only hold jobs as determined by out of date gender stereotypes, would you be happy to work side by side with that person? If they share racist tweets, would you be comfortable working with that person as they only think that 'off the clock'? This is no different. When comments are made openly, in public, with university affiliations, those views will surely be considered to be representative of the community at that university.

I also read articles discussing whether or not we should respect gender terms other than male or female, such as It is true, presently people use many terms to describe their gender. I personally see this as a wonderful thing, the evolution of the English language. In Philosophical Investigations (1953), Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that “Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods;". Language evolves and discussion of gender and sex is no different. Some terms will fade and others will rise to prominence. The Act may not specify other gender identities but policies like that at Oxford University do. Whether we like these terms or not, they are in common (if not widespread) use and many places have guidelines stating that they should be respected. A lack of understanding of new language as a reason to not use newer terms feels like a weak argument, especially when made by academics.

Of course, the argument often returns to ‘we cannot have more than two genders as we only have two sexes’. Professor Stock stated, "That intersex people exist doesn’t seriously threaten this category, since most categories have statistical outliers." The most robust statistics we have currently estimates that intersex people make up 1.7% of the population: over 1.1 million people in the UK alone Ironically the estimated population of trans people in the UK is much lower. The numbers vary, but the highest estimates are around a third of a million, significantly lower than those thought to be intersex. So, if 1.1 million people are statistical outliers then the trans population is even more so. Either we talk about the trans population as statistically insignificant or we must concede that intersex people are significant and sex is not binary.

Stock also states that we need to preserve the integrity of statistics for male-on-female violence. I agree, we need the best statistics, I just disagree how we get them. The aim of the data in question is to get a real impression of how many men attack women. I firmly believe this needs to include any trans people attacked because their attacker saw them as women. If we start removing those with a trans history, we get a distorted sense of how prevalent male-on-female violence is. 

Until UK law provides clarity on sex and gender, we need our universities to be clear about their stance. We need to look out for our trans students and colleagues. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, as medical experts worldwide now acknowledge. My dysphoria is not the result of a disturbed upbringing and I do not need psychiatric help for it. But trans people do need support. No matter how often some dispute the statistics, time and again we see that trans people, young and old, are at much higher risk from hate crimes, depression and suicide than non-trans people. These results have been repeated time and again and prove robust. I know first-hand the abuse I receive: writing this I expect academic push-back, but I also expect a lot of school yard abuse from online sources.
Universities are under immense scrutiny right now to improve the diversity of their student intakes. In short, we need to appeal to a broader spectrum of people. Writing fantastic guidelines and policies is not enough, we need to see the conviction of a university to know that they mean them. The private views of their staff has an impact on that. I would not apply for jobs where the person I would be working with is openly racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist or transphobic. If those people were lecturers I would, as a student, choose to be taught by professors whose values I agree with (as much as I was able and complain where I had no choice). When looking at universities with openly x-ist professors, I would choose a different university. (Note, people can change. If they own that, go about it correctly, then we can forgive those people within reason).) If we want to improve diversity, we need to listen to complaints raised by people from diverse communities. 

The current ‘debate’ of “what is a woman” is an interesting test for these convictions.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Stand up to Trump and the Rise of the Right

Tonight I spoke at a rally in Oxford which was to stand up to Trump and the Rise of the Right. I add my transcript below (as, for a rare treat, i actually planned what I would say!) 

I am here to represent a number of LGBTI+ groups in Oxfordshire. 

I am here as someone concerned by what I see in other countries, and worried that the UK is not as distant from these views as we would like. 

Trump’s administration is doing so much to undermine human rights.

This is a group who thinks it is ok to separate children from their parents
Who shuts down any news they don’t not like as fake news, whilst tweets ‘facts’ with no basis in reality
Who think that coal is the cleanest energy, and is happy to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord
Someone who finds it funny to talk about grabbing women by their pussy

Someone who thinks that discrimination equals freedom. 

In Egypt it isn’t illegal, but well documented that there has been a crackdown on homosexuality of late: Police, state-aligned media and the religious establishment all regard it as a public duty to combat the spread of homosexuality.

In 2013 Russia introduced laws banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” i.e. homosexuality. 

It emerged last year that gay men were being detained and tortured in the Russian republic of Chechnya. We see the evidence, yet Russia and Chechnya deny they even have any homosexuals to persecute, never mind that they are actually doing it.

What about countries that we consider more similar to our own? 

Last year in Australia, posters were put on bus shelters that said ‘stop the fags’ and showing ‘statistics’ that “show” that 40% of gay men are sexual predators in an attempt to prevent same sex marriage. 

In Northern Ireland same sex marriage is still illegal. As, it should be pointed out, is abortion.

In his term, Trump’s administration have:

Said that firing of LGBT+ people is not legally discrimination (people who were at last year’s Orlando Pulse massacre were fired and kicked out of their homes, legally, once it was discovered that they were gay)

Removed all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, a medical issue that disproportionally affects the LGBTI+ community

Rescinded a ban on being trans in the US military just after being allowed to serve openly and legally for the first time, despite advice from within the armed forces not to

What about the UK…

National findings relating to LGBT+ young people indicate they are at increased risk in terms of safeguarding.  Stonewall’s school report (2017) found that:
        Nearly half of LGB pupils (45%) including 64% of trans pupils are being bullied for their gender identity or sexuality
        22% of LGB young people and 45% of trans young people have attempted to take their own life.
        Nearly one in ten trans pupils (nine per cent) are subjected to death threats at school
        Almost half of LGBT pupils (45 per cent) who are bullied for being LGBT never tell anyone

I stand here now as a member of the LGBTI+ community, a woman with a trans history, and someone who is respectably and without contest harassed for who I am. 

I stand here as a member of one of the most at risk groups of people in the UK, both from harassment and abuse on the street, online and in the press. Where it is open season from academics and the media to portray trans people as monsters. 
We are accused of trying to indoctrinate young people when talk about understanding. When using our freedom of speech to speak out against those who voice homophobic and transphobic views, we are seen as shutting down free speech. 

I stand here and speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. For fear of recrimination, reprisals, abuse, ridicule. Those who receive abuse at home from family and carers. Those who receive abuse at their school, place of study or place of work. Those who receive it from ‘respectable’ adults on their phones. 

I stand up for the parents of LGBTI+ young people who just want to do their best for their children, who want to look after them and keep them safe. That want to protect them from bullying. Who want to help their children grow and be the best version of themselves. To help them, stop them feeling pain and shame about who they are. 

For the survivors of physical, sexual and mental abuse because of something they cannot help. Because they know they are not the gender they were assigned or because their sex or sexuality falls outside of the binary understanding of many.

The right is on the rise, abroad and at home. Hate crimes are on the rise in the UK. Racism is becoming acceptable. We saw the Nazi salutes on our streets in London last week. These people are bolstered, motivated, given the courage to do what they do by those who oppose the rights of others by way of excuses: claiming decency, protection of children, academic merit. Meanwhile we have academics who argue on TV that colonialism was good for the countries ruined by it. And does so whilst maintaining that he is not racist.

We have those who claim to fight for womens rights, but so easily throw under the bus sex works and trans people. So easily do they dismiss us, claiming we are not normal, not natural, that we are predators and rapists. Or mentally ill. Suggesting we should be happy to discuss whether we should have rights and dignities. Acting like school yard bullies. You claim not to be transphobic. Guess what, you are. I know, because it is me you are attempting to bully and harass.

We are so interested in finding the differences between us. We are so quick to forget our similarities. We sterilise the issues, try to take away our words. We claim that words like homophobe, transphobe, racist are an affront to their rights. They twist the meaning of free speech, using it to shut down dissenting or different voices. We do so in the name of academic freedom, whist ignoring facts or reasoned debate. 

Our armchair warriors who give respectability and weight to views that would be ignored when only shared by UKIP or the EDL. People who mutter how terrible Trump is then spend the rest of the evening writing an article explaining why I should not be able to pee in a safe location whilst they sip a glass of Shiraz. 

And the right amplify the hate, turning us against each other.

Meanwhile we are taking away the busfare of our young people with additional needs who want to stay in education, we have a significant amount of people living in substandard housing at elevated costs and parents having to skip meals so their children can eat, we have young people being beaten, abused or thrown out of their home because they are LGBTI+, we have people sleeping on the streets in freezing weather conditions and we have statues of slavers on our High Street. 

Yet it is the people fleeing war who are the terrorists.

All we care about is ourselves. The noble warriors fighting against oppression by oppressing others, trying to keep our hands clean, hiding behind false names on the internet and just plain ignoring the voices of those in our community who are doing what they can for the weakest and most vulnerable are fighting real fights. Be it LGBTI+, religion, race, disability or class. 
When you ignore these issues, turn your back on those asking for help; you need to ask yourself. How long until we vote in our Trump.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Last night I attended a demonstration.

Last night I attended a demonstration. The demonstration at the Radcliff Camera, RadCam, was a peaceful gathering in response to an event taking place nearby in Oxford. This talk was organised by groups who oppose transgender equality and involved groups well documented to spread misinformation regarding transgender people and, more alarmingly, transgender children. I have already summarised my concerns here:

In response a number of people (I am proud to be one of them) organised a demonstration to remember those transgender people who have lost their lives to suicide and violence simply because they are transgender. I often put in the stats but they are in the links above. I can only repeat that 45% of young trans people have attempted suicide so many times.  

FYI: Protests and demonstrations have a long tradition and have been used by many fighting social inequality, bigotry and hatred. Of course, they have also been used to spread hate but protest should not be dismissed or discredited. We were not carrying Tiki torches.

We met, shared stories and talked about why we need protection from bigotry and hate. We tied ribbons to the RadCam railings, to remember those who have lost their lives. Many of those present tied ribbons for people they knew, sharing their stories. More than a few in the crowd had been on the receiving end of abuse and assault for being trans. More than a few had lost friends to suicide. It was emotional but there were trained supporters to hand and a break out space provided for those who needed support. Because we are human and we should look after each other.

After remembering why we were there, the majority of people in attendance went to protest outside the venue of the actual event. I stayed at the RadCam, to provide ribbons to latecomers. A number of people came along and tied a ribbon, not having been able to attend earlier. It was, again, lovely that people came along when they could to show their support even thought the demonstration had finished.

The event was organised in the afternoon of that day. At such short notice, the size of the crowd attending was amazing. The number of messages of support sent to me were overwhelming. Trans people and allies alike.  A fantastic mix of people: male and female, trans and non-trans, various ethnicities. (Not that we should be complacent, we can always do more for diversity.) Throughout the entire night people bobbed in and out. Yet the mix was always maintained. It was amazing to feel so supported. All there to remember and support the transgender community. Even the shutting down of the Facebook event (shut down, no doubt, by those attending the meeting who profess freedom of speech) did not deter people from coming to the protest. 

After some time, I follow in the footsteps of the people who had gone to protest. I did not join it, but instead bore witness. I stood across the street. At one stage I was given chocolate to give to the protestors by someone not taking part, which I delivered. But generally I kept my distance. I did not shout, stand outside the building directly or hold a sign. I wanted to watch. Make sure that both sides were respectful. I would have complained had any of the protestors overstepped the limits of reasonable protest.

I was happy to see police come by the protest on a semi-regular basis, talk with the protestors and confirm that what they was doing was lawful and reasonable. Very amicably.

The protestors chanted loudly. Very loudly. For over two and a half hours they kept their voices loud. I was pretty amazed. The slogans were those decrying bigotry. Event attendees and staff were allowed to enter and leave the building with no interaction. The protestors remained hands off and non-confrontational the entire time. There was no engagement with those attending the event. They were not debated or harassed. The chants merely remained loud. 

On a number of occasions people from the event came out and filmed the protestors which was a little weird. And did so very closely, I would not have been comfortable myself. Yet still, the protestors remained calm and did not interact. A number of times people from event yelled at the protestors. But the protesters remained stoic.

I heard one person shout that the protestors had silly haircuts. Very dignified!

At the end of the meeting, people came out and stood around trying to argue, despite the fact that the protestors were not engaging. I witnessed one lady push her fingers into a protestors face. I also saw one person trying to push biscuits into the mouths of the protestors. The act was clearly intended as silly but provocative. There was no thought to allergies. Those biscuits would have made me very sick. Such a simple action can have serious consequences for some people. But this was not thought about. 

At one stage I became very worried for the protestors as a man stated to yell in a number of (ironically much smaller) protestors faces very aggressively. This person was afterwards found to be unashamedly white supremacist. Evidence was easy to find. Luckily everyone remained clam, despite the provocations.

I was proud to see the protestors handle themselves with such calm dignity.

From where I stood, the crowd outside of the event would seemed to have been much larger than the number of people I saw leave the actual event (and I stayed until long after the protestors had left). I can say with certainty that there were more people at the RadCam for the demonstration. Even though the organisers of the event are well known for filming people and subjugating them to abuse and harassment online meaning that many people avoided the protest and demonstration for fear of their privacy being invaded. A fair decision and one I wholeheartedly respect. Still, I was pleased to have messages of support from people too worried to go or not able to come along, including messages from environmental campaigners, disability campaigners, Oxford Pride and various councillors (or those seeking election).

All in all I feel encouraged. So much support. Such quick rallying. So many well wishes from a wildly diverse group of people. I know that the people speaking in the event are a minority. Loud, organised but small. They will quickly be forgotten to history.

In the aftermath, Twitter has become a place for me to be harassed. I was invited to the event, though not as part of the panel. I gave my reasons, thoroughly, as to why I would not attend. As such, my Twitter handle was shared and picked up by some rather vile individuals. 

Since then I have received a barrage of notifications from people supporting the event. I have had people make personal comments about me, make light of my concerns to attend the debate and generally just bother me. 

Funny. At one stage I said at I thought one comment to be rather childish. That was followed by a number comments that reminded me of children in a school yard calling me chicken, which kinda proved my point.

Schoolyard verbal bullying and name-calling. Something I remember well from my school days during Section 28. Usually right before I was punched or kicked for being too poor, too clever, too weird, too different or too effeminate.

Unlike the school yard, I am no longer that unsure, worried, nervous child. I know who I am and these people have no power over me. I know I am privileged. Other people have it worse. I work with some of those people. I have a good life. I do what I can to improve the lives of those around me not make others lives miserable.

Yet those schoolyard bullies are engaging with me. They are talking to me. They think I am important enough to spend time harassing. That means I am doing some good. That I am a threat. That they think I may actually achieve some protection for the young people I work with, the parents I converse with and the schools I am invited to. Either that or they really just have too much time on their hands and get kicks trying to bully people.

Me, I am happy to delete, block, mute them. Once I have decided that a person has nothing worth saying to me, I don’t have to engage with them. Those who remain respectful I am happy to talk to. Those who want to use playground tactics, well, I am past those days.