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.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Why I condemn the event: "A Woman's Place is Ours to Define"

Note, this article has been hastily written. I have not had the chance to include as many references as I would like. 

Today in Oxford there will be a meeting called “A Woman’s Place is Ours to Define”. The meeting is being hosted by a ‘Woman’s Place UK’ with speakers from that organisation, Transgender Trend and Fair Play for Women and Girls. 

These three websites cause me concern, as I fundamentally disagree with many of the statements they make. 

I state some facts below, which are frequently refuted by these organisations. 
I am transgender. 
I know that children can be transgender and support careful transition. 
I know that hate crimes and sexual assault against transgender people are real. I know that the high rate of suicide for transgender adults and children are not a myth and are not exaggerated.  
Self identification of gender does not lead to increased instances of assault in the countries where it is already law. 
Transgender people in womens spaces does not increase the likelyhood of assault. There is no evidence of this. 

As such, we should do all we can to protect our trans community. 

A Woman’s Place UK look to potentially roll back protection offered to transgender people by looking to potentially alter the Equality Act in order to do so. Given that transgender people are some of the most at risk people in society, with alarmingly high statistics for being on the receiving end of hate crimes, a reduction of the current protections is a major concern for me. From the Stonewall report: “Two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.“  

Transgender Trend have sent information to schools suggesting that suggest it is harmful and dangerous to allow children to question and explore their gender, and transition if necessary. This is in direct opposition to the general consensus by medical experts. Having worked closely with transgender young people and their parents, it is widely known that those children are at higher risk of depression, self-harm and suicide. Studies show that people who transition are overwhelmingly more likely to be happier. It should also be noted the slow process to transition, meaning that nothing is done quickly, without significant due care and attention, at immense medical scrutiny and with no permanent changes to the individual until these requirements are met. A child cannot medically transition on a whim, or as a phase. There are checks and balances against this. Worse, we need to actively support these children given the alarming statistics shown by Stonewall: “32 per cent of trans young people say they have missed lessons due to discrimination or fear of discrimination.” “nearly two in three trans pupils are bullied for being LGBT at school, one in ten have received death threats, and more than two in five have tried to take their own lives.” 

Fair Play for Women and Girls argue against changes to the Gender Recognition Act, making it easier for transgender people to change their legal status, and also state fear that children are being forced to transition. A major arguing point seems to be philosophical, “what is a woman”. Of course, the consequences for transgender people are real. 
As a side, I agree with the analysis of founder feminist Simone de Beauvoir that the statement “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.” is trans-inclusive, as argued: 

I have discussed some issues with Nic from Fair Play for Women and children on live TV, although in that situation it is hard to get into details or depth. Also, live TV is puite scary! It was a very simplified discussion. However, the conversation continued afterwards and it was good to be able to engage in a relaxed manner rather than do so at arm’s length, and without antagonising each other. I strongly believe in discussion. 

I also appreciate that Nic invited me to the event being held tonight. However, I have decided to decline for the following reasons: 

The panel is not a balanced panel, with four people talking for one side of the debate. As such, this is of little academic merit. It does not mean that there is not a place for such an event – I am not against it in general. It is good to discuss things, even if I do not agree with them. But meeting such as these are biased, use one side, manipulated facts and that, to me, walks a fine line of hate speech. If there are things that concern people, I would love to be able to figure out why and try to address them if possible. However, I expect that I will strongly disagree with many points made, with good reason, and do not feel that it would be a suitable environment to engage in productive discourse. That I will not be able to fairly criticise those points. As an audience member, and with a crowd biased to one side of the issue, there would be no way to discuss this in a balanced and fair way. 

I also fear that the event will be particularly harrowing. I doubt that I will not be gendered correctly, that many of my thoughts may be dismissed and that I may even be dead named. I would hope to be treated with more dignity but I do not expect that. Note, this is a fear and not necessarily certain. But still, I do not want to risk my sanity in case I am right. 

I am also very concerned for my personal, physical safety. A number of events involving people who oppose trans-rights have ended up with physical violence. Are recent event, supported by the amazing feminist direct action group ended in physical violence just recently. I do not make statements about who or why that physical altercations started – the risk that such violence could start is enough for me. I am opposed to violence. I also support protests and physical presence – but not violence. I have seen people on the anti-trans side state that this behaviour is unacceptable. Direct physical action was a method employed by the Suffragette movement to gain votes for women. We should not forget that. 

As such I condemn this meeting. It will incite hate and propagate misinformation. It is not wrong to question and analyse changes to laws and regulations. However, it should be done in a calm, fair, balanced and non-emotional way. This meeting will not achieve that.