The BBC, trans kids, and false debate

Tonight the BBC will show a documentary that puts the discredited Dr Zucker centre stage to tell people why it is best to force trans kids to conform to their assigned gender and block their transition. This is psychological abuse that destroys lives and causes suicides and Dr Zucker’s clinic was shut down for it. 

Last night BBC Newsnight decided to “debate” the uproar this documentary is causing, and featured Ray Blanchard, another discredited psychologist who came up with autogynephilia, the idea that trans women transition as a sexual fetish, trying to become the object of our own fantasy. This is the latest in a string of news programmes that have featured such discredited views as legitimate mainstream medical thought.

On Twitter Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis asked the question “should primary school age children be allowed to decide if they’re ready for gender reassignment surgery?” despite the fact that children NEVER GET SURGERY, it isn’t available until post 16, usually far after 18 with waiting list delays. When this was explained she changed it to “should primary school age children be allowed to decide if ready for gender reassignment hormone therapy” but kids don’t get this either! The most a child might get is fully reversible puberty blockers (obviously not before old enough for puberty!) which delay onset of puberty until the child is older, though this itself is often another delaying tactic by cis doctors. By asking these questions she has further spread lies to provoke “debate” that is none of cis people’s business.

This is not a debate. This is not balance. This is a full attack on trans people and trans kids, and I am fucking furious. Thinking about how many people will base their opinions on this and how many parents will inflict psychological abuse on their trans children because of this has my anxiety rocketing back up to levels it was before my transition. Please, speak up against this. Complain to the BBC. Shout at anyone who will listen. Especially if you are cis, because trans people are being crushed by the relentlessness of this shit.

Electric wheelchair update – success!

I posted this update for contributors to my fundraiser a while back, however I thought I should put it here as well for completeness.

image

I have had the powerchair for a few weeks now and I have used it to go to hospitals, to shops, and on one 8 mile adventure to Tesco to try and stretch the batteries. Unfortunately I finished that adventure calling for help because I ran out of charge, but then the chair was able to fit in my rescuer’s car, so it ended well! Karen has used the powerchair herself a few times. She is recovering well and is now off crutches most of the time.

This powerchair has made a huge difference to me and I am really grateful to all of you who donated. Thank you so much.

Previously: Please help – I need an electric wheelchair

A Union (or whatever) of Disabled People?

Guest post by Sam Barnett-Cormack @narco_sam

Given the results of this general election, it’s more clear than ever that we need to make use of every tool outside of Parliament to stand up for ourselves. To stand up for our rights, our participation, our safety and our sanity.

It’s my feeling that a new national organisation, formally constituted and mebership-based, would be a strong way to ensure the voice of disabled people in politics, in civil society, and in the media. I have nothing against DPAC and Black Triangle, and I hope their work continues. Indeed, the organisation I envisage would hopefully work with them, along with all sorts of DPULOs, and anyone else that it makes sense to work with. The organisation I envisage would be dedicated to constructive policy work and campaigning in all areas, not just political. Inaccessible town centres, healthcare inequality, disabled people’s sports – raising the profile of all these, and more, and saying how we, disabled people, want things fixed – and having the data and policy work to back it up. And yes, that includes working to protect the social security that so many disabled people rely on, but also so much more.

We don’t have to call it a union – it wouldn’t exactly be part of the trades union movement, but I see it working in a similar way. A national executive, policy votes, meetings and similar. Of course, meetings can never be terribly accessible for many disabled people, so we’d do more absentee voting at meetings, and more things by referenda. But we would have a solidly defined constitution, and membership. So it could be called ‘union’, or ‘association’, or ‘fellowship’ – there’s arguments for and against a lot of language options. What’s important is that we do it.

I truly believe that, done right, such an organisation can carry the confidence and embody the unity of disabled people. We won’t all agree on policies, there will be internal politics, but we can see how many organisations out there make this work. We agree to follow our collective will in essentials, even while being free to disagree publicly. Not every disabled person would support it, but if we do it right, enough will. A credible, mature and accountable voice for disabled people on the national stage – with accountability, making it easy for everyone to participate, and allowing for differences of opinion without fragmenting.

I don’t have all the detail worked out, but here’s my thoughts so far. Two-stream membership, with different voting rights – self-identified disabled people as full members, and carers and allies as associate members. Our carers and allies are vital, and they must have a voice, especially carers, but the organisation must be led by disabled people ourselves. A constitution that embeds concern for intersectionality, that we will not discriminate against disabled people on the basis of other characteristics – be it race, sex, education, economic status, national origin (or even nationality), whatever. Not party-political, but admonishing all political parties (and politicians) equally, as merited. Praising that which is good and castigating that which is bad. Caring as much about supporting each other as about making noise and seeking change – providing advice and advocacy would be an excellent thing to incorporate.

Yes, an organisation doing this is going to need money. I don’t envisage employed staff any time soon, though if it takes off that’s a possibility. But organisation generally costs money, like room hire, renting a PO box, printing, and even legal advice. Some of that might come from contributions in kind, and we can always hope for a few big donors, but membership will probably need to cost money. I don’t know how much. Perhaps charge associate members more than full members, partly due to the fact that disabled people are more likely to be in poverty, and partly because that demonstrates our allies’ commitment to us as disabled people. Of course, concessional rates would be needed – carers are scarcely in a better position than disabled people, certainly. I’d love to sit down with some other people who are prepared to get this off the ground and sort out these initial details. Heck, I’m happy if other people run with the idea and I just end up a member, but I’m willing to do work to start it – I just can’t do it all.

There’s so much more that I could say: how we can directly address businesses and other organisations, not just politicians; how we can facilitate a structure of affiliate organisations to allow for local branches; how a clear forum that we have ownership of will allow us to be open about our fears and our hopes and, yes, our differences.

Let’s do this thing.

Adventures in anxiety

Last chance to see Dark Night Rises in the local cinema tonight. Decide to go to half seven showing. Been playing Skyrim, stop to eat dinner. Food doesn’t taste right. It’s not the food, it’s me but can’t finish it. Feel a bit tired, a bit down. Decide to lie down for a bit. Think maybe shouldn’t go out after all.

Nearly time to go out. Want to see the film, but don’t want to go out. REALLY don’t want to go out. Don’t know why, just don’t. Karen is getting ready. Says I should too. Start to panic a bit. Say I can’t go. She’s still getting ready. Tell her again. Can’t go. Sorry. Sorry. I’m shit and stupid. Just can’t go. She tells me to sit up and put shoes on. Maybe I’ll be better once we get there. I put shoes on. Pack bag with medicine, blood sugar monitor, emergency stuff. See my satnav cradle and the rubber pipe i bought as a spacer, get sidetracked by trying to make it fit my tablet. I’m delaying really. Pretend to myself I haven’t noticed.

Time to go. Visit toilet first. More delay. Don’t want to go.

In the car. Body drives the car automatically while the mind says “don’t want to go don’t want to go don’t want to go you’re stupid for not wanting to go you’re shit.” Round and round. Endless loop. Turn music on. Happy but heavy music to drown out the thoughts.

Pull into car park. Engine off.

Freeze.

Don’t want to get out can’t move want to hide oh god why are there windows I’m exposed people might see me need to hide oh shit oh shit oh shit.

Karen is there. Holding my hand. Ignore windows. Focus on nice safe hand.

Freeze.

Why am I thinking this? I’m so stupid and pathetic and shit for thinking this. Karen says I’m not. I am. Useless too. Karen says she loves me. She shouldn’t, I’m shit. Can’t even go to see a film. I’m shit I’m skit I’m shit I’M SHIT. DON’T LOVE ME I’M SHIT.

Can’t cope with car park. No one there, but I’m exposed. Start car, drive home. Worried I’m not safe to drive but body drives automatically.

Park. Freeze.

Get out. House is there. Go! Quickly! In door. Bed. Under duvet. Safe here. Safe. Heart beats. Shake. Cry.

I’m shit.

Help me list exactly what’s wrong in the Welfare Reform Bill

There have been lots of articles and blogs about things that are wrong with the Welfare Reform Bill, but strangely there doesn’t seem to be one complete list. Please comment below to help me create such a list and I will update this text as comments come in.  The Welfare Reform Bill will

  • Replace DLA with PIP, introducing a 20% budget cut and regular assessments.
  • Limit contribution-based ESA for people in the WRAG to one year, after which people may only claim income-based ESA if their partner earns less than £7,500 per year.
  • Reduce child tax credits (not sure how exactly)
  • UC will not cover spare bedrooms in social housing.
  • Charge parents for the use of the CSA after breaking up.
  • Limit total household benefits to £26,000 per year. (Except when on high rate PIP?)
  • No longer count disabled children as having paid national insurance contributions.
  • Abolished the social fund, to be replaced at the whim of local authorities.

Continue reading “Help me list exactly what’s wrong in the Welfare Reform Bill”

Virtual models and H&M – a storm in a teacup?

The media appears to be making a big fuss about H&M “confessing” to using virtual models on their website. The people at Jezebel.com realised that H&M picture clothes on models that are put together by a computer. You can read the original story H&M Puts Real Model Heads On Fake Bodies [Jezebel] and see an example in the Telegraph H&M confess to using computer generated models. In the last 24 hours this story has appeared all over the place.

The story has provoked an angry response from a lot of people and many have pointed out problems. I agree that doing it this way can contribute towards defining a particular body image as the norm, and can create an unrealistic ideal in the minds of women and in what people expect of their partners. There is no range of body shapes and sizes, which can’t help people who are unhappy with their own size or shape. I could see this contributing to eating disorders and mental health problems too.

I think, though, that this is being sensationalised by the media and being blown out of proportion. Accusations that this is being done to keep costs down or to get perfect models or with some malicious intention are wrong here. One comment I saw says “Even the bodies of professional models are too imperfect to properly advertise clothing with. Even with photoshop. The only solution was to invent an entirely virtual body that no human being actually has.” This just isn’t true. Here is what is really happening: H&M use a virtual dressing room created by Looklet.com. The clothes are photographed on a mannequin and the human models are photographed. The whole lot is put on the website. Then the computer can take whichever clothes are desired and put them on a model to create an outfit to the customer’s own specification. The point is to allow customers to see what their outfit looks like, which encourages them to buy that item of clothing, and maybe to buy other clothes and accessories that they have tried on the virtual model. It is possible to tell which pictures used a virtual model since all of the models for the virtual dressing room are shown with the same pose, left hand on hip. The virtual models are highlighted in the picture below.

H&M screenshot with virtual models circled
Screenshot from H&M website with virtual models highlighted
H&M screenshot
Screenshot of H&M website - note the "TRY ON" button near the bottom right.

As I said, this is being sensationalised by the press. H&M never said that they didn’t use computer models, and they haven’t confessed to anything, just acknowledged the truth when people noticed. I am sure that many people had noticed on earlier occasions when they used the website to mix and match clothes. H&M aren’t the only ones to do this; other clothing brands such as the Swedish JC (Jeans & Clothes) also use Looklet. Strangely, so do Absolut Vodka.

screenshot from H&M website showing mail virtual model.
Another H&M screenshot. They have virtual models of men too!

There are steps that could be taken to make this better, not all of them practical. The clothes could be photographed in a range different sizes, but a single new size would double the work required to process the images and get them onto the website and in practice is not affordable. It could be made clearer that the virtual models are not real people, with a notice to that effect on the website, and perhaps H&M shouldn’t use the virtual models mixed in with their real ones. The virtual models could be made obviously less human; although making them look like a Barbie doll might be a bit too condescending.

In the end I don’t believe that this is anything like the scandal that people think it is. People have looked at the headlines with words like “confesses” in them and made assumptions but few have gone to the website and experimented with creating looks to see what the real reason for the virtual models is. The ability to create looks is useful and is enjoyed by many people as a creative outlet as well as being a marketing tool. Yes, it has its drawbacks, but perhaps they are worth working around to get the useful features too.

 

I’m an arsehole

I’m an arsehole. And a bigot.

Really, I am. I get angry when people take a different view from me in opposition to what I consider common sense or logical conclusion. I see things in a very black and white way, either for or against, and I make angry judgements about people who disagree with me. I often respond by losing my temper and breaking off contact.

So what is a bigot? Bigotry and bias are accusations that come up quite a lot in political discussions, and most people can easily apply them to other people without asking the question of themselves. Here’s the definition of Bigoted:

big·ot·ed

adjective/ˈbigətid/

  • Obstinately convinced of the superiority or correctness of one’s own opinions and prejudiced against those who hold different opinions
    • – a bigoted group of reactionaries
  • Expressing or characterized by prejudice and intolerance
    • – a thoughtless and bigoted article

“Convinced of the correctness of one’s own opinions” That pretty much defines anyone involved in political activism. But is that the sole criterion? What if a person actually IS correct? It is often impossible to judge this until later – otherwise we wouldn’t be able to disagree quite so much, and sometimes the correct answer is completely down to a person’s opinion of the best outcome.

“Prejudiced against those who hold different opinions”

prej·u·dice

noun /ˈprejədəs/
prejudices, plural

  • Preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience

I’m going to plead guilty here. I like to think that most of my opinion is based on reason, and, indeed, my own experiences and those of other people, but my perception of who might be responsible and my understanding of their motives may well be prejudiced.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in being an arsehole and a bigot. I think a huge swathe of humanity are the same. Even people that I campaign alongside and support in their politics also have their flaws and can be nasty to others. That saddens me and is often a trigger for my depression.

Earlier today I got angry about people who call those who cross picket lines “scabs” and who might shout abuse at them. I fully support the public sector strikes but I also consider that people have a right not to withdraw their labour as much as they have a right to withdraw it. In my opinion, shouting abuse at people who go in to work either because they don’t agree with the strike or because they do agree but feel unable to strike is bullying. As such, I am shocked that people who I see fighting for equality, for rights, standing up for each other, also stating that they are prepared to shout “scab” at people who they have failed to convince to go on strike. However, when I stated as much on twitter, I had this quoted to me:

Tweet: "Seems more a case of disagreeing in this instance than actually being against bullying?"

And he quoted one of my own tweets in support of this statement:

http://twitter.com/#!/latentexistence/status/134788571461713921

I suppose it is true that what I said there could be considered bullying. I find the tabloid paper in question vile, their news often false and their opinions offensive. As such I hope that no-one who I know would want to read it. However It is not up to me to force their opinion on this, only to state my case and try to convince them. It is my choice whether I want to know someone or not though, and I don’t think cutting off contact is bullying if done to preserve my own sanity.

Being an arsehole, I can do something about. I can make an effort to listen to other people’s opinions, and discuss them, or ignore them rather than lose my temper. Being a bigot, I’m not sure. I hope that my opinion changes based on facts and rational argument, but ultimately much of what I think is simply based on what I feel. I do at least feel that we should all support each other and people should not hoard wealth and resources, and I hope that I would feel this way even if I were super rich. (Better hope that IT business takes off eventually!) If I am going to be a bigot, at least I am a bigot with principles.

Gender identity

What defines gender? Whether you have XX or XY chromosomes? The physical manifestation that your genitals and internal organs take? Your sexuality and who you are sexually attracted to? (And their gender!) Is it the way that your brain works? The games that you played and the toys that you played with as a child?

The concept of gender identity has been in the news this week because of a couple in Canada that are refusing to tell anyone the sex of their child. You can read the original story here: Parents keep child’s gender secret. The couple have called the baby “Storm” and announced “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …).” As the baby’s mother later explained, they have a 5 year old boy called Jazz who does not fit the stereotype for his gender. “Jazz’s love of colour (especially pink) and fabric (especially dresses) continued, and he wanted to grow his hair. The older he became, the more he met with pressure from peers and adults to “act more like a boy.” (From The Star: ‘Genderless’ baby’s mother responds to media frenzy)

It seems that the baby’s parents want to keep the sex of their child secret to allow their child to make choices about gender for itself without pressure from people around it.

As you can see in the paragraph above, I have had to use the word “itself” and modify my language to refer to a child without knowing its sex. This, I think, is reason enough alone for the fact that the first question asked about every child is “Is it a boy or a girl?” The fact is, without knowing this, the English language does not allow proper conversation about the child! We feel uncomfortable using the word ‘it’ but we cannot use ‘he’ or ‘she’ without knowing sex.

In fact, a slight controversy was stirred up by FHM magazine yesterday. It seems that they have included a man in their “100 Sexiest Women in the World” this year. (Telegraph: FHM names Andrej Pejic 98th sexiest ‘woman’ in the world) Andrej Pejic is an androgynous model who appears in men’s or women’s clothing to suit what the fashion industry wants at the time. Unfortunately FHM didn’t seem particularly enlightened in dealing with this situation, refering to Andrej as a ‘thing’ in their write-up. (Styleite: Andrej Pejic Called A ‘Thing’ By FHMMagazine)

Gender identity is not a straightforward issue. As I alluded in my opening paragraph, biological sex is difficult to determine and the results of checking chromosomes might be different from checking genitals. Sex can be confused, neither one nor the other, or perhaps both.  Typically women have two X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y chromosome. Kleinfelters syndrome may leave a person with both two X chromosomes and a Y chromosome. Swyer syndrome, or XY gonadal dysgenesis, results in a person that looks female, but has male chromosomes. de la Chapelle syndrome results in a person with female XX chromosomes but with male genitals. Chromosomes are obviously only a rough guide to sex, and even less of a guide to gender identity.

Historically, however, it is only the type of genitals that have been taken into account to determine biological sex and gender identity. This is woefully lacking as a method of working out whether someone is male, female or other. Take, for example, runner Caster Semenya. There was a controversy in 2009 because she was competing in the womens races, but she was accused of being a man because she didn’t look feminine enough. After a number of tests, she was found to have no ovaries, but she did apparently have testes, albeit small and hidden internally. (Sydney Daily Telegraph: Runner has no ovaries: report) We have not been told the results of final tests made. Semenya has lived as a woman all her life and I do not think she had any reason to think she should live otherwise.

Another well-known case is that of David Reimer. This is a tragic story of a boy who was reassigned to live and grow up as a girl following an accident during circumcision. His penis was destroyed and his parents and doctors made the decision to remove his testes too and raise him as a woman. Despite being given female hormones and made to wear girls clothing, he always identified as a man, and began living as a man at the age of fifteen. He killed himself at the age of thirty-eight.

Going back to the case of Storm, then, the child of unknown sex, are Storm’s parents doing the right thing? I personally think not. I can understand the logic that a person must be allowed to find their own gender, but I don’t think that this is the best way in our society. So many aspects of life require knowledge of sex; toilets are seperated by sex. Clothing is determined by sex. Sometimes classes at school are split by sex. Even the language we speak relies on knowledge of sex.

Certainly it is a vast never-ending problem for people to re-assign their gender later in life. Although we have positive examples such as some governments now making allowances for transgender people to travel and to have a passport with their new identity, a large chunk of the world persecute trans people and make life hell for them. From something as simple as which toilets they are allowed to use, up to problems with getting married. In Texas lawmakers are trying to overturn the rights of transgender people to marry. (Huffington Post: Texas May Strip Away Transgender Marriage Rights.) A person may also be trapped by their social group, religion or culture and unable to reassign their gender.

I think that Storm’s parents would do better to raise Storm as a boy or a girl all while making it clear that whatever Storm turns out to be, there will be parental love and support. What do you think?