Sunday, 13 October 2019

Mistaken Identities?

I read an article in the online Sunday Times entitled Gender reassignment: I’m man enough to admit that it was a mistake .

That's an exaggeration - I read the beginning of the article (the part that isn't behind the paywall) and I watched the video.

The article is categorised as being about Health, NHS and Religion.

It's about a man named Peter Benjamin who transitioned from male to female and then decided that it had been a mistake and "de-transitioned" back to male.

The article says that "He is speaking about his experience out of concern for people who, like him, change gender, only to find their lives as isolated and challenging as they were before."

If the points being made here things like:
  • people shouldn't approach gender reassignment without thinking hard and long about who they are
  • people do sometimes make mistakes and it's important not to rush into things
  • gender reassignment surgery will not solve every problem for every person that undergoes it
then I'm OK with it.

If the message, however includes anything like:
  • gender reassignment helps no one
  • God makes boys and girls and doesn't make mistakes, so trans people need to get over it and live the lives that God gave them
then I'm not at all OK with it.

If Peter Benjamin is in a happier place for himself than he was before then I'm glad for him.

In the video, he says:
I've got friends now. I've got people I can talk to.
I've got a church that I go to now.
All the crossdressing, all the transgender has gone, completely gone.
I feel so much better in myself. I don't fantasise about it. There's no lust there any more. It's completely, completely gone.
I am back to being who I was before, so that's how I'm going to liver my lie now. 
If his intentions are honestly just to help other people then maybe that's OK. Unless Peter or the church that he goes to are of the opinion that the way to help all trans people is to encourage them to carry on living lives according to their birth sex irrespective of any sense of gender dysphoria that they may have. In which case it is not at all OK.

In the end, I believe that we are all different. There isn't a one-size fits all answer to all of life's challenges. What might be right for Peter is not at all right for every single trans person on the planet.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Human Library and Human Books

The Human Book experience happened yesterday (5 October 2019).

I prepared some notes ... see below ... though I didn't actually use them on the day. But a lot of the things that I shared are included in the notes.

Sally and I arrived at about 10:30 and spent a while drinking coffee, chatting with other human books, librarians and organisers and hearing about how things had been organised.

The book borrowing began at 11:00,

I was first borrowed at about 11:15 and made it back to the human book shelf at about 14:10, so it was quite busy. Each borrower had about 10 minutes ... though it was often a bit longer than that because there were always a few questions.

Mostly I was on loan to one or two borrowers at any one time, though there were three at the very end.

I found it to be a very positive experience.

Questions that I was asked included things like:
  • How much of my time is spent as Andrea / Andy and what influences it?
  • When am I at my most comfortable?
  • What about work?
And people said things like:
  • Thank you
  • You are welcome here
  • You've helped me see beyond the confines of what I've seen before
And here are the notes:

Gender Fluidity: My life as Andy and Andrea

  • My life began in the mid 1950’s as Andrew
  • Over the years the name morphed into Andy
  • But my mum always called me Andrew.
  • I grew up as a normal kind of boy whatever normal means.
  • At the age of maybe 12 I would sometimes secretly try on my mum’s clothing
  • One day disaster seemed to strike, and I was caught in the act by my brother.
  • But I don’t think he ever actually told anyone about it
  • Today he doesn’t remember it.
  • But I’ve never forgotten.
  • I had no idea why I did this.
  • But when I was caught, I stopped.
  • Time passed and I became a student
  • I became a Christian and started to go to church.
  • I remember as a student writing a letter to the student union magazine about why a group of marginalised people were wrong in the way that they lived. Even though I’d never taken the trouble to talk with any of them about it or find out the truth
  • I graduated, got a job, met Sally and we married
  • I would sometimes buy ladies clothing and wear it secretly.
  • I would feel guilty and get rid of the clothing.
  • Then buy more
  • We had children
  • Buying, wearing and disposing of the clothing continued.
  • I didn’t really know why.
  • It was a secret associated with a sense of fear of being discovered by my wife, by my church
  • And, in a way, with feelings of shame and of guilt
  • Roll forwards to 2007
  • My involvement with the church had more or less ended
  • I began to buy more clothing. A wig. Cosmetics. I tried lipstick, but it was a disaster.
  • And still I had no idea why
  • But to me, the whole thing was somehow getting to be more significant
  • I had a growing need to be rid of this secret
  • The secrecy was hurting.
  • One day I allowed my wife to find out.
  • She was more than surprised, but she listened
  • There were challenges. It’s not easy explaining something when you don’t understand it yourself.
  • She was hurt that I’d never told her
  • But in the end, she took it in her stride and allowed me to wear dresses and skirts and blouses.
  • She noticed that it changed me. We got along better. I was less stressful. Less angry
  • I looked online and found Fiona Floyd who provided a makeover, dressing and photography service
  • And I went along.
  • I felt another name was needed; I chose the name Andrea.
  • It was at Fiona’s that I discovered that makeup could involve more brushes than painting a house.
  • On that day I remember looking into the mirror and feeling that I was meeting a part of myself for the first time.
  • In a way, Andrea was born on May 6th 2007
  • But in another way Andrea had always existed – but had been hidden away
  • Later that day, when removing the makeup, it was a little like washing a part of myself down the sink.
  • I still didn’t know why. But it made me feel more complete somehow.
  • At that time, I used the word transvestite.
  • I practiced doing makeup as my wife watched football.
  • Time passed
  • I met other trans people
  • I told my daughters.
  • We’ve told friends and family members.
  • I went out
  • Andrea stopped being a secret.
  • These days I choose the term genderfluid rather than transvestite.
  • It’s more an expression of my sense of gender than just about the clothes that I wear.
  • At times I feel more Andrea than Andy and vice-versa
  • Even now I don’t know what that means
  • But I don’t feel a need to understand it.
  • It’s more just about being who I am.
  • As time passes, I’ve learned that I’m not defined by the clothes that I wear nor by my gender.
  • The truth is that I just am who I am.
  • Just a person.
  • I think that it’s true of everyone – those that identify as trans and those who don’t
  • Each one is different with a unique set of experiences, thoughts, feelings and needs.
  • But each one is a person.
  • The person that is me, is sometimes expressed as Andrea and sometimes as Andy.
  • But really, I’m just me
  • There’s just the one person with different expressions of that personality.
  • Maybe a bit like being a parent, or a child, an uncle or a nephew, a grandparent or a grandchild.
  • I am all those things.
  • But none of them fully defines who I am
  • I’m just me.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Trans Employees and Supreme Courts

Todays top Google news Trans story is from The Guardian: 'There is no protection': case of trans woman fired after coming out could make history.

It looks at the case of Aimee Stephens. Aimee is a trans woman that was fired from her job because her employer objected to a man dressing as a woman. There are court documents that testify to this here.

According to the Guardian report:

Stephens’ case is one of three discrimination cases involving LGBTQ individuals that the court [Supreme Court of the United States] will hear on 8 October and the first supreme court case involving the civil rights of transgender people.

Some parts of the court documents mentioned above make for heavy reading. But there's a lot that is just telling of Aimee's experiences.

I'd heard of Aimee Stephens back in March 2018 when I'd been engaging a little with people at Walid Shoebat's web site here. There's an article about an earlier court case involving Aimee Stephens that I made some comments on. In my opinion the article misrepresents the truth of the case.

There are issues in all of this as to what authority an employer has in terms of hiring and firing people. Some people think that an employer (especially in a privately owned business) should be free to do whatever they want.

Personally, at least, I'm glad that employers aren't free to do whatever they want, and that there are restrictions placed upon them.

I think that there ought to be protection for people in their employment and that trans people should be treated first and foremost as people.

It's a shame that the employer in this case doesn't seem to have been able to find it in his heart to do this.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Human Library Revisited

Back in March 2018 I wrote about my experience of being a Human Book at a Human Library here.
On Saturday October 5yth 2019 I'm repeating the experience, with a slightly different title.
There's some info below.
Come along and meet some human books if you're able to.

Saturday 5 October 2019

11am – 2pm

Windsor Baptist Church / Tree House Café

Victoria Street, Windsor, close to Victoria Street Car Park

A unique opportunity to step into another’s shoes
and understand life from a different perspective.
Just like in a real library, a visitor to the Human Library
can choose from a range of titles.
The difference is that books are people and reading is a conversation.
Come along between 11am and 2pm to have a 10 minute conversation with a Human Book of your choice, and broaden your understanding of human life.
Tea and Coffee available.
“Gender Fluidity: My life as Andy and Andrea ”
“From Colombian Cartels to Argentine Tango ”
“A Decade on Stage: From Peer Gynt to Britain’s Got Talent”
“My Mental Health Journey” “From Homed, to Homeless, to Homed again”
“From Yorkshire to Wales: Homesickness and Building New Life”
“Mental Health in the Family” “Living with Domestic Violence”
“Giving Away Millions: My Charity Work for the Lions”
“Angel of the Night: My work as a Street Angel” “Depression: The Black Fog”
“A Force for Good: Getting Involved in Local Politics”
“My Restorative Justice Meeting with the Person Who Harmed Me”
“My passion for the Environment, From Boyhood to Now”
Don’t judge a book by its cover!

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Schools, Sex Education, Sharing and Pronouns

On Monday 16 September 2019 the trans story at the top of the Google News list is headed: Trans children to get sex education with gender they identify with at Metro.
It's a report based on what claims to be a leaked report from "the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and seen by the Sunday Times".
No links are provided either to the Sunday Times or the EHRC so it doesn't make it easy to validate what it says.
According to Metro "The document also advises that trans boys and girls be allowed to participate in personal, social and health education lessons with the gender they identify with."
So far as I'm aware there are schools that already teach subjects like "sex education, social and health education" to mixed groups of boys and girls.
There's an article here: which looks at the pros and cons of segregating boys and girls during such classes. And another here: that discusses whether boys and girls should be taught separately. And another here: So far as I can tell all the authors are non-trans females and don't seem to have any axes to grind. All of them seem to be saying that, on balance, they think that the classes should be mixed rather than segregated.
Metro quotes a "campaigner" named Tanya Carter as saying: "What use is it to that pupil to learn about periods or breast development? No one is asking the girls whether they would feel happy with a trans pupil in that group."
To be honest I think boys should know about these things. Talking about it in a classroom environment could provide a way of allowing children to see that the topics aren't shameful or taboo and help each other understand each other in a better way.
There are other more contentious issues that relate to pupils sharing things like:
  • changing rooms
  • rooms when on school trips (I think that this means bedrooms, though the article doesn't make this clear)
My take on this is that schools shouldn't actually expect any pupils to undress in any shared space - even where the children are all non-trans and of the same sex. Changing rooms and bedrooms should be private spaces.
Sports are more complex. There are debates about unfair advantages that trans-girls would have over cis-girls (i.e. non-trans girls) in some sports.
If sport in school is seen as a solely competitive activity I can see this as a problem. In terms of sport being a great way of encouraging physical activity and a healthy lifestyle I'm not sure that there need be a problem. Whatever problem does exist here is probably more one of competitive fairness rather than safeguarding. In school sport it needn't be an issue unless we want to make it one. In adult competitive sport I'm not so sure. But the Metro article is about schools so I'll leave the extended debate for another day. 
There are also some points made in the Metro article about using a trans-child's preferred name and pronouns.
My own view on this is that anyone that can't be respectful enough to use names and pronouns in this way perhaps should look for a job where they don't need to use pronouns or peoples names.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Trans Health

On Friday 13 September 2019 the first in the list of Trans News items on the Google News page is from the BBC: Transgender waiting lists 'putting people at risk'.
The article discusses how long people that identify as being Transgender sometimes have to wait before receiving any specialist medical help.
It begins with the words:
Transgender people are being put at greater risk of suicide and self-harm because of "unacceptably" long waits for specialist medical clinics in Scotland, according to campaigners.
The Scottish Trans Alliance (STA) (which has been funded by the Scottish Government Equality Unit since 2007) is mentioned in several places in the article.
The article also mentions that:
At the start of 2019, almost 300 people had been waiting more than a year for a first appointment with a specialist.
NHS guidelines say gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.
The condition is not covered by the NHS's 18-weeks referral-to-treatment target but the STA thinks the first appointment with a specialist should be within that timescale, because delays can take a "real toll" in terms of depression and anxiety.
The article also includes an analysis by BBC Scotland Health Correspondent Lisa Summers.
The analysis includes some of the story of some of the experiences of a trans man named Alex McIntosh. And also Dr Jo Gardiner, a GP who has seen a growing number of transgender patients.
James Morton of the STA mentions:
The long waits to begin hormone therapy in particular can put people at greater risk of hate crime.
If you're trying to live in your gender identity in society, but you haven't been able to access hormones or surgery, then your physical appearance is more likely to indicate you are trans.
So it can create a high level of risk in social situations and take a real toll in terms of depression and anxiety.
And my thoughts?
The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is under pressure from many sides. It's has a difficult job to do in balancing funding with meeting the needs of people. Over recent years there has been quite a lot written and said about failings in the provision of mental health care. For example there's an article in the Guardian here, and from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman here.
There's an article in the Lancet entitled Trans* health: “diversity, not pathology which mentions:
“Being transsexual, transgender, or gender non-conforming is a matter of diversity, not pathology”. This statement is from The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care, 2011 guidelines, which provide clinical guidance for health professionals and challenge medical classification that has long considered gender identity disorder, a term that has largely been replaced by gender dysphoria, to be a mental health problem.
As WPATH point out, “some people experience gender dysphoria at such a level that the distress meets criteria for a formal diagnosis that might be classified as a mental disorder.” However, gender dysphoria is not caused by psychopathology or mental illness, but is mainly an issue with identity. Misdiagnosis, or simply overlooking gender dysphoria is misleading, unhelpful, and harmful. Not only does it compound social stigma but it also misinforms the medical profession. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness; however, internal biological conflicts—a yearning to live in the gender role dictated by the brain, not the genital sex, or phenotype—might lead to a mental health diagnosis.
The NHS says:
Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there's a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. It's sometimes known as gender incongruence.
Biological sex is assigned at birth, depending on the appearance of the genitals. Gender identity is the gender that a person "identifies" with or feels themselves to be.
While biological sex and gender identity are the same for most people, this isn't the case for everyone. For example, some people may have the anatomy of a man, but identify themselves as a woman, while others may not feel they're definitively either male or female.
This mismatch between sex and gender identity can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings that are called gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a recognised medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. It's not a mental illness.
Some people with gender dysphoria have a strong and persistent desire to live according to their gender identity, rather than their biological sex. These people are sometimes called transsexual or trans people. Some trans people have treatment to make their physical appearance more consistent with their gender identity.
According to this article in The Independent
The World Health Organisation (WHO) no longer categorises being transgender as a "mental disorder".
On Saturday 25 May [2019], the health agency approved an update to its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), a manual used globally to diagnose diseases.
The decision to remove transgender identities from the ICD-11's classification of mental disorders was announced by WHO in June last year.
The update has now been approved via a vote held by the World Health Assembly, the WHO's governing body which represents the organisation's 194 member states.
The changes to the health manual will come into effect on 1 January 2022.
The view is that to be transgender is not to have a mental illness.
Having said that, to be trans and to have to  hide the fact can cause distress. And sometimes that distress can be so great that it can lead to mental health issues.
It's vital that the NHS either invests more in making specialist help available to people that identify and being trans much sooner than seems to be the case at the moment, or changes the way that services are provided so that GPs are able to offer better support.
To be honest, though, probably both of these are needed.

Mermaids, Transgender Trends and Seahorses

For what seems like a long time now I’ve been struggling. It’s not a debilitating struggle. And mostly I guess it’s an intellectual thing for me. The word struggling is, perhaps, an overstatement. Maybe tussling is a better word.
Although much of this is intellectual for me, these things can be a real-life all-in thing for others.

At times it’s almost like a sense of despair. Again, maybe an overstatement. Perhaps discouragement is a better fit.

Reading what some people say and of the things some people do.

Seeing how easy it can sometimes be for people resort to fighting with words or fists. How hard some people seem to find it to feel empathy or sympathy.

I’m not immune from this myself.

But mostly, given time, my preference is to work towards consensus – or at least respectful disagreement when consensus seems impossible.

The thoughts have often been triggered by stories that appear in the news. And comments that some people make about the stories.

Mostly the issues are LGBT related.

The intellectual tussling is typified by the kinds of things raised by Transgender Trend .

Transgender Trend is either:

a group of parents based in the UK who are concerned about the current trend to diagnose children as transgender, including the unprecedented number of teenage girls suddenly self-identifying as ‘trans’ (Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria or ROGD). We are also concerned about legislation which places transgender rights above the right to safety for girls and young women in public toilets and changing rooms along with fairness for girls in sport.
Or is it an organisation that produces a document described by Stonewall as:

a deeply damaging document, packed with factually inaccurate content.
And is Mermaids an organisation that:
is passionate about supporting children, young people, and their families to achieve a happier life in the face of great adversity. We work to raise awareness about gender nonconformity in children and young people amongst professionals and the general public. We campaign for the recognition of gender dysphoria in young people and call for improvements in professional services.
Or is it an organisation that, according to Julian Vigo at Forbes, is involved in:
Pseudo-Scientific Hokum And The Experimentation On Children's Bodies
Is the Trans Health Manifesto making sensible demands in saying:
We demand hormones & blockers are made available over-the-counter and by free prescription upon request. We need free, universal access to safe hormones & blockers at any age, the opportunity to decide our own doses, and universally accessible information on the safety & efficacy of different regimens. We are already taking hormones in this way, so this demand is simply that the danger of doing so is effectively mitigated.
Or is David Wilson making any sense at all in saying:
A silly website I dip into reports this exchange (from Scotland):

([The reporter’s] daughter is seven years old.)
Me: “What do you want to be when you’re older?”
Daughter: “A pink cat!”
Me: “Anything else?”
Daughter: “A mermaid!”

I think that puts into perspective any reliance on a child’s view about gender.
The only way to begin to make any sense of this that I can see is to take each piece of news, each claim and counterclaim on its own merits.
So, I’ve decided to try doing things that way.
Every so often I’m going to open up Google News and try the search term Trans and see what comes up as the first news story. And see what I think of it.

So on 11 September 2019 it’s Seahorse's Trans Dad Criticises Fertility 'Misinformation' Leading To 'De Facto Sterilisation at HUFFPOST.
The article begins with:

Freddy McConnell suggests confusion around fertility options could be leading transgender people to make life-changing decisions they don't need to make.
Freddy has become fairly well known through the recent screening of the documentary “Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth
There’s a review of the documentary at the Telegraph here.
At first, I started typing all this stuff down based simply on what the HUFFPOST article says.
But it wasn’t long before I stopped typing. I spent a while watching the documentary. It's described as:
Trans and pregnant: How one man gave birth to his own baby
Freddy decided to carry his own baby after wanting to start a family, but he faced a highly unusual challenge – he is a gay transgender man. He made the decision after years of soul searching, but nothing could prepare him for the reality of pregnancy.
The documentary raised a whole lot of other questions in my mind.

Now, having done that, here is my take on the HUFFPOST article – and then some thoughts on the documentary.

Freddy was told that the hormone treatment he receives would lead to infertility. This proved to be incorrect.

The question then is should medical practitioners tell the truth when giving people advice about treatment that they will receive?

And the answer to that is: Yes they should.

I don’t know the full details of who said what to Freddy. I hope that the medical practitioner(s) involved told the truth as best they knew it. If that’s the case, then it’s vital that the advice people are given is updated whenever new information becomes available.
I don’t know enough about the human body and the impact that hormonal treatment has upon it to know the whole truth on this. What is clear though, is that testosterone treatment doesn’t render all people that receive it infertile. So that ought to be made clear to a person.
People in medicine are always on a learning curve. Data on the impact of testosterone injections on people is still incomplete. Side-effects will vary from one person to another. So perhaps the advice offered by medicine will always be confusing and potentially conflicting. Nevertheless, it’s vital that advice that isn’t true is given to people.
Freddy is reported as saying:

By paying such little attention to trans people’s wishes to start families and have full lives, and not just the lives that they dictate through this narrow sense of what it is to transition, it is in fact de facto sterilisation
Whenever a trans person is told that their treatment will make it impossible to have children and that belief means that they don’t attempt to have children then I can see that it’s as if they had been sterilised.
However, in Freddy’s case this has, ultimately, proved to not be the case. And, perhaps in no small part thanks to the documentary, it is getting less likely that it will be the case for other people in the future.

And then there is the documentary itself.
This raises a whole lot of different issues.

In the review in the Telegraph (Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth, review: an unflinchingly honest film that doesn't sugarcoat its subject), Sarah Hughes says:

A revealing scene with Esme’s friends [Esme is Freddy’s mother], many of whom had known Freddy since childhood and all of whom were keen to support him, raised many of those tensions – one woman attending the celebration pointed out that Freddy was only able to give birth because of his womb.
Her attempts to articulate that, while not intended to hurt, inflamed the situation to the point of causing Freddy to storm off.

Some viewers will have sighed at that point but there was the sense too that in focusing too much on such debates, on who is right and who wrong, we too easily lose our understanding of the personal stories at stake. For while friends and family might sit around and debate Freddy’s decisions, he himself was clear that his true self, the one that he felt comfortable in, was male and that his journey towards fatherhood was challenging precisely because of that.
And that, for me, is a really important point.
It’s easy to sit at a keyboard and type stuff and focus on what I think might be right or wrong. And to lose touch of the people involved.

The review ends with:

“Is it selfish?” Freddy asked about his decision. “I don’t think so. I think finally people can see who I am – it’s not about being more male making me more valid. It’s just that this is me.”
That simple message lay at the heart of his ultimately rather beautiful journey, a journey that celebrated not only Freddy’s stubborn desires but also the loving support of Esme, who tearfully admitted that she was “in awe of the bravery of my child”.
Emotional and honest to the point of bracing, Seahorse won’t have convinced everyone. But those who were willing to listen were well rewarded. “I had no idea, I was very naïve,” Freddy admitted holding his young son in his arms with a beaming smile. “I think everybody has the potential to feel this way.” That they do was the joy of Finlay’s sensitive, warm-hearted film.
Freddy’s words "It’s just that this is me" speak to me.
The story presented by the documentary does raise questions. Some of them I hadn’t thought about before. Some I’ve thought about a lot.
  • What are the relationships between biological sex, gender, masculinity and femininity?
  • Can a man give birth to a child and be the child’s father?
  • Can someone that is assigned female at birth become male?
  • If a trans woman decided to have a child using her own sperm would she be the child’s mother?
  • Should people refer to me as she, he or they?
  • Should my daughter call me mum or dad?
For some people their answers to these kinds of questions are worked out solely on the basis of:
  • did the person concerned have a penis or a vagina at the time that they were born?
Not so long ago (and sometimes in some places even now) questions like the following have been answered on the same basis – did the person concerned have a penis or a vagina at the time that they were born?

  • How much should a person get paid to do a job?
  • Should this person be allowed to speak in church?
  • Can the person be a Bishop?
  • Is this person allowed to vote in an election?
And yes, I know that they are different kinds of questions. But they illustrate that the significance of words can change over time.
Once upon a time in the country where I live it was correct to say: “A voter is a man”. But these days it isn’t.

I believe that things are changing. The vocabulary that we use isn’t always able to cope well with the daily realities that we face.

For now, I’ll ask just one more question and provide my own answer.

  • As Freddy’s child grows, is Freddy able to support child in the kinds of ways that a father supports his child?
And my answer:
  • I got the feeling that the answer to that question at least is yes.
I know ... a lot more could be said about this – including arguments about how I phrased that last question and answer.

But for now, I’m leaving it at that.