Where Are We Now?

Most of you will probably be aware that the UK will now formally leave the European Union by automatic operation of law at the end of January. Lots of people, however, including many within the UK, are uncertain of what this actually means. I must admit I’m pretty confused myself at times. But there are helpful explainers on various websites which seem to more or less agree.

The important point is that while the UK will reach the point of no return on January 31st, nothing much will change. There will be an 11 month (at least) Transition Period during which life will carry on pretty much as before. You can find explanations of this at The Institute for Government and the BBC.

Most importantly, there will be no immedite change to international trade, and no change to freedom of movement, during this period. Those things will only happen at the end of the Transition Period on December 31st 2020.

Equally I suspect that there will be little in the way of changes to UK equalities law during the Transition Period. In theory, at least, we are still subject to EU law. I can’t see the government wanting to make an issue of this, because they have made it clear that they want to pretend that we are already fully out of the EU as of the end of this month, so they won’t do anything that makes it clear that we are not.

Of course, as we have seen in the USA, it is entirely possible for government to ramp up discrimination against minorities without changing the law. I expect there to be a raft of government notices that target Muslims, trans people, EU citizens and so on. But this will not be anywhere near as bad as will happen once EU law is off our statute books.

So basically we have a year of being in a sort of dreamlike state where we are on a train, heading for a precipice in 11 months time, but the government will be telling us that everything is fine because we have aleady passed the precipice and gravity has not taken effect.

I guess we should be using that time to get stuff done.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I was feeling a bit guilty yesterday being so happy about the Galley Beggar fundraiser because there are so many people in dire poverty in the UK. Now that they’ve reached their target, Sam and Ellie are directing people to this fundraiser which is raising money for the Trussell Trust, a food bank charity. They’ve been going for longer, and have raised considerably less money.

But the scale of the problem was brought home to me later yesterday when I saw news of an important court case. An anti-trans activist had gone to court to claim that her belief that I, and women like me, are “really men”, is a protected belief under the Equality Act, and that she has the right to tell us so to our faces whenever she wants. Freeze Peach and all that. The judge threw the case out, in no uncertain terms.

But the point is that in order to bring this case the woman has raised £80,000 through crowdfunding. And she’s already raised a similar amount to appeal the case. One of her vocal supporters is JK Rowling, so there’s clearly no practical limit to the money she has access to in order to pursue this case. If she can’t win in the courts, I’m sure the current government will be only too happy to change the law for her, once we are no longer beholden to the EU.

So there you have it. £160,000 raised to bring legal cases so that people can have the right to harrass trans folks. How much good could that money have done for food banks? Or for women’s refuges, or rape crisis centres? Where are those three ghosts when you need them?

Election Week

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that we have a General Election happening here in the UK. I’m over 60 years old and I have no hesitation in saying that it is the most important General Election of my lifetime. If the Tories are still in power on Friday the consequences for anyone who isn’t a moderately well-off straight, cis, able-bodied person of English descent will be quite terrible. They will be particularly bad for people of colour, people who moved here from Europe and their families, and for trans people. They have, of course, been terrible for the very poor, for disabled people, and for anyone associated with the Windrush generation, for some time.

I’m delighted to see so much discussion of tactical voting happening on social media. I hope it works. Personally, however, there is little I can do. For most of my life in the UK I have lived in constituencies where it would take a political earthquake of immense proportions to unseat the incumbent Tory. I have comforted myself with the thought that having so many Tory voters in one place is a good thing for the rest of the country.

In my current constituency, the sitting MP, who is Brexit Party in all but name, got 60% of the vote at the last election. The next best performance was by Labour who got 26.5%. It is probable that some of those Tory voters will follow the lead of John Major and Michael Heseltine and vote for the LibDems, but I can’t see half of them doing so. I normally vote Green, but will be voting Labour this time just in case.

The opinion polls have all been uniformly depressing and point to a significant Tory majority. I am hoping that they are as wrong as the rest of the mainstream media coverage of the election. But even if we do end up with a coalition government led by Labour the prospects for trans folk don’t look good. Diane Abbot and Dawn Butler have been very supportive, but John McDonnell has made it clear that he expects Labour to roll back trans rights. I think the best we can hope for is that they will have far too many other things to be doing before starting on us.

This certainly isn’t the sort of situation I expected myself to be in at this point in my life. But then again when I began the transition process I didn’t expect to live much longer anyway. To have survived for 22 years has exceeded my wildest expectations. So I’m going to try to keep busy and not worry too much about things. I will trust those of you who have a more useful vote to do the right thing. And I plan to thoroughly enjoy the holiday, because it will probably be the last one I get to spend in this country.

We Were Proud

Last week saw the 4th anniversary of Trans Pride South West (TPSW), our local celebration of trans pride which sprang from Sarah Savage’s visit to our LGBT History Month event in 2016. I’m not involved in the running of it, but I do get involved in various parts of it.

This year, for the first time, we had a march. That began with a gathering on College Green in front of City Hall, and that meant speeches. We had some political representation. Carla Denyer, the Green Party candidate for Bristol West, was there. She was accompanied by a bunch of young party members, and by Baroness Bennett, so the Greens really put some effort behind us. The Liberal Democrats sent along James Cox who had kindly stood down in Bristol West in order to give Carla a better chance of getting elected. Sadly there was no official representation from Bristol Labour, though Kaz Self from the TPSW committee did make a speech on their behalf. There was also a representative from the Women’s Equality Party, which was of course me. So yes, I did make a speech. No one laughed, except when I wanted them to, which I am taking as a win.

From there we marched up Baldwin Street towards the city centre. We had space in The Station, a former fire station on Silver Street for a Community Day. There were just under 200 people (and three dogs) on the march, which was very good for a cold and wet November morning. I was very pleased to count at least 16 people of colour among us.

The Community Day had a lot of stalls. I was representing OutStories Bristol. The photo above shows me at my stall along with Spencer from TPSW and Alex from the hate crime charity, SARI. The Diversity Trust also had a stall. The event was very well attended. Indeed, around 13:00 you could barely move in the room. I think the committee might need to look for a bigger venue next year.

I was somewhat worried that there might be some attempt by right-wing groups to disrupt the march, but everything went off very smoothly. Clearly the anti-trans fauxminists are easily put off by a little rain.

I had to rush off immediately after the event ended as I was giving a talk in Brighton on the Sunday, so I didn’t get to chat to people at thing were winding down, but I’m very happy with how things went and I’m looking forward to TPSW being bigger and better next year.

Today on Ujima – PapayaFest, Discrimination at Work, Fungi & Ellen Datlow

I did a radio show today. Here’s what went down.

I started out with a visit from my good friend Tamsin Clarke. We kept our clothes on this time. As you may recall, Tamsin is from Venezuela. She has been putting together a festival of Latinx culture called PapayaFest. It will feature Tamsin’s theatre productions and a great line-up of bands and DJs. Because Tamsin has such great topics for her plays we ended up talking about Simón Bolívar, matriarchal families and the current state of feminism in Latin America.

Next up I was joined by Karen and Erin from Bristol Law Centre. They have come up with an interesting new way of funding employment discrimination cases and they wanted to get the word out there. I was pleased to be able to point out what good work they do, and how necessary they have become because of the current government’s actions designed to make recourse to the law something that is only available to the very rich.

Guest three was my friend Esme who has got involved with mushrooms. They really are fascinating life forms, and most people have no idea how many types of fungi there are, or how crucial they are both to the ecosystem and to many modern industries. There will be a Fungus Day at Arnos Vale Cemetery on Saturday, which I’d be very tempeted to go along to if I wasn’t booked elsewhere.

And finally I ran part of the interview I did with Ellen Datlow at TitanCon. This extract includes how she got her job at Omni, what “best of the year” means, who is the only writer ever to have scared her, and why she once turned down a story by Margaret Atwood. The full interview will run in Salon Futura at the end of the month.

You can hear the whole show via Ujima’s Listen Again service here.

The playlist for this month’s show is as follows:

  • Simón Díaz – Caballo Viejo
  • WARA – Leave to Remain
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela – Hanuman
  • Elsa J – 9 to 5
  • Carlos Santana – Flor d’Luna
  • Janelle Monáe – Mushrooms & Roses
  • Sade – Nothing can come between us
  • Michael Jackson – Thriller

Reflections on Belfast

I have been to Belfast three times this year, most recently for TitanCon. Each time I have been I have seen more evidence of increasing sectarian activity.

The hotels that Kevin and I stayed in were right in the city center close to the Europa. They were also just a short walk away from a notoriously Protestant area which was festooned with flags. The Union Jacks and Ulster flags are expected. The flags of the British Parachute Regiment are a particular political protest related to a criminal trial of a soldier. The Donald Trump MAGA flag was a reminder that nothing in this world happens in isolation any more.

Back in the days of the Troubles, the American-Irish community was known to have raised funds for the IRA. Now it seems like we have Americans providing funds for the other side of the dispute as well.

Belfast is a lovely city that has blossomed since the Good Friday Agreement. It would be a tragedy to see it collapse into sectarian warfare again. Unfortuantely that seems to be what some people, including some people in the current UK Cabinet, are hell-bent on making happen.

Today on Ujima: Section 28, Masculinity, Hugos & Silence

It was a radio day for me today. I barely got the show together in time having been away over the weekend and had much of yesterday hijacked by the Hugos, but I got there in the end.

In the first half hour I played an interview I did over the weekend with Sue Sanders, the founder of Schools Out and LGBT History Month. There has been a lot of talk here in the media about the need for a return to something called Section 28, which attempted to ban the mention of anything to do with LGBT people in schools. Thankfully Parliament has refused to turn the clock back, but lots of the people I get in training courses have never heard of Section 28 so I figured that having Sue, who was in the forefront of the fight against it, explain what went down, would be useful.

Next up I had a studio guest, Elias Williams of ManDem, an arts organisation for young black men. Last week I had been on a panel on the future of feminism at UWE (along with the brilliant Finn McKay). Elias had been on it too, and having heard him speak I knew I wanted him on the radio. Young black men are routinely demonised in the media, and it is wonderful to have someone so articulate and sensible standing up for them.

In the third slot I rambled about the Hugos. There are loads of black writers on the ballot this year, and people of colour in general. In particular 3 of the 6 Lodestar finalists are written by black women, and the Campbell finalists are mostly women of color, and one non-binary person of color. This is very promising for the future.

And finally I played part of my interview with Rachel Rose Reid from the LGBT History Month event in Bristol. This was about the Arthuian legend, Le Roman de Silence, which is basically 13th Century French feminist fantasy. It really is remarkable how modern the themes of that book are. I note that Rachel will be in Bristol again with the show on April 28th. Sadly I’m teaching one of Cat Rambo’s writing courses that evening. She’s also in Frome on the 12th, but that’s sold out. Phooey.

You can listen to the whole show via the Ujima Listen Again service here.

The playlist for the show is as follows:

  • School Day – Chuck Berry
  • We Are Family – Sister Sledge
  • It’s a Man’s World – James Brown
  • Word Up – Cameo
  • Pynk – Janelle Monáe
  • Crazy, Classic Life – Janelle Monáe
  • Mirror in the Bathroom – The Beat
  • Ali Baba – Dreadzone

My thanks as always to Ben, my engineer, and to all of my guests.

Gaming for Mermaids

As many of you will know, I am a big fan of an organisation called Mermaids. They are a support network for trans kids and their families. Just the sort of thing I wish had existed when I was young and struggling with my identity.

Over the past few months they have come under intense attack from anti-trans extremists who have tried to paint them as a cult that is pushing children to transition. They have also been horribly misrepresented in the media. Recently the Daily Malice was actually forced to apologise because they had edited a comment from Mermaids. The original said that waiting times for medication caused distress to young people, but the Malice ran it as saying that it was the medication that caused distress. That was so blatantly dishonest that even the normally tame and toothless media regulator, IPSO, called for a retraction.

Before the Holidays news broke that Mermaids had been awarded £500,000 by the Big Lottery Fund. This was met with outrage by anti-trans extremists who organised a campaign to bombard the Fund with complaints, as a result of which the grant has been suspended pending investiation. I don’t hold out much hope because if there’s one thing that bureaucrats hate it is negative publicity. I suspect that it will be almost impossible from now on for a UK-based charity to get a grant for work with trans people.

The problem is, of course, that anything the anti-trans side does will be front page news in the national media and discussed in pearl-clutching tones on the BBC, whereas anything trans folks do, even if it has massively more support, will be ignored. But we do have support, and that was proved this weekend.

A wonderful young man who goes by the name of Hbomberguy has been playing Donkey Kong non-stop on the gamer streaming service, Twitch. I think he’s done his bit now, but the fundraiser he set up for it is still going. Thus far he has raised over $160,000. That’s incredible. Mostly it has come in small donations from thousands of people.

While the money is hugely welcome and will be put to very good use by Mermaids, the campaign is also enormously valuable for the morale boost it has given the trans community. We’ve taken an incredible battering over the past year. The Times and Sunday Times alone averaged almost one anti-trans article a day in 2018. The toll this has taken on trans people’s mental health has been very obvious. To wake up this morning to parents of trans kids saying how happy what Hbomberguy has done has made their children has been hugely heartwarming.

The campaign on Twitch is still running and will be open for several more days if you want to contribute. Alternatively you can donate direct to Mermaids here. And of course there may be trans groups local to you who are desperate for funds.

Convention Circuit

There are lots of conventions happening this month. I am going to be at some of them. SF&F people will be able to guess which ones. I’m not saying much more than that, because over the past week or so anti-trans activists have taken to turning up at events where prominent trans women are speaking with the intent of disrupting them, and of obtaining audio or video recordings that they can edit creatively and then put online. Probably I am much too small fry for them, but I did have one event disrupted last week so I’m not going to make things easy for them.

This is also a good moment to remind you all that the Government’s consultation on the Gender Recognition Act closes tomorrow evening. They will have received large numbers of responses from “concerned citizens” demanding that all of my civil rights be taken away. If you have time, please respond. Even if you don’t understand any of the other questions, it is important that you tell the Government that they need to consider rights for non-binary and intersex people.

Today On Ujima: Students, Clothing, Theatre & Feminism

Today’s show began with two wonderful guests from the University of the West of England. Noor and Josie are part of a small group who are pioneering an organisation called Equity within the university that will help Black & Minority Ethnic students get the best out of their education, and find good jobs afterwards.

As we all know, the academic system, and the jobs market in the UK, discriminates against anyone who doesn’t fit the default stereotype of white and male. However, much can be done by finding role models, or as I prefer possibility models, that give people the confidence that they can beat the system and suceed in life. I’m delighted to find that UWE is the first university in the country to actively try to help BAME students in this way. If you happen to be a Person of Colour who works in or near Bristol, please take a look here to see forthcoming events where you can help inspire these students.

Now if only we could do something similar for trans students…

My second guest was Jo-Jo from the gender-neutral clothing company, Max Tariq. It is, apparently, Bristol’s first and currently only such label. Jo-Jo and I chatted about the philosophy of gender neutral clothing. We discussed how such clothes could be for anyone who foudn them attractive, and how “gender neutral” doesn’t mean dull and vaguely masculine. We also talked about making clothing climate-neutral.

The Listen Again system is still playing up occasionally. You can listen to Noor & Josie here. Jo-Jo’s interview got dropped, but I have the archive recording and will be putting him up on the podcast soon.

Next up was Yasmin from the Mandala Theatre Company. She’s putting on a play called Castaways at The Station (the old fire station building in which Ujima’s studios are located) tomorrow night. It is a pay what you can afford event, so money is no excuse. If you want a ticket, or just to learn mre about the play, go here.

I kept the final half hour guest-free because I wanted to have a bit of a rant about the whole Kavanaugh debacle over in the USA. I chose some powerful feminist music to go with it. Along the way I also managed to talk about the WASPI fiasco with women’s pensions, and the awful two-child limit on tax credits.

You can listen to the second half of the show in full here.

Not included, because I am slightly nervous about the lyrics, was the new Amanda Palmer song, “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”. The video, which is absolutely NSFW, is here.

The playlist for the show is as follows:

  • Big Mama Thornton – Let Your Tears Fall Baby
  • Bessie Smith – Alexander’s Ragtime Band
  • CN Lester – White wedding
  • Prince – Raspberry Beret
  • Minnie Ripperton – Young, Willing and Able
  • Erykah Badu – Drama
  • Janelle Monae – Americans
  • Lady Gaga – ‘Til it Happens to You
  • Alicia Keys – Superwoman
  • Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive

The first two tracks are, of course, a nod to Black History Month. The Gaga song is particularly powerful and I’m glad I found it.

I’ll be back on air in two weeks with my friend Olivette Otele to do Black History Month properly.

GRA Reform and Non-Binary People

When I did the explanatory post on single-sex exemptions I briefly mentioned the issue of non-binary people and said that it deserved a post all of its own. Here is that post.

I should start off by reminding everyone that there are more than two genders. Most cultures throughout history have recognised this, and many governments around the world today recognise non-binary people in some way. The list includes, but is not limited to: Australia, New Zealand, parts of the USA and Canada, Germany, India and Pakistan.

Also there are more than two sexes. Biological sex is a social construct which, in theory, is based on a collection of physical characteristics (some of which are fairly recently discovered). While most cisgender people exhibit the full collection of characteristics associated with their gender, many do not. Nor do a large proportion trans people. In practice, biological sex is assigned to babies on the basis of their external genitalia; and assumed in adults on the basis of gender presentation and secondary sex characteristics. Neither of these methods is very scientific.

So non-binary people definitely exist, both socially and medically. But in the UK they do not exist legally. This is a problem, both for them, and for the rest of society. We need to fix this, and we can’t do that by pretending that they don’t exist.

The argument for providing spaces that cater to non-binary people should be obvious. Just like men and women, they need spaces of their own. In some cases that can be solved by having all-gender facilities, and we do that quite happily with toilets in our homes, and on trains and aircraft. In other cases, non-binary people might want, or need, separate treatment.

There is a particular problem with spaces like rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters, because currently almost all of the burden for supporting non-binary people is being placed on women’s services. Those non-binary people who have more feminine physiology are sent to women’s shelters because they are seen as women, and non-binary people who have more masculine physiology, but more feminine presentation, also get sent to women’s services because it is assumed they won’t be safe in men’s services.

Obviously this is a very new thing for such services, and they will need to work out procedures for risk assessment and safeguarding, but at the moment non-binary people are being failed by the social services.

Provision of spaces for non-binary people can also be of assistance to binary-identified trans people early in their transition. Because it can take several years for hormones to work their magic, and to work your way through waiting lists for surgery, almost all binary-identified trans people go through a period of worrying about being accepted. Whether we like it or not, most people make judgements based on appearance. Going into single-sex space when you feel that you don’t look right can be a very scary thing. The advantage of non-binary spaces is that there is no stereotypical appearance for being non-binary. So people in the early years of transition may feel safer using non-binary spaces.

Non-binary spaces may also be of help to people who are gender-non-confirming. For example, if you are a butch lesbian you may present in a very masculine style. The current panic over trans women in toilets is causing significant problems for masculine-presenting women. While I think it is outrageous that people who have lived as women all their lives are being thrown out of women’s toilets because of a misguided moral panic, it may be that such people will find it safer to use non-binary spaces.

Finally I want to note that legal recognition for a non-binary gender may have potential benefits for intersex babies with ambiguous genitalia. The fashion for “corrective” surgery on such children is rooted in the erroneous belief that there are only two genders, and only two sexes, and that anyone who does not conform to that model is a deviant who much be “fixed”. Creating a society in which non-binary gender is recognised should lead us away from such harmful ideas.

Please note that I am not advocating that all gendered spaces become non-binary. While we still have patriarchy, women will always need space spaces to go. Women’s toilets in pubs and clubs, for example, are not just used as toilets. They are a safe space where women can go if they feel unsafe. Non-binary people will doubtless need their own such safe spaces.

Looking at the responses to the Scottish Gender Recognition Act Reform Consultation it is clear that almost all of the anti-trans lobby is also anti-non-binary. I’d expect this from the religious right, but it is very disappointing to see the same conservatism from self-identified feminist groups. Which just goes to show that such groups are not really interested in protecting women. What they are interested in is forcing everyone to conform to the gender they were assigned at birth.

So when you fill in your GRA response, which I hope you will all be doing, please encourage the government to start along the path of non-binary recognition. They are reluctant to do this, because sex/gender is deeply ingrained throughout our legal code. But, as other countries have shown, we do not have to change every law at once. We can make a start, and every little helps.

GRA Reform and Single-Sex Services

Much of the debate around reform of the Gender Recognition Act centres on interpretation of the relevant legislation (both the GRA and the Equality Act). There have been many claims in the media that changing the way in which Gender Recognition Certificates are granted would give trans people “new rights”, and that these rights are in direct conflict with the rights of cisgender women.

In response trans activists and their allies have pointed out that most of the rights that trans people currently have derive from the Equality Act, not from the Gender Recognition Act. The Equality Act already grants trans people rights on the basis of self-identification because a person acquires the Protected Characteristic of Gender Reassignment from the moment that they propose to undergo that process.

That interpretation appears to be clear from reading the Equality Act, and it is further reinforced by guidance produced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The document, “Provision of goods, facilities and services to trans people – Guidance for public authorities: meeting your equality duties and human rights obligations” was written to help public authorities understand their obligations to trans people.

On page 27 in the section on the health Service the EHRC says:

It is also important to note that determining the best way to accommodate a trans person:

  • does not depend upon them having a Gender Recognition Certificate or legal name change
  • applies to toilet and bathing facilities (except, for instance, that preoperative trans people should not share open shower facilities), and
  • should not be influenced by the views of family members which may not accord to the trans person’s wishes.

This makes the following points clear:

  • Trans people are covered regardless of whether they have a GRC;
  • Trans people already have the right to access gender-appropriate toilets, etc.; and
  • That the EHRC is aware that trans people who have not had genital surgery might reasonably be excluded from communal facilities where they would be seen naked.

In other words, the idea of trans women going into communal women-only spaces and “waving their willies about” had already been considered when the EA was passed, and reasonable accommodations were made.

It is interesting to note that the EHRC was as concerned for the welfare of trans people as for it was for cis people. In the section on education (page 46) they note:

Trans people frequently face unnecessary problems regarding single-sex accommodation and single-sex facilities.

Research conducted by the Equality Challenge Unit suggests that some trans students may not feel comfortable in single-sex accommodation where there are communal showering facilities.

This reinforces the claim that many trans people would be uncomfortable having people see them naked if they have not had the surgeries that they want. The idea that trans people are shameless exhibitionists who will flaunt their bodies whenever possible has no basis in everyday life.

As far as I can see, there is only one area where there is a possibility of a major issue resulting from the proposed GRA changes, and that relies on a contested interpretation of the Equality Act.

Currently the EA allows trans people to be excluded from single-sex services under certain, highly constrained conditions. The example given in the Act is:

A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.

It is important to note that this does not allow for a blanket ban on trans women using rape crisis centres. Specific conditions have to be fulfilled, and each exemption has to be justified on a case-by-case basis.

Confusion arises, however, in the case of a trans woman with a Gender Recognition Certificate. The GRA states that someone in possession of such a Certificate should be treated as a person of their acquired gender for all purposes under the law. The key question is: can a trans woman with a GRC be lawfully excluded from a woman-only service under the provisions described above?

Over the past 8 years in which the EA has been in force, most professionals in the equality business have assumed that the answer is Yes. Certainly in my own training I always advise that this is the case. Indeed, this has been a bone of contention for trans activists who feel that it is unfair to exclude someone with a GRC in this way. In his evidence to the Transgender Equality Inquiry, James Morton of the Scottish Transgender Alliance said:

The exception, as currently drawn, effectively has no limit. You could be decades transitioned, you could be fully integrated and you could still be turned away at your moment of need from a refuge or from a rape crisis service.

However, anti-trans activists have recently begun to claim that a trans woman with a GRC cannot legally be excluded from a single-sex service. The consequences of this interpretation are quite significant. Currently just under 5,000 GRCs have been issued. Around half of those will be to trans women. But the government believes that this represents only a fraction of the number of people eligible to apply for one. Furthermore, the proposed GRA changes will allow trans people to apply for a GRC earlier in the transition process, so there will be an initial bump in the numbers. It is not unreasonable to assume that the GRA changes will increase the number of trans women with GRCs by a factor of 4 or 5.

The anti-trans lobby claims that this is a an entirely new group of people who will not be able to be legally excluded from a single-sex space. But are they right?

It is important to note that there is no definite legal answer to this. A court could rule either way, and as yet there is no legal precedent. However, as I have noted, up until now there has been a consensus agreement that trans women with GRCs can be excluded from women-only services, under the limited provisions of the EA. It would be good if the government’s reform of the GRA clarified this point so that we all knew where we stood. I believe that they will, and I am confident that they will make it clear that having a GRC does not make you exempt from the single-sex service exclusion provisions.

To understand why we have to look at what the government is trying to achieve with GRA reform. Part of their concern is the UK’s obligations under international human rights agreements. We are falling behind other countries, and this is not good. My colleague, Bea Gare, from WEP Exeter is far better placed to write about this than I am. I hope she will do so.

The other thing driving the government’s agenda is consistency of people’s identification documents. When the GRA was first proposed it was expected that transition would be a fairly swift process, and that legal gender recognition would come at the end of that process when the transition was deemed to be complete. It was expected that this would take a little over two years.

I underwent transition in the 1990s, and it took me 5 years. A friend who transitioned more recently tells me that she was 8 years in the process. The government knew that people in transition would need some documents changed immediately, but were not too worried about this because they expected legal gender change to follow within few years. This is not happening.

In the comprehensive study of LGBT life in Britain published earlier this year the government revealed that only 12% of the trans respondents had a GRC. The idea that thousands of people in the UK have a driving licence and passport in one gender, but are legally a different gender, makes heads explode in the Home Office. This is no way to run a national bureaucracy.

The reasons for the lack of uptake of GRCs are many and varied. 34% of respondents to the government survey said that the process was too expensive, while 38% said that it was too bureaucratic. (There may be some overlap between these groups as respondents were allowed to give more than one reason).

If getting a GRC was really important, maybe people would be more desperate to get one. But the value of a GRC has declined since they were introduced. Most of the rights that trans people have derive from the Equality Act. Pension ages are being equalised, so there is no advantage there from being legally female. And if you are a heterosexual trans person without a GRC and want to get married, you can always get a same-sex marriage, though many such people would find that humiliating.

There is no obvious way that the government can make having a GRC more valuable, so instead they want to remove some of the barriers to getting one. The expectation is that only people who would eventually have qualified for a GRC under the current system will get one under the new one. (And the requirement for a Statutory Declaration will be maintained to help ensure that.) The government certainly doesn’t expect to be giving people new rights, just making it easier for them to get ones they are already entitled too.

But in making this change the government has opened itself up to the idea of granting GRCs earlier in the transition process. It has done so because it doesn’t want any gap between changing social gender and legal gender. After all, who knows how long the process will take? This is a shift from the granting of a GRC being the end point of the process, to it being the start point of the process. Given the way that the government thinks, that makes it far more likely that they will be minded to confirm that trans women with GRCs can be excluded from women-only services under the existing provisions in the Equality Act. They will reason that if you haven’t completed the process then of course having a GRC doesn’t change that.

That brings us to another wrinkle in the government’s plans. 44% of those people who had not applied for a GRC said that they believed they would not qualify. Partly that is a result of the reputation that the Gender Recognition Panel has of insisting on conformance to gender stereotypes. But mainly it will be because those people are non-binary and have no legal gender that they can transition to. That is complicated enough to have to be the subject of a separate post. For now I am concentrating on binary-identified people.

As someone who has gone through full binary transition, passing all of the obstacles that the government has put in my way, I am slightly miffed to know that I still won’t be regarded as fully female under the law even though I have a GRC. However, I am not too worried about this. I work a lot with women-only services, advising them on trans inclusion. Most of them are very keen to be welcoming to trans women. In addition, the reasons why a service might want to exclude me in some way, or rather provide me with a different type of service to cis clients, would either be for my protection or for reasons that would apply whether I was trans or not. Services do risk assessment on all clients, and will exclude clients from group activities for all sorts of reasons. These services are run by wonderful, understanding people, and I am confident that if I needed their help they would try hard to provide it.

However, there is a small possibility that the government will decide that trans people with GRCs cannot be excluded from single-sex services. One thing that the government does not like is being seen to be taking away people’s rights. If the anti-trans lobby succeeds in changing the consensus on this issue, and it becomes commonly accepted that trans women with GRCs cannot be excluded from women-only services, then the government might be reluctant to change that. So if I was anti-trans I would be very careful what I was arguing for.

(Once again I am closing comments on this post as I don’t have the time to deal with a hate storm. If you have questions, I am not hard to find.)

Yesterday on Ujima – Films, Muslim Women & Hugos

I ended up doing a bonus show yesterday. As I had to go into Bristol for the TV appearance, and I have nothing else urgent on that day, I figured I might as well spend some time in the studio. That meant putting together a show at short notice.

The easiest way to do that is with phone interviews, though it does mean using Skype which can mean very variable quality. I badly need an alternative means of doing phone interviews, especially as the latest versions of Skype actively prevent the use of third party call recorders. (Why anyone would produce a digital phone system and now allow call recording is a mystery to me.)

Anyway, there were people I could interview. In the first hour I talked to Jake Smith of Tusko Films. Jake was the directory for Talking LGBT+ Bristol, the film about the city’s LGBT+ community that we made for Bristol Pride. I figured that if Jake and I were going to be on TV for 3 minutes in the evening, we should have a longer chat about the film as well.

I also recorded an interview with Rivers Solomon because there has been some really exciting news about their next novel project. Getting to write a novel with clipping has to be a dream come true.

The Listen Again system appears to have been fixed, so you can listen to the first hour of the show here.

I did manage to arrange one live interview. On Tuesday there was a flash mob demonstration in the city protesting Boris Johnson’s appalling comments about Muslim women. I was very pleased to have Sahar from Muslim Engagement & Development (MEND) to explain about the different types of headgear that Muslim women wear, and why they wear them. She was joined in the studio by Lisa from Stand Up to Racism.

I had half an hour to fill so I rambled on a bit about the women’s cricket, and about this year’s Hugo finalists. You can listen to the second half of the show here.

While the show is available on Listen Again I won’t put it up on the podcast. But once it has fallen off those interviews will appear there (and in the case of Rivers on Salon Futura). I will try to get an old interview or two up on the podcast in the meantime. And if anyone would like to become a patron of the podcast I would be very grateful. We only need 8 more people at $1/month to cover costs.

If you would like to know more about the Jimi Hendrix album that I was playing tracks from, you can find some details here.

The full playlist for yesterday’s show is as follows:

  • Jimi Hendrix – Jungle
  • Jimi Hendrix – Woodstock
  • clipping – The Deep
  • Bootsy Collins – May the Force be With You
  • Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up
  • Santana – Riders on the Storm
  • Janelle Monae – Sally Ride
  • Jimi Hendrix – Georgia Blues

Catch Me On The Beeb

It is always an honour to be asked to represent the trans community on TV. This time, it was an appearance on Points West to discuss the making of the Talking LGBT+ Bristol film. I was on with Jake Smith of Tusko Films, and Daryn Carter of Bristol Pride. We got interviewed by Alex Lovell, which would have made my mum very happy had she been alive to see it.

Normally I am very critical of my TV appearances. This one wasn’t too bad, though of course I badly need to lose weight if I am going to be on TV a lot. At least I managed to smile a few times. And I said sensible things, I think.

If you have access to iPlayer, the programme will be available until 7:00pm tomorrow at this link. They delete shows very quickly because it is a daily programme. I’m on about 17 minutes in, after the story about fertilizer (Somerset, don’t you love it?).

I love the background that the Points West team made for the interview.

To watch the whole of the Talking LGBT+ Bristol film, go to Bristol 24/7.

My thanks once again to Bristol 24/7 for commissioning the project, to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their support, and the Tusko Films for doing such a great job on the production.

Trans Pride Happened

I appear to have had one of those weeks in which I had lots of good intentions to blog about Trans Pride, but ended up too busy or too tired to actually do so. Certain issues with Worldcon might have had something to do with this, not to mention some UK politics.

Anyway, Trans Pride in Brighton (the original, and still the biggest) happened last weekend, and give the state of the world I went along to show solidarity. It was great. The march appears to have had between 4,000 and 5,000 people, and Brunswick Gardens was buzzing all afternoon.

My favorite stall in the park was one being run by a group of midives from the local NHS trust. They were keen to help any trans guys and non-binary folks who wanted to get pregnant, and even had advice for trans women on breastfeeding. The things that can be done these days are just amazing.

One important announcement came from Jane Fae. On September 8th there will be a conference in London called We’re Still Here. There will be workshops on all sorts of interesting things. It looks like it will be very interesting.

I, however, won’t be there, because the date clashes with the Women’s Equality Party conference, and someone has to be there to defend trans rights. WEP has been fairly heavily targetted by the anti-trans brigade in the past, and I’m sure they’ll see this conference as an opportunity to futher their attempts to turn all cis women against trans people.

Life, it keeps coming at you. But sometimes it is fun, as proof of which here is the My Genderation film from last weekend.

Bristol Pride Happened

To be fair, it has been happening for a couple of weeks now. Daryn, Freddie and the rest of the crew have done an amazing job putting on a whole festival of LGBT+ goodness. However, this weekend was the culmination of all that, and it all began on Friday night with the city’s first ever official Black Pride event at City Hall. The photo above shows some of the organizers, along with the Guest of Honour, Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah.

The event also saw contributions from the Deputy Mayor, Asher Craig (Labour), and the Lord Mayor, Cleo Lake (Green). Cleo (shown above) got totally into the spirit of things with some amazing hair.

The big concern about Saturday was that there would be some sort of attempt by anti-trans extremists to disrupt the march, as happened in London the previous weekend. Daryn and the LGBT+ Group of Avon & Somerset Police worked hard to make sure that we would be prepared in the event of an attack, and they kindly kept me informed throughout the process. Thankfully everything went quietly, or at least as quietly as any Pride event can be. The March was led by the folks in the picture above. That’s the Elected Mayor, Marvin Rees (Labour); the Independent Police & Crime Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens; Asher Craig and Cleo Lake. They carried the front of the enormous flag though the whole parade. Here we are temporarily halted while the police cleared some buses from the road ahead.

And finally, durign the afternoon the big screen in Millennium Square provided the first public showings of the Talking LGBT+ Bristol film produced by Bristol 24/7. The film is now available online, so you can all watch. My thanks to Caragh, Connie, James, the folks at Tusko Films, the Heritage Lottery Fund and all who made this possible. My OutStories Bristol colleagues, Charlie and Robert, are superb in this.

Today on Ujima – Birthday, SF, Basketball, Nudity & Sex Work

Today was Ujima’s 10th birthday, and I was lucky enough to be presenting the first live show of the day. Thankfully I had a line-up that lived up to the occasion.

My first guest was Heather Child, a new addition to Bristol’s superb collection of science fiction and fantasy authors. Heather’s debut novel, Everything About You, is available from Orbit and is a fascinating exploration of how an AI in a smart device can get under its owner’s skin if it knows more about you than you can remember yourself.

Next up was Emma from Bristol Flyers, the local basketball club. They will be running a summer camp for girls with a view to ramping up the quality of their female teams and entering them into the national leagues. Basketball is in an interesting position in the UK. It has the third largest level of participation of any sport, but very little government funding. That’s a shame. I might find the NBA rather dull to watch, but away from the top flight the sport is a lot of fun and very cheap and easy to play.

The first hour of the show is available on Listen Again here. The Ujima website is currently being renovated so you might see it say that there are 0 minutes to play, or that there’s an issue with Flash, but if you just click on the download link it should play fine.

I kicked off the second hour with a fair amount of giggling as Tamsin Clarke and I discussed the Naked Podcast. I very much enjoyed being a guest on the show, but of course I’m very relaxed about getting naked with groups of women because I have spent so much time in saunas in Finland. We also discussed Latin American football, and Tamsin’s next theatre project.

Finally we got to the serious politics discussion of the day. In Parliament today they have been discussing further regulation of sex work. There was a big demonstration outside, of sex workers protesting about losing their livelihood. In the studio I had Angelica from the Bristol Sex Workers Collective and Amy from One25, a charity that works with street sex workers in the city. We talked about the different ways in which women can end up in the sex trade, and the best ways to help them survive and get out. I hope our politicians will listen.

The second hour of the show is available on Listen Again here. As with hour 1, you need to click on the download link.

The music for this week’s show was as follows:

  • Americans – Janelle Monae
  • Every Breath You Take – The Police
  • Sweet Georgia Brown – Brother Bones and His Shadows
  • Jam – Michael Jackson
  • Totally Nude – Talking Heads
  • Strip – Adam Ant
  • Lady Marmalade – Patti Labelle
  • Backstreet Luv – Curved Air

As you can see, most of the songs were chosen to fit with the subject under discussion. The Janelle Monae song, however, was chosen specifically because it is July 4th today. Happy Independence Day, America. Here’s hoping you keep that precious freedom.

Supporting Bristol’s Trans Community


Tomorrow the UK government will be releasing a major report on LGBT Equality, and will launch the public consultation period for the proposed changed to the Gender Recognition Act. Given what has happened over the past few months, anti-trans hysteria in the national media is likely to reach fever pitch over the summer. It is going to be very unpleasant.

In view of this, in the run-up to Bristol Pride (July 14th), organisations across the city are coming together to offer their support to the local trans community. They will be promoting the following Pledge via social media:

We believe that Trans People have the right to be treated equally. This includes:

  1. The right to exist
  2. The right to live freely without fear
  3. The right to be treated with dignity & respect
  4. The right to enjoy the security of UK legislation
  5. The right to speak and be heard

We’ll be using the hashtags #IPledgeTransSupport & #KeepHateOutOfBristol

There is a list of supporter available on the TransBristol website, so if you want to link to something please link to that.

I am particularly pleased that Bristol University has offered their support given the controversy earlier this year.

Thanks to Pride Cymru & Wales Equality Alliance for letting us use their excellent wording, and to Frank Duffy for the artwork.

Immigrants R Us?

Last week I had the honour of attending a launch event for an appearance of the Rainbow Pilgrims travelling exhibit at Bristol University Students’ Union. The project is being headed by my good friend Shaan Knan, and once again he’s done a great job.

As part of the event we were treated to talks about how refugees and asylum seekers are treated in the UK today, and it is a clear indication of how much of a police state the country has become. The first talk opened with a quote from Tony Benn to the effect that the way the government treats refugees is an indication of how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it. Well listen.

They are not allowed to work. They are not allowed to study. They are often interned, and if not have to register on a regular basis at a location specifically chosen to be hard to get to. They are at the mercy of bureaucrats who can brazenly give them incorrect instructions knowing that this won’t be accepted as an excuse and the refugee will be punished for doing the wrong thing. Some asylum staff have a policy of never approving a claim, despite that fact that this results in lots of expensive law suits which the government is more likely than not to lose.

It is, to put it mildly, a totally inhumane system. And for LGBT asylum seekers it is even worse. Despite government protestations to the contrary, they are still required to undergo deeply personal and humiliating questioning, often requiring pictorial evidence, of their sexuality and/or gender identity.

I suspect that the way we now treat disabled people is equally horrific.

With all of this in mind I was interested to see that the latest episode of the Charlie Jane Anders and Analee Newitz podcast, Our Opinions Are Correct, focused on the portrayal of refugees in science fiction. The special guest for this episode is Mexican poet and performer, Baruch Porras-Hernandez. He started talking about how some immigrants are very keen to fit in and “pass”, if you will, for members of the dominant culture, while others are proud of who they are and insist on keeping their own language and culture.

I listened to this on Saturday morning, with Kate O’Donnell’s theatre production, You’ve Changed, still fresh in my mind. I was struck by how what Porras-Hernandez was saying paralleled the discussion that Kate and I had after the show.

Back in olden times when Kate began transition (2003), and even more so when I did (1994) the accepted advice was that you must fit in. You must become undetectable as a member of the gender into which you were transitioning. Anything else would risk ostracization and possibly violence. The whole ethos of Kate’s show is that she’s proud of who she is; and doesn’t want to hide away.

Now of course there is no right way to be trans, or to be an immigrant. Some people naturally fit in to the world they are joining, others will always stick out like a sore thumb. No one should have to “pass”, but no one should be punished for wanting to do so. However, I do think this parallel is an interesting way of understanding the trans experience. I’d be interested to know if anyone else finds it useful or illuminating.

A Note on Crowdfunder

One of the many disturbing things occupying my time at the moment is an anti-trans lobby group that has written an “advice” booklet for schools on how to “support” trans children. I use scare quotes advisedly there because their advice is deeply damaging and, far from supporting trans children, is likely to lead to worsening mental health. Following the “advice” would also lead to schools breaching the Equality Act.

Essentially the booklet encourages teachers to practice conversion therapy on trans children. That would be bad enough if they were trained to do such a thing, because the vast majority of the relevant health care bodies have disavowed such treatment. But of course teachers are not trained counsellors, and could do considerable damage to vulnerable youngsters.

Anyway, the group resposible for this awful document has been raising money to print copies and send them to all schools. They are doing so on Crowdfunder. Despite having received an enormous number of complaints about the project, Crowdfunder is allowing the project to continue. Apparently dishonestly raising money with the intention to harm children and encourage schools to break the law is not against their terms and conditions.

Well, you know, freeze peach and all that. But we are free to do things too, and in my case that means never using Crowdfunder again. If you have a project that you want to fund, please consider using a different platform because I won’t back anything on Crowdfunder, and I suspect that a lot of other people will have taken the same decision.