Trans Equality: What’s Next?

That was the title of a public meeting held today at Portcullis House, an office block over the road from the Palace of Westminster used for all sorts of parliamentary business. I got a formal invitation, probably because I had submitted evidence to the Trans Equality Inquiry, and I went along because I have a radio show on trans issues coming up next week so I wanted to be up to date on the issues.

The meeting was chaired by the Rt. Hon Maria Miller MP (Con), who was the chair of the Inquiry, and by Ruth Cadbury MP (Lab), who was also on the Inquiry. Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch, who is also prospective Lib Dem candidate for Chippenham, a large town just north of me, was also on the panel, as were Jay Stewart of Gendered Intelligence and Ashley Reed, a student activist. Maria had to rush off half way through to speak in a debate on sexual harassment, which everyone in the room agreed was very important.

One things that came through very clearly at the meeting is that both Maria and Ruth care very much about trans issues and want to help us. What is much less clear is how much they can achieve. The Government has pretty much fobbed off the Inquiry’s report. Helen did a great job of exposing how much of what little the Government said it was doing, or would do, had been done before to no effect.

A major issue, and the MPs were very upfront about this, is that trans equality requires a great deal of work on many fronts. There are issues in health, in education, in the justice system, in the media, in immigration and so on. Most of the work that needs doing is in other ministerial areas outside the control of the Equalities department. Of course this affects work being done on women’s rights, on LGB rights and just about anything else the Women & Equalities Committee does.

In the short term, much of the work that has to be done involves getting the rest of society on board. Maria encouraged everyone to write to their MPs (though that’s rather pointless in my case because mine is a Farage wannabe). Both Helen and Jane Fae mentioned the need to get the Civil Service on board, though how we can do this is another matter.

While it was great that the meeting happened, it achieved rather less than it might for several reasons. Firstly it was overwhelmingly white and a substantial majority female-identified. Such meetings need to represent the whole of the UK’s trans community, not just those of us willing to turn up (and financially able to do so).

Second, once the meeting was opened up to public comment, almost every speaker took the opportunity to make the most of their time in the spotlight. Please try not to do this, people. I understand that many of you have harrowing personal stories, or situations that you are very angry about. We know this. The MPs know this because they read all of the evidence sent to them. We need to move forward now and have some serious debate about where to concentrate our efforts.

Finally a great deal of time was wasted because a large group of TERFs* turned up determined to disrupt the meeting by making speeches about the evils of “men” (by which they mean trans people of all genders).

As is common with such people, most of what they said is dubious at best. The claim about trans women being proven to be violent is one of several claims debunked here. It is absolutely untrue that doctors are “sterilising” children. And to claim that Gendered Intelligence goes into schools telling young girls who like to play with cars that they must be trans and must transition to male when Jay has just been talking about the need for people to be able to define their own identity is a breathtaking piece of dishonesty.

The claim that 80% of trans kids “grow out of it” is a particularly interesting one. In version 4 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) there were five criteria for diagnosing a child as trans. Only one of those involves the child positively identifying as a gender other than that assigned at birth. The other four did not require the patient to identify as trans. Diagnosis could be made if the patient fitted four out of the five criteria. It was therefore possible to diagnose a child as trans even if they said they weren’t. On this basis doctors could identify kids as trans, and then claim to have “cured” them when it turned out they didn’t want to transition. So 80% of the children were “cured” of being trans. What a surprise. For more in this see Kelly Winters.

Having said that, a significant number of children who present at gender clinics do not go on to transition. Some may have been referred by worried parents who are obsessed with “correct” gendered behavior. Others might be trying to find their true selves. The job of the doctors is to prescribe the correct treatment for each patient individually.

Lots of people go to the doctor because they have a headache. Many of them can be dismissed with a box as aspirin and perhaps a suggestion to consume less alcohol. Others will have serious migraines that need a great deal more medical help. And a small number will have brain tumors that need emergency treatment. No one suggests that people with migraines or brain tumors should not be helped because a majority of people with headaches have the flu or a hangover. Nor would any doctor insist that every patient with a headache be given radiotherapy just in case. The same should be true of gender medicine.

Of course in the bad old days doctors (and politicians) were obsessed with the gender binary. They were the ones who said that patients either had to go the whole way and become stereotypical members of the “opposite” sex, or get no treatment at all. Trans activists have fought long and hard against this, and the medical profession has, by and large, come to agree with us. It is rather ironic that the TERFs keep accusing us of being in favor of a practice we fought hard to end.

Anyway, the good news is that MPs, parliamentary employees, human rights lawyers and various other cis folk who were present at the meeting were horrified at the behavior of their TERFs. As I said on Twitter, if you want to convince others of the rightness of your cause, it helps a lot to not be utterly vile to people. Though the TERFs wasted a lot of our time, they did a huge amount of damage to their cause, for which I am duly grateful.

I have bagged interviews with Ruth Cadbury, Helen Belcher, Jay Stewart and Jane Fae which I hope to use in the radio show next week. Job done from my point of view. As for trans equality, we still have a very long way to go. But at least we have allies. And thanks to the TERFs we are getting more.

* TERFs = Trans Exclusionary radical Feminists, though they are neither radical (they are deeply conservative) or very good feminists

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