Thursday, 12 January 2017

Emily's story: For Newsnight and the BBC...

Below is a true story, only Emily's name has been changed.


A few years ago my life as a trans activist brought me into contact with the mother of a young trans woman aged 15; Emily. Like me, and many other trans people, Emily had known she was trans since she was very young and attempted to be out as a girl at school when she was 13. Bullied out of her education almost immediately and struggling with living in a body that was not hers she was desperate to have surgery but was told this was not available to her until she was 18.

It was a rollercoaster of a time for her family, she would disappear for days on end and be found off her head by the police; a dread phone call at night which always made them fear the worst. After a while her mother and I realised that, at her 18th birthday, rather than being able to access the surgery she so desperately needed straight away it only meant that she would only be able to book an appointment after her 18th birthday. With a 7 month waiting-list (at the time) for the main London gender clinic she was looking at being 20 or 21 before obtaining surgery. You didn't have to talk to her much to realise that she wasn't going to last that long.

We started to put pressure on the gender clinic and the NHS to allow her to make an appointment 7 months before her 18th; as Christine Burns remarked at the time, it wasn't as though her 18th birthday was going to come as a surprise. After a lot of hassle the clinic agreed to allow this to happen, and Emily got her first appointment about two months after she was 18, and surgery, eventually, six months short of her 20th birthday. In the days and weeks after her surgery she was a changed person; the wild, unstable teenager, out of her head at parties on drink, drugs and whatever else she could get her hands on had gone. The bottle of bubbly I brought to celebrate with her stayed unopened, she didn't need to drink any more. She had had to wait until 18 months into adulthood but had finally got her surgery.

In the last few months before her surgery Emily had been clinging on to life with the fingernails of one hand, you could feel it, her parents were beside themselves, it had really become a white-knuckle race against time. A cancellation threatened to take the surgery date past her 20th birthday, something we all felt would be impossible for her to deal with. But after it came there was relief all round, literally overnight Emily became Emily, a well-rounded, calm, happy young woman, when just a few hours earlier she had been stressed, confused and desperate. The transformation was such a delight to see that I cried with joy for her, it really felt that she was safely with us on this planet at last.


Today a rise in demand coupled with NHS cuts has meant that waiting lists are a great deal longer, and the arrangement whereby 17-year-olds could make appointments before their 18th birthday evaporated in the face of these pressures. So Newsnight and the BBC and assorted transphobes in the right-wing press and elsewhere trying to peddle the lie that primary school children get surgery, are not merely distributing misinformation but their misinformation is so far removed from the truth that even calling it a lie is to do a disservice to liars.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

An Open Letter to the CEOs of Schools Out about LGBT History Month

Dear Mr Fenwick and Ms Sanders,

As a trans woman and someone who has in the past, supported Schools Out to try and make things better for LGBT pupils and teachers in our schools I am writing to you as a matter of utmost seriousness. I also speak as a trans academic who has published research into trans children and young trans people. My concern is regarding journalist Julie Bindel’s talk in Manchester which is being promoted by you as part of LGBT history month.

In this letter I intend to make the following points; firstly that the justification you have made for your support of Julie Bindel’s participation in an LGBT history month events is untenable, and secondly that this brings into serious question the credibility of Schools Out as an organisation.


In Achbishop Desmond Tutu’s famous quote he describes neutrality as harming the oppressor, at least in your case we are not talking about neutrality, representing a kind of passive support for the oppressor, you are engaging in active support. In your justification for including this item in your listings you cite primarily an article published by Bindel in 2004;

She made the comments that questioned the existence of trans women in 2004 and has said she would have phrase things differently now.”

Foregrounding this rather than other publications of Bindel is very highly problematic and also very revealing. She “apologised” for that article under pressure from trans people, however this article, while expressed in objectionable terms, is far from the worst example of her output. It is telling that you have chosen to foreground this in your explanation rather than her, very recent, article in the Daily Mail about trans children which you only mention only at the end of your statement. It is this that concerns me greatly since it appears to reveal some very serious issues regarding Schools Out as an organisation claiming to work for trans children and young people in education.

Bindel’s article in the Daily Mail (Britain’s highest circulation newspaper) a few weeks ago is harmful (and here I am choosing my words very deliberately, and very carefully) to transgender children. In her article Bindel suggests, while providing no supporting evidence, the following;

“If I were a teenager today, well-meaning liberal teachers and social workers would probably tell me that I was trapped in the wrong body. They might refer me to a psychiatrist who would prescribe fistfuls of hormones and other drugs. And terrifyingly, I might easily be recommended for gender re-assignment surgery… just because I didn’t like the pink straitjacket imposed on girls.”

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that this is the case for any kind of transgender or gender nonconforming children. Indeed there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. All evidence suggests, that trans children and young trans people find it very difficult to convince anyone that they are trans: If you are a trans child, you are probably more likely to be regarded as gay or lesbian than trans. In addition you are more likely to feel significant pressure not to come out, or be recognised as your real gender because of a number of different social and cultural pressures, pressures made worse by Bindel’s article. Indeed even for those who do come out, leading anything like a normal life can be a real struggle, with opposition commonly manifesting itself amongst parents of other children at school, school staff and even peers, in many areas of school life from PE to toilet access.

Bindel’s narrative appears to have been constructed to serve a purpose; to delegitimise trans people in general and trans children in particular. It is designed to make it harder for those trans children trying to come out, trying to communicate to parents, siblings, teachers and friends and convince them of who they are. When trans children are unable to do this, or face resistance from their families, communities and schools, in effect they are being forced to undergo a kind of amateur community Conversion Therapy. This is why I use the term “harm” very particularly.

The consequences of this article reaching such a wide audience are difficult to quantify of course. Yet it doesn't take much imagination to see how it is very likely to make many parents, parents of other children and school staff adopt a more dismissive and hostile attitude to any trans child brave enough to try and come out, with the consequent psychological damage to those individuals.

In other words Bindel’s article in the Daily Mail will have an effect on trans children which is opposite from the apparent stated aims of Schools Out. And, in case you're not aware of it, this is not the only attack on trans children in mainstream media; the BBC are broadcasting a program about a mental health professional, widely regarded as engaging in Conversion Therapy on trans children, in a documentary in which the parents of a trans child in Canada are alleging journalistic malpractice. There is a very real danger that a popular media consensus harmful to trans children is developing. Julie Bindel’s article is part of that consensus. Your endorsement of Bindel’s event is an endorsement of those harmful effects.

Your organisation is adding legitimacy to Bindel by including her event in your LGBT history month listings. In effect you are saying that it is okay for someone who produces material like hers to take part in LGBT (not LGB) history month. One of the justifications you use for this is the old canard of “debate”.

“She has a right to speak just as we have a right to challenge what she says. That is the nature of debate and it allows us to make change happen in society.”

With the circulation of the Daily Mail at 2.2 million, and a readership probably in excess of 3 million, perhaps you would like to explain how I am able to challenge her fabrications to this audience. To the best of my knowledge the Daily Mail has not permitted anyone to publish any response to this article, and indeed has published further articles, which will cause harm trans children. Even getting a right to reply article in New Statesman over trans issues has proved impossible in my experience, never mind the Mail.  The current popular media consensus about trans children has largely taken Bindel’s side of the argument with few, if any, opportunities for trans people to “challenge” or “debate” her dangerous narratives in any effective sense or even have our voices heard at all. The “nature of debate” as you describe it, on this issue, contrary to your assertion, is pretty one-sided if it could indeed be described as a "debate" at all...

However what is of more immediate concern is your organisation’s failure to forward the interests of those you claim to represent, namely trans children, over this issue, because this is an issue that is directly relevant to your purview. Indeed it makes me doubt very seriously that you are indeed an LGBT organization if you are prepared to support someone whose actions are harming those you claim to be helping. If you are an LGBT organisation then act like an LGBT organisation. Transphobia and cisgenderism are real and seriously harm children in schools. Transphobia and cisgenderism are not the same as homophobia and discrimination against trans children in schools is not the same as discrimination against LGB children, although it has similarities. Your failure to understand the issues with Bindel and how they affect children you claim to represent or wish to help suggests a profound and fundamental failure on the part of Schools Out.


So in my opinion this demonstrates that Schools Out has very serious problems relating to the way it goes about its business in relation to trans children and young people in schools. As a result I will stop recommending your organization to schools and teachers, which I have hitherto done regularly. I cannot see how it is possible for you to maintain the position you have with regard to Bindel and still effectively help trans children in schools. I do not want to be associated with Schools Out in its current form and I will recommend other organisations instead as a result of your stance on this issue. I no longer have any confidence in your ability to help trans children in schools. In my opinion you have become part of the problem.

Regards,

Natacha Kennedy.
Goldsmiths College and 
University College London

Sunday, 23 October 2016

No Helen Lewis, the last thing trans kids need is more “public debate”.

One of the most predictable things about the “Child J” case has been the way those opposed to the existence of trans people have jumped on the case. “One trans child has been found to have been coerced by her parents therefore all trans children are…” goes their logic, more predictable than transphobia in New Statesman.

What is worth mentioning first is that a number of cases like that of Child J have already happened (although the judgments have not always been made public), and been resolved very differently, in favour of the trans child and loving parent who respects that child’s gender expression, despite either being taken away by a court or having had that threat hanging over them for some considerable time. In other words the courts have a pretty dire record when dealing with trans children, they have, indeed, got it wrong in every case of which I have heard up to now. So the chances are that this case will ultimately turn out to be a mistake also.

Lewis’s response has been to argue that “we need more debate” about trans children. Well she would wouldn’t she? She is editor of one of the media platforms that publishes much of this “debate” about trans issues and who stands to benefit in terms of valuable pageviews. Her rag has become so infamous for engaging in “debates" about trans people in such a biased way that it is now more often than not referred to by trans people as “New Transphobe” since Lewis published a particularly vile article written by TERF (transphobe using feminism as a cover for trans hatred) writing under a pseudonym. Indeed some trans people who have written for New Transphobe in the past have now expressed the desire to have their work withdrawn from NT’s archives such is the low level of trust, amongst trans people, in her rag. If there is to be any productive debate then she ends to work very hard to establish trust with the trans community, unless, of course her interpretation of "public debate" is... how should I put it... "different" from that of many others.

The problem with advocating “public debate” about this issue is that what is really meant is "people-who-know-nothing-about-trans-children-but-who-are-rabidly-opposed-to-trans-people’s-right-to-exist-being-given-the-opportunity-to-spout-disinformation-by-media-platforms-like-NT".  Since the experience of the EU referendum campaign anyone who advocates “public debate” in the UK as a means of progress in any area of debate is quite clearly being dishonest. The huge amount of garbage produced every time trans issues are discussed in NT and most other media platforms is evidence that public debate is the last thing trans children need. Advocating public debate when that debate so far has consisted almost entirely of a tsunami of falsehoods spewed out by trans haters is in my view particularly disingenuous. It is telling that in her blog Lewis noted how Mermaids has opposed the Child J judgment but failed to mention why: In my opinion a deliberate attempt to sully the reputation of an organisation which has saved many trans children’s lives. If this is the level of “public debate” we are to expect then many trans children will suffer actual harm as a result. Just one of Mermaids’ criticisms, omitted by Lewis, starts to put a different complexion on things.


“…why were the only NHS clinic providing care for gender variant children's not asked to give evidence?”

Maybe Lewis is an acolyte of Michael Gove; believing that experts should be ignored in favour of biased bigots and haters with hidden agendas…?

If any debate is required right now what might be necessary, to prevent this sort of court case in future, is a debate between professionals in fields of psychology, law, education, social work and gender and representatives of trans children. In other words professionals and parents who have worked with trans children, who know trans children and individuals who have been trans children rather than journalists, who haven’t. Including people in that discussion who fundamentally oppose trans children’s rights (and indeed trans people’s rights) will reduce that discussion to the level of all other open public debates about trans issues, lies (some no doubt published in NT) followed by trans people’s attempts to expose those lies.  Indeed one of the things that is often regarded as preventing discussion within the trans community about serious trans issues, is the threat that such a debate will be hijacked by transphobes for their own purposes.

So Lewis’s attempt to drag into this this the NSPCC’s abortive debate about trans children between Sarah Ditum, a journalist on NT and Kellie Maloney, a boxing promoter, based on Child J’s case is highly disingenuous. Quite what useful knowledge either could bring to such a debate is way beyond me. Neither has any specific qualifications or experience in this area, although it is possible that, Kellie Maloney was a trans child, as was I. If this is the kind of “public debate”; ie, an opportunity for the distribution of distortions, disinformation, falsehoods and fabrications, that she is advocating then in my opinion she is just attempting to justify more damaging mendacity from those who are not interested in anything other than harming trans people and trans children. 


Judging by her blog post, which chooses, for example, to focus on that tiny, and as a percentage, diminishing proportion of trans "regretters", while forgetting to mention the large number of trans children who self-harm and attempt suicide (I went to speak to a trans youth group in the North of England a couple of years ago and almost every young trans person there had visibly self-harmed, and some spoke of suicide attempts) tells us all we need to know about the kind of selective debate she wants. The same kind of debate trans people have always had to respond to; sensationalised, biased in favour of TERFs and based on the legitimisation of distortions, lies and disinformation designed to harm trans children.


Postscript; the following has been released by Mermaids, again something not referred to in the Lewis blog...


"The judge in this case has effectively gagged the Mum which has stopped her from being able to defend herself. I personally (Susie Green CEO) and other members of Mermaids have known this family for 3 years. There have been 2 independent assessments done by psychologists who work with gender variant children, both concluded that the child was very clear about who she was and was not being coerced in any way. Mum was supportive but not directing or causing the behaviour. The independent psychiatrist that the judge quotes also stated there is no evidence that the mum caused the gender identity issues. But that didn't get into the judgement. Why weren't the only NHS centre supporting children with gender identity issues not consulted on this case? The Tavistock are clear that allowing a child to express their gender identity is not a child protection issue. Why did an anonymous allegation of smoking pot that has never been proven or substantiated and is clearly malicious make it into a court judgement? The Mum was subjected to multiple malicious anonymous referrals to social services. Schools are often unable or unwilling to accept gender issues in children and yet the Mum was criticised for removing the child due to bullying. She has been painted as a controlling and abusive character by events being depicted in such a way that makes her entirely understandable protectiveness seem extreme. 

It wasn't. I was party to meetings that were called without the Mums knowledge or participation, the clear disbelief from the school and GP that a child can express themselves and their assertion that it was the Mum. It wasn't. The child knows who they are. I can only imagine the bewilderment and distress she must be feeling now having being removed in the middle of the night and placed with a father she had not seen in 3 years, who the last time she saw him he was involved in an altercation with her Mum through the car window, the car that she was in.

Let's be clear here. Cross gender play and expression does not constitute gender dysphoria. Kids should be allowed to play with whatever they want without any conclusions being drawn. I love sponge bob, but that doesn't make me a boy. Most children are perfectly happy with their birth gender. But some are not. This child consistently and repeatedly asserted that she was a girl. This Mum was undermined by professionals that had no experience or understanding of gender identity issues in children, so Mum protected her child and fought for recognition of her gender expression.

The judge said the mum did not follow the Tavistock recommendations. This was because she decided that her 5 year old, who was happy, outgoing and confident, should not be subjected to appointments with a mental health professional who undoubtedly would know nothing about gender issues for no reason. The judgement states in one sentence that the child was isolated and not even registered with a GP, then in another line says she was registered as a girl. Which is it? This child was home schooled, but was part of a local network of parents and children who met regularly and socialised well. Social services stated in a report that the home schooling Mum was providing was of a high standard.
Do not believe everything you read in the papers. I personally know this family and it is heartbreaking to see the Mum made out to be some kind of controlling abusive parent when the truth is so very different."

Friday, 14 October 2016

Q: What's the worst thing that could happen to the Leave campaign...? A: Brexit.

The Leave campaign are going into overdrive to try and prevent the trickle of "Regretters"; people who regret voting Leave in the referendum turning into a torrent. Already the 2% of Leave voters who regretted voting that way in July has
become 6%, with another 4% unsure; enough to give Remain a 51-49 victory if another referendum was held now. Inflation eating away at people's pay packets in the coming months and the threat to jobs and livelihoods is likely to increase the number of Bregretters as the implications of Brexit become clearer and more threatening.  No wonder the Mail is so desperate to try and prevent people from expressing a change of heart.

However, the Leave campaign and all who sail in her need to
be wary. If, by the time Theresa May makes the, in my view, treasonous decision to invoke Article 50, opinion polls are showing a significant lead for Remain, Leavers are storing up problems for the future. 

Even if the £66bn cost to the treasury of Brexit is true, and in my opinion it is a serious underestimate, the country will be in financial trouble. If we leave the EU in a hard Brexit unemployment will rise and keep rising for some time, businesses will go bankrupt, incomes will fall and public services will be starved of cash. The £350 million a week promised to the NHS will, most likely, turn into a cut of at least twice that amount. Waiting lists will soar and people will spend hours lying on stretchers and trollies in A&E.
We will end up very much poorer, especially those on low incomes; those who voted most ardently for Brexit. Instead of being like Norway or Switzerland as Leave suggested, we will end up like Albania or Algeria.

When this happens the popularity of Brexit and those who have most loudly advocated it will fall significantly, and there will eventually be a clamour for rejoining the EU, by invoking Article 49. As a way of rescuing the situation re-entering the EU will not be a panacea; by that time many industries will have left and persuading them to return will be fruitless. Why would Nissan want to move back to Sunderland after just building a new factory in Spain or Belgium? However rejoining will represent the only route back to prosperity.

The EU however is not going to want Britain back under any circumstances; there will be conditions attached, we would probably need to join the Euro, be part of the Schengen free travel zone and agree to something like a 66% majority in any future referendum on leaving. In other words Britain would be more securely embedded within the EU than it is now, and, if you think leaving is complex and difficult now, just imagine how difficult it would be if we are in the Eurozone.

The truth is that, even if Brexit goes ahead, the pressure to rejoin will not go away, especially as living standards fall significantly. The number of Rejoiners will increase and the result will eventually be a "Hard Rejoin" with Leavers campaigners marginalised, discredited and blamed for the economic disaster which will hit those who voted Leave in the greatest numbers. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Why we MUST have a second referendum...

So Theresa May is going to trigger Article 50 and dump the UK out of the EU buy the end of March 2019.

However, as all this is happening the electorate is changing due to basic demographics. 

Each year about 500,000 people die, most of those of old age. In the referendum over 65s voted 60% - 40% in favour of Leave. So 300,000 Leave voters are dying every year while 200,000 Remain voters are dying. This may seem a bit macabre but that means Leave is losing around 100,000 a year of its majority, just through natural demographic changes. 

This is only half of the story however because around 1,333,000 people a year reach the age of 18 and become eligible to vote. The youngest voters voted 75% - 25% in favour of Remain, which means the net Remain vote is increasing by around 667,000 each year. Add this to the net 100,000 reduction in the number of Leave voters in the over-65 category and the Leave majority is going down, just through demographic factors, by 767,000 a year.

767,000 over two years and 9 months is 2,109,000 votes which the Leave camp is losing relative to Remain over the period before the earliest date at which the UK might leave the EU arrives.

The Leave majority on 23rd June was 1,269,501.

That means that, through demographic processes alone, the Leave majority of 1,269,501 turns into a Remain majority of around 840,000 by 30 March 2019. Even accounting for different levels of turnout and not everyone turning out to vote this is still likely to result in a Remain majority. 

Of course all this does not include the likelihood of Leave becoming more unpopular (as it has already done in Wales, as the principality has now become majority Remain supporting) due to other factors such as economic effects starting to bite, the government's obvious confusion and the efforts of groups such as Leavewatch monitoring the antics of the Brexiters. Even though the mainstream media has imposed an effective blackout on any news regarding the £350,000,000 a week that the Leave campaign says will not now materialise for the NHS, this message will start to get through to all but the most resistant Leave supporters.



The case against another referendum has never looked weaker.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Brexit and Demographics - the most solid case yet for another referendum

The news today was sneaked out; serious negotiations on Brexit will not begin until september 2017 at the very earliest. This means that the earliest possible date that the UK could leave the EU will be September 2019, and that is if negotiations go smoothly, something which looks highly unlikely to say the least; the British side does not even know what it wants yet, or indeed understands the nature of Britain's links with the EU that will need unravelling. 

However, as all this is happening, or as is more likely, not happening, the electorate is changing due to basic demographics. 

Each year about 500,000 people die, most of those of old age. In the referendum over 65s voted 60% - 40% in favour of Leave. So 300,000 Leave voters are dying every year while 200,000 Remain voters are dying. This may seem a bit macabre but that means Leave is losing around 100,000 a year of its majority, just through natural demographic changes. 

This is only half of the story however because around 1,333,000 people a year reach the age of 18 and become eligible to vote. The youngest voters voted 75% - 25% in favour of Remain, which means the net Remain vote is increasing by around 667,000 each year. Add this to the net 100,000 reduction in the number of Leave voters in the over-65 category and the Leave majority is going down, just through demographic factors, by 767,000 a year.

767,000 over three years (actually three and a bit years) is 2,301,000 votes which the Leave camp is losing relative to Remain over the period before the earliest date at which the UK might leave the EU arrives.

The Leave majority on 23rd June was 1,269,501.

That means that, through demographic processes alone, the Leave majority of 1,269,501 turns into a Remain majority of around 1,032,000. Even accounting for different levels of turnout and not everyone turning out to vote this is still likely to result in a Remain majority. And the longer it goes on before the actual leaving date, the greater the Remain majority becomes. after 5 years the Remain Majority is likely to be around 2,000,000.

Of course all this does not include the likelihood of Leave becoming more unpopular (as it has already done in Wales, as the principality has now become majority Remain supporting) due to other factors such as economic effects starting to bite, the government's obvious confusion and the efforts of groups such as Leavewatch monitoring the antics of the Brexiters. Even though the mainstream media has imposed an effective blackout on any news regarding the £350,000,000 a week that the Leave campaign says will not now materialise for the NHS, this message will start to get through to all but the most resistant Leave supporters.

The case against another referendum has never looked weaker.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Vacuous Arguments from a Hoover Salesman

“Sir” James Dyson is a man who got very rich from selling overpriced vacuum cleaners, one of the reasons he got rich was because he could export production from Berkshire to Malaysia, which he did just after showing her Majesty the Queen around his factory near Reading. This enabled him to benefit from low wages and dire conditions of work for those desperate enough to need employment in his Malaysian plant.

Today however he has gone from trying to sell us hoovers to trying to sell us Brexit. Claiming leaving the EU and the single market will enable Britain to negotiate better trade deals with other countries in the world. Almost in the same breath he also claims that exporters don't need trade deals in order to export around the world. In other words you don't need trade deals to export but we need trade deals to export. One would have thought that someone who describes himself as a “scientist” would have been rather better than this at thinking logically.

BTW he has also deliberately omitted eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers to trade which come with trade agreements and which are likely to present far greater problems for exporters.

It is a function of our failing neoliberal economic system that throws up very high differences in wealth, exaggerating the success of some people who like to present themselves as particularly innovative entrepreneurs. One upshot of this is that the media routinely gives these people who are largely wealthy due to luck and the polarising effect of neoliberalism airtime and column inches to preach their “wisdom” as though they represent the messiahs of capitalism.

In this instance however Dyson has exposed himself as no-one special, with no particular insight into anything as his vacuous logic is splashed unquestioningly over our media.

 

He should stick to selling Hoovers rather than lies about Brexit. We have already been sold too many of those.