Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

After chatting to the political journalist for the local paper, Cambridge First, I was asked to submit a letter about the current equal marriage consultation in the UK. The consultation also looks at gender recognition, and if you’re in the UK I would encourage you to respond (I’ll post my response here when I make it). Here’s the letter:

Last week the government launched a consultation into marriage equality in England and Wales.

Assuming legislation on equal marriage is passed in this parliament, it will mark nearly a decade since the signing into law of two sibling pieces of legislation, the 2005 Civil Partnership Act and the lesser known 2004 Gender Recognition Act. These two acts together changed the landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the UK, but they were both half-measures. They created a situation which satisfied neither those LGBT people seeking equal treatment before the law, nor their critics who wanted to retain the status-quo.

The Gender Recognition Act allowed transgender people to gain legal recognition of their gender. This granted them marriage and employment protection rights which other people took for granted, but at a cost – if you were in an existing marriage or civil partnership, you had to have it annulled first, otherwise your rights were kept from you. This was more than an inconvenience; it had profound consequences. A woman who would be seen as such were she naked in a gym changing room would be treated by the law as a man, including being locked up with male prisoners if she was to be given a custodial sentence by a court.

The Civil Partnership Act created a form of relationship which was “seperate-but-not-quite- equal” for same sex couples wanting to recognise their commitment to each other with a marriage. Despite civil partnerships commonly being referred to as “gay marriages” by the press and public, they do not confer the same rights as a marriage. Being regarded as next-of-kin when abroad is not assured even in countries which have full marriage equality, for example.

Couples in marriages where one partner had undergone gender transition were treated particularly unfairly by these half-finished laws. Some of the strongest marriages around were, in a cruel irony, subject to state-coerced divorce, with gender recognition being used as both the carrot and the stick for those who refused to end what had become, in effect, a same-sex marriage. Lib Dem Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, described this treatment as “cruel and unusual”.

I was one of those who suffered confiscation of my marriage. One spring morning in 2009, my wife and I stood before a judge and had our marriage annulled. We had convinced ourselves that this was a matter of bureaucracy, that a few days later when we underwent a civil partnership ceremony nothing would have changed, but it wasn’t true. We left the court in tears and holding hands. Less than 2 weeks later, when a registrar pronounced us “civil partners”, it felt like the final indignity. It was very clear to us that the state regarded our relationship as second class.

We still celebrate the anniversary of our marriage, the real one. This year should have been our eleventh anniversary. It is to us, but to the state that’s a fiction; our marriage never existed – it has been erased.

The plans the government is now consulting on will end this for those who come after. Divorce will no-longer be the price for legal recognition and protection, and same sex couples will be able to be married in civil ceremonies. I am proud that Liberal Democrats in the coalition government are delivering this; we are the only one of the three main parties to have marriage equality as party policy.

I would like to see the proposals go further. While churches which don’t want to marry same-sex couples won’t have to under the proposals, lobbying by some churches has resulted in proposals that will ban those religions which do want to conduct same-sex marriages from doing so. It is an affront to religious freedom that one sect presumes to speak for all in this way. While civil partnerships will remain for those same-sex couples who want them instead of a marriage, they will not be extended to opposite-sex couples who feel such a status better reflects the nature of their relationship. Finally, those marriages which were confiscated by the state, such as mine, will not be reinstated.

I will be responding to the government’s consultation by asking them to go further; to do the job properly this time, to not give in to the bullying of a few religious figures who presume to speak for all, and to put right the grave injustice of state-mandated divorce. I urge your readers to do the same.

Those wishing to respond to the consultation can find out more at www.abouttime.org.uk

Councillor Sarah Brown – LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Transgender Working Group Chair

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

One thing I come across again and again when encountering public attitudes towards gender variant people is just how simplistic a model many people seem to be operating with. In order to illustrate, it might help to briefly consider sexual orientation, the modelling of which has some similar issues;

Everybody knows about the Kinsey Scale of sexual orientation, right? You have 0 at one end, which means you’re exclusively heterosexual and 6 at the other end, which means you’re exclusively homosexual. There’s then a scale inbetween with varying degrees of hetero/homoflexibility and bisexuality. The wikipedia entry I linked to above also includes an X for “non-sexual”.

Most people seem to be able to grasp this model and understand it, and firmly declare themselves to be a zero. Phew, that’s sorted that out then! None of that gayness here, except after a few pints, when they might venture they’re actually a one, maybe. I jest, but Kinsey is a very simplistic model and the way people use it to express their sexuality can often be very simplistic.

Klein extended Kinsey into his “Sexual Orientation Grid”, which was an attempt to deal with some of the shortcomings of Kinsey: Your ideal situation could be different from your behaviour, as could your fantasies, and orientation and behaviour can change over time.

Taking things in a different direction was Michael Storms, who proposed that “attraction to men” and “attraction to women” can be considered two independent variables. I think this improves dramatically on one of the main issues I have with Kinsey and Klein – that they see a spectrum with “straight” at one end and “gay” at the other. Instead, Storms suggests, you can be attracted to men and attracted to women in different proportions. The diagram on the right (click to enlarge) illustrates this. One thing it does which Klein and Kinsey don’t do so well is takes asexuality into account.

These are still simplistic – they don’t take into account non-binary and queer identities, for example, nor do they account for the fact that “man” and “woman” can be broken down into multiple attributes in their own right. Someone can, for example, be attracted to a person with very large breasts (to the point of a fetish – something else none of these models handle well), but be less concerned with other aspects of “femaleness” in a sexual partner.

Regardless of their shortcomings, I think people can generally understand them and realise that there are bisexual people (Kinsey), that you can fantasise about same sex encounters while being straight (Klein) and even that you can be independently attracted to men and women, or not (asexuality). Many people will have a conservative reaction to anything other than Kinsey (or even anything other than heterosexuality) and declare it to be nonsense, or perversion, or symptomatic of pathology, but they can usually understand it.

What about Gender?

What depresses me is that while Kinsey has penetrated (oh shush) the public consciousness, and refinements on it can be understood, the same can’t be said for gender.

A grid for just one aspect of gender identity?

From my perspective, I see that there are multiple variables to gender. You can have identity, visible expression, behavioural expression, and so on. Like Klein, each one of these can change over time, can be “fantasised” about, and can be different in terms of expression and ideal. We can construct a Storms grid for each one of them; there’s one on the left and each person might have, say, twelve, or something, each representing a different aspect of their gender identity (such as their presentation, or their identified gender, or their desired social gender, and so-on).

In addition, each one of these can be fluid, and there are probably a whole host of things I haven’t thought of. This stuff is rich, very rich. Instead what we get are media depictions and a public discourse on gender variant people which is simplistic to levels that I find incredibly frustrating: trans stories have to be accompanies with photographs or video of over-the-top expressions of stereotypical femininity or masculinity; anyone without a simple, binary identity, is considered too challenging; surgical status is everything, “If you’ve got a penis, you’re a man”; “But chromosomes”, and so-on.

I also get the impression that the more “educated discourse”, which ought to have at least moved to a point where it acknowledges that this stuff might be complicated, gravitates all too often to the sort of navel-gazing narrative employed by the Julie Bindels and Janice Raymonds of this world – Gender is bad, it exists only to oppress women, gender must be destroyed, gender variant people are either trying to prop up male gender hegemony themselves, or are unwitting tools of some sort of psychiatric illuminati with the same agenda, gender variant people can’t possibly have anything to offer progressive thought, we hate trans people.

There’s good work being done on this. I have very little awareness of much of it – I’ve mostly picked up my level of understanding, which I don’t claim to be anything like complete or even particularly sophisticated, from moving in gender-variant circles. It depresses me that even this places me in a tiny minority. Some work is done by gender variant people, some of it is done by academics who haven’t drunk the Raymond kool-aid. None of it gets enough attention, and it seems to me that while public awareness of trans people has increased, public perceptions of the rich tapestry of gender variance and gender identity are resolutely stuck in a sort of intellectual pre-stone-age.

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

Thanks to “Freedom of Information Queen”, Emma Brownbill, a number of us have been in possession of the minutes of the so-called “Gender Governance Group” (or G3) from 2003 to the present. This is a group consisting of clinicians mostly working in the east midlands and north of England, as well as Scotland and Northern Ireland, who are working in the field of gender dysphoria. They’ve been meeting twice a year for the last eight years, and I imagine many trans people might wish we could be a fly on the wall in these meetings.

Well now, thanks to the wonders of the Freedom of Information Act, we can be! The whole set of minutes are vast, full of administrivia, and take a long time to read. Here, for your delectation, I have presented an excerpt. Zoe O’Connell and Emma Brownbill herself have also blogged on this, and we timed our releases to occur simultaneously. Their entries are here and here.

In general, the minutes present a bunch of people who seem to be generally well meaning, but are disturbingly ill-informed about the range of transgender identities. Their desire to maintain paternalistic style control over trans people is quite apparent, but they do seem to want to do the right thing (even if I sometimes profoundly disagree with what the right thing is – many of them seem to still be in the “prevent transition unless it’s absolutely necessary” mindset).

More recently, they seem to be on the receiving end of a trans community with patients who enter the services with high expectations and with a good understanding of their rights in law. This appears to be causing some considerable flailing amongst the G3 clinicians, and I do sense they’re getting rattled. Anyway, on with the show. It starts somewhat slowly, but do stick with it – some of this stuff is really quite shocking:

April 2004

“Local issues discussed including patients being referred from other clinics and if the assessment has to start from the beginning and if so does the patient have to go through the Real Life Experience again.”

This is the “bad old days”. This question isn’t answered, but it’s apparent from something that is said later on that the answer is quite often, “yes”.

Pickings are quite thin at first. The group is in its infancy and the meetings seem short and preoccupied with admin issues. Fast forward to:

November 2005

[Dr Kevan Wylie, specialist in gender identity disorder working at Sheffield Gender Identity Clinic] had received an email from the [Royal College of Psychiatrists] about an application to a Member of Parliament asking if they could be noted as “no gender” and wanted to know if it was a recognised condition. Kevan had discussed it at a previous meeting but no one had heard of it before and said he would bring it to the G3 meeting.

Tim Terry [vaginoplasty surgeon working at Leicester] said there was a condition called Scoptic Syndrome where they don’t want to be either sex but want to lose the penis and testes.

This is appalling. I transitioned in this month, by coincidence, so I was doing a lot of searching around online for transgender medical resources. Genderqueer and non-binary gender issues were not as prominent as they are now, but there was stuff there, and I came across it quickly. For a specialist clinician working in the area not to be aware of non-binary people is bad enough. For the body supposedly writing a UK Standards of Care document (more on this shortly) to not know of the existence of non-binary people is utterly scandalous. Sadly, this non-binary blindness and resistance to anything other than “traditional binary transition” seems to persist onwards.

By the way, “Scoptic Syndrome” appears to be something akin to dyslexia! edit: It’s a typo – see comments.

For myself, I am aware of a number of cases locally to me who can’t get referred to a gender clinic because they have non-binary identities. It seems that the old advice that you have to lie to clinicians to get treated is still valid for non-binary people. There are a few who are clueful, and we mostly know who they are. Otherwise, beware.

March 2006

[The Royal College of Psychiatrists (the people who had never heard of gender neutral people 4 months earlier, remember?) had circulated their final draft of their Standards of Care document for comment.

You read it right - despite them already apparently realising they don't actually have much of a clue about the range of transgender identities that exist, they're trying to put together a document that describes the care pathway in the UK. This terrifies me.

Kevan said that due to NHS waiting times Sheffield would not be intending to provide support to the prisons.

Yeah, whatever. Prisoners are expendable and stuff anyway, right? Just ask the Daily Mail. Serves them right for stealing a loaf of bread and breaking a window pane, or something.

November 2006

Kevan Wylie reported that Helen Barker, Student Doctor carried out a survey, with a small select group and asked about how they felt about complying with the 'Real Life Experience'. It was found that overall patients felt it was very important.

Of course, patients are going to tell the people who can STOP THEIR TRANSITION AT ANY TIME the complete truth, and not what they want to hear, or anything.

Many patients had raised the issue that they had not been advised fully regarding [scrotal] hair removal prior to their [vaginoplasty] surgery.

This should be explained – if you don’t get that done, you risk vaginal hairballs. These are not funny – they can result in a permanent infection and severe surgical complications. What does “not advised fully” mean anyway? Is it the same as “not told”?

November 2007

Leeds expressed concern over surgery due to Leicester being closed to new referrals. Leicester expressed views on that they were not aware of this…

Riiiight. Left hand, meet right hand. This isn’t the only time this happens, as we shall see.

October 2008

[Northampton's] main problem is patients who come into the service who are already taking hormones bought off the internet. This raises the issue of whether to stop the patient taking them. If this is the case it does depend on how long they have been on them and the individual case. The patient would be told if they are buying hormones it is against medical advice. [Dr Deenesh Khoosal] told the group a patient parted from their service as a way forward could not be reached as they were receiving injections from the internet.

It was noted that Nottingham would start a patient from the “start” even if they had been in the private sector, whereas Leeds will continue a patient on hormones following assessment if they are able to provide evidence that they are meeting criteria for hormone treatment. etc. Nottingham added that they would not take a patient off hormones.

This is serious. Around half of trans people are on hormones before our first appointment at a clinic, for various reasons. Being made to come off them is brutal. Discharging people because they refuse to is disgraceful.

March 2009 – This is … well

[Dr Deenesh Khoosal] spoke to the group about the issue of unintentionally creating ‘she-men’: patients who have breasys and are on hormones but don’t have final surgery as they don’t want to go any further. These patients continue to live full time as female but with male genitalia. Many of the services present at the meeting had examples of this happening.

This is the level of understanding of gender issues of some of the people treating us. Not only do they seem oblivious to non-binary identities, but they have apparently appointed themselves the genital police. If somebody is non-operative, that is no business of their gender specialist, and does not make them a “she man” or a “he woman” or any other transphobic slur.

October 2009

Orchidectomy [castration]
The Leeds service had reported that they have seen an increase in patients requesting for this. [...] the team was wary about patients who only want orchidectomy.

Again, the obsession and fear about trans women keeping our penises. What is wrong with these people? They’re supposed to be helping us.

The Chief Executive for the Department of Health has recently written to every lead reminding them of their responsibilities legally with regards to trans care.

April 2010

Kevan is of the opinion that we as professionals are not gatekeepers unless there are mental health problems or for monetary making reasons.

Or if you want to keep your penis, or dare to take hormones that we didn’t prescribe, or (continued, pp. 94-106)

Entry into GIC
Leeds are recommending for a recent (within 12 months) mental health, together with evidence of physical examinations, plus full bloods.

Nottingham accepts primary care referrals and then asks GPs to carry out physical examinations

As has recently come to light, “physical examinations” means “GP inspects genitals”. The only person who inspected mine was my surgeon. There’s really no reason to insist on this. It’s degrading and unnecessary.

October 2010

Vast increase in size of university population, resulting in demanding youngsters being referred. Waiting list is currently four and a half years, most students only at Uni for three years. This means the service users are arriving very unhappy and then going to London for treatment.

The clinician working at York actually seems very upset about this – she’s getting almost no support from the local NHS. A waiting list of four and a half years though. Four. And. A. Half. Years.

Dr Beaini wanted clarification for a patient who has got a GRC already and they have been gender dysphoric for 25 years. Now they have asked for phalloplasty, do they need to seek second opinion or not?

Been in Leeds Gender Clinic for a while and been treated. 20-25 years gender reassignment, done mastectomy etc.


GRC is not an access to surgery. Need a one to one assessment with the patient. Readiness and robustness is a must. The way they are presenting, they are not robust enough

Yes, here is someone who has been transitioned for two decades. They’ve had mastectomy, they are legally male. They are presumably living their life, but they won’t be referred for surgery because their gender-presentation is “chaotic”. I think that at 2 decades, they might have proven that they’re serious about transition, no?

Equality Bill(SIC – it was actually the Equality Act by this point)
Glasgow would like to know how gender services are going to adapt to the changes. The bill is now allowing that anyone with gender issues are covered by the same legal as discrimination [That was almost English]. Will this have an impact on the services? The easy answer is we are covered by WPATH and standards of care. We are a medical health.

Glasgow currently have a patient who has highly intellectualised the gender issues, he is biological male and in between somewhere. No evidenced based to treat it, but knows he(SIC) rights and how can he be treated.

Equality bill only mentions the male to female or female to male.

So much wrong with this. They seem actually hurt that trans people have legal rights – surely our lives belong to them! HOW DARE a patient “intellectualise” their gender issues. Note also the continued cluelessness about genderqueer issues – “in between somewhere”.

March 2011

North East
A group of young people under 18 created a voice and demanded a service.

My god! They’re at the gate with boiling oil. These people are revolting!

Surgery is cheaper on private than it is on the NHS.

I tried to tell my PCT this back in 2007, and they refused to believe me.

Amal reported that surgeons stopped taking mastectomy referrals and no-one told Leeds – they heard from their patients.

Again, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

October 2011

Leeds have struggled recently with GIRES putting pressure on them regarding hormones and real life experience. There is need to clarify RLE for future. Leeds clarified that they have two stages of RLE, the stage before hormone and assessment 6 months, RLE 2 years before surgery.

That’s right – they make people undergo social transition for 6 months with no medical support. They’re then flabbergasted when people self medicate, and increasingly arrive demanding to be treated with a modicum of human dignity. GIRES are a trans activism and research organisation. Leeds seem almost upset that their “turf” is being intruded upon by trans groups.

[On the new WPATH SoC]
RLE, eligibility and readiness – been completely removed from the SoC [...] Amal gave an example of a patient from Leeds going to the GMC.

Leeds also pointed out that the DoH leaflet, doesn’t reflect what they do. When they didn’t do what it said in the leaflet, they got harassing emails which wasn’t very pleasant.

This is almost comedy gold – WPATH, the organisation responsible for publishing the global standards of care document, has moved on and realised that the way we have been treated in the past has been inappropriate. The department of health seems to have certain expectations too. Here we see clinicians realising the world is moving on without them, and desperately trying to hang on to the past.

[On the Equalities and Human Rights Commission's recent document looking at trans healthcare in the UK]
Sheffield, Leeds or Nottingham confirmed that they haven’t been contacted for any information. The teams are not happy with this document.

Note the bemusement. It’s almost as if government departments and equality bodies are talking to trans people (I know they are – we keep in touch regularly), without honouring the unwritten rule that we belong to the medical professionals who treat us.

As I said coming in, these people seem to be generally well meaning, but the way they talk about us to each other suggests a way of looking at us that ignores our humanity and is incompatible with our equalities and rights aspirations.

These people are dinosaurs, and they haven’t realised that the comet they can see is heading straight for them.

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

There seems to be a growing view amongst some in various religious communities that asking them to comply with equalities legislation in the exercise of their job or public service, or asking that they not impose their religion on others, constitutes some form of discrimination.

I view this as absurd. It is absolutely not the purpose of anti-discrimination legislation to protect the right of groups to themselves engage in discrimination. This much is self-evident; anti discrimination legislation which tried to accommodate this would be an absurdity and constitute an unworkable collection of cascading self-contradiction. Just imagine:

You can’t discriminate against the gays unless you find them really, really icky, and really want to.

Because for some reason, this always seems to come back to some sort of obsession with homosexuality. Personally, I think thinking about gay sex as often as some of these people seem to is really unhealthy, and I say that as a homosexual person, but I digress.

There’s a new report out. It’s called Clearing the Ground and it’s published by “Christians in Parliament”, who are apparently “an official All-Party Parliamentary Group”. The report is described as a, “preliminary report into the freedom of Christians in the UK”, and is the result of the committee being “tasked with considering the question: Are Christians marginalised in the UK?”

Anyway, flicking through, as one does, one can find the following gem:

The Department of Health’s practical guide on religion and belief offers the following guidance:

“Members of some religions … are expected to preach and to try to convert other people. In a workplace environment this can cause many problems, as non-religious people and those from other religions or beliefs could feel harassed and intimidated by this behaviour… To avoid misunderstandings and complaints on this issue, it should be made clear to everyone from the first day of training and/or employment, and regularly restated, that such behaviour, notwithstanding religious beliefs, could be construed as harassment under the disciplinary and grievance procedures.”

Dr Richard Scott gave evidence to the inquiry which suggests that the implementation of this guidance is not always applied with consistency, and sometimes with greater restriction on religious belief than envisioned or permitted under the law. There is also a lack of logic in the guidance because someone who is prevented in the workplace from manifesting their belief, either through prayer or witnessing, may consider themselves harassed on account of their beliefs.

Let’s examine this. To my mind, the DoH’s guidance seems eminently sensible. If you’re working together in some sort of workplace, where your religion is incidental to the task at hand, asking your co-workers if they want to “talk about Jesus” or making a show of praying is likely to make people uncomfortable, and make them feel like you’re pushing your religion on them. In an entirely hypothetical situation where someone who is repeatedly singled out for being asked if they want to talk about Jesus, and happen to be the only out gay person in the office (I’m sure this never happens), they might reasonably feel harassed, and would likely consider taking the issue up with HR.

However, the response seems to be saying that this guideline doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray overtly or engage in unwanted proselytisation in the workplace at all. It’s clear that myself and Dr Richard Scott are seeing this, apparently simple, guidance and coming to two completely different conclusions. Given that Dr Scott got into trouble with the GMC for proselytising to a vulnerable patient, this is perhaps not entirely surprising. Let’s look at what Dr Scott says again:

There is also a lack of logic in the guidance because someone who is prevented in the workplace from manifesting their belief, either through prayer or witnessing, may consider themselves harassed on account of their beliefs.

This looks like a clear case of wanting equalities law to treat religion as a special case, where it has carte-blanche to do unto others as it would not wish to be done unto itself.

Do these people simply not understand that equalities law applies to everybody? I’ll make this as simple as I can:

  • I’m a gay woman (protected by equalities law).
  • In private, I sometimes have sexyladytimes with my partners
  • Note this is in private
  • If I tell my co-workers in detail about my sexyladytimes, that is inappropriate, and I would expect disciplinary action for it.
  • If I go round asking random women in my working environment if they want sexyladytimes with me, that is sexual harassment and I would expect to be subject to disciplinary action, and possibly arrested.

If I don’t get to force homosexuality on you, you don’t get to force religion on me. I have to wonder if people who think like Dr Scott really don’t understand this, or whether they understand it entirely, and are just raging hypocrites.

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

My phone apparently knows who I am

A few things happened to me this week which, together, encouraged me to write this post. First is a little toy app I downloaded for my iPhone. It goes and looks at tagged images on your FaceBook and then tries to identify people in them if you point the camera at them. It works surprisingly well – the image on the right is the result of holding the phone up and telling it to use the front facing camera. The image follows me around in real-time.

The second was a revolting advertising campaign by Irish bookies, Paddy Power. They have created an advert which invites people to “spot the stallions from the mares” at the Cheltenham Ladies’ Day, where “stallions” refers to transgender women in the crowd. I won’t go into why this is problematic – Paris Lees has written an excellent analysis at Pink News and I would urge you to read it. She goes straight to the crux of the matter:

The problem with “spot the trans lady” though is that, for one person in the game, it’s really not that fun. Ask any trans woman. Most of us, at some stage, have faced the humiliation of strangers playing it on us - Paris Lees

It has also transpired that in an apparent collusion with the Beaumont Society, who are doing well with own goals at the moment, they’ve arranged for numerous transgender women to be planted in the crowd for Paddy Power’s punters to spot. Hilarious laddish fun, especially for those who happen not to be aware of this “game” and are unwittingly dragged into it. If they’re lucky, all they’ll face is humiliation, but these things can turn nasty very quickly.

The third is the unveiling of a high tech advert by charity, Plan UK, which shows a video to people standing at a bus stop at Oxford Street, but only if it determines that they are women. It does this by using biometrics – distance between the eyes, jawbone shape, nose size and shape, etc.. Essentially it’s looking for the absence of what testosterone does to a skull.

Plan claim it is “90% accurate” at guessing the “gender” (they mean sex) of the person standing in front of it. I suspect their tests were using mostly, or exclusively, cis people. Given the stated biometrics are those which can often give trans people difficulty, and which many trans women endure harrowing surgery to rectify, I can imagine the accuracy of the guess is significantly below 90% for trans people.

In other words, this advertising gimmick doubles up in function as a trans person outing device.

Quite apart from the transgender angle, I can’t imagine what Plan UK were thinking. Really, the scene in Minority Report where the protagonist walks through a mall and is recognised by electronic adverts which call to him by name and try to sell him things was, I suspect, penned as a cautionary tale and not an aspirational one.

Imagine if when this technology becomes widespread – a world in which billboard adverts guess the gender of the person looking at them and then try to target ads based on that guess. While this may sound like an advertiser’s dream (I note that gender seems to be the key determinant when targeting ads online – I’m quite sick of sites that know I’m female trying to sell me diets), it’s pretty much a nightmare to trans people, who rely on relative anonymity in crowds to live a tolerable life in a world which is really quite a hostile place to us.

These ads will misgender cis people too, but for trans people, their constant misgendering will serve to confirm the suspicions of the sort of people who still stare at me even now, after six years of oestrogen HRT (at least they mostly just stare now – it wasn’t always limited to that).

This and the Paddy Power stunt seem to be confirming that when it comes to advertising, no idea is too bad, nor too vulgar, nor too invasive of privacy, nor too unpleasant to vulnerable minorities to run. Trans people are an obvious target – a society as neurotic about gender as ours finds us hilarious, possibly as a way of coming to terms with just how much it feels disgust at existence and what we represent. If we can’t hide in plain sight in the safety of a crowd, then we’re easy prey for those who would abuse and assault us.

Putting all this together suddenly caused a light to go on in my head. Technology isn’t inherently good or evil; its what you use it for that matters. It seemed obvious though that we were only a small step away from smartphone apps which didn’t just recognise your friends; they would soon be able to guess the sex of total strangers, based on the same sort of technology that Plan are using. Furthermore, given the obvious public appetite (so well demonstrated by Paddy Powers) for humiliating transgender people by outing us in public, such technology would soon be used to bully people suspected of being transgender.

And then a second light came on – what if I wasn’t just worried about the future? In trepidation, I had a look in the app store. Yes, a “gender scanner” app already exists, and apparently there’s one for Android too. I’ve tested it out on myself, and what it said is perhaps less important than the possibility that it will be used to bully people suspected of the terrible crime of Being Trans in Public.

Along with Paris, I’ve been the subject of “games” of “spot the tranny”. I’ve been photographed on trains by groups of older kids who seem to find the presence of a trans person hilarious. It was pretty humiliating. I fear that the immorality of advertisers and the relentless march of face-recognition technology are only going to make life harder for us, perhaps in ways we can’t fully anticipate yet.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/253722.html - you can comment here or there.

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Yesterday, my dear friend, Paris Lees of Trans Media Watch appeared on Breakfast TV, prior to Trans Media Watch making a submission to the Leveson Inquiry. Now since Paris runs a WordPress blog, she’s able to see what sort of … Continue reading

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/253454.html - you can comment here or there.
One doesn't have to be particularly observant to notice that I basically don't post here any more.

I have had something of a break from blogging/journaling. I started this as a transition diary way back in 2005, and did keep it up for a long time. More recently I guess I moved on to other pastures (mostly Twitter), and the LJ community isn't what it once was either.

However, there are times I still want to say something, and it won't fit in 140 characters. For this reason, I've got myself a shiny new Wordpress blog. It's at:


Why not come on over and take a look?


Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/253127.html - you can comment here or there.

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Online magazine, UniLad, which describes itself as “A place for university lads to share friendly banter. Not to be taken too seriously.” on its Facebook page, seems to have got itself into a bit of a pickle. In advice (or, … Continue reading

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/253360.html - you can comment here or there.
I know I don't update this very much any more, but today is a special occasion, I think. Every year the Independent on Sunday newspaper produces a list of the 100 most influential lesbian gay bisexual transgendered people in the UK. I'm thrilled to be number 28 on this year's list. Apparently, this makes me the most influential "out" transgender person in the UK!

This has come about because of my position as a councillor, where I press very hard for equality issues, as a result of my ongoing transgender activism, and also because of my position on the executive of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, where I chair the organisation's transgender working group. Although I do not post here very much since I was elected, my activism has continued and if anything, sped up.

I feel honoured and humbled to be recognised by the Independent on Sunday in this way. I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to those who nominated me. There is still a great deal of work to do to push transgender equality in the UK, and I will continue to push for rights for transgender people. I very much hope that this recognition will help in that task.

If you are reading this as a result of seeing the Pink List, please feel free to read back in this blog. It goes back as far as 2005, details most of my transition, including surgery and also includes quite a bit of activism later on.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/252602.html - you can comment here or there.
In 2008, I happened to be walking near Cambridge railway station and encountered a van driver blocking the road, causing massive tailbacks. For those who know Cambridge, you'll realise when I say that she made the traffic back up to Hills Road that she was effectively managing to paralyse a large chunk of the city.

Anyway, at the time I videoed what was happening on my cheap and cheerful Nokia smartphone (this was before I made the jump to using iPhones) and posted it to YouTube. The video can be found here. The description text that goes with it reads:
The lady driving this van had decided to park in the middle of the road outside Cambridge station, in rush hour, blocking a bus, which in turn blocked all the traffic behind it, which in turn caused it to back up all the way to the main arterial route out of the city to the south. When I started filming, several people had come to remonstrate with her and all she did was move a couple of metres forward each time, which was no use at all. This continued for a few minutes after I stopped filming.
The video must have become associated with some other popular videos because over the years since i filmed it, over 21,000 people have seen the clip and it appears to be quite highly rated. I get a regular trickle of comments on it.

If you go to the video's page and read the comments, you won't see many of them. This is because I am forced to delete them. Despite it being obvious with a moment's glance that I, the video submitter, am female, lots of the comments I get are horrifically misogynistic, some going as far as to contain graphic descriptions of sexual and other violence. They started off as a slow trickle, but have increased over the years. Now I get one every few days, and have moved from being mildly offensive (I left some of those up) to being thoroughly nasty. They're getting worse, and a few weeks ago I left a comment myself saying that misogynistic comments will be deleted.

It didn't make any difference. The problem has continued getting worse, to the point where I am starting to think I may have to take the video down.

Here are some of the comments I have deleted.
Don't look at these if you're likely to be triggered by casual descriptions of sexual violence - some of them are seriously nasty. )

As you can see, they're now coming in at the rate of one every couple of days, and if anything they are getting nastier.

I have heard that many women on the Internet pretend to be men. Go figure.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/252209.html - you can comment here or there.
This is a cute idea I had after our recent trip to the dolomites - pair photography. Each pair of photographs is of me (in the orange helmet) and [livejournal.com profile] the_local_echo (in the blue helmet), taken by the other, at just about the same time (within a few seconds). It's more obvious to see than it is to explain - click on each photo for the full size version.

Pair 1 - 29th July 2011, Via Ferrata Delle Trincee:
We are both in fairly exposed positions here, but at least the ground under me is flat. Sylvia is pretty much hanging from her gear on the ferrata cable to take this.

Pair 2 - 29th July 2011, The bridge on Via Ferrata Delle Trincee:
This is just a few minutes along from the previous pair. I crossed first, and was able to take a picture of Sylvia as she followed me. The bridge is deliciously rickety and bounces beautifully!

Pair 3 - 31st July 2011, The ladder bridge on Via Ferrata Sandro Pertini:
VF Sandro Pertini (named after a much respected Italian statesman who rose to being president after being a resistance fighter against the Nazis in WWII) is a fairly new route, put up within the last decade. Near the top (marking the boundary between where the route is a pleasant grade 3 romp and a more strenuous and vertical grade 4 proposal) is this bridge, made from a metal ladder laying across a gap. While I am clipped to the cable, a fall would result in smashing my shins against the rungs, which would hurt a lot! For that reason, taking a photo requires a well balanced stance!

Pair 4 - 1st August 2011, Three quarters of the way up Via Ferrata Brigata Tridentina:
Brigata Tridentina is possibly the most popular route in the Dolomites, and it shows! I found it quite tame for a grade 3, and if you do an image search you will find lots of the spot where Sylvia is standing. It's possibly the best part of the route for getting a photograph of someone standing with miles of void behind them, but appearances can be deceptive. I am standing only a few metres away, and from Sylvia's perspective things seem rather less airy! Indeed, a few metres later the ferrata briefly interrupts itself to meet its upper escape route - a fairly standard hiking trail to the top of the mountain.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/252140.html - you can comment here or there.
I'm a child of the Cold War. I grew up knowing that only a few hundred miles away, the two most fearsome armies the world had ever seen, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, were facing each other across a no-man's land that stretched from the Adriatic to the Baltic. That war could turn hot at any time. That the reason we had to do this was because we were Free and the people on the other side were Not Free; they lived in an Orwellian nightmare made real. This was what we grew up knowing, until it changed on that December day in 1989.

For my impressionable teenage self, the spirit of this was captured in film most memorably by the Clint Eastwood Cold War epic, "Firefox". In it, our hero, a US special forces veteran with who spoke Russian thanks to his grandmother, is recruited to penetrate the iron curtain and steal a web browser, er, top secret fighter jet, the eponymous Firefox. It's the ultimate air superiority weapon, a thought-controlled super fighter that could give the Soviets the crucial advantage they need to outmanoeuvre NATO.

Anyway, there's this bit where good old Clint is in Moscow, posing as an American salesman on a rare trade mission. He's in a loo in a metro station when the nightmare scenario happens - a KGB agent walks in and demands to see his papers, because that's how people live behind the Iron Curtain. Everyone knew that; they had to show their Papers all the time, to any petty official who asked, as a sort of constant low level harassment to keep them in their place. That's why the West was better.

After looking through Clint's papers, the KGB agent declares, "your papers are not in order" and goes for his gun. A fight ensues, Clint kills him and goes on to steal the plane and have gripping dogfights as he tries to fly it home over the icecap.

Some may be aware of the current furore over the new requirements to attend the Liberal Democrat party conference - we have to supply information to the police well in advance so they can perform some sort of background check (to be shared with the conference organisers) and determine if we're suitable people to be allowed in. Apparently the police insisted on this, apparently our insurance for the conference would be invalid if we declined, and it would bankrupt the party or something,. As you can imagine, many of us, who campaigned on the basis of scrapping ID cards and rolling back the security state are extremely unhappy with this, seeing it as the police restricting the right of freedom to associate for political purposes.

Many of us are also rather suspicious that the undisclosed nature of the threat this is meant to counter has less to do with preventing some sort of physical attack (the venue already has airport style security), and more to do with preventing heckling. The elderly gentleman ejected from the Labour conference under terrorism powers for heckling Tony Blair is fresh in the mind. Of course, terrorism is implicated - we live, we are told, in dangerous times (more dangerous, apparently, than when the was an active IRA bombing campaign on the British mainland). The spectre of the 1980s IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton at the Tory party conference is raised, apparently with a straight face despite the fact that the bomb in question was not planted by anyone at the conference.

I'm not going. I'd really like to go, but I object to this in principle, and also for personal reasons. Others have asked me why I don't go and campaign against it inside, but I cant do that because that requires me to submit to the vetting process and I don't want to do that. On one hand, it's a point of principle, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself. On the other, My Papers Are Not In Order.

Let me explain. My Papers are superficially valid. I'm a white, middle class, Cambridge educated, 37 year old woman with a clean criminal record, clean driving licence, good credit history. If anyone asked me that question they like to embarrass politicians with - have I ever taken illegal drugs, I can genuinely answer "no" (sorry, I know it's boring). The problem is, if you scratch the surface it becomes apparent that there is a problem. I didn't exist six years ago, and when that little bit of trivia surfaces, it leads to me being outed as trans.

Of course one might ask what the problem is, given that I am "out" anyway, but I'm in control of that. I'm out in a general sense, but not out to every supermarket cashier, every traffic warden, every policeman in the street and so on. I don't wear a metaphorical sign around my neck that says "Hi. Trans person here!"

That sign does appear, however, whenever someone looks into my background.

A few years ago I had a Criminal Records Bureau check. They outed me to the organisation requesting the check. They weren't supposed to, but they did.

Last year I bought a 3G SIM for my iPad. I needed a credit check. The was some sort of problem. I passed the check, but it involved phone calls and puzzled looks from the salesman, and took a long time.

A few weeks ago I went to the bank with Sylvia and Zoe to open a joint current account for the household expenses. This is the bank who've known me for 21 years. They're quite nice to me, I'm a good customer. Part way through the process the bank clerk noticed there was another signatory to the existing account. "Who's this person?" she asked, pointing to that name which appeared on the screen, which I'd assumed had been expunged. I was mortified.

For trans people, this can be a constant worry. Procedures set up to protect us often don't work because the organisations implementing them are institutionally incompetent. Some organisations don't even have any such procedures. Sometimes broken IT systems out us. That annoying verified by VISA thing? I can't expunge my old name from it - every time I try and buy something online it pops up. The name hasn't been on my credit cards for years.

And every time this happens the person I'm dealing with is in a position of power. In a transaction where it should be irrelevant, they are given information they could use to humiliate me if they were malicious, or possibly just tactless. I really don't like background checks.

And here they are intruding into a new part of my life, and I've had enough. Being trans isn't the only reason for someone's papers to not be in order - I imagine there are lots of minority groups to whom it happens, but I suspect something many of us have in common is the constant low level stress it causes.

This surfaced yesterday, quite unexpectedly, when I was feeling frustrated about this, and angry at colleagues who just didn't understand why I can't just go along with it this one time. Suddenly I found myself thinking about all those occasions when someone probably found out, like the SIM card, or the CRB check, or a whole host of others. I found myself thinking about those months I spent early in transition, in the so called "real life experience", which is a sort of ritual humiliation that the medical profession insist trans people go through because it's funny, or something, when I was constantly aware of being visibly gender variant. People would notice in public, laugh, stare, point, sometimes look at me with real hatred in their eyes.

The threat of having to deal with this yet again, and trying to explain to people who simply don't get it broke me. A huge mental scab was picked off and it all came flooding out. I realised as I sat there in tears that I was experiencing post traumatic stress. I expect it's there in members of lots of minority groups who are exposed to constant low level "othering" in society. Eventually it all comes flooding out.

Well I'm not doing it this time. They're not getting my details to store indefinitely, and grub around in my background, and have random conference officials who check my badge possibly find out how I got to be who I am now (one would hope the supporting IT systems aren't set up like this, but one can get nasty surprises as I found out at the bank).

My papers are not in order, and I can't steal a plane and just fly away to some magical wonderland where it doesn't matter. It's my life, forever, and I refuse to expose myself to more stress over this than I need to, because the routine administrivia of life will do enough of that all by itself.

My Papers Are Not In Order, and so I'm not going to the party conference.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/251810.html - you can comment here or there.
So the chaser from last night seems to have found this journal (I have no idea how - maybe he was googling for some of his own choice phrases or something).

He's bad at quitting while he is behind. I almost feel bad posting this - I don't think it's as funny as yesterday's, and it's also a bit like kicking a puppy.

Ah hell, let's do it anyway.
Click for transcript )

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/251637.html - you can comment here or there.
This one started out jumping into an IRC channel and trolling. He got banned. A few hours later he returned in private message. I should warn you - the photograph linked to in the transcript contains a graphic depiction of vaginoplasty in progress. For that reason, I haven't enabled it as a link - you'll have to copy and paste if you want to see it.

Anyway, on with the fun.
Here be chasers )

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/251327.html - you can comment here or there.
I know in theory how to "jug up" (that is ascend) a rope, using a pair of slings rigged as prusik hitches. It's not something I have actually done in practice.

There are some nice tall trees just round the corner, where the lowest branch is far too high to climb using conventional methods. I decided it might be something to do of a Sunday to go and play with ropes on them, just in the interests of developing my rope skills and messing about.

It didn't go quite as planned - there are pictures:
Have a look at me getting myself in a pickle - you know you want to )

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/251042.html - you can comment here or there.
During transition I had something called a Zoladex implant. This is a little pellet injected into your belly through the largest needle in the world, and it blocked your own body's sex hormone production for as long as the implant lasted, which was theoretically 12 weeks.

Now let's do a thought experiment - imagine something like Zoladex is invented, but it's permanent. Once the implant is in, you can never produce sex hormones until it's deactivated, by the injection of an antitdote. The antidote is strictly controlled so it's only possible to get it on the say so of a doctor (yes, I know, they try to do that with things like diamorphine and it hasn't been fantastically successful, but just imagine).

Now imagine a society where everyone gets one of these in childhood. In order to have it deactivated, you need to get a referral to a psychiatrist, who will only clear you to have the injection which will allow you to mature into an adult after you have spent two years proving you are able to live and function as an adult. If you fail for whatever reason, you spend your entire life with a body that is never allowed to progress beyond late childhood.

Most people would probably regard such a situation as horrific and dystopian, and would rebel against it.

But it occurs to me that if most people had to face the prospect of this sort of invasive indignity, then society might start to care rather a lot more about what the medical profession routinely does to trans people in its name.

Just a thought.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/250785.html - you can comment here or there.
So for reasons mostly relating to irony, a bunch of us in a chatroom decided to take the ridiculous, gender stereotypical, misogynist, trans-male-erasing exercise in self-selection that is the COGIATI test.

Some of the questions I had to improvise a bit on. For "which choice most closely describes why you dress up 'en femme', as a woman" it was notable that there was no "public nudity is frowned on" option, for example.

Anyway, I scored 60, which means I am:

What this means is that the Combined Gender Identity And Transsexuality Inventory has classified your internal gender identity to be essentially androgynous, both male and female at the same time, or possibly neither. In some cultures in history, you would be considered to be a third sex, independent of the polarities of masculine or feminine. Your gender issues are intrinsic to your construction, and you will most likely find your happiness playing with expressing both genders as you feel like it.
And that
Permanent polarization in either direction might bring significant unhappiness. It is not recommended that you go through a complete transsexual transformation.
So there we are - the whole transition/hormones/sex-reassignment-surgery thing was apparently a hilarious mistake and I have only myself to blame for not being obsessively stereotypically feminine being honest with myself.

By the way, my wife, who is cis and has never shown any inclination towards any sort of gender issues scored almost exactly the same as me.

There's a serious point in all this - if you're at a stage where you are really distressed about gender issues, it can be entirely natural to seek validation, and I daresay most of us have done it, but this sort of nonsense is really no more accurate than reading fortune cookies, like the one I had yesterday that talked about the child I was going to have (hi, I'm neutered).

And by the way, if through some freak of quantum mechanics I woke up tomorrow with all my "bits" back where they started, or found out that the last 6 years had all been a dream, I would do it all again without hesitation, only quicker.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/250620.html - you can comment here or there.
Yesterday, Roger Helmer, a Conservative MEP
tweeted in response to news that a Christian "Ex-Gay" reparative therapist may be struck off as the result of a press sting operation, to say:
Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex-change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to "turn" a consenting homosexual?
Now Mr Helmer seems rather unreconstructed - I find that looking at his website and some of the comments on his blog are like staring at the aftermath of a car crash. I can only imagine that he prides himself on "plain speaking and common sense", but one man's "plain speaking and common sense" are this woman's "ill-informed spouting of reactionary nonsense". Anyway, I'm getting somewhat distracted from the point I wanted to make here, which is that his question comparing sex reassignment and reparative therapy is one I did at least think about, rather than dismiss out of hand as tosh and nonsense (I'll leave that response to him).

It seems that Jack of Kent has also put some thought into how to answer this question (not that dismissing it isn't a valid response too - trans people are under no obligation to justify our existence to Mr Helmer), and I would really, really encourage people to read the article there and the comments - there are many thoughtful positions expressed there.

My own view, which I'll reproduce here (with the amusing substitutions from my iPad's autocorrect fixed), is as follows:
Where I think this gets interesting is where the gay person in question genuinely wants "turning", perhaps because they have internalised some sort of anti-homosexual message or pressure. Is it ethical to refuse to allow it to be provided to them, on the basis that it's likely to be very bad for their mental health? We allow people to consume things that are bad for their physical health, after all.

My views on this are twofold - firstly, reparative therapy is "quack medicine", and while I think it would be illiberal to ban the pedalling of quackery, I don't think it should be allowed to masquerade as real medicine. I would also apply this to homeopathy, etc..

Secondly, from the patient's point of view, such "services" should be delivered on the basis of informed consent. The patient should understand that it basically won't genuinely be able to change their sexual desire, but at best give them a set of strategies for repressing it, and perhaps coping with entering into a relationship which they may wish to enter into to fulfil some sort of perceived obligation (e.g. To marry and have children), but which will likely entail little or no sexual attraction.

In other words, the cards should fully be on the table.

I also think, by the way, that gender services would be much more appropriately delivered on an informed consent model than the present "gatekeeper" model, which I think is more or less broken by design.
I'd be interested in anyone else's thoughts on this too.

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/250350.html - you can comment here or there.
Me:Here is a cup of tea with no sugar in because we're out, and here is your mail, which I opened.
Sylvia:Examines mail, grumbles about officialdom That's not much notice! (regarding said officialdom)
Me:It had been sitting there unopened for several days; I figured I'd exercise my wifely prerogative and open your mail.
Sylvia:Oh, whatever
Me:After all, it's not like we have the sort of relationship where that would be a problem.
Sylvia:You could discover my secret double life!
Me:Oh, are they cute?

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/249894.html - you can comment here or there.
Here's the trip report I wrote for my outdoors forum. It gets a bit jargony in places, because of the audience it was written for, but I hope you enjoy!
It's long )

Also posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/249606.html - you can comment here or there.
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