Archive for November, 2009

Disability, sexuality and rights online training

November 30, 2009

CREA, the feminist human rights organization based in the global South and led by women from the global South, is to run a 9 weeks (5 hours a week) online course for practitioners and activists in human rights, public health and development organizations and movements between February 1 and April 1, 2010.

The aim is to develop awareness of issues of disability and sexuality and a political perspective on disabled people’s sexual rights. Participants develop their ability to work in inclusive and holistic ways that further health and rights.

Why take this course?

  • Disabled people are often excluded or discriminated against in relation to their sexuality by health, development and rights organizations because they are not considered sexual or they are thought to be vulnerable or uncontrolled sexually.
  • Disability rights activists and service providers often disregard sexuality issues and rights in favor of issues considered more pressing and appropriate like employment and physical access.
  • Sexuality is an important part of life, identity, society and culture for all people, including people with disabilities. It can be a source of pleasure and pain, empowerment and oppression. It cannot be ignored.

Key Questions and Content

  • What is disability? What is sexuality?
  • What do human rights have to do with disability and sexuality?
  • Why are disabled people discriminated against in relation to sexuality?
  • Why is sexuality important to everyone, including disabled people? Why is sexuality important for health, development and rights organizations to consider?
  • How does the experience and politics of disability in the global South impact theory and practice on disability rights? How are people organizing and campaigning around these issues?
  • How can we advance the rights, health and well-being of people with disabilities?

Accessibility

People with disabilities are encouraged to apply for this training, which has been designed and tested to be accessible to people with various disabilities and those with slower computers and internet connection speeds. We will work with participants to adapt the course as necessary to meet needs and enable full participation.

Format and Workload

The course will be conducted entirely online in English with presentations, reading, discussion, research, activities and a final project. Special technology is not required, except a computer that can read Microsoft Word and Power Point documents and with Adobe Reader. Also required is internet access to download/upload documents and comments for 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times a week throughout the course. The Institute will not be done in real time; participants can complete the assignments at their convenience within the time parameters.

For an application and brochure with complete course information, click here.

Applications are due December 18, 2009.

For more information, contact Caroline Earle (cearle@creaworld.org; +1-212-599-1071).

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(Curtseys to Scott at HRW and Justus on the TGEU listserv for the heads up)

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Cross-posted at The F-Word

Law recognising transsexual people to go before Irish parliament

November 30, 2009

Via the Irish Examiner:

CONTROVERSIAL laws allowing transsexuals to be recognised in their acquired gender are likely to go before the Dáil next year following demands from the Green Party.

Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin said work will get under way “immediately” to see how legal recognition for people who change their sex can be incorporated into law. This is likely to require new legislation.

Between 80 and 100 people are currently accessing hormone therapy after undergoing sex changes. However, the number of people who define themselves in a gender category different to that on their birth certificate could be much higher, according to Cat McIlroy of TENI, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland.

[...]

At the request of the junior partner, the renewed government agreement says: “We will introduce legal recognition of the acquired gender of transsexuals.”

Green TD Ciarán Cuffe said his party argued that “a person should be legally recognised with the gender they wish to be recognised with.” However, Fianna Fáil were concerned that people would seek to change their gender for reasons other than psychological or medical, such as welfare or other entitlements.

[...]

The state has dropped an appeal of a High Court decision that it is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in not having a process and a register legally to recognise the acquired gender of transsexual persons. Ireland is one of two European countries that refuses to allow people to change their gender on their birth certificate.

Ms McIlroy said she hopes the Government can see this as a human rights issue: “Having your identity validated and respected by the Government and the rest of your peers is important for everyone,” she said. “Trans people can have their passport amended or have their name change, but not their birth certificate and that is crucial to the identity of many people.”

“It needs to be shown in regard to marriage, meaning many trans people cannot legally marry their partner. It’s also important if you are arrested for a crime in relation to how you are charged and where you are detained. There is anecdotal evidence of trans women being incarcerated in male facilities.”

Good that the Green Party is pushing for this; bad that it needs to.

As for Fianna Fáil, and its “concerns” that people might wish to obtain legal recognition “for reasons other than psychological or medical, such as welfare or other entitlements”, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. May I suggest that it educates itself without delay, to avoid making such offensive and ignorant comments in future? Remember, at the very least, Google is your friend.

ID cards now available to people living in Manchester

November 30, 2009

Via the UK Press Association (link here) and the Guardian (link here) comes the confirmation that, as promised by the Home Office six months ago, the ID cards scheme has finally been launched in Manchester. However, as seems to be the norm with this project, there’s a catch.

[...] the launch was overshadowed by the revelation that the cards are available only to people who already have passports, or whose passports expired this year.

Everyone else wanting a £30 ID card will first have to sign up for a passport at a cost of £77.50. [UKPA]

Which would seem to suggest that the government’s assertion that an ID card would offer an alternative form of documentation to a passport may be somewhat ingenuous. As Phil Booth of NO2ID says:

“The Government claims ID cards are a handy alternative to a passport is bogus.”

“You have to have one already so you will pay another £30 and set yourself up for a lifetime of fees, penalties and compliance.”

“Once you are on the database you will be obliged to update Whitehall’s register on you for the rest of your life.” [UKPA]

As usual, the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, is presenting the benefits of signing up as being:

“[...] a means to prove and protect [applicants'] identity in a quick, simple and secure way.”

“It can be used by young people as a convenient and universal proof of age and as a credit card-sized alternative to the passport when travelling in Europe.” [Guardian]

We seem to have lost the previous vague claims that ID cards would variously “reduce fraud”, “combat terrorism and organised crime” and generally “deliver real benefits to everyone” [Via].

And, of course, there’s no mention of the privacy and data sharing issues; the security of the national database which is being compiled from all the personal data (including fingerprints and facial scans) – or the contentious requirement that “those living a Dual Gendered Life” (trans people, in plain English) who don’t have a Gender Recognition Certificate will be required to hold two cards [Via].

As if that wasn’t sufficient reason to be concerned there is, I believe, yet another issue which the government is avoiding saying too much about. Yes, the ID cards scheme is voluntary but from next year, if you want a passport, you will be required to apply for registration on the database (whether or not you opt to have an ID card). Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but it’s hard not to think that, once established, the requirement for registration will be introduced at a later date (eg for access to state benefits, driving licenses, CRB checks, etc).

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Previous, related posts at Bird of Paradox:

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Links to external websites:

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Cross-posted at The F-Word

Street harassment is still street harassment – even if it wears a smile on its face and asks for my phone number

November 27, 2009

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve mentioned street harassment here, either directly or in passing. The most recent specific occurrence that I’ve blogged about (link here) happened one lunchtime, not far from my workplace and really brought home to me how exposed and vulnerable I was (am).

To clarify, by street harassment, I mean – broadly speaking – being the subject of unwanted attention from passers-by on the street as I’m walking around. In my own personal experience, it’s always hate speech and its aim is to erase my identity as a transsexual woman at the same time as it provides entertainment for my tormentors. It happens to me a lot – two or three times a week, on average. I consider it to be a highly specific form of transphobic violence. But the – I don’t know what the right word is – encounter(?) I had this lunchtime makes me wonder if I need to start adding nuances and subtleties to that definition.

Ironically, this happened probably only a few metres from the site of the episode I mentioned before. A van belonging to a well-known frozen food chain store pulled up alongside me and the driver asked me for directions. I did my best for the guy and next thing I know he’s telling me I’m beautiful and asking me for my phone number. That’s never happened to me before – it’s always “Is it a man or a woman?” or something similar – and I’m still feeling confused/freaked out by it an hour later. On the one hand, yes it did make me feel good, momentarily – and a bit flustered; embarrassed, maybe – but after the way this week’s gone, such flattery was… well, almost persuasive. It suggested that I was being passed as a cis woman, with all the transmisogynistic subtexts of authenticity that brings (including my own internalised stuff), but I won’t deny it was a definite ego stroke.

So, was it street harassment? Well, it wasn’t something I was looking for, any more than I was looking for hate speech from the scaffolders that time before. But is being called beautiful really such a Bad Thing™? In a sense, no, it isn’t. In another sense, given my own low self-esteem and general vulnerability, well, hmm. I’m not so sure. I guess that, in the back of my mind, I’m very aware of just how quickly those kind of exchanges can turn nasty that any sense of feeling flattered evaporates in a very short space of time.

Overall, I have to say that I’m coming to realise just how little trust I have for cis people (especially cis men) these days. As a transsexual woman who is so rarely passed as cis, for my own self-preservation I cannot lose sight of the fact that street harassment is still street harassment – even if it wears a smile on its face and asks for my phone number.

TUC calls on employers to stop discriminating against trans people at work

November 27, 2009

tuc_logoThis last week has been unexpectedly difficult for me. From the whirlpool of emotions I felt around Friday’s Transgender Day Of Remembrance (link here) and the London memorial event on Saturday (link here); through my deep despondency on hearing the news of the violent oppression of members of the Feminist Fightback group by other so-called feminists at the Reclaim The Night march only hours after the TDOR vigil (link here); to my anger about the escalating violence my community endures at the hands of cis people, I’ve been so preoccupied with simply getting through the day without feeling overwhelmed by demoralisation that this press release (link here) from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) completely passed me by.

Although it seems to be little more than an update of last year’s message (link here), nevertheless it does actually appear to signal a genuine attempt to understand the issues we face in the workplace (assuming we have a job, of course), and to assist in ending the discriminations heaped on us by employers and co-workers alike. How – if – it plays out in real life and how much effect – if any – it will actually have, remains to be seen, of course.

In Britain the trans community continues to face violent physical attacks, alongside prejudice and discrimination in communities and at work. Just last month the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published Trans Research Review demonstrating the continued prejudice and discrimination faced by trans people in Britain. The TUC welcomes the Commission’s commitment to this issue and the guidance they will give public bodies to promote equality for trans people.

Unfortunately, it seems that the TUC’s support for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) may actually be misplaced. Last Thursday – the day before the Transgender Day Of Remembrance – ECHR announced the appointment of its new Commissioners for all the strands for which it’s responsible – except in the area of transgender issues (link here).

However…

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘Discrimination and hatred are part of the daily lives of far too many trans people in Britain, and employers need to make sure all their employees are working in safe environments, free from transphobia, violence and prejudice.’

‘Prejudice starts at school, and in its work to promote LGBT equality in education, the TUC has learnt that bullying on grounds of gender identity remains largely unrecognised. This can lead all too easily to the violence that trans people can face on the streets, and challenging the roots of such prejudice is long overdue.’

‘If Britain is to be a truly equal and inclusive society we need to understand the issues facing trans people, and develop practical steps to end discrimination in our workplaces and beyond.’

Fine words, and I sincerely hope that the TUC follows through on this statement of intent but, given the ways in which trans people have been let down by the EHRC – the government’s own agency for these matters – then I think this sense of scepticism I feel is unlikely to dissipate without proof of their commitment. The time for talking is over and I don’t believe I’m the only trans woman who wants to see some results.

Reclaim The Night: policing the borders of cis feminism

November 25, 2009

Previously, on more than one occasion, I’ve made it clear that my anger at the members of the London Feminist Network who organise the annual Reclaim The Night march here in London arises from their continuing refusal to make any public clarification of their position on trans women attending the event. For a transsexual woman like me, their use of the phrase “women only” is contentious because it carries with it the baggage of nearly half a century of our exclusion from cis women’s spaces.

That such blatant and toxic cissexism is applied to trans women is, frankly, unforgivable in this day and age, but reading the latest post on the Feminist Fightback blog (link here) makes me realise just how dangerous the march organisers’ attitudes are when applied to other cis women too.

As self-identified women committed to fighting gender-based violence, members of Feminist Fightback attended last Saturday’s march in solidarity with sex workers fighting for the right to self-organise against exploitation in their industry.

From the blog post, it seems that not only were they subjected to physical harassment and verbal abuse from other marchers, but were approached and interrogated by the police, apparently at the request of one of the stewards.

[...] we were extremely surprised to find that one of the basic principles of feminism (and all social justice movements) was forgotten in this instance – namely, that we never resort to using police aggression to silence and intimidate members of our own movement, no matter how much we may disagree with them.

And that is the crux of the matter. Feminism isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about a minority of privileged cis women using strongarm tactics against other, far more vulnerable women simply to prop up their distorted and outmoded worldviews. Might is most definitely not right, and the actions of those self-appointed guardians of a fictitious ‘true feminism’ have revealed the extent of the moral bankruptcy at the core of the London Feminist Network. They should be ashamed of themselves and if they had a shred of conscience, all those concerned would have stepped down by now.

It’s no surprise that the organisers of the Reclaim The Night march have made no public statement about this incident and their silence serves only to underline their desperation to hold on to their positions of power without accountability. But listen well, my sisters: the day is coming when you will be called to justify your appalling treatment of all those women against whom you have consistently used your privilege to discriminate, when the right and proper thing to do would have been to support and assist them in their struggle against a common enemy.

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See also:

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Other, related posts on this blog:

Ungendering and the fine art of inflicting papercuts

November 25, 2009

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pointed out how trans women are ungendered as a way of Othering us and denying our identities. I’ve talked about how it happens as a very common form of street harassment (link here) and it feels like I’ve talked about it just about every time I’ve quoted the mass media in their reporting of trans issues.

So it’s interesting to read on the Reuters blog (link here) some readers’ reactions to the organisation’s ungendering of Brenda, the trans woman recently murdered as part of an attempted cover-up of a political scandal in Italy (links here and here).

The wrong pronoun?

Transsexual in Italian political scandal murdered

ROME (Reuters) – A Brazilian transsexual caught up in a scandal which prompted the resignation of a senior Italian politician — the center-left governor of Lazio region, which includes Rome — was found burned to death in his home Friday.

As well as the deliberate misuse of a male pronoun in the original post quoted above, I’m uncomfortable with the use of the word transsexual as a noun – but I realise also that opinion on this is divided. So I simply point it out without further comment.

And the quoted responses? Hmm. Well, at least they’re speaking out on behalf of trans women – and yes, I am grateful for that – although I’m sorry to say that I have issues with the terminology used by the first of the three commenters, Nicole:

I find it shocking that in this day and age, you still refer to a male-to-female transsexual as a “he”. I find this both old fashioned and disrespectful to the person you are reporting about.

Whether she was a prostitute or not, she was presenting herself as a female – likely because that’s what she felt she was. Most publications in the US honor this nowadays. You should, too!

“Male-to-female” is a problematic term as it assumes transsexual women like me once were male and that – presumably by transitioning – we somehow became female. I understand the constructivist argument at the back of it, but on a personal level? I don’t think I ever considered myself male. Cis society may have (else why was I male assigned at birth?) – but as far as I’m concerned, it’s simply the case that my brain was expecting a differently-configured body.

I’ve mentioned above my discomfort with the use of the word transsexual as a noun, not an adjective, but for clarity: I think it’s cissexist. The subtext is that our self-identification as women is unacceptable because our genders don’t correlate with the sex we were assigned at birth; therefore the speaker feels entitled not to use the noun woman about us. The fact is that I am a woman, I am transsexual, and I am a transsexual woman.

The second and third comments by Chancellor and Liz respectively really hit the nail on the head:

I honestly expected better from Reuters as a major news organization.

I’m astonished that Reuters of all organizations could do this.

An editor responded with this:

A number of readers objected to our choice of pronouns. In the past we have used “she” to describe her, and we will do so in future stories

Apart from being left wondering who decided to switch to incorrect pronoun use (and why) it remains the case that despite the reputation of any news organisation, despite its size, despite its market share or its demographic, its reports are only as trustworthy as the journalists who produce them. And as long as those journalists choose to ignore even their employer’s own style guide (which is, admittedly, a long way from perfect), then these cissexist slurs will continue to be repeated, with no regard to the effect they have on those of us who don’t have the advantage of cis privilege to shield us. On their own, these may seem like minor points to some, I know that; but the cumulative effect is another matter. As a friend of mine says, “Every day brings a thousand papercuts” – and from where I sit, that pretty much sums it up.

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Previous related posts:

Trans inclusion in the Equality Bill – ACT NOW

November 24, 2009

Via Facebook (link here):

Trans inclusion in the Equality Bill – ACT NOW

This group is designed to raise awareness of two amendments that are being tabled to extend trans protections in the Equality Bill.

You can make a difference by lobbying your MP to support these amendments. Model letters can be found in the discussion section, and here: http://justfillingintheblanks.blogspot.com/

Act NOW to ensure *all* trans and gender variant people are covered by the Equality Bill, and protected in schools.

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Cross-posted at The F-Word and Harlot’s Parlour

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Previous, related posts:

Eight rooms, Nine lives

November 24, 2009

This Thursday, 26th November 2009, sees the opening of a new exhibition, focusing on identity and called Eight rooms, Nine lives at the Wellcome Collection (link here) in London.

What influences or determines our sense of who we are? What makes one person distinct from another? How does science inform human identity? This major new exhibition explores the tension between the way we view ourselves and how others see us.

There are nine individual stories told across eight rooms including such diverse people as Alec Jeffreys (who developed techniques for DNA fingerprinting and DNA profiling) and Samuel Pepys (whose diaries gave such a vivid account of London in the 1660s).

Also included is April Ashley, who is perhaps most well-known for being one of the first people in Britain to undergo SRS and was outed by the British press in 1961. The annullment of her marriage in 1970 – on the grounds that post-operative transsexual women were not recognised in English law and therefore she was deemed to be of the sex she had been assigned at birth – set a precedent that lasted until the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act in 2004. (Via T-Vox).

April Ashley - Photo by Geoff Pugh and taken from the Daily Telegraph

In addition, Ms Ashley is interviewed in today’s Daily Telegaph (link here) which, although ostensibly about the exhibition, covers a lot of ground and makes for a fascinating read. She is a great raconteuse, entertaining and thought-provoking, and of the many potential soundbites in the interview, this one really says it all:

“If I have learnt anything at all about this whole question of identity, it is that nothing is ever straightforward.”

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The exhibition Eight rooms, Nine lives runs from 26th November 2009 to 6th April 2010 at the Wellcome Collection.

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Cross-posted at The F-Word

kittens in mittens

November 23, 2009

This post is for Schwarz The Deathstar

The image is from ReproDepot

“I read Helen’s blog with interest but I’m afraid I found it self-defeatingly hostile and transcentric”

STD, you win the interwebz! (You might want to rethink that acronym though…)

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