Archive for March, 2010

Council of Europe adopts recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity

March 31, 2010

Via the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers (link here):

Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 31 March 2010 at the 1081st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

The Committee of Ministers [...] Recommends that member states:

  1. examine existing legislative and other measures, keep them under review, and collect and analyse relevant data, in order to monitor and redress any direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity;
  2. ensure that legislative and other measures are adopted and effectively implemented to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, to ensure respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and to promote tolerance towards them;
  3. ensure that victims of discrimination are aware of and have access to effective legal remedies before a national authority, and that measures to combat discrimination include, where appropriate, sanctions for infringements and the provision of adequate reparation for victims of discrimination;
  4. be guided in their legislation, policies and practices by the principles and measures contained in the appendix to this recommendation;
  5. ensure by appropriate means and action that this recommendation, including its appendix, is translated and disseminated as widely as possible.

The Recommendations establish how international human rights standards should be applied and contain specific measures for Member States on how they should improve their legislation, policies and practices. Additionally, the Recommendations require Member States to ensure that national human rights structures are clearly mandated to address discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. They also encourage Member States to address multiple discrimination experienced by LGBT people.

That 47 European countries have unanimously agreed to adopt such a comprehensive list of recommendations through common action is without precedent: it’s the world’s first intergovernmental agreement of this nature. The potentially far-reaching implications of this are hard to imagine but do offer a significant hope for the future; now we need to see some practical action to begin implementing these adopted recommendations Europe-wide as soon as possible.

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Previous related posts:

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Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia and The F-Word

J.S. Bach – Double Violin Concerto in D minor

March 30, 2010

hi Dad.

Zen and the art of internet trolling

March 29, 2010

A near perfect textbook example of internet trolling appeared last night in the comments to my cross-post of this article at The F-Word.

Butterflywings, the troll in question, has routinely left comments comprising short paragraphs of hate speech on my posts for some time now, and I wish she could apply herself to learning (about the intersectionalities of trans and feminist issues; about the ways in which cis people marginalise and oppress trans people with such casual brutality, and so on) with the same fervour she shows in her hate speech.

Be that as it may, her comment followed her predictable scattergun approach and, in a sense, doesn’t merit further consideration; on the other hand, a brief analysis of it might provide a useful trans 101 on a few of the more popular misconceptions about my community.

The full comment was as follows:

yeah, surprise surprise you bring this round to trannies issues as you do everything. IT’S ABOUT WOMEN idiot not men in drag and er if as you insist you ARE a woman, WEALLY cos you totes feew like one, then you will not have a problem as you’ll pass, huh? Not to mention that not everyone is actually out to get trans people, except in your self-obsessed imagination.

Taking it apart line by line, we can start with:

yeah, surprise surprise you bring this round to trannies issues as you do everything.

There are two points to consider here: the recentring of an issue, and the use of pejorative language.

The first point, the accusation that I was recentring the subject, is actually quite amusing in its own little way, as recentring is precisely what she was attempting to do with her comment. This is a classic trolling tactic, to try and put the blogger on to the defensive, as a precursor to a full-blown derailing and consequent shutting down of discussion of any topic to which the troll objects.

Recommended reading: Derailing For Dummies (Google cache reconstruction)

The second point concerns the use of offensive slurs against a marginalised minority. The word “trannies” has a long and complex history, originating within the porn industry. In that context it’s used to highlight how trans women are not “really women” (of which, more in a minute). It’s perhaps one of the most trans-misogynistic hate words in use today, and no more so than when a cis woman attempts to use it as a weapon against a trans woman.

Recommended reading: Is ‘Tranny’ Offensive?

Her next sentence opened with:

IT’S ABOUT WOMEN idiot not men in drag

This is one of the most hackneyed and unimaginative attacks made on trans people, yet it remains as popular today as it ever was. In it, trans people are told that we are always and forever the gender we were assigned at birth – usually one of the stereotypical binary categories (in the process erasing many intersex people as well as anyone who isn’t binary identified). It’s an attempt to deny our identities and it’s cissexist. I’m always puzzled how some cis women feminists can promote this essentialism and in the next breath assert that gender is a construct.

Recommended reading: Transphobic Tropes #1 – “Really” A Man/Woman

She then segued into this:

if as you insist you ARE a woman, WEALLY cos you totes feew like one, then you will not have a problem as you’ll pass, huh?

The first part is a continuation of the ideologically threadbare “biology is destiny” theme discussed above; the second part, regarding “passing” at least introduces a new theme to relieve the monotony. “Passing” is a form of privilege accorded by society in exchange for complying with cultural stereotypes about how a woman is supposed to look and act, etc. But it carries a subtext of deception, as though one is pretending to be something one isn’t. So we see how patriarchal society delegates the policing of the borders of binary identity to, in this case, an internet troll.

Recommended reading: Early transition: The concept of “Passing”

Not to mention that not everyone is actually out to get trans people, except in your self-obsessed imagination.

This is such a naive and foolish assertion it almost beggars belief. Tell it to Angie Zapata or Gwen Araujo. Tell it to Destiny Lauren, Andrea Waddell or Kellie Telesford.

Recommended reading: Trans Murder Monitoring Project

So there we are. This post is a good example of why it’s ultimately pointless to try and engage with trolls: the effort required to deconstruct their words is rarely worth it, but I hope that this one-off post at least offers some pointers to more in-depth discussions elsewhere around some of the common misconceptions about trans people.

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Related post:

OII Position Statement on Genital Cutting

March 28, 2010

Organisation Intersex International (OII) has posted a Position Statement on Genital Cutting. Although much attention has been focused on female genital cutting (FGC), or female genital mutilation (FGM) – defined by the Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project as “any practice which includes the removal or the alteration of the female genitalia” – it’s rare to see any recognition of the enforced surgical normalisation procedures carried out on genitally ambiguous intersex people, and I hope the OII’s statement will go some way towards raising awareness of this particular human rights breach.

From the late 1950’s onwards, starting in the USA, intersex infants and children were increasingly subject to cosmetic surgeries intended to ensure that their genital appearance and internal gonads conformed to that usually expected for their assigned gender. This also tended to entail hormone treatments aimed at conforming them to those associated with being “male” or “female.”

[...]

Cosmetic surgery on intersex genitals appears to harm intersex infants, children, and even adults, yet it still persists. As with male circumcision, it is often driven by parental desire to provide their children with bodies that conform to certain beliefs about how genitals should be. Also, the presumption that atypical sex anatomy will result in atypical sexual orientation and/or gender identity, homophobia and a fear of atypical gender presentation are seen by some intersex people as the motivation driving these surgeries. In many societies today, gender expression and sexual orientation are seen as a human right, and this is recognised by the UN. Performing unnecessary surgeries on infants and children in order to influence adult sexual orientation and/or gender identity outcomes should be seen as a human rights abuse. There is no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity are affected by genital surgery one way or the other.

The OII’s Position Statement seeks recognition that all humans have the right to autonomy over their own bodies. It continues:

Because infants and children are too young to assert their autonomy, they should not be subjected to unnecessary surgeries which may irrevocably harm them, and which they may not have chosen as adults. We recognise that cases requiring medical treatment for the maintenance of health or preservation of life should be managed as with any other situation where a child needs treatment.

However, it’s worth remembering that there are other factors to be considered in any discussion of enforced surgical procedures carried out on intersex people. Assuming that genital cutting can be avoided until a child can participate in a decision making process which includes education, communication and counselling, then it is to be hoped that intersex people may at last attain the bodily autonomy too often denied them by medical professionals in order to impose cultural stereotypes of what is meant by male and female.

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Previous posts on this blog in the category Intersex:

Throwing Muses – Hate My Way

March 27, 2010

I could be a smack freak
And hate society
I could hate God
And blame Dad
I might be in a Holocaust
Hate Hitler
Might not have a child
And hate school
I could be a sad lover
And hate death
I could be a neuro
And hate sweat
No
I hate my way

I make you in to a song
I can’t rise above the church
I’m caught in a jungle
Vines tangle my hands
I’m always so hot and it’s hot in here
I say it’s all right

My pillow screams too
But so does my kitchen
And water
And my shoes
And the road

I have a gun in my head
I’m invisible
I can’t find the ice

A slug
I’m TV
I hate

A boy, he was tangled in his bike forever
A girl was missing two fingers
Gerry Ann was confused
Mr. Huberty
Had a gun in his head

So I sit up late in the morning
And ask myself again
How do they kill children?
And why do I want to die?
They can no longer move
I can no longer be still

I hate
My way

CakeKitten

March 26, 2010

Because I say so, that’s why.

A ‘conscience clause’ to legitimise discrimination

March 25, 2010

The BBC News website has published a story which talks about the likely introduction of a so-called ‘conscience clause’ which could be used by dispensing pharmacists to “refuse to prescribe items that might clash with their personal religious beliefs”. In other words, it seems likely to enable discrimination by pharmacists.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is to take over the regulation of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and the registration of pharmacy premises from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society later this year.

Under its new code, pharmacists with strong religious principles will still be able to continue to refuse to sell or prescribe products if they feel that doing so would contradict their beliefs.

The use of the word “still” in the above quote might seem to suggest that discriminatory practices are already happening – and indeed the BBC refers to “a woman denied the pill by a Sheffield chemist”.

Although the BBC’s story specifically refers to “items such as the morning-after pill and contraception”, when I think about the recent attempt by the religious Right to perpetuate gender identity discrimination in Europe, it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see how the ‘conscience clause’ could be invoked as a way of, for example, refusing to fill hormone prescriptions for trans people.

For those who are discriminated against in this way, and who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, there’s always the option to buy essential meds from online sources. However, self-medicating has its own risks and may also result in people simply disappearing from the healthcare system; not receiving regular checkups; blood, hormone and other monitoring tests, etc, and running the risk of becoming seriously unwell. I’d like to know on whose conscience would be the death of even one trans person as a result of the application of this clause as a mask for their own prejudices.

Anecdotally, I’m well aware of the anger of many trans people towards a system that already seems to favour gatekeeping over facilitation, and I can only hope that this iniquitous ‘conscience clause’ does not become common currency as a way of upholding the personal prejudices of those pharmacists who may hold transphobic views, without actually being required to come to terms with their bigotry.

As Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, says:

“It seems incredible that pharmacists can arbitrarily tell people that they won’t serve them with medication that has been prescribed by a doctor.”

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(Estradiol molecule image via Wikipedia)

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ETA: Related post:

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An abridged version of this piece is cross-posted at The F-Word

Scotland’s new hate crime law

March 23, 2010

From a press release by the Equality Network about Scotland’s new hate crime law, which will come into effect tomorrow, 24 March 2010:

[...] The new law is called the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act. It will mean that homo/biphobic, transphobic and disability-prejudice crime is properly recognised as hate crime.

This is the first transgender-inclusive hate crime legislation in Europe, and has the most inclusive definition of transgender identity in any European legislation.

From tomorrow, any criminal offence which is partly or wholly motivated by prejudice on grounds of disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity, will be dealt with as a hate crime all the way through the system.

The offence could for example be an assault, or vandalism, or verbal threats and abuse which can be charged as breach of the peace, or any other crime. If the person committing the offence uses homo/biphobic, transphobic, or disability-prejudice language, or if there is any other evidence of their prejudiced motive, that makes it a hate crime.

If anyone witnessing a crime thinks it was a hate crime, the police must record it as a hate incident. If there is any evidence of the hate motive, for example prejudiced language was used, it will be charged as a hate crime. If the person charged is found guilty, the hate motive will be taken into account in sentencing – and the court must say publicly what difference the hate motive made to the sentence. [...]

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Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia and The F-Word)

Christie Elan-Cane: written question to the European Commission

March 23, 2010

In my previous post about Christie’s continuing fight for legal and social recognition outside the societal gender system in the UK, I mentioned that per has obtained the support of Baroness Sarah Ludford (Liberal Democrat MEP for London) and she has recently tabled a written question to the European Commission asking whether the Commission considers that EU legislation sufficiently protects citizens who identify as non-gendered or differently to that registered at birth, and whether there are any plans to revise EU Directives in a more gender neutral way.

On per LJ today (23 March), per has provided a link to the online version of the written question and I’m copying/pasting it here ‘for the record':

WRITTEN QUESTION E-1747/10
by Baroness Sarah Ludford (ALDE)
to the Commission

Subject: Legal recognition of non-gendered persons

In a paper on human rights and gender identity in July 2009, the former Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg noted that the EU directives which implement the principle of equal treatment between men and women have a defined enumeration of discrimination grounds, and that these do not include gender identity.

Also, a report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has noted that there is no reason not to extend protection from discrimination under EU law to people who wish to present their gender differently to that registered at birth.

1. In view of these opinions of human rights experts, does the Commission consider that the EU legislation sufficiently protects citizens who choose to identify as non-gendered or present their gender differently from that registered at birth?

2. Does the Commission have any plans to revise the EU directives in the future in a more gender-neutral way?

Christie has said that it may take up to six weeks to receive a reply; I’ll post that here as and when it becomes available.

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Previous, related posts on this blog:

Judging a book by its cover

March 22, 2010

A report in IOL South Africa details the horrific prison experience of a cis woman, Denise Abbah, who was incorrectly registered by prison authorities as ‘Denis’ instead of ‘Denise’ and consequently detained in a cis men’s prison cell for seven months. During this time, she was raped and sodomised.

“They just refused to believe that I was a woman. They thought I was a man who had undergone a sex change [sic]. I told them about my children at home, but it didn’t help.”

“When I told the female wardens that I was menstruating, they refused to believe me, saying the bleeding was a result of the sex change operation that I had,” said Abbah.

Having been cleared of all charges against her, Ms Abbah is now suing the Department of Correctional Services for damages, although I wonder if any amount of money can ever repair the trauma and distress that she must be suffering.

And even though she’s apparently been cleared of all charges, the authorities have decided to add one further insult to the injuries Ms Abbah has suffered:

Abbah is expected to undergo gender testing ahead of her legal battle against the Department of Correctional Services.

Because, y’know, once you’ve been tainted by the brush of trans panic, then the rest of decent, law-abiding, equally bigoted cissexist society assumes the right to know for sure that you really are who you say you are. And, after all, we know how successful ‘gender testing’ has been in the IAAF’s witch-hunt against Caster Semenya, don’t we?

Finally – and I expect I shall probably be accused of being a heartless cynic (and probably worse) for daring to recentre the discussion away from cis people – I should add that human rights breaches like this happen to trans women around the world with monotonous and depressing regularity.

For example, I’ve recently written about the trans woman prisoner referred to only as ‘B’ who was incarcerated in a cis men’s prison for five years; Nastaran Kolestani in the U.S.- held for 18 months before her case came to court – and a Spanish trans woman who was held in a cis men’s prison for eleven years – yes, eleven years – before she was granted the basic human rights that many of us take for granted.

But this is not about creating hierarchies of oppression – Ms Abbah’s treatment has been utterly barbaric: seven minutes would have been too long, let alone seven months – but to point out that comprehensive breaches of human rights are inflicted on trans women prisoners with almost sadistic cruelty over time periods of years, not months.

What makes Ms Abbah’s case different is the way it sets up a mirror image of the reasoning used to justify the abuses against trans women. In the case of trans women, the usual pattern is that, no matter your legal status (for example, ‘B’ was in possession of a Gender Recognition Certificate), if the powers-that-be have any doubts about you, they will apply a biological essentialist metric and judge you on your genital configuration: if you have a penis you must be male, if you have a vagina, you are female. The paradox that Ms Abbah ran into was that, although her genitalia were visually typically female, her (misrecorded) documentation showed a typically male name – and it seems it was that which justified the prison authorities’ decision to send her to a gender-inappropriate prison. The sick irony is, of course, that had that reasoning been applied to ‘B’, Nastaran Kolestani and the Spanish woman, all would have been sent to women’s prisons. As I have said before:

The character Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist may well have had a point when he said “the law is a [sic] ass — a idiot”; unfortunately it’s an ass with a powerful kick.

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