Archive for June, 2008

Take it to the bridge

June 30, 2008

“If somebody wants to prove that transgenderism is a valid medical condition, then they need to prove that it is not a fetish.” 

I don’t want to prove anything, and neither do I have to prove anything. I especially don’t want to prove “that transgenderism is a valid medical condition”, and neither do I have to prove “that transgenderism is a valid medical condition”.

See, I don’t believe that transgenderism is a medical condition at all, so whether it’s valid or invalid is entirely irrelevant.

I do believe that transgenderism is an umbrella word. It’s a useful shorthand term when discussing people who are gender variant or who otherwise don’t comply with expected societal norms regarding the gender assigned to them.

So transgenderism may include transsexual people, intersexed people, cross dressers, genderqueer – and many others who have at least – and possibly only – this one thing in common: gender variance.

It’s a collective noun. Medical conditions and fetishism simply don’t come into it; not at such a vague and undefined level.

Nothing to prove.




See also these posts and comments:

…And so on…

Oops! Don’t forget:


Oh, and there’s this comment by GallingGalla (in the response to Cara’s post):

“At this point, I am on the verge of jettisoning my identification as a “feminist”. I am getting very weary of this constant stream of hate, and I feel that mandrea and those like her present a real, physical danger to women, cis and trans alike. I really, really am at a loss at this point as to any reason why I should continue to identify as a feminist.”

“It’s not just the transphobia, it’s the racism and classism, too, which these radfems serve up in heaping portions. I was re-reading this post by bfp from December 2006, and in comments, bfp, Yolanda, and blackamazon point out the racialized nature of radfem transphobia – transphobic radfems are almost exclusively white. I’ve never, ever heard or read anything even close to this level of transphobic hate by radical women of color; indeed the vast majority have been very supportive of trans* folk. I just wish trans* folk (including myself) would be more supportive of rwoc.”


©2008 Helen G

Race, gender identity, the justice system and the beating of Duanna Johnson

June 27, 2008

The slowness of Black civil rights organisations to denounce the police brutality towards Duanna Johnson in a Memphis Criminal Justice Center (link to my earlier post) has been given a thorough analysis by Monica Roberts, founder of the African-American trans* people online group Transsistahs-Transbrothas, in a couple of posts on her Transgriot blog.

In her first post Yo NAACP, NBJC…Where Y’all At?, Monica reminds us that not only was the victim African-American, but so was the nurse who attended the scene and went directly to the white attacker to see if he was OK; ignoring Ms Johnson who was handcuffed, lying on the floor and clearly in pain.

After the video footage was made public, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) declared a state of emergency about how police treat African-Americans, but, as Monica pointed out, no NAACP local, state or the national chapter spoke about either this case, or the verbal and physical hate attacks on African-American trans* people in general.

She expressed her disappointment at the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC): “I have yet to see one syllable written about it on the NBJC website, the organization that’s supposed to represent me as an African-American transperson”.

By the time of her update post (Nation’s African-American Civil Rights Groups Denounce Beating of Transgender Woman) two days later, although the NAACP remained silent, the NBJC had been joined by the Black Leadership Forum (BLF), an alliance of over thirty national African-American civil rights and social service organizations, in denouncing the incident. (Link to the statement on the NBJC website).

We are deeply troubled by the continuing pattern of incidents across the country – hate crimes, police misconduct, and racial intimidation – that are all-too-often tolerated and ignored by local law enforcement officials and courts. Moreover, despite significant progress in the treatment of LGBTQ people, the targeting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals for police abuse and misconduct remains a persistent and widespread problem in the US.

It is also worth remembering that trans* people of colour get a ‘double whammy’ in terms of a heightened probablity of abusive behaviour being directed at them because of both race and gender identity issues. Writing in Boston’s New England Blade, the Reverend Irene Monroe says that the real story is about how the intersection of racism and transphobia triggers the violence meted out to trans* people of colour. Rev Monroe considers why this isn’t reported and believes there are at least three reasons:

  • The first reason is an unspoken ‘politics of silence’. Rev Monroe says, “All too often members of the GLBTQ press, especially of-color members, will opt not to report when we are attacked by someone else of color to ensure we don’t look like a race traitor”.
  • Another reason is the ‘politics of avoidance’, which occurs “when black media outlets opt not to cover hate crimes against its LGBTQ population for fear that the white media view violence as synonymous with people of color”.
  • The third reason suggested by Rev Monroe is that “there just aren’t enough openly GLBTQ of-color reporters”. She cites the fact that only this month, and for the first time in its history, a Boston-based African-American newspaper wrote a piece on black queer culture. “Why? Because Katherine Patrick came out. Katherine is the daughter of our governor, Deval Patrick, the second African-American elected governor in the US”.

Crimes against trans* people in general often go unnoticed, and the fact that we call Ms Johnson ‘lucky’ for surviving the attack (since violence against trans* people of colour often results in death), shows how far we still need to go as a society.

As Ms Johnson explained, Officer McRae attacked her because she refused to respond to the pejorative names he called her:

“Actually he was trying to get me to come over to where he was [to be fingerprinted], and I responded by telling him that wasn’t my name – that my mother didn’t name me a ‘faggot’ or a ‘he-she’, so he got upset and approached me. And that’s when it started.”

Some trans* people find that getting others to address them by the correct pronouns is difficult enough, but issues of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation frequently trigger a violence against trans* people of colour that the media should not let go unreported. Not reporting what is happening to members of the LGBTQ community risks leaving unchecked the violence we all risk facing. In the words of London Dexter Ward, an LAPD police officer who transitioned in 2004, “A white person who transitions to a male body just became a man. I became a Black man. I became the enemy”.

Many trans* people are routinely subjected to hate speech and street harassment, and that can sometimes be hard to take, but add racism into the mix as well as a mass media that is reluctant to report it, and the situation becomes completely unacceptable.


For further reading on the links between race, gender identity and the part they play in the levels of abuse that trans people suffer when they come into contact with the justice system, see the Amnesty International USA’s report Stonewalled: Police abuse and misconduct against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the US. (Direct link to PDF download of the full report here).


(Cross-posted at The F Word on 27 June 2008)

©2008 Helen G

Equalities Bill announced

June 26, 2008

The Government’s Equality Minister, Harriet Harman, has said she wants to tackle entrenched pay discrimination against women and to create a workforce more representative of society.

Ms Harman defended plans to make it legal for firms to discriminate in favour of female and ethnic minorities job candidates and said firms should be able to choose a woman over a man of equal ability if they want to.

When asked whether the proposals would lead to discrimination against white men, she said companies would not be forced to use positive discrimination.

Female part-time workers still earned 40% less per hour than their full-time male counterparts, Ms Harman said. “Do we think she is 40% less intelligent, less committed, less hard-working, less qualified? It’s not the case. It’s entrenched discrimination. It’s allowed to persist because it’s all swept under the carpet.”

The Equalities Bill will also seek to stop people being denied NHS treatment because of their age, and age discrimination will be outlawed in the provision of goods and services, such as holidays and insurance.

The full story is over at the BBC website; there’s also coverage at Reuters UK


(Cross-posted at The F Word on 26 June 2008)

©2008 Helen G

And “gender” is?…

June 25, 2008

Jess has posted on the subject of Gender studies in Israeli high schools… over at TFW. And I’m having real problems with one or two of the comments, which, predictably – inevitably – are wheeling out the same old ‘gender is a social construct’ line, and I just want to scream. But I’m really tired today and I can feel that it’s making me impatient, bad-tempered, snarky, (over-)emotional. So I’m resisting the urge to barge in and start asking how people actually define the word ‘gender’. Also because it would be a very unmannerly thread-jacking. And also because I really don’t want to get into a fight, or wake the trolls. They are light sleepers and anyway I don’t have the energy.

It seems to me that everybody just assumes that everybody else understands what is meant by it, and maybe everyone’s working to a different definition. Or maybe everybody else really does understand what is meant by it, and it’s just me that’s stupid. That’s probably quite likely, actually…

But some people seem take the words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ as being synonymous, interchangeable. And others seem to think gender’s just this big amorphous woolly cloud of a word that covers whatever they happen to be talking about: feminism, sociology, you name it.

And I think that’s where the confusion arises. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: things like ‘gender roles’, and ‘gender expression’, yes, I can see how they are, for the greater part, social constructs.

But gender itself? I believe it’s a word that lacks a clear definition in too many discussions, and I wish people would be clearer on what they understand the word to mean, how they define it. For a starting point, even though it’s possibly a little on the simplistic side (is a ‘self-conception’ the same thing as a ‘social construct’?), there’s Wikipedia:

Gender refers to the differences between men and women. Encyclopedia Britannica notes that gender identity is “an individual’s self-conception as being male or female, as distinguished from actual biological sex.” Although gender is commonly used interchangeably with sex, within the social sciences it often refers to specifically social differences, known as gender roles in the biological sciences. Historically, feminism has posited that many gender roles are socially constructed, and lack a clear biological explanation. People whose gender identity feels incongruent with their physical bodies may call themselves transgender or genderqueer.

Now, that makes sense to me, mostly. But I just cannot understand how we get from there, to statements like: “Because it is the media which reinforces the widespread belief that gender is ‘natural’ not socially constructed”, and “the blind assumptions that women are the way they are biologically and not socially, as if we’re born with make-up and pink stilettos on“.

Because that really doesn’t make sense to me.

But, as I said, I’m tired, not to mention the last person to be able to define the word succinctly, so if I don’t know what I’m talking about then I should probably just STFU, really, shouldn’t I?


Later edit: How about some of that there ‘transgender rage’ that’s, umm, all the rage these days?

©2008 Helen G

Herding cats

June 25, 2008

“…managing programmers is like trying to herd cats… I mean, you don’t want them to stop being cats… You don’t want obedient dogs. […] On the other hand, you do have to get them moving in the same direction.”
[from “Close To The Machine (Technophilia and Its Discontents)” by Ellen Ullman (via Amazon)]

I’m a bit slow getting to this, but want to record it anyway as a useful reference item – Zöe has a post about Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome, or HBS: link here. As usual she writes clearly and with intelligence and insight: I hardly need add that I consider it essential reading.

HBS bears the name of one of the first physicians to work with gender dysphoric people (click here to see a biography). Dr Benjamin is generally recognised as carrying out a lot of pioneering work on the subject from the late 1940s onwards. For example, he was one of the first to recognise that there’s a difference between transvestism and transsexualism (a term which he coined in 1954); he began prescribing oestrogen for transsexual women; and treated, “with the assistance of carefully selected colleagues of various disciplines (such as psychiatrist John Alden and electrologist Martha Foss in San Francisco and plastic surgeon Jose Jesus Barbosa in Tijuana), several hundred patients […] often without accepting any payment“. (Via Wikipedia).

According to The Original Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome Site:

“Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome is an intersex condition developed in the early stages of pregnancy affecting the process of sexual differentiation between male and female. This happens when the brain develops as a certain sex but the rest of the body takes on the physical characteristics of the opposite sex. The difference between this and most other intersex conditions is that there is no apparent evidence until much later after the baby is born or even as late as adolescence.

Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome was known in the past with many different names, Transsexualism (ICD-10) being the most common used in relation with it.”

All of which, superficially at least, sounds eminently reasonable and makes perfect sense as written. Zöe’s belief is that, over time, the subject has become politicised and is now “about elitism. And transphobia. And homophobia too”.

And this is the point where I re-present the link to Zöe’s post, because it all becomes very complicated, very quickly. Somewhere along the way there has been a divergence of views and opinions, and it seems that some people with HBS believe themselves to be the followers of the One True Way – which is a little dispiriting given that so many sufferers of gender identity issues appear to have so much in common. Small wonder that trying to organise the seemingly mythical ‘trans community’ is often likened to ‘herding cats’.

Anyway… click here to read Zöe’s post, called, very simply, HBS.


©2008 Helen G

Monster movie

June 24, 2008

(This began as a short addition to my earlier post, A most poor credulous monster, but it’s grown a little bit beyond a brief paragraph into something which is now more of a ‘Part Two’ than a ‘Later edit’).

On further reflection, although the problem relates to my sense of (gender) identity, and although I identify as a woman, there’s still an unspoken ‘but…’ at the end of the assertion.

“I identify as a woman but…”

And that’s where I’m running out of words. There really isn’t the vocabulary for this part of this human’s condition. The best way I can describe (not explain) it is to use the example of street harassment. On experiencing some sort of verbal hate speech, usually a personal remark, I’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon for a cissexual (= ‘non-trans’) woman to respond with a few choice words to the effect of ‘go away’. There’s an underlying self-confidence that she is a woman, so any stranger who questions or denigrates that aspect of her existence is just an idiot.

But if that same man makes the same remark to me, I’m immediately vulnerable because I know that I have spent most of my life living as a man, and am still adjusting to having a body which matches my brain’s expectations. In other words, I have a ‘trans history’, for want of a better term. Evidently, I’m still experiencing a noticeable amount of gender dissonance. It’s hard to know what to do about it – or even if anything can be done, but I believe it’s where my present sense of social alienation has its origin.

I keep thinking of Lisa’s comment – my identity is not subject to a vote – and there’s the same self-confidence that I mentioned above. I only wish I could find something similar…


The cynic in me wonders if it’s all about labels: it seems to be a part of human nature to label everyone (and everything) – and if it’s so inevitable, then maybe I need to find my own labels and (pardon the pun) stick with them. Grow into them, grow with them. Perhaps then I would feel okay about using just ‘woman’ as a descriptor, instead of my current ‘trans woman’. Yes, it’s a reasonably accurate label, and it does let others know that I’m not a cissexual (= ‘non-trans’) woman – but why do I feel the need to do that? It’s oddly deferential. There’s obviously an insecurity in there somewhere – but that just takes me full circle, back to acknowledging that I’m still experiencing gender dissonance.

But perhaps that’s no surprise, really: I never expected to come round in the hospital recovery room and find myself thinking, “Well, that’s it, that’s my transition completed, all done and dusted”. I always knew it was going to be a long process – somewhere in the back of my mind I think I’d even accepted that I might spend the rest of my life ‘becoming a woman’. A work in progress, maybe – but a monster?…

If I could stop beating myself up about my perceived failings, then I might remember just how long my journey has been in what is, comparatively, a very short space of time. I’ve come a long way, even though it doesn’t really feel like it, and even though I still have a long way to go. But it’s not even two years since my attempted suicide; it’s only a little over eighteen months since I was diagnosed as being transsexual – and in that time I’ve transitioned (more or less) socially, legally and medically – and even my SRS was less than a year ago. In some ways, I suppose that I’m still adapting – at the very least, I’ve a lifetime’s baggage as ‘him’ to leave behind.


Evidently my ‘sense of self’ still needs a lot of work. This page makes interesting reading, insofar as it goes. I don’t know who the author is, or what hir credentials are (I just ran a search for ‘sense of self’) – but it makes a certain amount of sense. And even though it’s supposedly written from the point of view of women, it’s a little surprising to see how much overlap there is with my own experience of life as a man.

Cultural feminists will probably tell me that my identity problem would be solved if I just created some sort of hybrid gender, instead of reinforcing the existing patriarchal gender binary and appropriating/colonising their space(s). Unfortunately, their essentialist subtext (“once a man, always a man”), and the unhelpful way they deliver it, results in my seeing them as part of the problem, not part of the solution. To quote Lisa again, “trans is only a problem because other people who are not trans make it a problem”. This is compounded by the insistence of those ‘other people who are not trans’ that it’s the responsibility of trans people to solve this problem which the non-trans people have identified. It’s possible that this conundrum may well be accentuating my own troubled state of mind.

As regards creating a hybrid gender label for myself, although I admit it has a certain appeal, there are two immediate problems. First, I would still be marginalised, the difference being that, presumably, I would get to choose which margins. And second, we only have to look at the firestorm which rained down on Thomas Beatie to see that any redefinition of the gender binary is going to meet intense resistance from almost every quarter. And I’m just not that strong.


Finally: the other point which my previous post (partly) addressed was the question of ‘transgender rage’ – which I still don’t feel. Perhaps it’s too soon in my readjustment/healing process, or maybe I’m internalising it. The intense sense of isolation, of ‘not belonging’, is still there but it makes me sad, not angry. For good or bad, my life has turned out the way it has, and my aim now must be to find a sense of being part of – humanity? – existence? – and to try not to feel so detached from everything. There is no point in raging at who I am.

Maybe it’s not even about rage. As I write this, I’m recalling a session last year with my gender counsellor, in which she said that a period of grieving is an important part of transitioning. As you move into your ‘new’ self, of necessity you leave behind many things from the life you knew. And although you may be focused on the new life which is coming into being, at some point you need to come to terms with those aspects of your past life which you leave behind. I believed that I had done that, but maybe I need to think about it again, to travel that road again, if only to double-check.

Yes, I know – nobody said this would be easy…


 ©2008 Helen G

Stop smoking or the IVF treatment gets it

June 22, 2008

The Observer newspaper today reports that childless women, and in some cases their partners, too, are being asked to stop smoking before they can be considered for fertility treatment.

A Department of Health survey released to Labour MP Sally Keeble shows that, despite official recommendations that all infertile couples should get three cycles of treatment free, clinics are increasingly making free IVF treatment conditional on not smoking.

Tobacco use is listed as a ‘non-clinical access criteria’ in the survey – in other words it’s not a medical requirement for treatment to work. Other lifestyle choices known to reduce fertility, such as drinking more than one or two units of alcohol a week, are not reasons for refusing treatment.

A spokeswoman for Infertility UK, which represents patients, said: “It’s another way of rationing treatment. PCTs are looking at different ways to cut down the amount of treatment they give people.”

In the light of the recent news about such things as the ban on co-payments (topping-up one’s NHS treatment with private care) for palliative drugs by cancer patients, and the denial of access to medication and surgery for a transsexual woman in Nottinghamshire – one can only wonder why these cutbacks are suddenly considered necessary, apparently across the board. Is the NHS really so comprehensively underfunded – and if so, where are our taxes going?


(Cross-posted at The F Word on 22 June 2008)

©2008 Helen G


June 22, 2008

A couple of reasons why some trans* people are wary of both the PCTs and politicians: First, Debbie Davies, a transsexual woman in Nottinghamshire, has been denied access to meds and surgery by her local Primary Care Trust (PCT).

Click here for the full story as reported in the local press.

What is worrying is the policy mentioned in the article: in a nutshell, the PCT does not fund the drugs or surgery for patients requiring gender reassignment, but will fund any psychological support required. In other words, they’ll prescribe antidepressants but not hormones. In the light of the proposed changes to the DSM, this seems an entirely natural policy for a PCT to implement: after all, gender dysphoria, or Gender Identity Disorder (GID) as it is called in the DSM, is classified as a mental illness first and foremost.

(Previously I have written about the proposed changes to the DSM in these posts: Mad as hell, Still mad: more on DSM-V/Zucker/Blanchard and Crazy love)

Dr Chris Kenny, Nottinghamshire Primary Teaching Healthcare Trust’s director of public health said:

“This policy is in common with other PCTs in the East Midlands and is soon to be adopted as a formal policy across the region.”


…And in other news, a report in Pink News presents a frightening example of how patchy MPs’ knowledge of gender identity issues is: Mark Pritchard, a Conservative MP who represents The Wrekin, has claimed that gender reassignment is a “matter of choice”.

“Given the number of sex changes, which are increasing in the United Kingdom year on year, the cost to the NHS, which has scarce resources, and the fact that sex changes are a matter of choice, is it not time that we had a debate about the issue?” he asked Harriet Harman, Leader of the House.

Thankfully, Ms Harman – who is also the Secretary of State for Equality – told Mr Pritchard he “misunderstands the situation”.

“It is not a question of choice: if someone needs to have gender reassignment surgery, it is a question of necessity for them.”

It is interesting to note that Mr Pritchard voted against changes to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill designed to stop discrimination against lesbians and single women accessing fertility treatments.


The root of the problem in both these cases is PCTs’ financing arrangements and priorities. The Department of Health’s document NHS funding processes and waiting times for adult service-users: Trans wellbeing and healthcare (click here for a direct link to the PDF download) states openly that funding of treatment is a ‘postcode lottery’.

It adds that “the system of funding is undergoing a major change as special commissioning groups (SCGs) play an expanding role”. However, although “the NHS is legally required to fund treatment”, this funding is only made available “in accordance with reasonable local priorities, which permit wide differences in local funding policies”.

Although the content in itself makes depressing reading (and not only for trans* people who depend on NHS assistance in their transitioning), the whole document is a must-read if only for its comprehensive illustration of how the state appears to act as gatekeeper, not facilitator, in the provision of treatment of gender dysphoria and transsexuality.


©2008 Helen G

UN labels rape as a ‘tactic of war’

June 20, 2008

UN FlagThe UN Security Council has approved a resolution that demands warring governments and factions act to halt violence against women, calling rape a war crime and a component of genocide.

Sexual violence in war is nothing new. Accounts of women being raped by conquering armies as “spoils of war” go back centuries. But the resolution says rape is not just a by-product of war, but a military tactic. In recent times, the Balkan wars of the 1990s alerted the world to the use of rape as a weapon of conflict.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that violence against women had reached “unspeakable and pandemic proportions” in some places recovering from conflict.

The resolution was welcomed as a “historic achievement” by Human Rights Watch, which said the world body had all too often ignored the problem.

These days, the problem is worst in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Major General Patrick Cammaert told the meeting he witnessed the impact of rape as a UN peacekeeping commander in eastern Congo. He described such violence as a “particularly potent tool of war”, as it dehumanizes its victims. “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict”, he said.

It’s not just warring factions that are accused of rape. UN peacekeepers themselves have been accused of sexual offenses in several countries. The resolution calls for more vigilance in stopping and preventing such abuses.

Its practical impact, however, remains unclear. Ban is expected to report back on its implementation in a year.

(Via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)


(Cross-posted at The F Word on 20 June 2008)

©2008 Helen G

Transphobic violence: the video

June 20, 2008

It is something of a truism that women are second class citizens – and transsexual women merely second class women. This has been graphically demonstrated this week with the (belated) news (via Pam’s House Blend and others) of the beating of a transsexual woman, by a police officer. The attack – on February 12 (the same day that Lawrence King was murdered) – was caught on the CCTV cameras as Duanna Johnson was being held in the booking area of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center, Memphis, Tennessee, after being arrested for prostitution.

The CCTV footage (click here to see the video on the WMCTV Memphis website) clearly shows Officer B. McRae walk over to Ms Johnson and hit her in the face several times with his handcuffs (wrapped around his knuckles). During the attack, Ms Johnson was held down by the shoulders by another police man, Officer J. Swain.

After taking several blows to the head, one of which split her skull and drew blood, Johnson stood up and swung back. But then she sat down, and Officer McRae hit her in the face again. Then he maced her.

To add insult to injury, when a nurse (employed by the Sheriff’s Department) finally comes into shot, she goes directly to Officer McRae to provide medical care – for a scratch on the back of his head. You can see it in the video: she walks right past Ms. Johnson, who by now is handcuffed, lying on the floor and clearly in pain.

And what was the cause, the justification, for this horrifying brutality? Ms Johnson refused to respond to hate speech from the officer:

“Actually he was trying to get me to come over to where he was [to be fingerprinted], and I responded by telling him that wasn’t my name – that my mother didn’t name me a ‘faggot’ or a ‘he-she’, so he got upset and approached me. And that’s when it started”, Ms Johnson said.

The Memphis Police Department has since confirmed that Officer Swain (a probationary officer) has been “separated” from the Memphis PD. And the attacker, Officer McRae has been given a desk job pending an administrative hearing.

As Pam Spaulding says in her post: “It’s an enraging reminder that while each civil rights gain in the LGBT community is meaningful, we cannot rest until we are all safe, all free from discrimination.”


Later edit: Alex Blaze at The Bilerico Project has an update post which carries the perhaps surprising news that Officer McRae has filed an assault charge against Ms Johnson.

In his report, McRae said Johnson swung at him and threatened to shoot the officer in the head. He said he was punched repeatedly in the head and neck by Johnson, whose first name is listed as Dwayne in the report.

Also, note that although Ms Johnson was arrested for prostitution, the charges were dropped. There is no evidence and no reason to believe that she is a sex worker.

Click here to read the full post over at Bilerico.


(Cross-posted at The F Word on 20 June 2008)

©2008 Helen G