Archive for March, 2009

Sugar and spice and all things neurobiological

March 31, 2009

tg_black-on_pink_100x107Sara-Jane Cromwell, CEO of Gender Identity Disorder Ireland, writing in the Irish Medical Times (link here) provides a useful overview of the process of transitioning. And this assertion in the opening paragraph certainly caught my eye:

Gender identity disorder (GID)/gender dysphoria is a little known but much misunderstood congenital intersex condition, which is clinically diagnosable and treatable. The growing body of evidence points to GID being neurobiological in nature and has nothing whatever to do with fetishistic compulsions or lifestyle choice, with which it has been too long associated.

First – and as I’ve said elsewhere – I’m not comfortable with the terms gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria: for one thing, I don’t consider myself to be ‘disordered’ and for another, ‘gender dysphoria’ is inevitably linked to the tired old cliche that we are “trapped in the wrong body” – an analogy which really doesn’t work for me at all. I’ve yet to hear a more accurate (for me) descriptive phrase than Julia Serano’s gender dissonance.

I agree that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that transsexuality is at least partly neurobiological in nature, but the idea that gender dissonance is an intersex condition – although not new – is, I think, not especially widespread, as well as likely to be quite controversial to some.

Ms Cromwell’s account of a discussion she had with her endocrinologist is illuminating:

My endocrinologist went on to explain the great difficulties he had in getting his colleagues to engage with patients diagnosed with GID. Their objections seemed to stem from their misperceptions regarding GID being a lifestyle issue rather than being medical in nature, and therefore felt the provision of hormone treatments to be inappropriate.

This gatekeeper attitude of healthcare professionals is unfortunately far too common and has caused (and continues to cause) many problems and much distress to a number of trans people. As Ms Cromwell points out:

These difficulties are very grave indeed and an immediate response is required from health service providers. The vacuum created by the lack of healthcare for GID patients is also the result of a wrong association being made between people diagnosed with GID and those who engage in sexual fetishes.

She goes on to give a more detailed description of what she calls GID; it’s a useful summary of the various hoops through which trans people must jump if we are to be allowed to transition medically (assuming, of course, that this is a transition path that we want to follow). And again she states her opinion that it’s an intersex condition:

GID is a congenital intersex condition which leaves the individual with a psychological gender identity at odds with their physical sex and gender indicators. One of the simplest ways of explaining it is that the person feels themselves to be a female when their body, and gonads in particular, indicate that they are male, e.g. male to female (MtF) and vice-versa.

And that paragraph, I have to say, doesn’t entirely sit right with me. The Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII) states that:

An intersexed person is an individual whose internal and/or external sexual morphology has characteristics not specific to just one of the official sexes, but rather a combination of what is considered “normal” for “female” or “male”.


It continues:

As a group, intersex people are not transsexuals. However, some transsexuals are in fact intersex and this is the reason for their desire to correct their wrong sex assignment. Dr. Milton Diamond and some other experts do consider certain forms of transsexuality as an intersex condition.


But regardless of any possible differences of opinion about whether transsexuality is an intersex condition, Ms Cromwell makes one very important point about transitioning:

As difficult as it is (and it is difficult) to find a qualified practitioner for the purpose of providing a diagnosis and referral, matters become even more difficult when it comes to accessing treatment from a local GP.

General practitioners play a vital role in the ongoing monitoring of patients throughout the reassignment process and they can make a very significant difference to the overall outcome of the treatment process.

For me, although finding a GP remains an unfulfilled aim, I think it bears repeating that, to see any GP, one first has to run the gauntlet of receptionists and practice nurses, who can and do make their hostility to trans people glaringly obvious.

I’m a little concerned at Ms Cromwell’s apparent emphasis on surgery as the goal of transitioning; my own feeling is that transitioning is an ongoing process and surgery just another step on a very long path. In addition, it must be remembered that not everybody transitions medically, or undergoes surgery.

Nevertheless, the article is generally a useful reminder of the complexity of the medical treatment of gender dissonance, and I hope it will generate a reasonably intelligent level of debate around the subject.

Cis man makes offensive “joke” then complains about consequent police warning

March 30, 2009

tg_black-on_pink_100x107Via the Daily Telegraph (link here) comes a story of offensive cluelessness on the part of pretty much all concerned – including the journalist.

A Conservative councillor claims he was questioned by police for two hours after making a light hearted comment in response to a question about transexuals.

First display of cluelessness. Why only a single ‘s’ in ‘transexuals’ (sic)?

Jonathan Yardley, 48, was told there had been a complaint about his remark and was asked if he was homophobic or had made a “hate comment”.

He had been chairing a quarterly meeting arranged by West Midlands Police at which members of the public can discuss crime.

It started with a presentation with members of the audience given a handset to allow them to select answers to questions flashed up on a screen.

A police authority worker who was acting as presenter then told them: “Let’s start with an easy question to get us going: Press A if you’re male or B if you’re female.”

Second display of cluelessness.

Why was it necessary to open a public meeting about crime with a question about gender identification? A question which assumes that all present are binary identified?

One member of the audience in Wolverhamtpon responded by asking: “What if you’re transgendered?”

Mr Yardley, a quantity surveyor, who is married with a 13 year old daughter, said: “I quipped that you could press A and B together. There was much laughter.”

Third display of cluelessness. Epic, offensive cluelessness.

Unbeknown to him there was a man dressed as a woman in the audience whose male partner had raised the question.

Fourth display of cluelessness, the second from the journalist – an essentialist assumption passed off as factual reportage. “A man dressed as a woman”? What does that even mean – and how would the journalist know anyway?

Mr Yardley, Wolverhampton city council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods and safer communities, said: “Several days later a complaint of homophobia was made. I was asked to go to the local police station, questioned for two hours by a sergeant and an inspector and let off with a warning.

Homophobia, yes. Transphobia, too, it seems.

“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. They explained the legal process and what had happened and how the complaint had been made and they said I could be subject to a civil prosecution.

“There are much more important issues that the police should be spending their time on. I have so much trouble with crime and anti-social behaviour in my ward. I’m not homophobic, I just said it as a joke. It’s a sign of the times we live in, you can’t make jokes any more.”

Fifth display of cluelessness, and a special guest appearance by the “political correctness gone mad” faction. Kai Chang deconstructed that particular meme with style and aplomb a long time ago. Mr Yardley would do well to read it – The Greatest Cliché: The Unexamined Propaganda of “Political Correctness” (link here)

Because, you see, Mr Yardley, you can make jokes. But it helps if they’re (a) not at the expense of an already marginalised minority and, (b) amusing. Unless you actually want people to think of you as an ignorant bigot, of course.

This whole story exemplifies the almost subliminal and systemic transphobia to which trans people are routinely subjected, day in, day out. “Jokes” like Mr Yardley’s are every bit as hurtful and offensive as all the other forms of hate speech spat at us by small-minded bigots everywhere, every time we have the temerity to enter any space predominantly occupied by cis people.

“A joke”, you say, Mr Yardley? Well, I ain’t laughing.

Meeting on the Inquiry into the murder of Kellie Telesford

March 30, 2009

Via Aurora Croydon (thanks Sarah):

At 7pm on Thurday April 16th 2009 there will be a meeting with representatives of the Serious Crime Unit and the Crown Prosecution Service, where parties who have an interest in the investigation into Kellie’s murder can deal with outstanding issues and concerns from the community.

If you or your organisation would like to ask questions, or attend yourself, please phone the Aurora number 07733 286954, e-mail

Please watch this page. Details are still being decided.

Send questions in advance through the contact above. This is to ensure that the questions get answered, and, if possible, to get a reply to the questioner.

Please give as much background information to your question as you can. At lot of false information has been spread, and things that you believe to be true may not be understood by the person who replies to your question.

The number of places is limited. So please make initial enquiries as early as possible. If you are not successful in getting a place, please contact the Aurora telephone, e-mail or secure text link, and we’ll see if anything can be done. Written questions are very welcome. Please send them by Thursday April 2nd, if at all possible.


Previous related posts on this blog:

The undeclared war against LGBTT people in Turkey continues

March 29, 2009

Kaos GL logoI’ve just read the press release by the LGBTT Rights Platform (link here), posted on the Kaos GL website:

Homophobic and transphobic violence doesn’t stop: Assault in Eskiþehir, murders in Bursa and Edirne!

A transsexual woman was attacked and beaten in Eskisehir. A transsexual woman was found her head cut in Bursa. A man has been killed by his friend on the claim that he asked for sexual intercourse.

There is still no word from the authorities about the cases of Ahmet Yildiz who were shot to death on 15 July 2008 in Istanbul and Dilek Ince who were shot to death on 12 November 2008 in Ankara. While we were in grief after them, another transsexual woman Ebru Soykan was stabbed to death on 10 March 2009 in Istanbul.

We continue to ask the same question again, “When are you going to stop watching?” The murderers, who are encouraged by the silence of the state, continue on their fearless attacks. The recent news from Bursa horrified the LGBTT community in Turkey. We are in great sorrow after these brutal attacks.

Human rights violations against LGBTT individuals continue in the form of violation of rights to life


We are worried!

Because the government does not take action to enact necessary legislation and implementation to avoid human rights violations against LGBTT individuals


We are concerned, because the government makes LGBTT persons easy targets by watching the attacks on them and thus encourages murderers.

We are concerned, because the government is paving the way for killings by not protecting the right to life of its LGBTT citizens.

We ask!

Until when are you going to stop watching the hate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite, and Transsexual (LGBTT) individuals?

Until when are you going to stop awarding crimes against LGBTT individuals and encouraging new crimes?


We wonder if there is an undeclared war against homosexuals and transsexuals in Turkey?

If not, how many others should be killed to make you take action?

We don’t need mercy; we claim our basic human rights:

The right to life of LGBTT individuals must be protected equally with other citizens.

Cases of gay and trans murders must be solved.

Attackers and murderers must be found.

Decreases based on grievous provocation while punishing murderers of gay and trans persons must be abolished.

Crimes against LGBTT individuals must be defined under “hate crimes.”

You are committing crime by watching the murders, not providing right to life and imprisoning LGBTT persons into an unjust life!

Ýzmir Black Pink Triangle Association
Ýzmir Transvestite and Transsexual Initiative
Kaos GL Association
Lambdaistanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association
PurpleHand Eskiþehir LGBTT Initiative
Pink Life LGBTT Solidarity Association
Diyarbakýr Piramid LGBTT Initiative

This is the fifth post I’ve written in four months about the appalling situation faced by LGBTT people in Turkey. It’s obvious that the government condones the violent attacks on, and murders of, my trans sisters. Once again I say: this is unacceptable and must stop immediately.

It mystifies me why Turkey’s application for full membership of the EU is being taken so seriously, given its continued blatant and cynical flaunting of the European Convention on Human Rights. I call on those involved in the negotiations to suspend them, pending urgent action by the Turkish government to stop the violence, bring the perpetrators to justice – and observe the human rights of all LGBTT people in Turkey immediately.


Previous related posts on this blog:

AzioneTrans Manifesto

March 27, 2009

AzioneTrans ManifestoThis is the English translation of the most popular Italian Transgender Manifesto. Mirella Izzo (Genoa, Italy, 1959) wrote the “Manifesto” trying to find a common feeling, among Italian and international trans Movement about Transgender Cultures.

She wrote for Italians but thinking internationally. The book was conceived for an international diffusion. It’s available in English, now, after 8 years, in an updated version.

Mirella Izzo is one of the most known transgender activist, in Italy. She has written some articles – on transgender issues – on Italian newspapers and – a lot – on internet. In following years she wrote more complex books, not yet avaiable in English. The “AzioneTrans Manifesto” is her first temptation in translating in English her work. The English book translation is by Simona Continente (not these notes)


Click here to download a PDF copy of the AzioneTrans Manifesto

A few words from the revisionist tendency

March 26, 2009

HRC Board ENDA Policy

It’s the policy of HRC that the organization will only support an inclusive ENDA. In 2007 House leadership informed us that there were insufficient votes to pass an inclusive bill, so they decided to vote on a sexual orientation only bill. We made a one time exception to our policy in 2007 because we strongly believed that supporting this vote would do more to advance inclusive legislation. We will not support such a strategy again. We look forward to Congress sending President Obama a fully inclusive ENDA for his signature.


Credibility, much?


Seeking further enlightenment? ENDAblog has plenty. I especially liked this bit:

We will not support such a strategy again.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!


Educating Channel 4 News and the Prostate Cancer Campaign

March 25, 2009

tg_black-on_pink_100x107I like Channel 4 News on the tv. It airs at around the time I’m usually settling down to my daily dilation. Its relaxed but informed and informative style is epitomised by one of its anchors, Jon Snow. Earlier today Mr Snow tweeted, and blogged, about his appearance (with two relatives) on ITV’s This Morning show to take part in an awareness-raising event on behalf of the Prostate Cancer Campaign.

So far, so good – high profile news journalist makes use of his position to support a good cause.

Except – well, to be honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed by the blokey wording of his Tweet to help publicise the event:

I’m talking balls on ITV. Peter, Dan and me. Snowballs. Prostate cancer. This Morning, 10.30am.


“I’m talking balls…” Because prostate cancer only affects Teh Menz, right? Teh Menz with Teh Balls.

Except – prostate cancer does not affect men’s balls. It affects the prostate gland. Following some of the links, it’s clear that Mr Snow and This Morning have failed to understand that it’s not only cis men who may contract prostate cancer – TS/TG women may also be susceptible to it.

Even the Prostate Cancer Campaign doesn’t get it:

Only men have a prostate gland.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I ran a simple Google search for prostate cancer, +trans women. It returned 382,000 results. The second of those is from a website built by NHS Barking and Dagenham called Health with Pride. And right there, in the trans cancer section it says:

It’s important to recognise that trans women will still have a prostate post-gender reassignment surgery and can still develop prostate cancer.

The Vancouver Coastal Health’s Transgender Health Program has published a document called Trans people
and cancer
(direct link to PDF) which states:

MTFs who are not taking hormones are at the same risk for prostate cancer as non-trans men. Feminizing hormones cause the prostate to shrink, which reduces the risk of cancer, but it is not known how much the risk is reduced. There have been reported cases of prostate cancer in MTFs taking hormones both before and after genital surgery.

From the Transsexual Road Map:

Surgeons do not remove the prostate gland and Cowper’s gland in the current techniques.


Also, for this reason, it’s important to have a prostate exam whenever you have a gynecological exam. Prostate cancer is a major killer, although the likelihood in trans women is probably significantly reduced. Still, you should have it checked regularly along with your breasts and vagina, especially after 35.

So don’t tell me that only men can get prostate cancer. Because as well as erasing TS/TG women, you really are talking balls.

Police and Trans Women of Color

March 25, 2009

Lisa wrote this at Questioning Transphobia; I’m cross-posting it here because I think it’s an important topic that deserves to be heard about by as many people as possible. The comments thread over at QT is essential reading, too, and I’d ask that anyone who wishes to comment adds their voices to the discussion over there…

A few days ago, a friend of mine pointed to this post on The Bilerico Project, where Bil Browning took an admittedly inflammatory comment from Lyssa / Voz about the Human Rights Campaign out of context and said

While we keep Projector’s information private, this would be a case where I would gladly hand over any identifying information to the authorities.

Lyssa tried to explain the threat that invoking the police brings to trans women in general, people of color in general, and specifically trans women of color. As Donna Johnson puts it,

Many privileged people will not see a problem with this post, but I do. And I’m not trans, I know this because I am a woman of color. I know that the state will believe a white person over me, and that the threatening to call the police on me by a white person could very well result in beating, rape, and even death. I do not expect the police or justice system to treat me fairly.

Let’s put it this way, if two cis, heterosexual, white, able bodied, middle class, typical men get into an argument and one says he’s going to call the cops because the other said some mean and nasty things, the other would laugh it off. The police are there to protect these normative people, not harass them or arrest them for no reason. The justice system works the way it should and the way it is expected for these people. The most likely scenario, is that the police will break it up and tell the parties to go home. But the further you get into the margins the more likely the state and it’s systems are there to keep a watchful eye on you and take you out if you cause trouble.

But you should read her full post. Or read about Duanna Johnson. Or read about little light’s jail experience. Read a few more. Especially that second one about Christine Sforza – her friend called the police because a man was beating her with a pipe, but she was the one who was arrested.

When you threaten a trans woman of color with police involvement when she’s committed no crime at all, you are threatening her with violence. Not just the violence of police abuse – the potential for humiliation and beatings from police officers notwithstanding, but also the danger that the police will lock her up with cis male inmates, who themselves can and frequently will commit further violence against trans women.

There was no reason for this grandstanding, Bil. You invoked the possibility of police violence against Lyssa for a more verbose version of “die in a fire,” something that people frequently say on the internet. While I completely appreciate that you do not want such comments on The Bilerico Project, the way you handled it in a way that’s racist and transphobic – and you, as a cis white man, do not get to elide the context of your statements, to pretend that there is no history of police violence against trans women or women of color.

The cis LGB movement has to realize that trans anger at HRC is justified.

Also, what I said on the post at Bilerico:

Bil, the violence Lyssa is talking about is real – the police historically treat trans women of color extremely harshly – and threats (implied or otherwise) of police involvement are a pretty standard way to invoke white privilege against people of color.

It’s also something HRC has used to silence “dissent” from trans people on at least one occasion.

It’s definitely a way to invoke fear in trans women and people of color both, as the law is typically favorable to cis people and white people and not very friendly to trans people or people of color.

Quoting her post while indicating that in her case, you would cooperate to the full extent the law would request does read as a threat in that sense, and triply so because of the previous paragraph. I think of the case of Duanna Johnson in particular.

Of course, you didn’t threaten to call the police yourself, but you made it clear that you would cooperate with the police – make it easier for them to put Lyssa into that situation – even though she’s not going to go out and kill anyone from HRC.

I’ll also point out that when oppressed people find their voice, the first thing they express tends to be anger. A lot of trans people are finding our voices right now…and a lot of us are angry. Esp angry with HRC. Some are going to say some pretty harsh things about HRC, but I think, in general, harsh words – and more – are deserved. Not murder or any other criminal act, obviously. But I understand Lyssa’s anger, because I feel it too.

And now I wonder just how safe it is to express that anger in certain places.

Ada Lovelace Day: Wendy Carlos and “Switched on Bach”

March 24, 2009

Switched On BachToday, 24 March, is Ada Lovelace Day, which is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology, and this is my small bloggy contribution, as I pledged here.

Even though I’m rubbish with biographies – not that I’ve ever written one, but, well – I’d like to nominate Wendy Carlos for my role model woman in technology.

Wendy Carlos (born November 14, 1939) is an American composer and electronic musician. She gained fame in the late 1960s for playing on the Moog synthesizer, which was a relatively new and unknown instrument at the time. Though her early albums were interpretations of the works of classical composers, she later released original compositions.


Growing up, there was always classical music playing at home. My Dad was a huge fan of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and I still love Bach’s music to this day. I remember being especially taken with Wendy Carlos’ reworkings of some of his music when she released Switched On Bach in 1968 (I’d have been 11/12 then).

The significance of the record was in its demonstration that synthesizers could be used as a genuine musical instrument – it was performed on a Moog Modular synthesizer system. In that sense, it helped lay the foundations for much of contemporary music’s reliance on electronic instruments and sounds.

[The album] was recorded on a custom-built 8 track recorder […] using numerous takes and overdubs. This was long before the days of MIDI sequencers. Recording the album was a tedious and time-consuming process — each of the pieces had to be assembled one part at a time, and Carlos, [and producers] Benjamin Elkind and Rachel Folkman devoted many hours to experimenting with suitable synthetic sounds for each voice and part.

The album received a mixed reaction at the time of its release. Some critics reviled it for trivialising the work of one of the most revered classical composers of all time, but others were excited by the freshness of the sound and the virtuosity that went into its creation.


I know my Dad loved it; he played it and played it, and I guess that rubbed off on me. For a huge chunk of my life I made music – not very well, admittedly, but it kept me going through some quite troubled times – and tinkering with synthesisers was as important as noodling on a guitar. It’s fair to say that hearing the music of Wendy Carlos as a child opened my mind to the possibility that there were ways of making music that didn’t necessarily rely on more traditional instruments and sounds.

After years not having heard it, last year I finally tracked down a copy of Switched On Bach on CD – I’m listening to it as I write this and it sounds as good to me today as it did 40 years ago.

Wendy Carlos: musician, composer, trans woman in technology, role model.

Update on the petition to protest Oxfordshire PCT’s refusal to fund core surgical procedures

March 23, 2009

Oxfordshire PCT logoJust wanted to give this a bit of a bump – looking at the petition website this evening, I’m very encouraged to see it’s reached 992 signatures – are there 9 more British citizens willing to sign and push the figure over the 1000 mark?

For the full story of what this is all about, see my post Petition to protest Oxfordshire PCT’s refusal to fund core surgical procedures (link here) – but in a nutshell:

Oxfordshire PCT has been operating what amounts to a blanket funding ban of core surgical procedures for gender dysphoria treatment. Since December 2006, one patient has been granted GRS, but only after taking legal action. The policy is due to be reviewed soon, and in preparation Sally Outen, Rachel Payne, Sharly-Clare Busuttil and Alina Whiteman have prepared a report (The Failure of Gender Dysphoria Treatment in Oxfordshire) which has been presented to the PCT, as well as other interested bodies. A copy of the report may be downloaded from the TransLondon website (direct link to PDF)

Please show your support and sign this petition requesting that Oxfordshire PCT addresses the inconsistencies in its gender dysphoria policy.

The closing date for signing the petition is 07 April 2009


ETA: 12:50pm, 24 March – 1,001 signatures!