Archive for February, 2010

Q: Caster Semenya, the real “Middlesex”? A: No.

February 27, 2010

News Blaze has published an op-ed piece called Caster Semenya, The Real Middlesex? which disappointingly fails to offer the ‘compare and contrast’ overview that the title might suggest. Instead, it’s simply an extended review of Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 novel Middlesex with just one passing reference to Caster Semenya:

The recent media maelstrom over South African runner, Caster Semenya is a true life example of a person who was raised as female but biologically was a hermaphrodite, having both male and female sexual organs.

I have to say I think that is a very shaky foundation on which to build an essay – which perhaps explains why the writer, Moira Cue, apparently gave up after that one sentence to focus on summarising the plot of the book instead. Leaving aside the glaringly obvious – that Caster Semenya is a real person and Calliope ‘Cal’ Stephanides from Middlesex isn’t – the last part of the quoted sentence would also benefit from more informed content.

To start with, the term hermaphrodite is considered to be an outdated and unhelpful term that is offensive to many intersex people – see this FAQ page on the OII Australia website for more information. Additionally, the preferred term intersex refers to a range of physical differences in sex which, while it includes ambiguous genitalia, is not limited to that specific variation alone. Intersex can and does involve chromosomal, hormonal, gonadal and other differences; the idea that all intersex people have “both male and female sexual organs” is simply inaccurate.

The lack of any insightful analysis of the perceived similarities – and differences – between Caster Semenya and Cal Stephanides doesn’t end there. Whilst Cal is described in Middlesex as a “5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodite”, or a “male pseudohermaphrodite”; as far as I know, Caster Semenya’s “gender test” results haven’t been – and won’t be – made public. We simply don’t know if she has an intersex variation or not. (See the OII website for a description of 5-alpha-reductase deficiency)

The one possible commonality between the stories of Caster Semenya (if she’s intersex) and Cal Stephanides which may have been worth discussion was unfortunately completely overlooked in Moira Cue’s piece. Namely, that the borders between sex and gender are not the clearly-defined binary constructs which mainstream hetero-normative society prizes so highly, even above the human rights of intersex people themselves.

Nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in the way that so many intersex people are subject to enforced normalisation at the hands of the medical profession for no reason other than to be made to conform to those binaries; to uphold and perpetuate a structurally flawed system which is surely long overdue for a complete reevaluation and reconstruction so that the numerous variations of sex and gender are valued for being manifestations of the almost infinite diversity of humankind, and accepted and celebrated as such by all of us.

Spacecat: want one. PMS: do not want.

February 25, 2010

It’s a full moon this Sunday. Which, for this transsexual woman means just one thing: PMS.

And the worst thing about it? It isn’t the cramps, or the hot flushes, or the bloating, or the tearfulness, or the wish to snuggle down under the duvet with either a hot water bottle or a purring spacecat for company.

No, the worst thing is knowing that, in a couple of days, all the symptoms will disappear and you’ll feel okay again without having to go through the period itself, the process of shedding your uterine lining.

Because knowing that you don’t have a uterine lining is another of those sudden, stark reminders that you’ll never, ever be able to have children; that you’ll never, ever be a Mum.

One more time – “gender reassignment surgery is not a lifestyle choice”

February 25, 2010

I’ve run into the barely-contained hysteria of the Manchester Evening News’ tabloid journalism before (“Toilet signs ‘too PC'”), so although the tone of this piece is tediously familiar, the content is possibly more alarming.

Health bosses have been ordered to slash spending plans for the NHS in Greater Manchester by almost ONE BILLION pounds.


The ‘efficiency savings’, which are outlined in several of Greater Manchester’s PCT board papers, will begin in April and must be made by 2014.


It is understood that other savings could be made through a reduction in lifestyle services such as […] gender reassignment.

Yep, that old chestnut: “gender reassignment surgery is a lifestyle choice”. Except that it isn’t. Neither is it anything to do with sexual orientation; it’s not a disease, or a mental disorder, or any of the other timeworn transphobic tropes.

Interesting that the source of that particular assertion isn’t named. It couldn’t possibly have been made up by a journalist, could it? Oh uncharitable Helen, how could you be so cynical to even think such a thing?

But hey, why let the facts get in the way of another round of offensive disinformation from a tabloid newspaper? And don’t even start me on the racist hate speech in the comments.

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for…

London anarcha feminist kolektiv is open to new members

February 25, 2010

brave new feminist worldSome positive news over at the LAFK blog:

London anarcha feminist kolektiv is open to new members.

If you would like to get involved with the kolektiv, please come to our next meeting which will be this sunday the 28th of February from 7 at Larc, 62 Fieldgate Street, london E1 1ES,

if you would like to get involved but are unable to attend this meeting, please email us at and we can give you the details of future meetings.

Please note that we are a women and transfolk only group.

Good to see a feminist group explicitly stating that it’s trans inclusive without endless (ignored) requests for public clarification. Are you listening, LFN/RTN and MWR?

No, I thought not…


Trans inclusion is NOT the absence of “no”, it is a clearly stated “yes”. [Via]

Turkey: Stop violence against transgender people

February 22, 2010

Turkish flagFrom a letter sent jointly by HRW, Pembe Hayat, ILGA-Europe and IGLHRC to the Prime Minister of Turkey:

In order to end the ongoing violence and murders of transgender people in Turkey, we respectfully urge the Turkish government to take the following measures:

  • 1. Ensure an effective investigation into the murders of Fevzi Yener, Derya Y., and Şinasi Halimoğlu, which will be capable of leading to the identification and prosecution of the alleged perpetrator(s) of these crimes. Ensure similar steps are taken in the event of any future crimes against the LGBT community.
  • 2. Enact anti-discrimination legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected status.
  • 3. Collect, analyze and disaggregate national and local data on violence, including violence on the grounds on sexual orientation and gender identity as a recognized category.
  • 4. Provide training to law enforcement authorities on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  1. Include sexual orientation and gender identity in school curricula as a way to combat gender stereotypes.
  • 6. Establish permanent communication mechanisms between the police and Turkish LGBT organizations.
  • 7. Revise the Law of Misdemeanors (No. 5326) that provides police the option to fine or otherwise treat individuals as criminals on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. The vagueness of this law-which purports to "protect public order, general morality, general health, the environment, and the economic order"- allows for prejudicial enforcement by police.

The full text of the letter is currently online at the HRW website in Turkish and English.

An accompanying press release is available to download as a Microsoft Word document in Turkish and English.


Previous posts related to the continuing war against trans women in Turkey:

Destiny Lauren murder case: update, 22 February

February 22, 2010

Via UKPA, Camden New Journal and the Hampstead & Highgate Express (Warning: all three linked posts contain unnecessary and offensive misgendering), I learn that:

A man has appeared at the Old Bailey charged with murdering a sex worker in north London.

Leon Fyle, 21, from Laleham Road, Catford, south-east London, pleaded not guilty to murdering […] Destiny Lauren.

[Ms Lauren] was found strangled at a flat in Leighton Crescent, Kentish town, north London, in the early hours of November 5 last year.

Fyle appeared in court via videolink and was remanded in custody for trial in July.


Previous related posts:

Medical science: police the borders of identity first, reduce the risk of CAH second

February 20, 2010

The Organisation Intersex International (OII) has posted a position statement on the use of Dexamethasone during pregnancy, expressing its concerns about the experimental use of this synthetic steroid hormone currently underway in the U.S.

OII is asking its friends and allies to read the letter that Drs. Feder, Dreger, Lindemann and other bioethicists have signed to request an investigation into the situation.

It seems that at least two Medical Centers are taking advantage of a loophole in established medical practice to carry out “a de facto clinical trial involving many hundreds of patients”. Included in this unofficial research project are pregnant women who may give birth to girls with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), a family of inherited disorders affecting the adrenal gland which can result in life-threatening imbalances in salt and hormone levels in newborn babies. In some cases, CAH can alter development of primary or secondary sex characteristics in some children, which may result in ambiguous genitalia. (See also)

The letter of concern produced by the bioethicists is clear that:

[…] prenatal dexamethasone treatment results in detrimental changes to the brains of children,[…] over 90% of whom will receive no benefit from this treatment. (Only 1 in 8 fetuses started on this treatment are actually 46,XX CAH, and of the 1/8 who are, 20% will not benefit from the treatment.) Children exposed prenatally to dexamethasone for CAH show problems with working memory, verbal processing, and anxiety. […] Therefore, contrary to the apparent claims aimed at prospective patients, dexamethasone treatment cannot responsibly be characterized as benign.

Despite knowledge of risks to fetal development, it does not appear that physicians prescribing this drug to hundreds of women have sought IRB approval for clinical trials of dexamethasone for the purposes of minimizing genital virilization in 46,XX females at risk for CAH in utero. Pregnant women who have been prescribed dexamethasone external to IRB-approved trials may not have provided fully informed consent as would happen formally under an IRB-approved trial. Public descriptions of this drug as safe and effective may have misled some women to believe the use is FDA-approved, when it is not.

The bioethecists group’s letter calls for an investigation into possible regulatory violations and believes that “this experimental treatment is not warranted and should not be pursued even in prospective clinical trials”. I’ll go a step further and say that it looks like another attempt by medical science to shape identities according to the received limits of a socially acceptable binary, in which the human rights of the child are relegated to a very distant second place in pursuit of enforced normalisation.

Istanbul: another woman murdered

February 17, 2010

From our friends at Istanbul LGBTT:

On February 17 (last night) another trans-woman was found dead in her apartment ın Şehremin, İstanbul. Her name was Fevzi Yener and she was Aycan as a nickname. She was stabbed from 17 different points on her body. Aycan was together with her friend and she was also tried to be killed but she could escape from the emergeny exit in the apartment. Aycan’s friend has been hospitalized and she is recovering at the moment.


ETA, 18 February: I’m told that the Dutch section of Amnesty International will take action in support of Turkish trans people, while the German section will lead a project to help Turkish trans people to judicially appeal against the fines they get for practically anything they do. (See my earlier posts Easy Money and Not-so-easy money)

Additionally, Pembe Hayat, Human Rights Watch (HRW), ILGA-Europe and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) will soon be sending a letter to the Turkish authorities highlighting these recurrent incidents and calling for immediate action.

ILGA-Europe is visiting Ankara and Istanbul during the last week of April on a fact finding mission.


Previous posts related to the continuing war against trans women in Turkey:

  • Human rights violations against LGBT individuals in Turkey in 2008 (August 9, 2009)
  • Turkey: trials in connection with the murders of two trans women now under way (July 9, 2009)
  • Unsafe haven: LGBT asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey (July 8, 2009)
  • Turkey – new Chief of Police for Istanbul. Will this bring an end to the “undeclared war” against trans women? (June 15, 2009)
  • Turkish policemen on trial for attack on trans woman (May 29, 2009)
  • Turkey: another trans woman stabbed to death – UPDATE (May 29, 2009)
  • Turkey: another trans woman stabbed to death (May 25, 2009)
  • Turkish parliament questioned on trans safety (May 12, 2009)
  • Lambda Istanbul granted permission to continue operating (May 7, 2009)
  • Suspected murderer of trans rights activist arrested in Turkey (April 21, 2009)
  • Every 15 days, another trans person is murdered in Turkey (April 14, 2009)
  • The undeclared war against LGBTT people in Turkey continues (March 29, 2009)
  • Another trans woman murdered in Turkey (March 14, 2009)
  • Trans woman stabbed to death in Istanbul (March 12, 2009)
  • Lambda Istanbul wins appeal against closure (January 28, 2009)
  • Trans rights abuses in Turkey (November 29, 2008)
  • From the IAAF to the IOC: another (not so) fine mess

    February 17, 2010

    After last year’s furore about the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) appalling treatment of Caster Semenya and the ensuing “agreement” (as reported in the New York Times), the casual observer might have thought that the matter of so-called “gender testing” in athletics had been settled.

    However, last month it was reported in The Guardian that:

    […] the 19-year-old athlete would be allowed to race only once the IAAF had cleared her. “We can only allow her to participate in events once we get clarity from the IAAF, not at this stage,” [Ray Mali of Athletics South Africa (ASA)] told Reuters.

    So apparently the IAAF has still not reached a decision.

    And, while the IAAF prevaricates, it seems to have handed the baton of crass insensitivity over to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). According to BBC News:

    In January a symposium of experts in Miami concluded that some athletes discovered to have gender ambiguities be advised to have treatment, possibly even surgery, to continue competing at international level.


    The IOC’s Medical Commission will not say what criteria they use to define female gender, so what exactly do they consider an ambiguity?

    Just… what? Is this “symposium of experts” really going to “advise” intersex athletes to have surgery before they’ll be allowed to compete? What if there’s no proven medical need for it? What if those athletes refuse? My reading of it is that the IOC is saying that simply being born different – in one of the myriad ways that humans are born different – is enough to justify surgery. The Organisation Intersex International (OII), one of the largest international intersex organisations, in its Declaration of Fundamental Principles has denounced enforced surgery carried out on intersex people as “totalitarian, sexist oppression” and I, for one, am frankly dismayed that the IOC seems oblivious to these concerns. I find it hard to understand how this proposal is about anything other than an attempt to enforce normalisation on female athletes whom the IOC perceives as having undefined “gender ambiguities”.

    More from the BBC News report:

    Last week the International Olympic Committee’s General Assembly was briefed by the head of its Medical Commission Professor Arne Ljungqvist who recommended that “strategically located centres of excellence should be established to which athletes with a DSD (disorders of sex development) could be referred and, if necessary, further investigated and treated.”

    The OII has been campaigning against the use of the term “disorders of sex development” since at least 2006. There is a comprehensive list of reasons why the OII objects to the term here: yet again, the IOC seems to be ignoring the wishes of intersex people.

    But I wonder if there’s even more to this than so-called concerns about the health of a comparatively few female athletes with a “disorder of sex development”. Is the IOC simply using the Caster Semenya case as a pretext for launching its own attack on any and all women athletes who don’t conform to stereotypical female gender norms?

    As Patricia Nell Warren writes in her perceptive analysis IOC and gender inquisition:

    So the whole male arena of sport – and the egos and careers of male athletes – have, so far, been rigorously protected from gender scrutiny. In my opinion, this scrutiny should now happen. It’s only fair that the torture instruments of cultural discomfort about gender appearance be applied to men as well. And I’ll bet that, if enough male competitors – and the nations sending them out there – were to find themselves being figuratively “burned at the stake,” and the gold-medal prospects of a few outstanding male athletes destroyed, the way Semenya’s might have been, the outcry would be such that the IOC will hastily backtrack.

    There’s an old saying that, when you find yourself in a hole, first thing you should do is stop digging. It’s advice the IOC should perhaps consider following. Then, maybe, it can think about how it’s going to get itself out of this not so fine mess. If it wasn’t for the fact that the implications of what it’s saying are so jaw-droppingly outrageous and fundamentally sexist, watching it struggle might otherwise have made quite an entertaining spectator sport.


    Cross-posted at The F-Word


    Previous related posts

    London Underground has encountered a problem and needs to reboot

    February 17, 2010

    It’s reassuring to see that Transport For London experiences the same kind of software problems as the rest of us.

    *presses <Ctrl><Alt><Del>, reboots London Underground*