Star Wars – the conspiracy edition

OK. If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens, you probably don’t want to read this, as it contains spoilers.

But I’ve been chatting with friends about the obvious question in Ep VII: Who is Supreme Leader Snoke, and it sort-of developed into a massive conspiracy theory for the whole of the Star Wars saga, which while huge in scale is disturbingly plausible.

Let’s start with Supreme Leader Snoke. At first I thought he was Palpatine, who somehow survived the Death Star or is back from the sea, Obi-Wan style. To try and find evidence for this I went digging in the soundtrack. Remember when John Williams inserted the Emperor’s theme into Episode I, when they’re parading past Palpatine?

Snoke’s theme is a dark monastic chanting affair. Interestingly it has a counterpoint that comes in towards the end, and that counterpoint sounds a lot like the main melody in the Emperor’s theme from Return of the Jedi.

But then there’s also this scene in Episode III, where Palpatine is telling Anakin about Darth Plagueis the Wise. Clearly Palpatine’s master, he was so powerful with the force he could use it to create and manipulate life itself. The guy is basically immortal, only his pupil killed him in his sleep. Oops.

So Plagueis is gone, or is he? The music playing in the background here is very, very, very similar to Snoke’s theme.

And there’s this bit where Kylo Ren (AKA Darth Emo – can you imagine this guy dealing with a printer paper jam? He’d lightsaber the printer to death while screaming that it wasn’t fair) talks of Snoke:

“The Supreme Leader is wise”.

Darth Plagueis the Wise, perhaps?

It seems plausible that Snoke is Plagueis, so what’s his game here?

Conspiracy time

You are Darth Plagueis the Wise, the most powerful Sith Lord, and probably most powerful Force user of all time. You want to rule the galaxy. You are immortal and can afford to play the long game.

You also have a power mad psychopath for an apprentice. He is clearly bent on galactic domination. Aw, bless.

Teach him just what he needs to know, point him at the galactic senate, planting the idea of bringing the Republic down, then let him think he’s killed you, and go into hiding.

Problem is, this guy is going to be a liability once he’s brought the Republic down, so you need an insurance policy: a force user of your own design who is almost programmed from birth to bring your snot-nosed ingrate of an apprentice down once he’s toppled the Republic.

So you use your ability to manipulate the force into creating life to conceive a force user of your own design; a warrior who will be drawn to Palpatine, help him in his initial task, then turn against him and kill him. Because you are basically designing this person from scratch, you can direct his personality so this is likely to go the way you want.

Enter Anakin Skywalker.

The rest is history. Your apprentice, with Anakin’s help, brings down the Republic and renders the Jedi all but extinct. Your apprentice then installs himself as galactic emperor, and your plan enters phase II.

You now need to bring the emperor down. So you pull some strings behind the scene, help create a resistance, or bolster an embryonic one that’s already formed: The Rebel Alliance. Arrange for your ticking time bomb’s son and daughter to get embedded within them, to flip him over into “kill Palpatine” mode. Make sure that things like plans for Palpatine’s super weapons get to them, and generally work behind the scenes to help them out.

And eventually Anakin and Palpatine take other out. Anakin had kids, but that’s OK. You’re immortal, remember? One of them is quite powerful, but he’s a Jedi knight, and they’re not supposed to have kids themselves. The other one gives birth to a new force user. That’s problematic. Better see if you can subvert him and bring him over to the Dark Side for you. Since he’s one quarter Anakin Skywalker, your creation, you kinda know how the guy ticks, so no worries.

Luke Skywalker probably knows he can’t beat you, so he will go off into hiding and you just need to wait for him to die of old age.

And there you are, Supreme Leader of the Galaxy.

The snag

You’ve pulled the strings, orchestrated the events, everything has gone according to your plan. Luke Skywalker is a worry, but not a huge one. You know how he ticks.

But you let the Force’s genie out of the bottle, and it went and did something you didn’t expect. There’s another player in town. A force user so powerful that without any training at all they can go toe to toe with Kylo Ren in battle, and force-dominate a stormtrooper into releasing them from prison.

So who is Rey? Is she Luke’s daughter? I’m not sure. I wonder if Palpatine worked out what his old master had done, and came up with an insurance policy of his own; arrange for someone to be born who would avenge his death.

This is all very far fetched, but at the same time somewhat plausible, and it does tie together lots of loose ends.

I think Supreme Leader Snoke is Darth Plagueis the Wise; I think he orchestrated pretty much everything that happened, including playing both sides in the Empire/Rebel Alliance war; and I think Rey is going to bring him down when Luke Skywalker fails to.

Every Day, I Mislead People About my Origins

Some people present themselves in ways which bely their history, and perhaps, it could be said, who they really are.

We we to be unkind, we might even say that some people present themselves in ways that are downright misleading. They present as something they are not. They are, if we’re being really unkind, frauds.

I am one of these people.

Because, you see, if you met me you would encounter someone presenting as a woman in her 40s, educated, middle class, speaking with a southern accent going on received pronunciation.

But sometimes there is a tell; a little something which, if you know what you’re looking for, will reveal that someone is not quite what they seem.

In my case, I just made a vinaigrette with Henderson’s Relish.

Yes. I was actually born “Up North”.

Deceptive Sarah is deceptive.

A Difficult Five Months

Various people close to me know I’ve had a bit of a tough time this year. Few know the full story. I didn’t want to talk about it before the local elections, but now they’re out of the way, I want to be clear about it.

Why am I doing this? Well, I’ve been involved thoughout my 4 year term as a councillor in health, in one way or another. The first three years I sat on the county’s health scrutiny committee. The last year, I was a member of the health and wellbeing board itself, and also held portfolio responsibility for public health on Cambridge City Council.

I’ve always said we need to be more open about mental health. 1 in 3 of us will experience mental health problems, yet we so often feel unable to talk about it.

I want to talk about it.

I have experienced mental health problems. This is my story.

Towards the end of 2013, I started to realise I was struggling with my workload. I was juggling a lot of balls: On the council, I had public health, arts and leisure, community development, and was Cambridgeshire’s appointed board member to the UK Tour de France company.

Elsewhere, I’d been really active in the campaign for equal marriage; I knew I faced a difficult reelection campaign; LGBT history month (February) was coming up. I’d been invited to speak at a lot of stuff around the country.

I realised I had got myself in a position where I had taken on too much, and I knew if I tried to “soldier on”, it would get worse, and I’d crack. I was stressed, anxious and starting to get depressed. I needed help.

I talked to my colleagues about this, and then went to see my doctor. This helped: my colleagues they rallied round to take some of the workload off and my doctor, after talking through the options, prescribed an antidepressant called Mirtazapine.

Things started to look up. January rolled into February, and then I had a “paradoxical reaction” to the drug. It effectively sent me into a 3 day long panic attack.

I went to see my GP, who confirmed I was having an adverse reaction, and he stopped them immediately. He prescribed a low dose of another antidepressant, Citalopram, and also gave me some Diazepam (Valium) to help me through the switchover.

This seemed to do it. Everything was getting better. I was feeling OK, but tired (I wasn’t sleeping well on the Citalopram, but my doctor was willing to give me more Valium to help, having proven “I could be trusted with it”). People who knew I’d been struggling said I was looking better. I felt OK. As long as I didn’t try to take on too much again, and was aware that the drugs were making me tired, I felt I could get through to May and then things would ease off, whatever happened.

Then it all went horribly wrong. Enter transphobia, stage left.

Those LGBT history month events I’d been asked to speak at. One was at a conference called, “Feminism in the 21st century”, and I was to be part of a panel talking about the place of trans women in feminism.

The organisers hadn’t been great about keeping in touch, and I had to keep bugging them. Eventually, some weeks after it was promised, they sent me a speaker pack. It was then that I realised they’d arranged for me to be on a panel with Julie Bindel, a journalist known for some deeply unpleasant views about trans people, and who has a habit for using such occasions to try and advance them.

This wasn’t what I thought I’d signed up for, and I emailed the conference organisers to explain my reticence, and said that I reluctantly would withdraw from the panel. This worked for me; I didn’t want to get into a protracted fight with them about this, and I was trying to do less stuff anyway, given my mental health was already a bit fragile.

What happened next is kind of hazy, but as far as I can tell, Ms Bindel reacted very poorly. Apparently the NUS had been lobbying the conference organisers about Bindel’s participation, and the panel on which we had been due to speak was cancelled as a result. She apparently blamed me for this, and a few people with whom she seemed to be friends online started putting the story about that I had orchestrated the whole NUS campaign. The way they told it, I was some sort of evil genius.

I was in no position to orchestrate anything; I was already struggling with my workload, and I hadn’t even known about the existence of the student campaign. I just wanted to walk away, but there are a lot of people on the fringes who call themselves radical feminists, who really, really hate transgender women, and it seems a bunch of them took it upon themselves to “punish” me for this.

They started harassing me on Twitter. I blocked them, but when they’re constantly talking about you, and you’re already feeling anxious, it can be difficult not to look. They were talking amongst themselves in stage whispers about me (so-called “subtweeting”); about how they were going to try and get me in trouble by writing complaint letters to anyone they could.

And they did.

I got a phone call from the leader of the council. A complaint had been lodged with liberal democrat central office in London. Someone had trawled back through ancient history and found something I’d written about Ms Bindel in 2008, 5 years ago. They then took a single sentence from this (without context, which was that Ms Bindel was actively attacking the trans community at the time, and publicly advocating that our medical help should be taken away and we should be pushed into “ex-trans” therapy), and said it showed that I was someone who “harassed women online”.

I don’t harass women online. I was rude to one transphobic person 5 years ago, at a point when she was engaging in some pretty extreme provocation of my entire community.

But the fact that I was now under active investigation hit me very hard. I had to defend myself. A second complaint arrived, this time at my MP’s office (they knew the background and threw it away, thankfully). I needed to explain the back history and give a crash course in transphobic radical feminism to my colleague who had no background in any of this. These people were actively discussing how to try and hurt me next online. I could see it all. I didn’t know where the next punch would come from. I was terrified.

My already fragile mental health collapsed. I went into severe anxiety and depression. I locked my twitter down, and told a very select group of people what was happening. Some people noticed I started to miss some scheduled meetings: “Councillor Brown sends her apologies, she is unwell” was the line.

The reality: Councillor Brown was curled up under her bed sheet, tranquillised up to her eyeballs, terrified, crying and barely in a position to feed herself, let alone attend a committee meeting.

The complaint was dismissed. It was ancient history, it was out of context, it was “equally vitriolic on the other side”. I saw my doctor. I sat there a gibbering wreck in front of him. I explained what had happened. What was still happening. He increased my antidepressant dose, and gave me more tranquillisers.

But the harassment continued. A few weeks later, my blog, this blog, started suffering a denial of service attack. Then my email was hacked, and used to send spam messages. I thought it a coincidence until I heard that a friend online had also had her online details compromised. This time, they’d taken money from her bank account, signing her up for fake services. Someone else came forward – something similar had happened to her.

The timescale for all three was identical, and the only thing we had in common was that we’d all been targeted by the same small group of online bigots. In their case, it was over race. In my case, it was because I was trans. It all led back to the same group of people though.

I got an anonymous letter, accusing me of abusing my position to “demand a sex change”, allegedly from a constituent, but sent to me via an odd route.

I cut back as much as I could. The meetings I had to go to typically had me withdrawn and quiet, bags under my eyes. I said as little as possible. Everyone was really great. People came up to me and said that they were “so sorry for what these bastards are doing to you”, and not just from my own side either; Labour opposition councillors also rallied round. They wanted no part, they said, in an attack based on anti LGBT prejudice.

Then I became involved in a discussion about parallel imports of HRT for transgender women, and how it was getting more difficult for women to get hold of the drugs we need. A complaint was sent directly to Cambridge City Council, and to the local press: I was encouraging people to break the law, it said.

The complainant’s email was forwarded to me. It was one of the people in active discussion with the group who’d been harassing me, by now, for over 3 months. None of them were Cambridge residents, some of them didn’t even live in the UK, but they were determined, it seemed, to throw everything they could at me until – I don’t know what.

That complaint was dismissed. By now I’d reached a sort of equilibrium. I was tired, but the antidepressants made it hard for me to sleep without tranquillisers. Tranquillisers are addictive though, and lose their effectiveness if you keep taking them, so I rationed their use, saving them up for nights before days I needed to be awake, and never allowing myself to take them 3 days in a row, no matter how bad things got.

I sort of muddled through. My twitter was locked down again, I’d pretty much stopped tweeting at all. I planned my weeks around when I could manage to be awake for a few hours, to do the work I needed to do. I prioritised the portfolio work, public health, Muslim women’s swimming, Tour de France, grants review, and so-on.

The election came and went. We fought the best we could under the circumstances. I had the biggest swing to the Lib Dems in the city from last year’s elections, which I think shows I had a huge personal vote, but it wasn’t enough. I lost.

I’m sad I lost, and I want to be back, but in a way I think I need a bit of a break. I’ve been to a very dark place these last few months, and I don’t ever want to go there again.

I’m off the drugs now. I have considerably beefed up my approach to online security. I feel like I’m in convalescence. The attacks have largely stopped – I think they’ve run out of ways to attack me, and perhaps they see me losing my seat as some sort of victory. If them thinking that they won is what it takes to get them off my back, then fine, they won.

This hasn’t been easy to write, but I wanted to do it, and I think I needed to do it. I blanked a lot of what happened, and remembering the rest isn’t pleasant. I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who, when things got bad, helped me. I’m lucky to be financially secure, so I wasn’t in danger of falling into poverty while this was going on. I can see how it could have been very different, and if anything it has made me want to fight harder for mental heath problems to be taken more seriously by politicians, by the media, by all of us.

But not right now. I want a rest, ok?

My Open Letter to Stonewall on the Departure of Ben Summerskill as CEO

This is a piece I wrote for Pink News, but I’m also publishing it here:

The relationship between Stonewall and the trans community has never been straightforward, to say the least.

Stonewall in England is, and has been, ostensibly an LGB group, campaigning for those involved in same sex relationships, and has taken the position that they are allied with trans campaign groups, but do not involve themselves in trans issues directly.

On paper you can draw nice neat lines separating “gender identity stuff” and “sexuality stuff”, and have everything work out. Sadly, reality is messier and doesn’t much care for attempts to confine things to neat boxes.

Perhaps this was most obviously seen in 2008, when what was reckoned at the time to be the UK’s largest public protest by transgender people and our allies took place; outside the swanky Stonewall Awards ceremony in London. Trans people were hurt and outraged that journalist Julie Bindel, who many trans people saw as openly transphobic, was nominated as a champion of diversity. I was there, waving a banner and shouting, and the crowd was angry over what it saw as Stonewall promoting its own interests by hurting our vulnerable community.

A similar problem arose more recently, over the same sex marriage bill. It’s fair to say Stonewall were caught napping a bit when, in autumn 2010, the Liberal Democrats announced our commitment to delivering marriage equality. As momentum built, Stonewall joined enthusiastically and published a draft “same sex marriage bill”. It was, as I recall, less than two pages long and didn’t mention trans people once.

Trans people were treated terribly unjustly by marriage law for a long time, and if ever there was an opportunity to right wrongs, it was with this bill. Since the 70s, our marriages were in legal limbo until 2004, when the then government, finally forced to act by the European Court of Human Rights, grudgingly agreed to recognise our true genders (and thus allow us to be protected at work from sex discrimination and a whole host of other stuff), but at a cost; the government wanted to take our existing marriages away, to erase them from history.

When the actual act came forth, not only did the government not want to right historical wrongs; they also wanted to make a new one, the Spousal Veto. If you wanted your employment non-discrimination rights, and other stuff that came with recognition, you (literally) need a letter from your husband, wife or civil partner saying they consent. If they don’t (and it doesn’t matter if they’re estranged and hate you, or in a coma after an accident and unable to consent), the only way you can end your legal non-personhood is to divorce them.

About a dozen-or-so trans lobbyists, of which I was one, met with civil servants, lobbied parliamentarians, and offered amendments and compromises to try and get our confiscated marriages back, to remove or at least time-limit the veto. Despite parliamentarians like Julian Huppert and Liz Barker passionately taking up our cause in the Commons and Lords respectively, the civil service and government didn’t budge.

The Marriage (same sex couples) Act passed into law with a spousal veto, and with no restitution of the marriages confiscated.

Things could have been so different if our little group of people who didn’t really know what we were doing had a big organisation like Stonewall behind us. In Scotland, after work by the excellent Scottish Transgender Alliance and the Equality Network, and where Stonewall does support trans people, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to remove the spousal veto. In England and Wales, we’re stuck with it. At a time when trans people really, really needed the help of a professional LGBT lobbying organisation, Stonewall decided it was nothing to do with them and looked away.

Every time I talked to formed CEO Ben Summerskill about this, he said it went back to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, when trans groups wanted to do things by ourselves. I can’t help wounding if there were personality politics involved at the time, if bridges were burned. Perhaps that’s why we’re left in the cold. Times change, a new generation of trans activists is around today and we feel like we’re being constrained by deals, and perhaps arguments, that happened behind closed doors ten years ago by people who haven’t been able to move on.

My plea to Stonewall, and to interim CEO Ruth Hunt, is to use this opportunity to sweep away old understandings and misunderstandings, and to see if we can’t build something more inclusive, where trans people can turn to the largest LGBT rights organisation in the country (because that’s what everybody else sees them as, regardless of whether they see themselves that way), ask for help, and get it.

We don’t promise to be uncritical, and not say anything when you get it wrong, but wouldn’t it be great if Stonewall at least tried to be on the same side as trans people, rather than leaving us to fight the same battles, against the same people who hate us for the same reasons, alone?

Editor’s note: This piece originally created the impression that Stonewall Scotland was responsible for the removal of the spousal veto and discounted the hard work of the Equality Network and the Scottish Transgender Alliance. This was a drafting mistake on my part, and I offer my unreserved apologies to both.

Diary of a Boa Constrictor

Monday October 7th, 2013

00:00 Status nominal, sleeping in standard ambush pose.

03:47:28 PROXIMITY ALERT! – infra red sensors report a MASSIVE HEAT SIGNATURE. Suspect large monkey thing. Looks too big to eat. It’ll probably fold down, or something, though

03:47:29 STRIKE!

03:47:30 Ouch! There’s some sort of invisible force field. My nose hurts and I knocked a tooth out. Vexing.

03:47:35 Status nominal, sleeping in standard ambush pose.

[the toilet flushes, which she can’t hear, because she’s a snake]

03:48:50 PROXIMITY ALERT! – MASSIVE HEAT SIGNATURE! This should be good! Tasty, tasty food!

03:48:51 STRIKE!

03:48:52 Ouch! A completely unexpected thing happened! There’s some sort of weird forcefield in the way! That never happened before. Must check this out when I wake up and it’s light. Maybe next year or something.

03:48:57 status nominal, sleeping in standard ambush pose.

11:57 PROXIMITY ALERT! – MASSIVE HEAT SIGNATURE! It’s one of those great big monkeys. I bet they taste epic!

11:57:30 Tracking, tracking, visual senses operative. Vaguely remember they weren’t previously. Wonder why? Tracking, come closer, monkey, clo…ser…

11:57:34 STRIKE!

11:57:35 Ouch! What the hell just happened there? There’s some sort of weird force field! It really hurts! Deploy tongue…

flick flick flick flick

11:57:36 The force field appears to taste of boa constrictor saliva. Has someone else been messing with my patch? I’ll have them!

11:58 The monkey is coming closer. I love it when they make it easier. Soon it’ll be inside the force field, and then I shall dine!

11:59 SOMETHING HAS GRABBED MY TAIL! HOW DARE IT! Turn round quick, get ready to kill it. No, wait! I’m being pulled backwards by something really huge! Just when I was about to get that monkey too. This is intolerable. It’s going to take me outside! It’s scary out there!

HELP!

Grab everything! Water bowl grabbed, hide grabbed, coil coil coil! It’s got my neck! Oh no, it’s no good. This is all over. I’m going to die now. Outside is deadly. Deadly to Boa constrictors and I hate it. This is the end. LET ME GO!

Oh, it’s you. Did you see a monkey round here? This is nice, can I have a cuddle? Ooh, you’re warm!

Cosy Boa

12:04 Status nominal, sleeping coiled round comfy heat emitting thing, Life is good!

12:25 NO! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME GO INTO THE VIVARIUM! It’s DEATH in there! Dangerous things are in there! It’s horrid! I like it out here! Don’t make me!

12:26 Ooh, this is nice! There’s a hide and a water bowl and stuff, and it’s all small and cosy!

12:27 Status nominal, sleeping in standard ambush pose.

Why Are UK Trans People Going on About a “Spousal Veto?”

I have been given to understand that the issue of the spousal veto in the Same Sex Marriage Bill is confusing to those not immersed in trans issues. I appreciate that, because if you don’t understand the processes we have to go through, then it’s not clear what is being vetoed and under what circumstances. I’ll attempt to explain. It’s long, but if you scroll to the bottom there is an executive summary.

Part 1: Corbett v Corbett

In 1970, the divorce of trans woman model, April Ashley and Arthur Corbett, later the 3rd Baron Rowallan, came before the court. In order to avoid giving up part of his substantial estate, Corbett’s team advanced the argument that the marriage was never valid in the first place, because April Ashley was really a man.

The judge agreed and thus set a precedent that meant that trans people were, from that point on, treated by the government as their birth sex forever for all sorts of legal reasons. This didn’t just affect marriage: it also affected stuff like employment protections, what prison you would be sent to if you were found guilty of an offence, and so on.

Prior to this, trans people had been applying for corrected birth certificates and getting them, effectively being recognised in their new gender. This practice ceased completely, and trans rights in the UK entered a dark age.

Part 2: The Gender Recognition Act

Fast forward 3 decades. The European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the government had to legislate to fix the unfairness inflicted upon trans people by the Corbett v Corbett ruling. The government kept dragging its heels, but in 2004 eventually passed the Gender Recognition Act. In a nutshell, the act did the following:

  • It created a thing called a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

  • Upon issue of a GRC, you would be issued a new birth certificate, and gain the other protections in law that you lost by transitioning (e.g. employment nondiscrimination rights).
  • You could only apply for a GRC if you’d been transitioned 2 years and had a report from your GP and the doctor who originally diagnosed your gender dysphoria.
  • There was a time-limited “fast track” for people transitioned more than 6 years: you didn’t need the original diagnosis (because your doctor may have retired or lost your notes).
  • You didn’t need to have had surgery, but if you hadn’t you had to justify why not.

Never wanting anything to be simple, and demonstrating an enduring instinct for screwing trans people over, the civil service (via the government of the day) included a nasty little gotcha: you weren’t eligible for a GRC if you were married.

Of course, you didn’t have to apply for one, but if you didn’t, you didn’t get your rights back. To deal with this, the act created something called an “interim gender recognition certificate” (IGRC). The name is entirely misleading: it’s not a GRC, it doesn’t grant the same rights or anything. All it does is give you a cast-iron reason to initiate marriage annulment proceedings within the next 6 months, at which point the IGRC expires and you go back to stage 1.

If you complete annulment proceedings with an IGRC, you automatically get a GRC and new birth certificate. Anticipating the 2005 Civil Partnership Act, the Gender Recognition Act then allowed you to enter a civil partnership with your former spouse. 151 couples have since done this (I am part of one of them).

If you’ve seen trans people talking about the “confiscated marriages”, it’s those 151 marriages we are talking about, where we were essentially coerced into giving up our marriages to restore our rights.

Interlude: The Equality Act, 2010

In 2010, a year after my marriage was annulled, the Equality Act 2010 passed. This revoked the employment nondiscrimination protections granted by a Gender Recognition Certificate. Thanks guys, appreciate that.

Part 3: Same Sex Marriage Bill

The advent of same sex marriage brings an end to this coerced divorce, or rather it should, but the government and civil service have cocked it up.

Firstly, you still have to end your relationship if you are in a civil partnership, although you can convert it to a marriage first to avoid that.

Secondly, and more offensively, rather than just ending the requirement to be unmarried when you have a GRC awarded, the Same Sex Marriage Bill requires your spouse to consent to the granting of a GRC. This is significant because, despite being gutted somewhat by the 2010 Equality Act, GRCs still restore some rights (the ones we lost in 2010 we just stay without for good). If your spouse doesn’t consent, you get an IGRC instead, on the same terms as before: start to annul within 6 months of return to square one.

So basically, if your spouse can’t, or won’t sign the consent form, you have to divorce them to get your rights. This creates what is possibly the most passive-aggressive legally sanctioned way to initiate a divorce ever, i.e. “I don’t want to divorce you, but I’m going to veto your human rights until you divorce me”.

The government call this “both parties having a say in the future of their marriage”. What trans people call it isn’t actually printable, but in polite company we call it, “the Spousal Veto”.

Part 4: Lobbying

We don’t like the spousal veto. We really, really, don’t like it. Your spouse doesn’t get to veto your transition, your surgery, or anything else. They get to veto this though. In 2013, we are passing a law in the name of equality that makes the human rights of one party to a marriage the “gift” of the other.

So a bunch of us tried to get it changed. Much of the work around this has been done by a dozen-or-so people, including me. We wrote some amendments, which were submitted by my MP, Julian Huppert, aimed at restoring the stolen marriages and ending the spousal veto, amongst a couple of other things (one being that if your spouse discovers you’re trans and you can’t prove they knew before you married, they can have the marriage declared invalid. We aren’t all that keen on this either).

The amendments were rejected by the government at committee stage, so Julian put them again at Commons Report Stage, and gave what must rank amongst the best transgender-related speeches ever on the floor of the Commons.

And then an interesting thing happened: the minister in the Commons, Helen Grant, rejected the amendments using the exact same words that the civil servant responsible for drafting these bits of the bill had used when talking to our little bunch a few days earlier, when we met them in London.

It also became apparent to us that the veto had arisen on the basis of what sounded, when described, like the civil servants pretending they were married to trans people and writing into law what they would want for themselves.

The bill passed onto the Lords, with the veto intact. By now it had become apparent that the government would die in a ditch over not restoring the lost marriages, and I reluctantly gave up campaigning for their restoration to concentrate on the veto – the thing that we all agreed was the single most offensively transphobic provision in the Bill.

Part 5: Lords amendments

A number of us started talking to various Lib Dem and Labour peers, and it came to pass that while the government was adamant the veto needed to stay, they might be minded to give a bit of ground, and could we draft two amendments: what we wanted, and a compromise for if we couldn’t get it. This we did. The first amendment was no veto. The second was a veto, but if annulment proceedings hadn’t commenced (at the behest of either party) within 6 months, or a decree nisi hadn’t been issued within 12, the spouse lost the veto and gender recognition could go ahead.

Our compromise amendment was debated on the floor of the Lords, with brilliant speeches in support by Baroness Barker of the Lib Dems and Baroness Gould of Labour. The amendment was rejected.

This brings us close to the present day. There followed a flurry of desperate emails to try to salvage something. In the end, this week the government published an amendment. They were going to reintroduce the “Fast Track” for getting a GRC, but only for people who have been transitioned 6 years at the point the same sex marriage bill passes, and only if they’re married. The rationale is that some have waited, refusing to divorce, without their rights, and they might not be able to get the original diagnosis any more. These are couples who have put their commitment to their marriage over and above the human rights of one partner, in what must count as one of the strongest testaments to love that there is.

Oh, and by the way, there’s a spousal veto on this as well. Given what these marriages represent, the government could not have been more crassly offensive if they’d tried.

And that was the end of the battle, or so we believed, until out of the blue came the promise of another amendment, specifically to address the veto!

Part 6: The veto amendment

Here is what the government are proposing to do. Instead of saying you need signed spousal consent to get a GRC, otherwise you get an IGRC, they want to say that you need signed spousal consent for the marriage to continue.

As far as I can tell, this is a bit of legal manoeuvring. It seems that to address our objections that the consent is a veto over the issue of a GRC, the government are explicitly recasting it as permission to stay married.

Of course, if your spouse doesn’t grant that permission, you don’t get the GRC, just the same as before. It doesn’t actually change anything – the veto remains.

Summary

That was long, so I’ll summarise it in a TL;DR version.

  1. 1971 – Corbett v Corbett case removes ability for trans people to get rights associated with new gender, leaving them in limbo where they have neither the rights of the gender they started off with, nor the ones from where they ended up.
  2. 2004 – Gender Recognition Act restores those rights, but you have to have your marriage confiscated first.
  3. 2010 – Equality Act takes some of the rights back
  4. 2013 – Same Sex Marriage Bill proposes an end to confiscated marriages, but your spouse gets to veto your rights while you remain married.
  5. Bill passage – government gets increasingly transphobic while they defend the need to maintain the veto provision.

On Being Hounded off Twitter

I think I’m noticing a pattern develop in the less than harmonious way social media interfaces with journalism. I’m specifically going to avoid naming names, because I don’t really wish to pour petrol on flames.

However, it seems that there are a whole bunch of people who exist in a space between “random person on the Internet” and “so famous that someone manages their social media presence for them” who have embraced social media, and particularly Twitter, and possibly see it as a way to build their personal “brand”. Often these people are freelance columnists doing bits and pieces for newspapers and magazines. They perhaps see Twitter as a tool which can help them build their career.

And all goes well for a while, and they build a few tens of thousands of followers, and presumably think, “this is great! I get to share my thoughtful thoughts with the world and people will retweet them, and comment on them, and further build my presence!”

And then they say something that’s controversial in a way they weren’t hoping for.

What happens next is becoming a cliché: people object to a thing that’s been said. The author initially engages a bit. It rapidly becomes a self-sustaining blaze. Their phone starts going berserk with mention notifications, and they feel thoroughly got at. Within a few hours, they tend to shut down their twitter account.

The next wave will see their friends who also exist in a similar space, and who are using social media in a similar way, complain that they have been “hounded” off Twitter by “bullies”.

What I have to say next may not be popular, but I think it’s true:

This is your own fault and you need to take responsibility for your actions

Seriously, you engaged with something you didn’t fully understand, which worked well for you for a while, which you discovered can actually be really powerful, but which ultimately is not something you personally control. You were happy to use that power while it was working for you, but because you can’t control it there came a time when it did something else. When it did, it did it with all the power and speed that you previously relished, and which is now making you feel like you’re being buried under an avalanche.

In other words, you played with a powerful tool, the use of which you were not properly trained in, and recklessly concluded that this power was only ever going to work for you.

What would you think of someone who didn’t know how to drive a car getting in one and bombing down the M1, towards London, at 3 in the morning at 100mph? They’d presumably think they were having great fun as they sailed past town and city on a long, straight, empty road at 100mph.

And then these yellow lines appeared in front of them, and they have no idea what that means, and suddenly they’re on the North Circular road, still doing 100mph, with no actual idea how to drive.

That’s not hugely different to someone treating social media as something that will only ever advance their career. Twitter wasn’t built for the sole purpose of making your CV and ego larger and those tens of thousands of followers you were treating as a resource are real people who will just as soon turn on you as retweet your philosophical musings.

You need to deal with that, and not complain that bad things happen when you drive off the end of the M1 at 100mph.