Government Trans Equality Report; Much to Cheer But Timid in Parts

This morning, the government’s Women and Equalities Committee released its first report on transgender equality, detailing its recommendations. They fall into a few broad areas:

  • Reform of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act
  • Reform of the 2010 Equality Act
  • Reform of healthcare services for trans people
  • “Tackling everyday transphobia”

I’ve had a short while to skim this document and these are my initial impressions. It’s a very long report of nearly 100 pages, but much of it is summarising submitted evidence and explaining the current situation. The committee has helpfully written their recommendations in bold, and those are the sections I’m going to focus on. Zoe O’Connell has also blogged on this and is worth reading.

Before doing that, I’ll note that this is very much a report of our time, and fits with the narrative of the current Conservative government. While noting that the government has work to do, it defends the deeply discriminatory Spousal Veto and only really takes the gloves off when it comes to talking about the NHS.

Taking the parts as they are presented in the document, I’ll start with the Summary:

The report recognises that “High levels of transphobia are experienced by individuals on a daily basis with serious results“, and references the appalling suicide statistics faced by transgender people.

It recognises that the 2004 Gender Recognition Act was “pioneering but is now dated“, and criticises the pathologisation of trans identities and the need for self-determination.

It recognises that the Equality Act is unclear in who it covers, and suggests that the fuzzy concept of “gender reassignment” be relaunched as “gender identity“. Hopefully this will clarify and enhance the position of non binary people.

It has some strong words for the NHS, pulling no punches with “ e NHS is letting down trans people: it is failing in its legal duty“. This seems to refer to both gender identity, and general healthcare services.

Now on to the detailed sections, starting with the Gender Recognition Act. The report:

  • Recognises that the Act has nothing to offer non binary people, stating that “The Government must look into the need to create a legal category“.
  • Urges the government, “within the current parliament” to “bring forward proposals to update the Gender Recognition Act, in line with the principles of gender self-declaration“.
  • Recognises that the Spousal Veto is open to abuse and that this is “deplorable and inexcusable“, but recommends that the veto remain in place.
  • Recommends that gender recognition be available to 16 year olds, but suggests this should be subject to parental consent or Gillick Competency.
  • Notes there have been no prosecutions under Section 22 of the Act (the protection from outing clause), and expresses concern that this may be effectively useless. It suggests the Ministry of Justice “take action to address this“.

There’s some good stuff here. I’m pleased the committee spotted the uselessness of Section 22 as a piece of criminal law that is routinely violated and never enforced, and welcome suggestions that this be tightened up. I welcome the recognition of the need to extend recognition to non-binary people but am disappointed that the committee presents no suggestion as to how this might be attempted. Similarly, while it recognises the need for self determination instead of the current practice of having bureaucrats literally put your gender identity on trial, it presents no suggestions for how this might be done.

In regards to the above, the committee’s report is essentially, “isn’t this terrible? The government ought to do something!”

The attitude towards the Spousal Veto is extremely disappointing. The report notes that Scotland effectively did away with it, but stubbornly insists it must stay, while noting that abuse of it is “deplorable”. Again, it offers no suggestions to how such abuse might be prevented, nor what can be done in the instances where spousal consent is not possible to obtain (e.g. the spouse is in a coma, or cannot be contacted).

This is, perhaps, the most disappointing aspect of the report for me, and the point at which it is at its most timid. The justification for retaining the veto is both paper thin and nothing we haven’t heard before. Stating, “in a marriage where one party transitions, the non-trans spouse does have a legal right to be consulted if it is proposed to change the terms of the marriage contract in consequence“.

Let’s note here what it is that’s being vetoed: it’s not transition itself, nor any of the hormonal or surgical changes that have potentially profound consequences for the nature of what is supposed to be a life-long monogamous sexual relationship.

What is being vetoed is access to equality before the law.

While I will never agree that the veto is anything other than a gross and disgusting infringement on the liberty and humanity of trans people, I would perhaps understand it more if those defending it were able to present an argument that actually made sense. How can you possibly give a spouse power of veto over access to employment nondiscrimination, but not access to genital reconstruction surgery?

On The Equality Act, the report:

  • Suggests that the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” be replaced with “gender identity“.
  • Suggests clarification of the Act so it is obvious that its protections apply to children.
  • Recommends that the granting of a Gender Recognition Certificate prevents the exclusions on access to single sex services and jobs from applying to someone.
  • Recommends “the Government work with Sport England to produce guidance which help sporting groups realise that there are likely to be few occasions where exclusions are justified” from single sex sport competitions.

There’s some really good stuff here. The Equality Act was a rush-job at the end of the 2005-2010 parliament and many (myself included) think that its provisions for trans people are a mess as a result. The single most important change, perhaps, is changing the definition of what’s protected from discrimination from “gender reassignment” to “gender identity“. It is currently very unclear just “how trans” you have to be to be covered by the Act, and this should go a long way towards addressing that, especially for non-binary people.

At present, you can be fired from certain jobs (or prevented from applying for them), and refused access to single-sex services (such as domestic violence shelters and rape-crisis counselling) if you are trans, and this is explicitly legal under the Act. The report proposes removing these exceptions but only if you have a Gender Recognition Certificate. According to some legal experts I have spoken to in the past, this is very much the situation that existed prior to the Act passing in 2010.

This does risk widening the perceived gap between those who have a Gender Recognition Certificate and those who do not though. Given there are no actual proposals for how the Gender Recognition Act might be extended to non-binary people, if this proposal is implemented by itself then it very much maintains non-binary people as “second class” trans people, from a legal standpoint.

It also makes a retained Spousal Veto much nastier by creating the unpleasantly ironic situation where an embittered spouse of a trans person can subject them to domestic abuse while withholding their legal right to access a domestic violence shelter.

There are kinds of discrimination that the Equality Act allows which the report does not address. One such is marriage in church, where if the priest reasonably thinks you are trans, they can refuse to marry you. Another relates to military service. The report has no recommendations to make here.

On The NHS the report:

  • Says there is “too much evidence” of discrimination towards trans people in the NHS.
  • Notes that trans people encounter “significant problems” accessing general healthcare and sometimes encounter “out-and-out prejudice
  • Notes GPs often lack understanding of trans issues and referral pathways and this can lead to “appropriate care not being provided“.
  • Calls for a “root and branch review of failures in professional development, commissioning and incidences of transphobia in healthcare to be published within six months.
  • States that the General Medical Council must provide reassurance that it takes transphobia seriously.
  • Welcomes ongoing depathologisation of trans identities, in the same way that LGB people have been depathologised.
  • Suggests that gender identity services be separated from mental health services, and perhaps become a discipline in their own right.
  • Recognises that while gender recognition on request is something it would support, it would not support the informed consent model for “medical intervention as profound and permanent as genital … surgery
  • Notes the inappropriateness of prescribed gendered codes of dress and mannerisms to access treatment.
  • Demands that the “lack of capacity” which is causing long waiting lists be addressed urgently.
  • Recommends much easier access to puberty blockers for adolescent trans people and notes the urgency this represents.

I have less of a dog in this fight than many, as my own interactions with transition related health services largely finished nearly a decade ago. I do still experience problems accessing general healthcare, and I have campaigned continually on the difficulties trans people face accessing all forms of healthcare, because it’s really important.

I know the recommendation against an informed consent model will be disappointing to many. I’m not going to talk about that in depth here as it’s a complex topic and this is already getting really long.

Many clinicians will likely welcome the possibility of gender identity services becoming a fully fledged discipline in their own right, rather than the poor and neglected stepchild of mental health trusts. I would welcome this too: GIC’s currently live rather like a primary-school aged Harry Potter, shut away in the cupboard under the stairs by an adoptive family that would really rather they weren’t there at all, and if pushed, doesn’t really hold with “that sort of nonsense”. In order for GICs to properly reform and grow, they should be set free.

The last major section is called Tackling Everyday Transphobia. The report:

  • Notes that legal change will “only bite” if there is social change too.
  • Calls for the Ministry of Justice to work with trans people on hate crimes reporting.
  • Calls for the government to strengthen hate crime legislation.
  • States that the requirement for a doctor’s note to obtain an updated-gender passport “must be dropped“.
  • Calls for public bodies to justify those occasions where they record name and gender, and notes there is no such thing as a “legal name” in the UK.
  • States that the UK “must” introduce “an option to record gender as ‘X’ on a passport“.
  • Suggests the government move towards non-gendering of official records as a general principle.
  • Notes it is not appropriate for trans people in prison to be put in solitary confinement just because they are trans.
  • Asks the prison service to clarify its position on trans prisoners and requires prison staff training and that the implementation of policy be monitored.
  • Tasks the Independent Press Standards Organisation and OFCOM with working out how to get trans people to complain about poor representation.
  • Notes harassment of trans people online needs to be taken seriously.
  • Suggests schools need to cover trans issues in Personal, Social and Health Eductation.
  • Asks further education bodies to better promote trans equality.
  • Calls for trans-appropriate training of social workers “as a matter of urgency

This is the single largest section and there’s a lot here. The stuff on official documents is eminently sensible and the call for X markers on passports (with a move towards removing gender on them altogether) is very welcome indeed.

Treatment of trans people in prisons is a festering sore and urgently needs addressing. The committee seems, in its language, to be putting the prison service on notice, and I welcome that.

I think the committee have missed the point on press and media depictions of trans people. The problem isn’t that trans people aren’t complaining; it’s that nothing is done in response. This is symptomatic of a much larger problem with the press in our society, and I’m not optimistic much will happen any time soon.

I couldn’t help but smile at the suggestion trans issues be covered in PHSE. At my school, the only time they were mentioned was to note that people like me “should be locked up”. Things have improved, thank goodness.

Internet harassment really needs to be tackled. I had a nervous breakdown because of it 2 years ago. This report doesn’t suggest any kind of compulsion to do anything about it though. The government, apparently, doesn’t want to tell ISPs what to do (apart from when it comes to spying on us and making them censor LGBT news sites as “porn”).

I will close by apologising for the length, but there was a lot to get through and the committee have done a thorough job.

What they’ve produced is a curate’s egg. There’s some really good stuff in here, but some of it is really disappointing too, particularly the stuff about the Spousal Veto, especially since Scotland proved there is no need for it whatsoever. I can only wonder why the government is so attached to it, particularly since this report, if implemented, gives it more teeth.

And finally, a word of caution. This is not a bill before parliament. It’s a report from a committee, and while it contains a list of recommendations, it doesn’t have the power to implement any of them without ministerial support.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and quite a big one.

But the Spousal Veto guys – sort yourselves out, seriously.

My Speech to Lib Dem Autumn Conference 2015, Trans and Intersex Health Charter

I was called to summate this motion. It passed with no votes against.

Good morning conference,

The state of transgender healthcare in this country is a complete pig’s ear. The state of healthcare for intersex people is far worse.

At the first session of the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s inquiry into transgender issues a couple of weeks ago, one MP asked, if she went to her GP and told them she had been struggling with her gender identity and needed help, how long it would take before she got any kind of treatment.

She didn’t get a clear answer, so I’ll give one now. The answer is years.

Years

And that’s for a prescription of HRT drugs which are basically harmless and cost about as much as ibuprofen.

This happens because of systematic neglect by the NHS. It happens because of pig-headed commissioners who would rather squander their budgets on the worsening mental health of trans people desperate for treatment, while they wait years, and while their lives collapse around them. They’ll spend two, three times as much money as it would cost to cure people to keep them in a state of distress.

It happens because clinicians, working at the front line, have told me that they do not get the support they need from their trusts, that they are overworked and under-resourced. That other clinicians think they’re wasting their time working with a bunch of weirdoes.

A recent study revealed that the most dangerous time for a transgender person is immediately after they have requested treatment, because that’s the point at which the dam has burst, and the thing they’ve been suppressing for years has gushed through. If denied help at this point, the study found that around half of them will attempt suicide.

Medical neglect of transgender people is pushing them into suicide.

But however badly transgender people have it, intersex people have it worse in many ways. We have heard about how they are mutilated as babies, often based on whether the length of their sex organ passes an arbitrary threshold.

The scalpel ham-fistedly assigns them as boys if it’s beyond certain length, and girls if it’s not. This often sterilises them in the process. Their parents are told not to discuss it with them as they grow up.

They are then treated with further surgery and a cocktail of hormones to try and force them into the gender role medics chose for them at birth, and then at 18, when they are often suffering from a litany of health problems and traumatised by what is done to them, funding dries up.

Those who subsequently seek gender reassignment, to try and fix what was done to them, often have a harder time accessing it than trans people do. Trans people who, ironically, have almost no access to medical intervention before they are 18.

We have heard that trans people are treated poorly by equalities law. That it’s legal to fire us, that it’s legal to sack us from certain jobs, that it’s difficult to gain legal recognition, and even that process is subject to spousal veto.

Intersex people have no legal recognition at all. At the LGBT+ Lib Dems fringe yesterday, prior to this debate, we heard that intersex people are as common as redheads. The shocking way society treats them represents collective guilty secret shared by us all. The way the medical community treats both trans and intersex people betrays a medical community that has not learned from the decades it spent trying to “normalise” lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Conference, it has to stop, and it has to stop now. Please vote for this motion. Thank you.

Calling for an End to Trans Conversion Therapy

This is the speech I gave to the 2015 Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, introducing an amendment to the mental health motion to call for an end to transgender conversion therapy.

The amendment passed without opposition.

I’d like to read from a young girl’s Internet diary.

I really need help.

Hi, I’m Leelah, 16 and ever since I was around 4 or 5 I knew I was a girl. As soon as I found out what transgender meant, I came out to my mom. She reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl.

I wanted to see a gender therapist but they wouldn’t let me, they thought it would corrupt my mind. They would only let me see biased therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male. I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless.

Please help me, I don’t know what I should do and I can’t take much more of this. I don’t know if my problem is serious enough that I can contact authorities for help and even if it is I don’t know how much that’ll damage or help my current situation. I’m stuck.

Two months after writing this cry for help on the Internet, transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn took her own life. This was in the US, but it could easily have happened here.

Studies show that when transgender people express a need to undergo gender transition, if they are not able to then 50% will try to kill themselves.

Conversion therapy does not work. This is not opinion, this is established fact. If you try to talk a transgender person out of changing gender, there is a better than evens chance they will try to kill themselves. This is not opinion, this is established fact.

If you subject a transgender person to conversion therapy, you might as well drive them to Beachy Head and tell them to jump. Conversion therapy kills transgender people.

When the NHS, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other bodies signed a memorandum of understanding against conversion therapy for lesbian, bisexual and gay people in January, they called it “unethical and potentially harmful”.

They also left transgender people out.

Well, conference, conversion therapy for transgender people does worse than potentially cause harm: it kills them.

All this amendment asks is that transgender people are given the same protection from dangerous quackery that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are given.

Coercing vulnerable transgender people into discredited conversion therapy is not a valid psychological practice. It is not helping people who are struggling with their gender identity to come to terms with themselves.

It is attempted murder.

Conference, I implore you to support this amendment and put a stop to this appalling practice. Thank you.

Fraudulent; Negligent; Incompetent. My speech to the Trafalgar Square Vigil for Leelah Alcorn

Our community spends a lot of time in mourning, but today I am angry. A lot of us are angry. Some of that anger is being focussed at Leelah’s parents for putting her into profoundly damaging conversion therapy.

However, before sending Leelah to one of these nasty pieces of work, Leelah’s parents presumably talked to them, and the conversion therapist assured them that their therapy could “fix” their child and turn Leelah into the dutiful straight cisgender son they wanted. That the trans feelings could be “cured”.

We know these are lies. We have known for a long time that conversion therapy, whether it be aimed at changing gender identity or sexuality does not work.

We also now know that if a trans person has stated the need to transition, and things are done to block them, there is a better than evens chance that they will try to kill themselves.

These are not opinions, these are established facts. They’re facts that any medical practitioner working with trans people has a professional duty to know. They need to know their patients are vulnerable. They need to know conversion therapy doesn’t work. They need to know their patients are suicide risks if not handled carefully.

And yet someone presumably told Leelah’s parents none of this.

Why would someone do that? I can think of only three reasons.

  • The first is that they know that what they are saying is a lie, but they don’t care. They are selling lies. They are a fraud.

  • The second is that they haven’t bothered to find out what the best practice for counselling trans people is, because they don’t care. They are negligent.

  • The third, and perhaps kindest interpretation, is that they are in over their heads, that it simply never occurs to them that they should learn about how to counsel trans people before doing it. They are incompetent.

Conversion therapists are either fraudulent, negligent or incompetent. There doesn’t seem to be any other explanation.

Now in other areas of medicine, say if I need surgery for a broken leg, there are laws and regulations to ensure that if my surgeon is fraudulent, if they have faked credentials, they can go to prison. If they are negligent, if they turn up to work drunk, they can go to prison. If they are incompetent, they can be struck off.

Fraudulent, negligent, incompetent; in most areas of medicine you would not be allowed to practice, and yet it seems any charlatan can walk in off the street and set themselves up as a conversion therapist. They’re not subject to legal consequences if they are fraudulent or negligent. There is no overseeing body to sanction them if they are incompetent. They operate in a regulatory vacuum.

This isn’t good enough. These people are killing our young people through their fraudulence, their negligence, their incompetence. The lawmakers and regulators who should be stopping them are not.

Leelah’s dying wish was that we work to make these things better. A good start would be to stop frauds and charlatans from pushing trans people into suicide through fraudulent, negligent and incompetent therapy that is worse than useless, and if they do, to ensure that they face justice for it. I, for one, intend to make our lawmakers try.

TERF COGIATI

This is taken from a series of questions posted on Twitter by a notoriously nasty transphobe in December 2014. I called it TERF COGIATI after the COGIATI test. If you’re not familiar with COGIATI, it was a thing that was doing the rounds back when I transitioned, and is basically a piece of pseudoscience pretend psychology that is supposed to “assist” in determining if you are a trans woman. You can take it here if you like, but it’s minutes of your life you’ll never get back.

I think the comparison is apt, as the questions below seem to be motivated by this transphobic individual thinking they have a unique insight into what makes trans women tick. Like COGIATI, it’s a mix of some correlations (lots of trans women do have a STEM background, for example), some gender stereotyping (assuming you want to wear high heels), and some outright bizarre conjecture (is pregnancy like pizza delivery, what?)

Some of the questions are clearly digs at specific people; “subtweets”, if you will.

The test is, of course, entirely spurious. I got 5 “yes” answers of 51 questions when I took it and I’m a long term transitioned trans woman who had SRS years ago. You should be aware that this is probably designed to make you feel bad about yourself if you are a trans woman, and it contains some pretty nasty stuff. I reiterate, these questions are designed to hurt you.

I copied most of them verbatim from Twitter. Two had references to specific people, which I removed (the questions remain, they just don’t reference people any more). A couple more I corrected typos on. Apart from that, it’s a direct copy and paste.

Here’s what the nasty transphobe who came up with this “test” says about how it works:

“Transgender means anything anyone wants it to, but the key is that everyone understand how oppressed heterosexual white male perverts are. Maybe you are a transwoman and don’t know it. Could you be a transwoman? Take the following test. Assign yourself one point for every correct answer. “

I think trans women are supposed to answer “yes” to lots of them, but I answered yes to fewer than 10%. See how you do:

  1. Do you enjoy pornography?
  2. Do you work as an IT professional?
  3. Do you have a profile on FetLife?
  4. Is prostitution a rewarding career option?
  5. Do women really “have it all”?
  6. Are flaming homos and butch dykes kind of gross?
  7. Is “privilege” an opt-into opt-out option?
  8. Are feminists whiney bitches?
  9. Do you celebrate the cultural subordination rituals (“femininity”) that are forced onto females?
  10. Do you understand Feminism in a way women never could?
  11. Do lesbians offend you by excluding males?
  12. Does the thought of being mistaken for a gay man anger you?
  13. Are women monsters (or uppity bitches) for having women-only events?
  14. Do women have no right to speak on the topic of gender?
  15. Do you wish women would be silent in general, and exist only to serve you?
  16. Did you steal your sister or mother’s underwear and masturbate while wearing it?
  17. Were you always seen as that scary asocial misfit loser guy?
  18. Does it anger you when women hold you at a distance socially?
  19. Have you always known you were very angry for some reason and it was women’s fault somehow?
  20. Can you “do woman” better than most women, who take things for granted?
  21. Do you have a successful STEM career?
  22. Do you spend a lot of time online?
  23. Are you a computer gamer? On World of Warcraft? Second Life? League of Legends? Pokemon?
  24. Long time Dungeons and Dragons shaman of undecided loyalty? Or whatever the fuck?
  25. Does it make you angry when women and children fear you?
  26. Do you want to be pretty?
  27. Do you have a tumblr page that exhibits your hobby of having a staple gun applied to yourself because BDSM?
  28. Does it “make you” want to kill yourself when women don’t do what you want them to? Or think what you want them to think?
  29. Is a penis a big ‘ole sperm ejaculating clitoris?
  30. Is the experience of pregnancy akin to waiting for pizza delivery?
  31. Does “brain sex” make the women-brained enjoy wearing stilletos?
  32. Does “brain sex” make women smile more?
  33. Do you get an erection when a store clerk accidentally calls you “Madam”?
  34. Are you “gender critical” enough for libfem handmaid approval but decry actual Lesbian Feminists as “extremists”.
  35. Do you call yourself a male radical feminist and teach women’s studies?
  36. Did you used to post on PUA boards?
  37. Do you, or have you ever, partaken of an anime avatar?
  38. Have you been in the military?
  39. Have you attended a male-only educational facility?
  40. Have you been in prison?
  41. Do you own more than three firearms?
  42. Do you feel you are destined for “greatness” if you could only break “out of your shell”?
  43. Are you ready to run for an elected office?
  44. Have you considered the windfall of a gender identity related disability claim?
  45. Got what it takes to run your own, solo, self-established activist org?
  46. Dreaming of making that Lee Press-On Lesbian Porn Lifestyle a reality?
  47. Tired of no one noticing what a Special Person you are?
  48. Looking for a “do-over”?
  49. Do you have a phoenix or butterfly tattoo?
  50. Pleasure yourself by wearing “ladies panties” under your uniform at work?
  51. Are you an identical twin?

On Withholding NHS Treatment From The “Undeserving”

The headline from the Daily Star

The headline from the Daily Star

This morning I was invited onto the Nick Ferrari show on London’s LBC Radio to talk about the case of someone who transitioned from male to female and wants to transition back again.

The story is rather sensationalist, and I wonder how much of it is journalistic licence (in my experience dealing with the press, entire stories can be). For example, the story suggests part of their reasoning is that heels and makeup are too much like hard work. The obvious response is “don’t wear them then”, but the subtext is clear: this person is, it is suggested, the author of their own misfortune and we as a society should not spend public money helping them out.

This theme was also explored in the radio show by Nick Ferrari, who, I think it’s fair to say, takes a rather right wing approach to social issues. He asked me how many cancer surgeries could be paid for for the cost of the bilateral mastectomy this person wants.

Actually none; bilateral mastectomies are relatively cheap operations and cancer surgery tends to be much more expensive, but that’s not really the point. Sometimes people make life decisions that with hindsight they wouldn’t have made, and get themselves into difficulty as a result. Helping them out is part of the quid pro quo of civilisation.

Perhaps Nick was playing Devil’s advocate, perhaps not, but I suspect many of his listeners would take the view that this person brought their misfortune on themselves and that we should abandon them to that misfortune, and save the money to spend on cancer treatment instead.

I would simply ask anyone taking that view the following question:

Do you walk less than 3 miles a day, every day? Do you ever eat fast food? Do you ever drink sweetened drinks? Alcohol? Do you ever smoke? Do you sometimes go out in the sun without sunscreen?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then consider that these are all risk factors in causing cancer, and if you ever find yourself needing that cancer treatment you are happy to use as an excuse to be crappy to one person wanting their medical transition reversed, understand that you are a raging hypocrite.

Understand also that if you get the sort of society you want, someone might just decide that you are the author of your misfortune, and leave you to die in agony because you “brought it on yourself”.

Be very careful what you wish for.

Open Letter to Academic and Media Feminists – Deal with the Transphobia in your Ranks

Anti-transgender protestors held a picket at London Dykemarch on Saturday 21st of June, chanting transphobic slogans in an attempt to drown out my keynote speech.

Some of the picketers at the Lesbian Pride march who handed out transphobic literature

Some of the picketers at the Lesbian Pride march who handed out transphobic literature

As I gave my speech, a group of 6 protestors started trying to shout me down, and distributed leaflets amongst the gathered crowd calling me a “lesbian hating man”, claiming that I was part of a “male” takeover of lesbian spaces, and accusing me of appropriating a lesbian identity.

Two of the protestors have since been identified as Dr Julia Long of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, and Dr Lynne Harne, of Bristol University. Both lecture in women’s studies and both are involved in developing equalities policy.

Both academics have previously been involved in the London “RadFem” conferences, which are notorious for their trans exclusionary policies and their lineup of transphobic speakers. The conference lost its venues in 2012 and 2013 due to its transphobic-hate focus, having to find alternate venues at the last minute.

This is the latest incident in a campaign of transphobic harassment of me, coordinated via social media, which has been going on for several months, ever since I declined to engage in a panel discussion with journalist Julie Bindel, also noted for transphobic writing in the past.

Since then, a series of coordinated complaints about me were sent to the Liberal Democrat Party and Cambridge City Council, each of which was investigated and found to be invalid. I have had my blog targeted for a denial of service attack and my email hacked, and have received anonymous hate mail accusing me of abusing my position as a councillor to obtain a “sex change operation” – a charge which would require me to invent a time machine for it to be true.

My family was targeted, with harassers claiming that my wife left me because I “could no longer satisfy her sexually” after “mutilating” myself (my wife and I are together and very happy). The abusers wrote blogs calling me a “privilege denying t****y”, and described my vagina as a “f**khole”.

The harassers make their goal clear

The harassers make their goal clear

More recently, one of the harassers made their intentions clear, saying that, “Sarah Brown should gracefully bow out of public life”. It seems that any trans person who has any kind of public profile is considered “fair game” by these people.

The stress of the constant harassment, coinciding with my reelection campaign caused me to seek medical help for acute anxiety and depression. I spent around 3 months on antidepressants and tranquillisers and much of that period is still a black hole in my memory. After losing my seat, and while coming off the antidepressants, I finally snapped back at one of the people who had claimed responsibility for involvement in the harassment campaign, in response to constant provocation, telling her to, “suck my formaldehyde pickled balls”.

I regret saying that, but it was done after months of provocation, the destruction of my mental health and the targeting of my family. This was used as “proof” that I am a “violent male”, and the justification for picketing the London Dyke March.

I am not the only transgender woman to suffer this kind of abuse. I am deeply concerned that any transgender woman who dares to have any kind of participation in public life is subject to this kind of relentless hounding, I am deeply concerned that prominent academics, involved in researching and developing equalities positions and in a position of responsibility over students, some of whom may be trans themselves, see fit to picket a Lesbian Pride march, chant transphobic slogans and hand out transphobic material.

This abuse is performed in the name of “feminism”, and many mainstream media feminists either turn a blind eye, or actively endorse these activities. Enough is enough – this persistent abuse of transgender women by a vocal minority of transphobic radical feminists, pushing discredited transphobic ideology from the 1970s should not, and must not be tolerated.

My DykeMarch London 2014 Keynote Speech

This is the speech I wrote for to address the marchers before London’s 2014 DykeMarch:

It’s amazing to be here, to be surrounded by so many inspirational women. Being invited to speak here is extremely humbling, and I’m a bit nervous, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

I’m nervous, because I have a confession to make. I have a confession about how I feel about my ability to participate in lesbian spaces, a confession about my ability to relate to the life experiences of other lesbian and queer women, a confession that, despite my best efforts to maintain a positive mental attitude, I still sometimes worry that I am a fraud.

Getting ready for the march

Getting ready for the march

There are those who hold the view that because of certain aspects of my biology, I do not, and can never, truly qualify as a lesbian. There are those who feel this very strongly. Some of them are active in lesbian and queer women’s spaces.

Now I want to stress that these people are, I am certain, a minority. Most lesbian and queer women I have the privilege to know are amazing people who have been nothing but understanding when I explain my situation to them. They have been wonderful, and accommodating, and told me that I am just as much a lesbian as they are.

But there is still a little voice inside my head that never quite shuts up – “they won’t accept you, not really, not properly, because they know, and they are disgusted.”

Make no mistake – this voice isn’t a reflection on any of you – it’s a realisation of my own insecurity, but I think I do have good reason to be insecure.

I like to socialise with other women. I like to socialise with other queer women. The vast majority of the time, my little problem is irrelevant to how I interact with other women, in mixed sex spaces and in single sex spaces, because there is no reason for it to be an issue.

But there are times when, and this very much depends on the nature of the space, it *is* an issue for me, and for the women who share my secret, and I know it can make other people in those spaces, other women in those spaces, feel a bit awkward. They want to be accepting, but … well, it’s maybe not seen as compatible with how lots of lesbian women live.

That’s just socialising though. I’m in my 40s now, and I mostly can’t be bothered with dating, and with what sometimes comes after – I’d rather have a nice cup of tea frankly, and how many of us can, hand on heart, say we haven’t felt like that on occasion?

But I wasn’t always in my 40s. Back in the day, I remember being with friends in venues which will be known to many of us, but which sadly no-longer exist. I look back with fondness on the Glass Bar, and its amazing location. I really miss First Out, which survived cross rail excavations only to be forced out by rent increases. I even look back with fondness on nights at the Candy Bar, as long as someone else was paying for the drinks, that is.

And these places always had lots of really interesting and cute women in, and sometimes we’d strike up a conversation, and then the dilemma came up.

“Is this going to go further? Might we meet again? Might we even spend the night together? At her place? Oh god, I have to tell her. When do I disclose? What if it’s a deal breaker for her? What if she reacts badly? What if I feel ashamed? I left my pills at home too, and I’ll feel awful by morning without them. What do I do?”

Disclosure of such things is, I think, a deeply personal issue, and I don’t presume to say there’s a right answer for everyone, but I tend to, and by and large, things have been OK.

But not everyone reacts well, not everyone can make the necessary accommodation, not everyone wants to make the necessary accommodation.

And so more often than not, when I’ve met someone really great, and when it could go somewhere, I find I’ve chickened out, and I hate that. I hate feeling frightened. I hate feeling like I can never properly belong.

And so, fellow marchers, here is my confession. My name is Sarah, and I, like many other self identified lesbians, through no fault of our own, feel excluded from living fully and openly as lesbians because we are … allergic to cats.

 

A Nasty Thing Happened on The Way to The Election

This is something I have sat on for the last few weeks, but during my reelection campaign, I received an anonymous letter, via the Guildhall (Cambridge City Council HQ). The letter is reproduced below:

(please read the rest of the blogpost underneath after reading the letter)

SRS Election Letter

You can click on the letter to see the full size version.

I want to make something perfectly clear before I go on.

I do not believe that a Labour canvasser said this, not for one second.

I may disagree with Cambridge Labour on many things, but one thing we do not disagree on is the need to keep personal attacks about LGBT status out of our politics. There has been a long understanding between us that the trans thing is not up for use in a political campaign. Cambridge Labour have always honoured that, and have several LGBT local councillors themselves. Despite our political differences, I count some of them as friends.

I showed this letter to the leader of the City Council Labour Group at the election count, and he was mortified. I think the claim that a Labour canvasser said that I used my position to demand SRS on the NHS is a lie.

Note that the leaflet is anonymous. If people were actually going around saying this, other local residents would have heard it. Local Lib Dem activists would have heard something via the grapevine. It would have got back to me in other ways. It never did. Nobody heard anything. I checked.

Cambridge Labour activists did not do the thing this letter accuses them of doing.

Now I want to address the central claim in the letter: that I used my position as a councillor to demand sex reassignment surgery on the NHS.

Firstly, what would demanding sex reassignment surgery look like? SRS is something that the NHS provides. One no more demands it than one demands an appendectomy. It’s something doctors either decide to refer you for, or they don’t. I have my own thoughts on this, but that is a discussion for another time.

Secondly, if I, or any other (former) councillor, started using the, “do you know who I am?” line to demand preferential treatment on the NHS, we would be reported by the NHS for corruption and get in deep trouble.

Thirdly, I guess the only thing such a “demand” could do is to allow me to somehow jump the waiting list queue. It can be a bit lengthy.

So here are the facts:

  • I had sex reassignment surgery on January 4th, 2007.

  • I had this performed at the Sussex Nuffield Hospital in Brighton by Mr Philip Thomas, consultant urologist.

  • The Sussex Nuffield Hospital is a private medical facility. I was a private patient there.

  • I paid for the procedure out of my own pocket. It cost a round £10,000.

  • I was elected in May 2010. I joined the Liberal Democrats in January of the same year.

Therefore in order for the claim to be true, I would have needed a time machine and for the NHS to pay my medical bill. Disclosure: at the time, I applied to the then Cambridge City, and subsequently Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust, to pay said medical bill. They said no. I appealed, they said no again. End of story.

All of this happened years before I became a councillor.

The letter is, to use the vernacular, total bollocks.

So why was it sent?

I think somebody sent it in the hope I would release it to the press during the election campaign in an attempt to smear both me, and by implication Cambridge Liberal Democrats, and also Cambridge Labour. Possibly it was sent by some right wing agitator wanting to stir up trouble, possibly it was sent as part of the campaign of harassment which a group of trans exclusive radical feminists had been waging on me since February this year.

I had letters of complaint about me written to the Lib Dem central office in London, my local MP’s office and the City Council that I know of. All were seen to be vexatious. All were dismissed. I had my blog subjected to a denial of service attack and my email hacked at exactly the same time as two other people I know on Twitter who also vocally opposed these people.

And I had this letter.

Maybe these things are unrelated, maybe they are not, but there’s a nasty smell around all of this.

Finally, I want to thank those of you in Cambridge Labour who helped me out when these people did try to smear me again recently. You know who you are, and I owe you all a beer.

A Member of the Gay Community Responds to my Open Letter to Stonewall

In the interests of transparency and airing a diversity of views, I publish the following email exchange, with permission. I have changed the name of the person who sent it, referring to them as “Mr W” throughout. His text is otherwise unchanged. This was sent to me shortly after yesterday’s post went live on Pink News, and here. For clarity, I present Mr W’s comments in mauve.

On 27 Jan 2014, at 15:30, Mr W wrote:

I don’t see why you want the support of stonewall for transsexual people.  I am a gay man and stonewall is for gay men, gay women and bisexuals in same sex relationships. I don’t feel that I have anything in anyway as an insight to offer to a transsexual . As far as I am aware from speaking to some of my trans friends, most believe that they are the sex that they wish to be transitioned to and they want usually to date people of the opposite sex. Its rare a man changes to woman and then dates a woman and the same goes for women wishing to do the same. Most trans people do not believe that they are gay and therefor I fail to see what the gay scene can offer them. It is about time some one with your influence created an established advice line for trans people run by trans people, so that the right information can be given and when problems need to be talked over there is an adviser who will understand more closely  what experiences the person have been through.
Stonewall and other gay charities raise most of the money through the gay, lesbian and bi volunteers collecting money and in this austere time it does not go far,  they need that money for its intended purpose i.e to counsel and advise people in same sex relationships and safer sex. Please stop having a go at the gay scene and try to create something  good for the trans community instead.

On Monday, 27 January 2014, 15:34, Sarah Brown wrote:

Dear Mr W,

You have written to me using my council email. Can I ask, are you one of my constituents seeking help on an issue?

Kindest regards,
Sarah

On 27 Jan 2014, at 16:13, Mr W wrote:

no i am just making a general point about your  attack on stonewall  …..

On Monday, 27 January 2014, 16:15, Sarah Brown wrote:

I wasn’t aware I had attacked them. In the interests of transparency and debate, may I publish your comment as a rebuttal of my piece? I won’t use your name.

Kindest regards,
Sarah

Sent from my iPhone

On Tuesday, 28 January 2014, 11:15, Mr W wrote:

you can use it if you wish yes

oh and by the way if you are using your political position to try to pressure gay charities to do more for the trans community  I think that is a form of attack.
Thank you