Monday, 13 December 2010

On returning after a long absence

Well, I knew I was rubbish at updating. And it appears that it has been a year and a half since the last post. Naturally, things have changed since then! Although now I think about it, not much. I have the same job, and live in the same house. I still like pirates. I still have two wildly ungrateful feline housemates. I still live with my beloved J, only now instead of genderqueer, he identifies solidly as a queer trans guy, and has finally managed to get on T - has been on it for two months now. Hurrah! This is brilliant for many reasons.
1 - it just is.
2 - he is more chilled and happier than I have seen him in a long time.
3 - his voice is all deep and sexy (and occasionally squeaky - still early days, mind).
3 (a) - he can no longer assault my ears with Shirley Bassey, as he cannot reach the notes (this is only "a good thing" for me - it is a fucking tragedy for him).
4 - hell, all the physical changes - it's lovely seeing him get all excited about it. Also the increased sex drive.

Ah, that's enough of lists. Suffice it to say, I am happy, he is happy, everyone is happy - except for the cats, who think he's shouting at them all the time (because of the voice changes). Poor kitties. They understand that we can open cans and doors and provide warm lap(top)s, but they do not understand gender issues.

Also not happy - random fucking bigots. He's had a couple of really really bad experiences over the last week or two. Whereas people would previously read him as a butch dyke, they are now not quite sure how to read him. And in pinhead world, "I don't understand you" leads directly and instantly to "And that is your fault" which then leads to either "so you need to drop what your doing and EDUCATE ME" or "I have the right to touch your body to ascertain your gender" (oh yes, fucking REALLY someone did this) or "smash".

I do not neccessarily want to go into this in great detail. I would rather think of nicer things right now. I have the cisprivilege of not having to think about transphobia All. The. Time. But it does neccessarily impact on my life, because it affects J. And it affects both of us reasonably often. And there's guilt on my behalf, because when J is with me, particularly in gay spaces, he is far more likely to be mis-read as a dyke.

Anyway, I was saying about happy things. Well, as I said, there have not been a huge number of changes in my life recently. So I am finding small pleasures. This is not a new concept to me, but a friend reminded me of it last week - just before I engaged in a particularly energetic and public small pleasure - dancing the Saturday Night dance (you remember Whigfield, right? Yeah, that dance. Sorry). And everyone else started dancing it too! That was a good feeling. I didn't even mind the people pointing and laughing - no really. I came to the conclusion some time ago that I will never be 'cool'. This is a little sad - I've always wanted a mystique of my very own - but it's also incredibly liberating. Uncool stuff is often a lot more fun than cool stuff. It takes a lot of effort not to smile that much (I mean, for me, when I am not in a depressive episode - I'm not going to extrapolate that to anyone else obv). What my dancing lacks in skill and grace, it makes up for in enthusiasm. One only has to look at the auditions for X Factor (I hate X Factor) to know that, no matter how rubbish you are, you can provide entertainment for someone. I put a smile on someone's face with my stupid dancing! That feels good - honestly. Another day it might crush me, but when I am panicking about what strangers think of me, the chances are I wouldn't be enjoying myself much that night anyway. Obviously, outright cruelty is always hurtful, but that's not what we're talking here. Just laughter.

Small pleasure number two: Spider webs. When they are pearled with dew or rain - and then they freeze, into little crystalline structures. That's incredibly beautiful. Put me on a high for hours.

Small pleasure number 3: I have the hosue to myself for the evening, and can piss around on my computer for as long as I want. Except, I'm hungry now. So there you go. Foiled by biology. This was nice. We should do it again sometime! Airkiss, airkiss, see you around, sweetie.

Monday, 8 June 2009

On Dr Barry and other famous trans men, or, all the hotties I met at Pride

As ever, I am more than a little rubbish at updating. I mean, I go out, I meet people, I talk about stuff, and I think to myself "I have thoughts on this, which I would like to share. I shall blog tonight." And then I come home, and Sir Dickie and Moyah miaow at me and demand cuddles, or J demands cuddles (less with the miaowing though), or I go and dig the allotment and think of a really really good post about communities based around my allotment, and then I come home and fall asleep.

But J is out tonight, and the furry overlords appear to have worked out how to use the cat flap, and I am, for once, undisturbed. And, kittens, how much I have to say.

For starters, this weekend was Pride (Oxford Pride, in case you're wondering. Dreaming spire and screaming queers, that's us). Now, I have very mixed feelings about Pride. On the one hand, I really do love the feeling of community that comes with it, and I do love that there are suddenly loads of queer-themed events, and I do love love love the drag queens and singers on stage, and I love, as much as any femme, dressing up and going out and feeling fucking fabulous. What I do not love is the total erasure of trans identity that comes with certain Prides (London Pride, I'm looking at you. And I have other plans for that day). I do not love the rampant commercialisation (it has rainbows on it! Buy it!). And I do not love being treated like a straight girl by what should be my community.

However, Oxford Pride surprised me in very good ways. See, this was my first Oxford Pride (having lived in Brighton for a few years before this, I was pretty used to the whole-town-rainbowed-up thing). It is explicitly trans and queer friendly. It is totally grassroots. I've met the organiser, and a bunch of people who help run it, and they are all fucking awesome. I volunteered to do litter-picking (give something back, people), and people mostly picked up their own litter. And the hotties. Oh, the hotties! I ended up at the local dyke bar, totally surrounded by older butches in checked shirts. Hoo boy, do I love me those older butches. There's something about them that I don't quite understand, but that leaves me weak at the knees. Maybe it's the cocky swagger, maybe its the rough-round-the-edges thing, maybe it's the way they've been around long enough to recognise and appreciate me as a femme, maybe it's the hint of vulnerability in the experience in their eyes - maybe it's the whole fucking packet. Luckily, J completely indulges me in this - not least by the fact that ze's growing older by the day!

I think a lot of it, actually, is the way that older butches seem to be comfortable with femmes. A lot of times, when I go into trendy dyke bars or gay bars, I get this look from other gay women which basically says "What are you doing here?" And that sort of hurts. Because I feel, rather stupidly, that, because I'm in a queer space, I have a right to expect to be read as queer. And young, andro, candy bar style, painfully trendy dykes never do. I have a theory, actually - where a 'scene' exists, an aesthetic exists, and people are expected to conform to that aesthetic. Funnily enough, J always said that ze felt like ze was slightly ostracised for being a bit too butch. And my theory goes like this - younger people still have that insecurity of childhood, and that need to prove that they fit in - they are included, by the very fact that someone else is excluded. Someone else doesn't fit in, which means that they do fit in.

I saw a lecture by Judith 'Jack' Halberstam a couple months ago (now there's a fucking gorgous butch), in which ze discussed the invisibility of the femme identity. Femmes are not seen in mainstream society. We walk down the street, and no-one gives us a second glance, because we look, to the untrained eye, as if we are straight. Never mind that there is a queer femme aesthetic, which is bold, and brash, and hot, and sexy. We wear skirts and/or heels, lipstick and/or eyeliner, so we are seen as conforming to gender stereotypes, no matter how much we wrestle with these to ensure that it is our femininity we are expressing, not the homogenous femininity handed to us by an advertising industry all to keen to get our cash. I mean, I have a very specific relationship with my gender. I love flat-pack furniture, tool-boxes, baggy jeans, band t-shirts (and ripping them to show off my cleavage), bright red lippie, not shaving my armpits, shaving my legs and plucking my eyebrows, wearing skirts and brightly coloured tights - to me, this is totally queering the feminine norm. I get it that not everyone performs femme like this, and that's cool. And I get that straight people expect other people to be straight, and don't pick up on this stuff.

But I'm invisible in the lesbian and gay community as well. They don't see me as femme, unless I'm partnered with a butch woman. My sexuality is only visible when put into context by someone else's gender expression.

And I don't want to be invisible. J has been so much shit through being visibly queer, that I feel like crap not taking some of that shit on. I know that's daft, but it's part of the reason I feel like I owe it to all the wonderful people I love to come out as often and as loudly as possible, to advocate for trans rights and call out racism. I recognise that I have privilege in this area, even at the same time as it's actually really fucking irritating and occasionally isolating. But what can you do? It's totally fucking worth it for those moments when an older butch in a checked shirt says "Yeah, I remember meeting you. You were wearing that amazing dress-thing, and I think you were flirting with me." And I giggle, and she smirks, and for a minute, I am seen for what I am, and I fucking love this dance.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

On Returning, or, yay, online again!

After a lengthy period with no interweb, I am online again! With plenty to say, natch. Saw a Judith (Jack) Halberstam lecture (and once again made a twit of myself), moved house, met people, saw Lynee Breedlove (zomg, what a treat for the eyes and ears and funnybone), saw Jean Genet on the same night (queer electro-punk pop, highly recommended), and went on a little road trip with my mum and my sister. So a nice month all round, and plenty of blog-fodder. HOping to dig out the notes from Halberstam's lecture and share my thoughts with the three people who may or may not read this blog... Hint - I was most excited about the idea of femme invisibility - apparently, that's where our power lies.... Hmm...

Monday, 2 February 2009

On How Not to Study Transgender, or, Science: Ur Doin It Rong

So, for my work, I occasionally read journal articles. A pretty random selection of subjects, but one of the most interesting is neurology. I don't understand a lot of the finer scientific nuancess. I'm not a neurologist, and I haven't studied science since my Chemistry, Biology and Physics A-levels (I went on to do English Lit, mixed with feminism and queer theory - go figure). However, I am a big fan of science in general (a huge field, admittedly), although with the caveat that it needs to be engaged with critically. I'd like to point out right now that this could potentially be an upsetting read, as the nature of scientific studies of this kind is incredibly dehumanising. I do not want to erase the lived experience of trans lives - I merely want to point out how an understanding of these lived experiences is, in my opinion, a neccessity for studying transgenderism in any serious way.

A prime example of this would be the December edition of Brain, a leading neurology journal. Naturally, when I saw an article on gender identity, my interest was instantly piqued - as you may or may not have guessed from my blog so far, this is a subject close to my heart. Even better, the scientific commentary (an article discussing implications of new research at the beginning of the journal) was focussed on this particular piece of research. So, whilst I didn't expect the article to show any awareness of gender theory in particular, I thought that it was definitely good that this was being paid serious attention in a mainstream publication.

I was, needless to say, disappointed.

It was a reasonably orthodox piece of research - comparing the hypothalamic uncinate nuclei of transgender and cisgender brains to see if structural differences could be found between cis- and trans- subjects. The article throughout uses the term 'transexual' instead of transgender. It was briefly mentioned that 8 of the transwomen subjects had undergone surgery and hormonal treatment, one had been on hormones, and "one person with gender-identity dysphoria who had not undergone hormonal treatment" (the clear implication being that this woman was not 'truly trans'). This is exceedingly important, as hormonal changes can have an effect on the brain, as well as brain structure affecting hormone production. The authors of the research have this to say about transgenderism, which in my opinion speaks volumes about their underlying assumptions and lack of prior knowledge when they undertook this research:
"Transsexuality is the most extreme gender-identity disorder, distinguished by the unshakable conviction of belonging to the opposite sex, which often leads to a request for sex-reassignment surgery (Blanchard, 1993; Cohen-Kettenis and Gooren, 1999)."
The second major flaw was the sampling involved; 42 subjects in all, 14 control males, 11 control females, 11 MTF subjects, 1 FTM subject, and finally, 5 cismen who had been castrated due to prostate cancer.

You don't need to be a gender theorist to see the problems with this sampling. Firstly, there is no way to draw any kind of conclusion using only one transman in the study, and strongly implies a tokenism on the part of the researchers, which was also reflected in their single example of a woman who had not been on hormones. Once again, this privileges biological differences, rather than lived experience (arguably neccessary, but in my opinion, kind of missing the point about transgenderism. It's not about what's in your pants).

Secondly, transgender individuals experience gender dysphoria from a very early age, usually from childhood. To compare transwomen with men castrated after an illness usually contracted later in life is an outrage, and also pointless - unless you believe that 'maleness' lies in the bollocks (which, coincidentally, is the most concise way of describing my feelings on this theory). Once again, the research is undermined by a total lack of knowledge of the lives and experiences of trans individuals. Additionally, this implies that all transpeople involved in this study had undergone surgery, and by inference, that all transpeople have surgery, and if they have not, that they are not 'truly trans'.

The conclusion of this research? Considerable overlap between the subjects. We're apparently not actually all that different from each other, although, as expected, there were some similarities between cis- and trans- women. Clearly there was no meaningful conclusion possible between the single transman and the 11 cis-men, especially as their research was apparently confused by the fact that the transman was "homosexual" (I am going to be kind to the researchers, and assume they mean he was a gay man, rather than a lesbian), particularly as there have also been studies showing similarities between gay men and women in this area. So, all in all, there are more variations within a group than between them. Which is something I've always suspected. Who, after all, has a 'female' brain? Either all women, by virtue of being female, or none of them, as there is no such thing as a 'female' brain. Same for men.

The Scientific Commentary on this research was, if possible, even worse. After summing up the research, the author does something particularly horrible, and the saddest thing was that I wasn't particularly surprised. Shocked, yes, outraged, yes, but surprised no, as I think it's something we've all heard before. I will reproduce his final paragraph in it's entirety, as it can speak for itself. I have no comment (or at lease, I have plenty of comment, none of it printable, and any person reading this blog of a similar persuasion can probably guess the gist of it).
One day, someone may uncover a neural feature (which we might call an abnormality) underlying other, less acceptable, traits such as paedophilia: what then? There are already suggestions that head injury before the age of 13 years is more common than usual in paedophiles (Blanchard et al., 2003).
Actually, I do have a comment. A head injury is something completely different to brain structure, and any neurologist presenting this as a valid comparison should be immediately fired. Also, where did this guy get the picture that transgender is 'acceptable' in our society? Tell that to the living who, every single day, experience vile prejudice and violence. Tell that to our countless dead.

So why is this kind of research important, given the completely inconclusive results?

I think that the answer to this lies clearly in the Scientific Commentary's final paragraph. Research may be neutral - what is subsequently done with it is not. Already we have scientists trying to turn sheep gay, presumably in order to find a genetic 'cure' for queers. I personally don't believe that it is possible to isolate one cause for the magnificent spectrum of gender and sexuality. I don't think it's even desirable. If it were known what, precisely, lay behind our glorious diversity, it would be inevitable that someone would try and alter it, or prevent it, as there are so many out there who abhor our existence.

We are not problems, we do not need 'fixing'. We are you.

Monday, 8 December 2008

On Ways Not To Report Murders

Yesterday, I mentioned Kelly Telesford (and misspelled her name, apologies). I was going to write a bit more, but felt that firstly, it wasn't directly on-topic, and secondly, that she deserves her own post.

I am pretty behind the curve on this one - her case has already been covered by many women more qualified and articulate than me.

However, this is, sort of, my point. These are all bloggers who have a particular knowledge of transgender issues, and care about them. I have heard virtually nothing in the mainstream media, besides occasional mentions on the BBC. Shanniel Hyatt was acquitted in August this year, and Kelly has now been dead for a year – a year in which her sister and mother have gone through hell, and a lot of us have shivered in the chill of prejudice coming from the attitudes surrounding this case.

You know how this guy, Shanniel Hyatt, was acquitted? The court found that she strangled herself. Queen Emily lays out the evidence clearly and concisely:

“His successful defense which "proved" he didn't kill Kellie Telesford was:
    1. We had consensual kinky sex. And she might have died from that.
    2. Except she was alive when I left her and robbed her.
    3. Also, she might have done it to herself,
    4. And then covered herself with a blanket.
    5. Also, I had kinky sex with her but didn't discover she was trans til after she was dead and the police told me (those "deceiving" trans women.)

You see, trans women have MAGIC POWERS. We can kill ourselves with scarves with partial DNA matches of the suspect. Who was placed at the scene by CCTV and stole her phone and stuff. But, like, totally didn't strangle her, even though the doctor said there was no evidence of kinky sex gone wrong.”

You see, when gender comes into a case, as it does whenever and only when a non-cis-male is involved in some shape or form, this usually means that sex was involved. Because, of course, anyone who identifies outside the heteronorm, is doing so purely on the basis of what they do in bed. Which is kinky, obv. And when sex comes into the picture, it has a habit of obscuring everything else, particularly when that ‘something else’ is evidence of bigotry and hatred. Which means, QED, that Kelly Telesford killed herself. Personally, I favour Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation (i.e. that she was killed by the person with whom she spent the night with, and who was proved to have stolen her things and was caught on CCTV leaving her apartment, leaving his DNA on the blanket covering her dead body). But then what do I know?

The series of post titles on the BBC website for Kelly Telesford are horribly telling. As the details came out, she was routinely dehumanised – not by the killer but the media, who seemed to be determined to do the defence counsel’s work for them:
    News - England - Woman is found strangled in home
    News - England - Strangled woman was murder victim
    News - London - Man denies transgender killing
    News - London - Man cleared of transsexual murder

Notice, how, as Kelly was deemed less ‘woman’ and more ‘object’, the case against the killer seems ever stronger, and acquittal ever more likely? And also, the case in general seems to be deemed less interesting to the public (it becomes ‘London’ news, rather than ‘oh-holy-fuck-yet-another-trans-woman-has-been killed-and-we-still-haven’t-got-the-balls-to-call-out-transphobia-and-misogyny-as-loudly-as-possible’ news?

This is a case where racism, sexism, transphobia and also homophobia are linked so inextricably that it seems pointless to call attention to the interconnectedness of ‘isms’, and yet it has never been so vital. A woman died, and her killer walked free. The oldest story in the book, and yet few seem to realise yet that until we are all free from oppression, none of us are. And the people most likely to suffer in this hierarchy are the ones least able to defend themselves and obtain justice.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

On "Unfair" Dismissal

Some time ago, I read a story in the Mail (relax - it was on a pub table, and I only read it to practice rational argument whilst angry), about a man who had been fired from Relate, for refusing to give gay couples psychosexual counselling on account of his Christian faith.

I didn't really think I'd hear anything more about it. I did have a conversation with J in the pub, about whether we'd actually want someone to be forced to advise us about our sex life when they felt everything they were recommending was a sin, especially considered that J is mortally shy about anything to do with 'down there', and would rather not discuss it with anyone, thank-you-very-much. Basically, if a couple is going to counselling, they are potentially vulnerable and need to be able to trust the counsellor and feel comfortable with them in order to work out their own problems. This is, obviously, not going to happen if the person who is supposed to be helping you through relationship troubles believes that the whole relationship is wrong. And believe me, we can tell when people disapprove.

However, we now, happily, have laws in the UK, stating that it is illegal to deny people goods or services on the basis of sexual orientation (gender identity is not mentioned, but I suspect and hope would be covered under laws against gender discrimination). So this would indeed seem to be an open/shut case. Relate have worked with gay couples at least since this counsellow joined, so it is not comparable to the case of Lillian Ladele, a registrar who was found to be wrongfully dismissed for refusing to conduct civil partnerships. It was found that she took the job before civil partnerships had been allowed by law, and so when these were introduced, she was required to perform ceremonies she would not have consented to perform. The was found to have been wrongfully dismissed, so a precedent is set (although this case is currently under appeal, and will hopefully be overturned).

Gary McFarlane had previously worked with gay couples, but it was only after having received psychosexual training, and beginning to work with couples within that context that the problems arose. This seems to me to be the main issue: if one counsels an adult relationship, one may take for granted that, 99% of the time, a part of that relationship is sexual, and helping the relationship is "endorsing that lifestyle", as Mr McFarlane put it. So why is it only the sexual counselling part that he has problems with? This isn't a moral decision, made because he cannot in all conscience encourage homosexuality. He is happy to perform one part of his duties, but not another, because, eww, he will have to talk to two men or two women about shagging.

I don't want someone who has a fundamental problem with my relationship advising me on how to save it. Neither do I want to be denied the chance to save it because of who the relationship is with. And neither do I want someone to be forced to do something against their conscience, even if I find their beliefs abhorrent. I generally believe that compromises can be found, whereby someone can receive training on how to deal with people they may not agree with, or another person take certain cases.

However, all this sets a dangerous precedent. If someone can claim exemption from part of their job for religious grounds, then this can theoretically apply to anything, and renders completely pointless any anti-discrimination policy. What happens with small businesses with no employees that feel capable of serving gay people? Already, one Christian policeman has been fired for sending emails to his colleagues with homophobic Bible verses, after apparently being "bombarded" with posters advertising Gay History Month. If he cannot even cope with posters advertising the fact that gay people exist, then how on earth is he supposed to be able to protect gay, trans, or gender-variant members of the public from hate crimes? And yet precendent has now been set for him to claim wrongful dismissal. I am very hopeful that the courts will find this a clear case of harassment against his colleagues, but sadly, I do not and cannot have faith in the justice system. After all, there is no such precedent for justice for Kellie Telesford.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

On Pirates and Harmless Swearing

So here I am, dipping my toe into the great blogpool. My very first post in a great wide world full of interesting people writing fascinating posts and articles. Out there somwhere, people make livings out of this, avid followers hanging on their every word (I know - I am one of these), and putting together great communities, full of supportive and positive people, sharing ideas, art, theory, knowledge, and lolz. There are also people whose sole purpose in life seems to be attacking and hurting people who dare to challenge their right to do and say and attack whatever or whomever they wish, which sucks, but I suppose is the price of the Internet. We will fight them in the tubes! With logic, reason, and never being silenced about the stuff that really matters.

I had planned a pirate post. I spent all morning talking it up a storm with J, getting out my Mammoth Book of Pirates, to regale this echo chamber serving as a diary with stories of Granuaile, the female Irish pirate who was killed in Rockfleet Castle in 1603; of Mary Bonney and Anne Read, who were probably not lovers, but were certainly cross-dressing lady pirates, and as such deserve to be remembered with respect and a bit of salacious imagination; the way that pirates created some of the first mutual insurance societies, wherein a pirate would receive payout from his crew in the case of injury or debilitation; the matelot system in Caribbean pirate crews where men would team up in pairs, to live together, fight together, pool their assets and share their lives; and the deeply flawed William Dampier, who circumnavigated the world three times, mapped the winds and the currents, landed in Australia 80 years before Cook, visited the Galapagos 150 years before Darwin, wrote best-selling travel books, and coined terms such as 'sub-species'.

From pirates, I would segue seamlessly into a quick explanation of the name of this fine vessel I am sailing in - the Good Ship Priory. The Priory is, of course, that famous clinic, where celebrities go to recover from depression, exhaustion, alcoholism and drug addiction. Good for them. Priories are supposed to be places of rest and serenity, where people can be still inside and get closer to their god. Sadly, I am not a believer, so this aspect is perhaps lost on me - but the idea of a safe space is attractive to all of us, and almost all of us can point to our own 'safe space', even if that space is virtual, mental or private. The Good Ship Priory was also the name of a house in which I used to live, in a seedy but colourful seaside town, with four other queers, plenty of alcohol, some pirate hats, some shockingly bad dancing (mostly on my part), and a blackboard on which inspirational 'overheard' quotes could usually be found. Living in this particular type of sin is, let me tell you, pirate dyke heaven. In the case of Henry Morgan, this is literally true, as he died of "drinking and sitting up late" - we didn't get the memo about this.

From pirate dykes, it is but a short step to Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space (and being kidnapped by the same): my favourite webcomic, which I like to recommend, but can rarely find a way to get into conversation! Hurrah! See, this must be the joy of blogs - talking about whatever you like without interruption.

And finally, my name: (Captain) Shazbat. I have never watched Mork and Mindy, but apparently this is where the term originated. I like it, and it sounds a bit like my name without it being possible to identify me on the interweb, and it means this:
    utterly harmless but effective expletive pinched from the '80s sitcom 'Mork & Mindy'. Can be used by anyone anywhere without incurring wrath and disapproval.

So there it is - my first blog post. I liked it. This could get addictive.