Flying update + last day to register for ‘Being Ourselves’

Hello, world!

A very quick thing – I’m speaking at ‘Being Ourselves’ in London next Saturday (June 1st), a free Albert Kennedy Trust event aimed at young trans and/or intersex people, and their friends and supporters. If you’d like to attend, today is the last day to register (which you can do by emailing with the subject line “Being Ourselves”).

As a more general update, the gloriously hectic month continues – I’ve been to #roles2013, #qfpraxis, #transseminars, and #troublinggender – all academic conferences to do with gender and/or sexuality, where I’ve listened to some fascinating ideas and research, delivered papers of my own, performed radical queer feminist burlesque twice, and (in one particularly surreal instance) heard a paper which examined my project The Cutlery Drawer as an example of the “cut-and-paste” and “DIY” nature of the trans music scene (which, the paper, concludes “isn’t”, in the same way that punk “isn’t”). On top of this, I’m continuing with my very exciting internship working on All About Trans with On Road Media, and am in rehearsals for the premiere of Lashings’ newest endeavour, queer lefty pantomime Fanny Whittington. Oh, and I’m still writing, of course.

If the long list of academic conferences above has whetted your appetite for hearing people talk about transgender and/or genderqueer things, then you’re in luck: the videos from the Spotlight on Genderqueer conference are now appearing online! The YouTube playlist currently has Zowie Davy’s keynote speech, my own talk ‘Approaching Genderqueer Historiography’, and James Hooper on anachronism and ‘transvestite monks’. (I am, of course, desperately wanting to go through the video and correct all the little slip-ups, as well as add back in five minutes’ worth of the material that I excised to be sure of coming within the time-limit – but as a good friend informs me, unchanging perfection is the death of creation, so I should be glad that there’s an imperfect talk of mine up on the internet. 😉 ) For anyone who is interested in my work on Woolf, the Prezi from my more detailed discussion of Woolf at ‘Troubling Gender’ is available here.

That’s all for now – see you on the other side! (And perhaps either at ‘Being Ourselves’, or the opening night of Fanny Whittington at the Oxford Fringe…)

Adventures in trans advocacy

So, I’m suddenly doing a lot of speaking and writing about trans things, in new and exciting contexts – and here’s a blog about it!

In short: I went on the radio, met some BBC executives, spoke at a conference on genderqueer, and am participating in an online education project! For the longer version, read on…

I’ve started interning with On Road Media, with the remit of working on Phase Two of their ‘Trans Media Action‘ project. Phase One was hosting ‘Trans Camp’, where media professionals and trans people spent a day workshopping ideas on improving trans representation – one of the things that came out of it was the Trans Comedy Award, which is offering up to £5000 for a comic script that portrays trans people in a positive light. I know some really talented trans people who have submitted their scripts to this, and I’m excited to see what comes of it – the scripts are being judged by trans people, so I’m confident they won’t let anything hateful slip through the net.

Phase Two is titled ‘All About Trans’, and as such, there’s a new website (and the Twitter account has been renamed). ‘All About Trans’ involves facilitating interactions between media professionals and trans people, in a friendly and low-pressure environment, allowing them to collect on a human level.  So, I’ve been doing research and writing for the site, as well as some photography and design work. You can look at the site and see pictures I’ve taken! Also, you can see my face. (I did a double-take where there was a picture of me and other volunteers as one of the (cycling) header images. I’ve no idea how long it’ll be there, but… yes. There we go. I’m the one with the really long hair.)

As part of working with On Road Media, I’ve already had some amazing opportunities to talk about genderqueer identity. On my first day, I accompanied Alana (from On Road) and Jamie (from The Test Shot) to a radio interview on Resonance FM! We were interviewed by Rosie Wilby on ‘Out in South London’, and I answered some questions about genderqueer, language, and feminism. You can listen to it here on the Out in South London site, or directly on SoundCloud (we’re 37 minutes in). And last Tuesday, I went on the very first interaction – meeting BBC executives in the London Aquarium. It’s been written up on the On Road site, and I might write about it myself at some point. I feel really pleased that I got to speak about genderqueer to someone who’d never encountered the term before, and who was so willing to listen – and I think we also got along pretty well, chatting about poetry and mythmaking and the world of performance. (He quoted T.S. Eliot at me – I finished the line. That was probably my favourite non-trans-related moment.)

On Road Media work aside, I also was delighted to be a speaker at (and ad-hoc assistant organiser of) the ‘Spotlight on Genderqueer‘ conference at the University of Warwick. I gave my paper on genderqueer historiography as the first paper after the introduction and keynote (you can read the abstract here), and then spent the rest of the conference frantically live-tweeting, and doing tech support and organisation in the background, having been drafted in to help with setup and operation the day before (alongside Kat Gupta, who was an absolute hero). It was an utterly brilliant day, with some fascinating and thought-provoking papers – and if you wish you could have been there, despair not! There’s a comprehensive Storify put together by Dr Caroline Walters, and videos (recorded by Alex Drummond) with transcripts will eventually be available on the website. In the evening, we went straight into the  corresponding arts event ‘Fork the Binary‘, put together by me and conference organiser Ruth Pearce under the aegis of our various promoter labels, The Cutlery Drawer and Rolling Head. It was a night of diverse acts from trans, queer, and (predominantly) genderqueer artists, and I bloody loved it. (I did at one point nearly collapse from a combination of tiredness and a bump on the head, but still, it was excellent.)

Finally, I’m taking part in the next of CN Lester’s Q&A projects – this time, with questions being directed to a panel of people who identify in ways other than uncomplicatedly ‘male’ or ‘female’. Please go and ask us questions here – it closes on May 8th!

(As for NUS LGBT Conference – well, it had some very proud moments for trans people, and some very dark moments. I’ll leave that entry for another time!)

* I spent perhaps too long working out whether to say ‘advocacy’ or ‘activism’; I do consider myself a trans activist (and a queer activist, and a feminist activist), but I think the contents of this blog come more under ‘advocacy’.

#NUSLGBT13: going through the motions! (part two)

Well, NUS LGBT Conference begins this morning – here’s part two of my analysis and discussion of this year’s motions, coming to you from a cross-country train! (For part one, click here.)

[Added after writing the rest of the entry: I was initially planning only to comment on motions which were specifically relevant to trans issues, feminism, or my work with the Women’s Campaign (which includes accessibility). As it turned out, I have a lot of opinions, and I note that I’ve commented on the majority of the motions. This is partly because there’s an amazingly high number of policies relating to feminist and trans concerns this year – applause for all the CMs who have submitted these, you’re awesome! – but also because there are some motions about which I felt quite strongly despite them being outside my official remit. I’d like to make it very clear that I don’t mean to dismiss motions on which I haven’t commented.

I’d also like to say one more thing: putting things into policy is one thing – making sure these things happen is another. NUS Liberation campaigns have limited resources: staff, paid elected sabbatical officers, and a committee of volunteers. Passing policy is the first step towards action, but it’s by no means the last. So – elect officers and a committee you think has the requisite skill, energy, and interest to work on the issues that matter you to most. Policy means nothing if there aren’t people there to carry it out. And please, don’t be afraid of contacting officers or committee members directly to ask us to make sure your policies are being followed up on: you elect us, you get to hold us accountable. We’re not superhuman – I know that illness and my Masters degree meant that I wasn’t able to do as much as I’d liked to have done in my most recent term on Women’s Committee – but (hopefully!) we stand for election because we want to work for you, and for the movement.]

Strong and Active Unions Zone

401 – ‘a trans+ inclusive feminism’. Not much to say about this one aside from YES – it’s a pretty simple statement of intent (and commitment to action) about opposing trans-exclusive forms of feminism, and working with the Women’s Campaign on this. I didn’t write it, but I feel like I could have. 😉

402 – ‘a more representative, feminist movement’ – basically, acknowledging that LGBT activism is frequently dominated by gay men, and committing to ensure NUS LGBT works on issues important to LGBT students other than this group. Ideally the wording would make clearer either that it’s referring to LGBT activism as dominated by cis gay men, or note that ‘gay men’ and ‘trans* people’ are not mutually-exclusive categories – but one of the things about how conference works is that it’s not possible to edit the text of the motions (except to correct obvious typographical/copying errors), just to remove sections of it. I’d rather keep this motion than throw it out due to wording issues, so I advise voting YES.

403 and 403a – creating a toolkit to support students who face opposition from their union re: attending LGBT Conference, and (403a) making conference more accessible to first-time delegates by creating info-packs and a buddy system with more experienced delegates. I think both of these are fabulous – improving accessibility is really important, and conference can definitely be intimidating for first-time delegates, so please vote YES on this!

404 and 404a – bringing back the successful LGBT Activist Training Days, and (404a) running them in conjunction with the other NUS Liberation Campaigns. I’m going to offer a YES here – committee training last year was done with all four Liberation campaigns together, and it was a wonderful and eye-opening experience. Intersectionality should be the cornerstone of our movement, and this is one way of helping people to be more than single-issue campaigners. I’ve heard arguments to the effect that ‘activist training days’ are problematic in and of themselves, because activism should be organic and from the grass-roots: personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing skills and techniques for more effective campaigning. The activist training days I’ve attended haven’t been particularly top-down or hierarchical – despite being facilitated by members of NUS staff or committees, they’ve usually ended up feeling more like skillshares than classes. I’d prefer if this motion made clear that NUS LGBT should be footing the bill for running intersectional training days – if they’re being run for members of all the campaigns, they should be funded by all of them in conjunction – but I hope this will be obvious enough to next year’s full-time officers that it doesn’t need expressly stating.

406 – a ‘Liberation league’: collating resources on how well various universities, colleges, and SUs deal with issues relevant to the four NUS Liberation campaigns (that’s Black, Disabled, LGBT, and Women). It’s a tricky undertaking and I feel like it’s quite an ambitious project that would either need a very dedicated committee or some commissioned work from staff or external researches – perhaps a simple way to begin running it would be using a wiki-style format, where students and former students can share information on their unions? I also think that motions on this should be submitted to the other three liberation campaigns. But I’m flagging up this motion because of some context which I think will be useful: a year or two ago, we saw the launch of the ‘Gay By Degree’ resource set up by Stonewall and aimed at helping prospective university students choose universities with good ‘LGB’ policies. It was crammed with inaccuracies, poor analysis, and (of course) total erasure of trans issues. It would be brilliant to begin work on an alternative resource, and so I’d offer an optimistic YES to this motion.

Motion 408 (and amendments) – trans representation in the student movement. Basically: I think this is good, would vote YES, and wish ‘around 30% of trans teens (16-19) commit suicide’ was provided with a citation.

409 and 410 are interesting ones – both relate to the (lack of) trans policy held by BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport). 409 simply asks for BUCS to make their trans policy (if it exists) clear and publicly-accessible; 410 is a longer and rigorously-cited call for BUCS to adopt an evidence-based policy on trans people, which I love so much that I reproduce it in full below:

Motion 410: Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free (from Cissexism)!

 Conference Believes
1.  Currently, British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) defers to national and international sporting bodies for its rules on trans student participation [1]
2.  These rules include but are not limited to requirements of: legal gender recognition, endocrinological intervention, and urological or reproductive surgery.
3.  Enforcement of many of these rules, including those operated by the International Olympic Committee, is unlawful within the UK
4.  Any CM or Athletic Union disclosing a student’s trans status to BUCS without their permission, for the enforcement of these rules or any other purpose, is acting unlawfully
Conference Further Believes
1.  Any coerced or forced medical treatment of trans people is an attack on our bodily autonomy
2. Requiring surgery for recognition of gender is classified by the UN Special Rapporteur as an act of torture [2]
3.  Any post-surgical time limit amounts to a de facto ban on the majority of trans students competing at all
4.  Any restriction on BUCS competition restricts participation in non-BUCS competition, as it requires trans athletes to choose between lying and outing themselves if invited to BUCS events.
Conference Resolves
1.  To demand that every male BUCS competition is immediately and unconditionally opened up to all otherwise eligible students who do not define as female
2.  To demand that BUCS immediately suspends all participation rules requiring legal or medical intervention
3.  To support BUCS in adopting an evidence based policy on trans participation as required by the Equality Act 2010
4.  To support any student who defies BUCS’ eligibility rules purely as a result of their trans status
5.  To encourage all CMs and their Athletic Unions to adopt a self-definition model for participation in gendered sports
6.  That all of the above must be carried out with active consideration of students whose identity does not fall into the male-female binary


I’m proud to say I fed back on the above motion before it was submitted; I think 410 is great and you should vote YES on it. I think it also renders 409 ultimately toothless, so *shrug* on 409. I have mixed feelings on 410a: I’m generally not a fan of motions being written in a conversational-polemical style; I think the basic principle (asking BUCS to adopt a code of practice that actively challenges ablism, racism, sexism, and LGBT-phobia) is sound; I am unsure why it is necessary that NUS LGBT focus on a specific ‘PR guru’ (Max Clifford) rather than the general media culture of homophobia within sport, and am very uncomfortable with the idea of inviting him to a committee meeting (less so with the idea of inviting him to an educational event ‘to debate why hiding your sexual orientation is a dilution of sporting careers/earnings/brand’ – but surely the campaign’s usual stance is one of ‘our rights are not up for debate’ and anger whenever SUs hold debates on e.g. the morality of gay marriage, so where does hosting a debate fit into this?). This might be one to take parts on; I’d rather leave that to someone with a more in-depth knowledge of the specifics discussed in this motion.

Welfare Zone

501 – campaigning for better funding/access to mental health services. I flag this one up because (unlike e.g. motions on anti-racist campaigning) I think that there is more likely to be a response of ‘this isn’t an issue for the LGBT Campaign’. So here are some statistics explaining exactly why mental health is a crucial issue for the LGBT community. Lesbian and gay people have disproportionately high levels of substance abuse (Mind); Bisexual people have disproportionately high levels of depression and anxiety (Anthony Jorm, British Journal of Psychiatry, 2002); all report higher levels of bullying and poor mental health than heterosexuals. 62% of trans people have alcohol abuse/dependency problems; 88% have experienced depression and 70% anxiety; 53% have self-harmed and 84% have contemplated suicide (Scottish Transgender Alliance and Sheffield Hallam University, Trans Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Study, 2012). This is absolutely an issue for LGBT students: please don’t vote down this motion because you think it belongs with the Disabled Students’ Campaign instead, but vote a resounding YES on 501!

502 – campaigning, research and resources on domestic violence and sexual abuse in the LGBT community. This is an amazing motion – loads of information and statistics on incidence on violence and abuse within the community (although I wish all the stats were cited!). I’m pointing out this motion because it illustrates exactly why we absolutely can’t have policy stating (without qualification) that LGBT parents/families are always ‘excellent’ (as proposed in motion 314): domestic violence does happen with same-sex couples, and to have anything in policy denying this is to whitewash and tacitly allow this sort of abuse. So, a great big YES to this motion, and I will personally buy the person who wrote this motion a drink of their choice.

503 – #transdocfail and campaigning for better NHS trans services. Fab motion, with an amendment 503a that I’m a little confused by – not sure why, but it reproduces the text of motion 305. So, my opinions on this as stated last night – in favour, with parts to remove the section stating we should stage demonstrations outside GIC who don’t treat non-binary gender identities. After I wrote yesterday’s entry, the proposer of the motion got in touch asking if I’d be happy for that section to be referred to Trans Caucus instead, so it can be debated only by the people affected by it: I think that’s fair enough, and so offer my opinion here as YES to 503 and 503a, with a procedural motion to refer Conference Resolves 2 to Trans Caucus. [Edited to add: the proposer of 503a confirms that it is there due to a compositing error, and they will be asking conference to vote down the amendment.]

504 – working with LGBT and faith groups. I’m not religious so not directly affected by this, but the resolutions are fantastic:

1.  To condemn anti-religious sentiments found within LGBT communities and the LGBT rights movement.
2.  The NUS LGBT Campaign will properly consult with LGBT students of faith or from religious communities as to how the campaign can best support them.
3.  The NUS LGBT Campaign will provide student activists with arguments for expressing solidarity with LGBT people of faith who are experiencing prejudice and discrimination.
4.  For NUS LGBT to recognise the importance of faith to some LGBT students and work with faith groups to promote LGBT visibility within a wide range of faith groups
5.  To commend and promote religious organisations supportive of their LGBT members.
6.  That all of our work on LGBT and faith will be conducted reflectively and critically to create a safe environment for survivors of faith-based abuse
7.  That all of our work on LGBT and faith will elevate the voices of survivors of faith-based abuse who have both affirmed and renounced their faith

This is the sort of nuanced, compassionate policy we need on the intersection of LGBT and faith – please vote YES on this. YetAnotherLefty has written on this in more detail here.

505 and 506 are on HIV and hate crime respectively – hopefully they’re both an obvious YES.

507 – support and visibility for polyamorous LGBT students. The semantic debate about whether poly people count as ‘queer’ is (in my opinion) much less useful than simply acknowledging that a) there are a number of LGBT students who are polyamorous and b) polyamoury is a misunderstood and marginalised form of relationship/sexuality. So, YES on this motion. Amendment 507a (titled “One – Marriage is inherently a patriarchal institution, Two – We don’t need the State to dictate to us what a ‘family’ or a ‘relationship’ is, and Three – Just Stop Pandering!”) has a very familiar voice… So – I don’t disagree with it, or with the broad sentiment of it. Two of the resolutions are great:

1.  Work across liberation with the women’s, black and disabled campaigns to produce a joint statement aboutreproductive rights and support for non-patriarchal relationship constructs.
2.  Work with support groups, including for polyamorous couples, to support people who have caring responsibilities and a loving or sexual relationship with their partner(s)

I have reservations about most of the rest of the amendment, though: as previously stated, I prefer policy that actually sounds like policy, and am uncomfortable with the idea of official campaign policy including statements about other people’s relationships being ‘exciting’ or ‘heart-warming’ (much as I may share these sentiments!)

4.  It is exciting to think that a triad or quad relationship could involve a scene-queeny bisexual man, two bull-dog lesbians and a bisexual transgender-queer woman.
5.  It is even more heart-warming to imagine the proliferation of these relationships all over the world, and have a truly free and liberated people, free from the dark hawk of state-funded and religio-economic classism and patriarchy. 

And we also have, once again:

6.  LGBT people make good parents and loving family units and this should be celebrated and promoted.

… see above for my objections. I’m also a little uncertain about the unqualified valorisation of single motherhood (for similar reasons), but on the whole would be uncomfortable asking to remove the statement ‘A single mother is an absolutely valid and valuable family unit – despite the hate campaign of the Daily Male/Mail’, as I do think the campaign should be affirming non-normative relationship/family structures. So, YES to 507a (with parts to remove the above-flagged).

508 – improve gender identity clinics. Simple position statement and mandate to lobby funding, staffing, and number of GICs in the UK – YES to this.

509 – to call for the removal of ‘transvestic fetishist disorder’ from the next DSM. Well-cited and absolutely sensible: there is no need whatsoever to pathologise transvestism, so that’s another YES.


510 – lobby the General Medical Council to add LGB and trans-specific education targets as a mandatory part of the education of junior doctors. Sensible and (I hope) an obvious YES.

… and we’re done!

Because I figure this will also be very useful, here are the results of the priority ballot, which determines the order in which all this will be debated and the time allocated for each Zone (as posted by Steering the NUS LGBT Facebook group):


1.    Welfare
2.    F&HE
3.    Strong & Active
4.    Soc/Cit

Welfare (70 mins)

1.    Step up on Mental Health
2.    Domestic and Sexual Violence in the LGBT Community
3.    Our healthcare, now!
4.    LGBT and Religion
5.    A refreshed HIV/AIDS campaign
6.    We HATE Crime
7.    Support and visibility for LGBT and Polyamorous Students.
8.    Improve Gender Clinics
9.    Stop with your pathologisation of our community!
10.  Lobbying of the General Medical Council (GMC)

Education (45 mins)

1.    The anti-bullying & tolerance motion
2.    LGBT Access to Education
3.    Free education is a right – Bring Back EMA!
4.    Gender Neutral Titles
5.    Protecting LGBT Students studying abroad

Strong & Active (90 mins)

1.    A More representative, feminist movement
2.    The conference attendee toolkit
3.    NUS LGBT Activist Training Days
4.    Challenging racism & fascism on our campuses and in our communities
5.    A Liberation League: empowering prospective LGBT students, empowering activists and unions.
6.    Don’t let the local campaign die – Support the right to LGBT(+)
7.    Trans Representation in the Student Movement
8.    Clearer Trans Policy in BUCS
9.    Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free (from Cissexism)!
10. Destroy International Homophobia and Transphobia
11. Say NO to 0870!

Society & Citizenship (105 mins)

1.    Recognising non-binary gender identities
2.    LGBT Young People in Care
3.    Lucy Meadows
4.    Inclusion of Non-Binary Trans* People within the NHS
5.    Smash the Gender Recognition Act
6.    Stronger Community Campaigns
7.    Celebrating Pink Parents and Pink Families
8.    Fund Education Not War – Scrap Trident, Scrap Fees
9.    Self Definition is the Only Definition
10. Reclaiming Reclaim the Night
11. Support the small prides movement
12. Tackling Transmisogyny: in our movement and the media
13. The 10 Billion Person Planet

Rules Revision (70 mins)

1.    A + For Inclusion!
2.    Affordable cost of conference
3.    Disabled delegates at LGBT Conference
4.    Increased Representation for Black Women
5.    NUS LGBT definition of ‘woman
6.    Disabled students, mental health
7.    Create a Men’s Caucus
8.    Membership of Trans Caucus
9.    Bi Caucus definition

Stay tuned for another blog entry discussing conference more generally: in the meantime, I hope this has been a useful jumping-off point for new delegates, and at least interesting or thought-provoking for everyone else.

NUS LGBT Conference: going through the motions! (part one)

Tomorrow is the first day of NUS LGBT Conference 2013. It will be the last NUS conference I attend this year; quite possibly the last NUS conference I will attend ever; certainly the last for the foreseeable future. I have a lot of personal musings about this, but for now – it’s policy time!

In the post that follows, I’m going to offer some opinion and analysis on some of the motions which have been submitted to this year’s conference, in the hope that this will be useful (or at least interesting) to this year’s crop of delegates. The conference details are all available on NUS Connect; a direct link to the motions document is here.

I am writing from a perspective that is queer, trans, feminist, and unaffiliated to any faction within NUS. I’m not going to cover all of the motions – some of them aren’t areas on which I feel qualified to comment, or on which I feel comment is necessary. And it’s 40+ pages of motions, which is a pretty tall order! (And, for clarity: I wish I’d been able to do this with Women’s Conference: in writing on one but not the other, it’s not that I’m prioritising the issues of LGBT students above women students – it’s just that as a member of Women’s Committee, behind-the-scenes organising in the run-up to conference took precedence!)

Edited to add: I have already offered apologies on the conference hashtag, but I’d like to do so here as well (albeit belatedly).
Firstly: my initial intention (as above) to cover only the motions on which I felt “qualified to comment” was because I felt I should be speaking in terms of the jurisdiction of my committee position (that is, women’s issues and trans issues), and that I did not have the right to comment on e.g. motion 103, submitted to the conference by the Black Students’ Campaign: as a white person I am not part of their membership, and to take a position on Black Students’ Campaign policy seemed to fly in the face of the autonomy of the four NUS Liberation Campaigns. I now recognise that this failure to comment was a mistake on my part. Given that I ended up commenting on many things which were not related to my committee place, this post (and its sequel) became more of a general round-up of the upcoming motions to be discussed, and was shared by various people as an introduction to the approaching conference. In this context, my early decision not to comment on motions submitted by the Black Students’ Campaign resulted in effectively erasing the contributions of Black students. In addition, having not engaged with motion 103 (adding a reserve place for disabled students in delegations) and 104 (adding the position of “Black Students’ Rep (Women’s Place) to the LGBT Committee) at the start of writing this post skewed my perception of the relative importance of motions which were close to my heart (particularly motions 105, 108, and 109). I now recognise that my attempt to bring 108 and 109 forwards to the start of their zone (in an attempt to sidestep the inevitable prolonged debate over motion 101, and on the (false) assumption that they could be concluded in a couple of minutes) was utterly inappropriate. While I still consider 105, 108, and 109 to be important motions, as the language we use should be as inclusive as possible, they are absolutely not as important as tangible measures to improve representation of marginalised groups on conference floor and on the LGBT committee. I apologise unreservedly for screwing up here, and failing to recognise what was most important in this case.

Secondly: had I known how motion 304 (the Lucy Meadows motion) would go, I would have spoken to my co-submitters of the motion (other members of the NUS Trans Working Group, comprising elected members of various NUS committees who are trans) and withdrawn it from the conference floor. As intimated below, I ended up deciding that I would ask to remove the parts about releasing a statement, in accordance with the wishes of Meadows’ family, and I informed the other submitters of the motion before that I intended to do so. Just seconds before conference floor re-opened, another trans activist (who I admire and consider a friend) told me she intended to move that the question be not put to conference floor at all. We ended up with a protracted debate (involving a number of procedural motions) between trans people over the specific manner in which we should mourn/acknowledge Meadows’ death. Given that the actions mandated in 304 (condemning press transphobia and demanding better) were broadly covered by motion 313 (fighting transmisogyny in the movement and in the media), and how the extended debate was upsetting, draining, and time-consuming for many people, I regret not having thought to confer with the other submitters of the motion and remove it wholesale from the order paper. I believe that the way the debate around this motion unfolded is partly an unfortunate result of the way NUS conferences work – that’s a rant for another day, but basically, I wish there were more ways to foster constructive debate and education around motions before (or instead of!) the structured and bureacracy-delimited practice of “for” and “against” speeches.

Finally, I do not retract the spirit of anything I said about Stonewall: I think they have proven time and time again how little they value trans people, and – especially while they continue to hoover up the vast majority of LGBT funding – that LGBT organisations should be taking a principled stand against working with them. However, I apologise for the wording I used in describing them, as in the flush of anger I used an ablist word.

So, there we go. I don’t believe in doggedly defending questionable views/actions, and I am not interested in the kind of NUS careerism that means pretending that I have never said/done anything wrong – so hopefully I’ve managed to practice accountability by taking valid criticism on board and being aware of the repercussions of my actions. This isn’t to say that the conference was a litany of errors (mine or otherwise) – I feel that I also managed to do some good, and the conference as a whole was a very mixed bag (particularly from a trans perspective), but I hope that at least some good groundwork has been laid for the next year of NUS LGBT’s activism.

Rules Revision Zone

101 – changing the name of the campaign to “LGBT+”. For new conference-goers: this has been a raging debate within the campaign for years now, and everyone and their dog has an opinion on it. Broadly, I think that the campaign already solved the core issue of membership and inclusion that this motion seeks to address when it expanded the campaign’s membership definition, which I quote from the Standing Orders – “Individual Members who self-identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi and/or Trans or Undecided/Questioning or Queer, or who self-define as any other marginalised romantic/sexual orientation or gender identity (including but not limited to Asexual, Pansexual, Bigender, and Genderqueer), or who choose not to define their romantic/sexual orientation or gender identity shall be considered the Members of the Campaign.” Adding a “+”, “UA+”, or “Q” is (in my opinion) more of an icing-on-the-cake issue at this point. That said, I’m personally in favour of the “+” (but not “UA+” – it’s unwieldy and less recognisable, and if we’re adding any letter it should be a “Q”) while taking the point that collapsing all other identities into one glyph isn’t perfect. So, my view is YES to Motion 101 and Amendment 101a, and (thus) NO to Amendment 101b (changing the name to “LGBTUA+”).

102 – making conference affordable. I will be taking parts to REMOVE Conference Further Believes 2 (“NUS Women’s Conference has reduced costs and introduced a two option approach for delegates going to conference. This includes a conference only option priced at £29 or £19 for HE and FE respectively, with the option of an extra night with a meal and awards night priced at £80 (excluding VAT)”) on the basis of factual inaccuracy. NUS Women’s Conference’s extra night for extra cost was not the awards night – which took place on the first evening of conference and was open to every delegate – but an option for delegates who wanted to come up the night before the official start of conference. I would also vote YES on Amendment 102a, as I do not believe that a tiered pricing structure (to make the celebratory aspects of conference more expensive) is an appropriate way to treat delegates. The campaign should seek increased funding from NUS to better reflect its size, and external funding from ethical sponsors, rather than perpetuate economic hierarchies within the conference space.

105 – following the NUS Women’s Campaign definition of ‘woman’. Just a note to say that I am really pleased about this motion appearing, based as it is on my own changes to the NUSWC’s standing orders, and would obviously advise voting YES.

107 – creation of a Men’s Caucus. Sigh. This is another old chestnut in NUS LGBT – essentially, my (unsurprising?) view is that gay/bi/trans men are not oppressed as men, but as gay/bi/trans people. I think that there are certainly valuable conversations that can and should be had about the interactions of maleness/masculinity with GBTQ status, but that this is a job for a workshop or fringe meeting rather than a caucus. (NUS jargon alert: a caucus is a timetabled session for members of a specific group that is marginalised within the membership of the campaign (so, for example, Disabled Caucus or Trans Caucus) which usually (but not always) elects a representative to the committee; a workshop is a timetabled educational session open to all comers; a fringe is an informal meeting that can be called and convened by any delegate, on any topic they wish. Unlike a caucus or workshop, a fringe does not have an allocated slot on the timetable, but a time and place is passed on to Steering, who then announce it at conference floor. There have been bear fringes, poly fringes, various faith and party-political fringes, as well as fringes which function as informal workshops. They’re awesome, and more people should run them!) So, NO to 107, and YES to 107a (delete-and-replace amendment calling for the erasure of this motion).

108 and 109 – new membership definitions for Bisexual and Trans caucus. These two are pretty self-explanatory: I was involved in writing both of them, and essentially in each case it’s about expanding the definition to be as inclusive as possible for those who experience the relevant oppressions. As the motion on Bisexual Caucus notes, way back in 2010 Bisexual Caucus voted to change its name to ‘Bi Caucus’ and define itself as open to those who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to more than one gender; this didn’t get recorded or implemented for whatever reason, and then in 2012 as part of Steering’s rules revision was officially defined as “Bisexual Caucus may only be attended by delegates who identify as Bisexual” (and similarly, “Trans Caucus may only be attended by delegates who identify as Trans”). The proposed new definitions are “Trans Students’ Caucus may only be attended by those in the campaign who self-define under the trans umbrella (including but not limited to the following identities: agender, androgyne, gender-fluid, genderqueer, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, neutrois, non-binary) and those in the campaign who are questioning their gender identity” and “Bi Caucus may only be attended by those in the campaign who experience attraction (sexual or romantic) to more than one gender. This includes( but is not limited to) students who identify as bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, queer (and attracted to more than one gender), biromantic, panromantic, polyromantic, and omniromantic.” A bit of a mouthful, but as per my thoughts on motion 101 (and my work in NUS Women’s Campaign), I think having clearly inclusive definitions is very useful – so please vote YES on 108 and 109.

Education Zone

204 – supporting students in the acquisition of gender-neutral titles or title-free options. Obligatory “I’m genderqueer and I support this motion” comment – the ability to use one’s preferred titles is important to students who are legally transitioning, and this should be made as smooth as possible by university structures. If you’d like to read more on this, I recommend having a look at the Think Outside the Box campaign (which began in Cambridge University). Amendment 204a (a delete-and-replace amendment), however, makes me annoyed enough that I’m going to quote it in full:

204a: Stop Wasting Time Trying to Acquiesce with Hetero-Cis-Normativity: We Demand Liberation NOT After-thought Equality!
Conference believes:

1. The founders of the modern-day gay rights movement championed liberation: they did not wish to pander to second-class heteronormal equality
2. Titles and patronage are part of an out-dated autocratic, anti-liberation class system that subjugates people – all people
3. Tracking back through history – a bloody and oppressive history of Western Christendom – patriarchy is the founding ‘father’ of the aristocracy, nobility and the creator of titles
Conference further believes:
1. There are people, usually oppressed middle class heterosexuals, that cling on to titles as a way of defending and extending patriarchy and promulgating a Victorian quasi Presbyterian subjugation of women by using married and un-married female titles like Mrs and Miss
2. We should defend the founding principle of our movement: liberation not simply a carbon-copy of out-dated and patriarchal institutions, titles and systems.
3. We need to smash patriarchy. Now.
4. We are queer. We are here. We are proud.
Conference resolves:
1. Campaign for a society which is liberated, free from patriarchy and free from meaningless titles: Mr, Miss, Mrs, Misc, Mx
2. For postnominals such as PhD, LLM, BSc etc, our people have earned these, but they also should be free from patriarchy and sexism: to campaign for inclusive postnominals, gender neutral and liberated
3. To stop pandering to heteronormal patriarchy.

I suspect this amendment has been submitted by the same person behind 304a, as in both cases, it’s an utterly inappropriate use of a trans-related motion to further a tangentially-related ideological point. While I am in favour of a world without titles – in a far-future utopia sort of sense – it is utterly naive to think that NUS LGBT campaign has the power to create such a world merely by passing vague policy to ‘campaign for’ it. In the world in which we live, titles are widely used, and in this context it is imperative that trans people should be able to use titles which accord with their genders, whether Msc, Mx, Mr, Mrs, Ms, or – gasp! – even Miss, if they want to. I would much rather the NUS LGBT Campaign allocate resources towards campaigning for material changes in universities which will bring measurable benefits to trans students, than making grand demagogic statements that contain no concrete action that will tangibly increase the lives of its membership. So, YES to 204 and NO to 204a, please.

Society and Citizenship Zone

301 – condemn Stonewall for their trans erasure, lobby for them to become inclusive, and refuse to work with them on campaigns which aren’t trans-inclusive. A heartfelt YES to this one. If you’d like to know more about Stonewall’s failings, good places to start are this link and this one.

302 and 302a – campaigning for the recognition of non-binary gender identities (in various practical and well-defined ways). Another obvious YES from your friendly neighbourhood genderqueer NUS-er.

304 – condemn the press for their treatment of Lucy Meadows, a trans primary school teacher who was hounded by the press and found dead recently. Another obvious YES – I fought to give this motion more teeth than I think it currently has: I don’t think it’s appropriate or useful for NUS to ‘release a statement in memory of Lucy Meadows’ given her family’s wishes on the matter (and would even consider taking parts to remove Conference Resolves 1), but I do think we should be condemning the press and demanding a formal apology and an agreement to do better. And then, as I mentioned above, there’s another awful amendment, which (again) I’ll quote in full:

Amendment 304a: Neo-fascism alive and well in Ofsted regulated religious schools
Conference believes:
1. It’s sickening to hear of the brutal and untimely death of LGBT people at any time and it makes our stomachs churn up when we know it is more likely than not that a person’s demise is because they are LGBT.
2. Lucy Meadows, a transgender primary school teacher had transitioned over Christmas. Lucy informed the school of her “gender reassignment”, and the school took it upon themselves, following Ofsted policy, to write to parents informing them that “[birth name] would be returning to the school as a woman after Christmas” and that children should “address her as Miss Meadows” in future.
3. Lucy was found dead on 19 March 2013, with the results of the post mortem currently with a Coroner. Police are not treating the death as “suspicious”
4. That yet another trans person has died in the prime of their life.
5. That the Church of England runs the primary school (St Mary Magdalen’s in Accrington, Manchester)
Conference further believes:
1. That the Church of England, like many organisations based on superstition, is far from a champion of trans rights.
2. That pulpits across the country, filled by hate-figures like Cardinal O Brien and Reverend Roy Patterson, spouting out the Devil’s work to instigate further oppression and the prayed-for extinction of LGBT and Queer people.
Conference resolves:
1. To send our love, condolences and solidarity to Lucy’s family and friends

The only resolution from this motion is something that is toothless and (as discussed above) utterly inappropriate given the wishes expressed by Lucy’s grieving family; much of ‘conference believes’ is nothing but restatement of the original motion, with added (highly inappropriate) mention of Lucy’s birth name, which Steering thankfully have chosen to remove as part of the compositing process; the remaining content of the motion is tangentially-related invective against the Church of England which a) serves no purpose, as it does not carry anything into ‘resolves’ about e.g. working with faith groups to tackle institutional prejudice and b) is offensive to (and erasing of) the many Christian members of (and allies to) the LGBT community and the work they already do. So please vote YES on 304 and NO on amendment 304a!

305 – inclusion of non-binary trans people in the NHS. This is a useful motion and I’d broadly urge a YES – but also, taking parts to REMOVE Conference Resolves 2, which reads: “To mandate the NUS LGBT Campaign to stage peaceful demonstrations outside Gender Identity Clinics around the UK highlighting the need for non-binary recognition and treatment within the NHS.” Absolutely not – protesting outside GICs will intimidate the people who are accessing those services, and has too much potential to be twisted into something awful by the media. It’s also an inefficient use of NUS LGBT’s limited resources, especially when this motion also calls for focused lobbying of the NHS and GMC, which is much more useful.

306 – moving beyond the Gender Recognition Act. Rather than explaining this one, I’ll quote it in full:

Motion 306: Smash the Gender Recognition Act
Conference Believes
1. Following Christine Goodwin v The United Kingdom, Case No 28957/1995, the Gender Recognition Act (2004) was introduced to allow trans men and women the right to privacy and marriage. Under the Act, a person seeking recognition must provide evidence of having lived in their gender for 2 years to the government’s Gender Recognition Panel
2. The Act implicitly excludes intersex people, and makes no provision for non-binary gender identity
3. The Act was an historic advance in protection for some trans people, but can only be a stepping stone to full trans equality
Conference Further Believes
1. Following European rulings on insurance and pensions, and with the advent of marriage equality, there is no legitimate reason to record sex as a matter of legal fact
2. Treating gender as a matter of legal fact impedes the struggle against sexism, heterosexism and violence against women
3. Government regulation of individual gender is an attack on the autonomy and right to personal identity of all people
4. Government recording of individual gender and trans status places trans people at further risk of oppression and violence
5. Ending government regulation of gender does not preclude voluntary acknowledgement of gender to target services, support and protection for vulnerable groups
Conference Resolves
1. To campaign to end the mandatory, immutable recording of gender on birth, marriage (or partnership) and death certificates
2. To campaign to end the legal notion of gender as a regulated list of acceptable identities
3. To demand the replacement of the Gender Recognition Act with a system of self-identification and the strengthening and extension of the protections that the Act affords to persons of all gender identities and histories without need for government registration
2. That all of the above will be pursued in a way which actively reinforces the struggle against sexism, heterosexism and violence against women.

I didn’t write this (although I’m named as a submitter, I just provided feedback) and am definitely behind this one – yes, it’s radical, and it’s asking for things which the LGBT campaign is unlikely to be able to materially effect, at least in the immediate future: but it is, in my view, a sensible mixture of principle and pragmatism. It does not ask that the campaign stop working to support trans people within existing legal structures (unlike amendment 204a), but does give the campaign a principled stance on where we would ideally like to see legal understandings of gender end up.

308 – supporting ‘pink parents and pink families’. I’ll offer a cautious YES to this one – I think that LGBT parents certainly deserve support and representation – but with a few caveats: a YES to amendment 308a (replacing the terms ‘pink parents’ and ‘LGBTQAU parents’ with ‘LGBT parents’) and taking parts to remove Conference Believes 4, which reads: “Marriage is essentially a false construct, based on patriarchy which needs to be opposed by the LGBTQAU community.” Now, there’s a lot to criticise about marriage as an institution – both in its roots and in its current incarnation – but to call it a ‘false construct’ is insipid and reductive. How is marriage any more ‘false’ that any other social construct? I don’t like that marriage is one of very few accepted routes towards legal recognition of kinship (and the attendant rights), or that it’s seen as the apex and natural conclusion of a loving relationship – but this powerful legislative and cultural position is precisely why we simply cannot dismiss it as ‘false’. While marriage continues to occupy such a powerful place in society – while it is something that confers rights upon couples – then I am in favour of the tactical short-term goal of extending and expanding the benefits afforded by marriage to as many relationships as possible, while also maintaining the longer-term goal and principled stance that there needs to be radical sociocultural and legal change. (And no, I wasn’t in favour of the LGBT Campaign picking ‘equal marriage’ as its priority campaign last year – but nor do I think that we should ignore the tangible benefits that marriage can bring to so many LGBT couples.)

310 – “self-definition is the only definition”. I’m broadly in favour of this motion: essentially, it reaffirms the campaign’s committment to the self-definition model of identity, while also drawing a line against the appropriation of the language of self-definition (as in the recent UCL Women’s Officer election). That said, I have some problems with the language: Conference Believes 3 reads “Self definition is not a speech act, it is a way of putting into language how we understand and conceive of ourselves in a society which lacks the frameworks“, while Conference Resolves 1 reads: “To reaffirm our commitment and belief that self identification is the only meaningful way of understanding gender and organising space within the NUS LGBT Campaign and wider society.” Hmm. I am quite uncomfortable with the idea that defining oneself is necessarily not a speech act; I also think that it’s short-sighted to characterise self-identification as the only meaningful way of understanding gender. I consider it to be at the bedrock of my understanding of gender: however, to call it the only meaningful way of understanding gender precludes analysis of (for example) how gender operates as a power structure, or as a semiotic system. So, I say YES to this motion, but would consider taking parts on CB1 and CR1 (and lament the inability to edit rather than remove the text, as I’d prefer to keep them in an altered form than remove them entirely).

311 – “reclaiming Reclaim the Night”. This motion characterises women-only Reclaim the Night marches as trans-exclusive and denying of the fact that men, too, can be survivors of rape and sexual abuse; it asks for NUS LGBT to take a principled stance against women-only marches, and to work with the Women’s Campaign to promote all-genders marches; it also provides a claim (un-cited) that an organiser of Reclaim the Night Cardiff said that “only women can be raped”.  So – I certainly agree that men can be survivors of horrendous abuse, and that it’s obviously false that rape is always and exclusively perpetuated on women. But I don’t think it’s the place of the LGBT Campaign to be dictating to local grass-roots RtN marches (with their long history of being organised and operated by women’s groups) what they should be doing. NUS Women’s Campaign has made its opinions very clear on trans inclusion, and there’s a diversity of RtN marches out there – for example, London is (as stated in the motion) women-only, whereas Brighton is all-genders. Luckily, some wonderful bright spark has written the below amendment:

Conference Believes
1. Reclaim the Night (RtN) is an internationally held march intended as a protest and direct action against rape, sexual assault and other forms of violence against women, that has been held since the 1970s
2. While some RtN marches are women only, others have a variety of ways of including people who do not identify as women, from entirely mixed marches to supporters’ blocks and mixed after parties and rallies.
Conference Further Believes
1. Organisers of RtN marches take varied approaches to the inclusion of non-binary identified people. Most RtN marches organised by Students’ Union’s rely on the NUS Women’s Campaign definition of ‘woman’, which includes all self identified women, trans* women and those with complex identities that include ‘women’
2. The NUS LGBT Campaign reinforces its commitment for those who are oppressed in society to organise within their liberation groups, including women’s only spaces
3. Hijacking the essential struggle for the inclusion of binary identified trans* women, and those with complex gender identities that include women, in women’s only spaces in order to attempt to make space for cis men, is appropriative
Conference Resolves
1. For Women’s Reps and Trans* reps to work alongside the NUS Women’s Campaign to support those who are organising Reclaim the Night marches in their Unions, supporting them to make women’s only marches and blocks inclusive of all who self identify as women, in particular by supporting these organising groups to make links with local LGBT organisations
2. To reaffirm our commitment for the right of all oppressed people to organise with their own liberation groups, including women’s only spaces
3. For the NUS LGBT Campaign to have a presence at RtN marches across the UK

… so, YES to Amendment 311a, please!

313 – tackling transmisogyny in our movement and in the media. I wrote this; it’s an altered version of the emergency motion I submitted to Women’s Conference 2013, which was passed. Here are the resolutions – please vote YES to this!

1. To stand firm against transphobia and transmisogyny.
2. For the NUS LGBT Officers, Trans Reps and NUS Trans Working Group to work with Trans Media Watch on issues of trans people and media representation (as promised in NUS LGBT’s statement on Burchill).
3. For the NUS LGBT Officers, Trans Reps and NUS Trans Working Group to produce a briefing detailing ideas on how to campaign around this issue, including information on how to make a complaint to a broadcasting agency (as promised in NUS LGBT’s statement on Burchill).
4. For the LGBT Committee’s Trans Rep(s) to work with the NUS Women’s Officer and the NUS Trans Working Group to produce a briefing on tackling transphobia and transmisogyny within the feminist movement (as discussed in a version of this motion submitted to NUS Women’s Conference).

314 – The 10 Billion Person Planet. This is a sensible motion about making sure that LGBT parenting rights aren’t impinged upon by the (understandable!) concerns about global over-population, but it has some wince-inducing wording in places: Conference Believes 5 reads “LGBT people make excellent parents, and LGBT families are excellent units in which to raise, foster and support children” (really? always? unilaterally and uncomplicatedly, with no instances of abuse ever, because being LGBT automatically makes you a saint?) and Conference Further Believes 3 reads: “With heterosexual breading [sic] out of control globally, the fear is that LGBT reproductive rights will be sacrificed as part of the panicked debate on birth control. The humane way to control reproduction is through education – not through sterilisation, oppression or curtailment of rights” (which… yes, good overall point, but can we please phrase this in a way that doesn’t present people in different-sex relationships as unthinking spawn-spewers?). There are two proposed amendments which fix my problems on this: so I’d say YES to 314, 314a and/or 314b, with parts to remove CB5 (on the basis that saying “LGBT people make excellent parents” without qualification erases the reality of abuse within LGBT families, and the good work done by organisations such as Broken Rainbow).

… I’m now half-way through the motions document, and I think it’s time for dinner. 😉 I aim to write on the rest of the motions before the start of conference tomorrow – but either way, hopefully this is a useful read, and (as ever) I welcome further discussion on these issues either here in the comments or privately.

Article, workshop, book!

Another flying update for you, dear reader! Here are three things which you might find interesting:

I’ve co-written another piece about the Burchill/Moore mess with Sussex PhD researcher Lizzie Reed, which has now been published at academic blog Re.Framing Activism.

I’ll be running a workshop this Sunday, at StudentFems2013. It is amazing to see something like this coming out of the grassroots student feminist movement, and I’m honored to be a part of it. As well as providing the usual “Trans 101”, I’m hoping to facilitate a productive discussion about the points of intersection between trans and feminist thought, and the different ways that gender is envisioned and constructed in culture.

Finally, I’d like to alert any LGBTQ Brightonians to Queer in Brighton – it’s an awesome multimedia project about Brighton’s queer history, and the deadline for short written submissions for the printed anthology is the 1st of March. If you have a memory of being LGBTQ in Brighton that you want to share, then do consider sending something in – it looks like it’s going to be amazing.

Everyday Sexism, everyday feminism

Last week I attended a talk at King’s College London given by Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. It was by turns upsetting and inspiring.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, the Everyday Sexism Project is a website which gathers together user-submitted accounts of the microaggressions faced by women (and people who are read as women) in their daily lives. If you don’t face those things, reading the site is an eye-opener – if you do, then it’s a saddening reminder of how the world tries to grind down those who don’t fit into the narrow standards of acceptability for the socially-policed categories of gender. Go forth and read it, but have a video of adorable puppies on stand-by for when you need some light relief.

Part of Bates’ talk dealt with the story of how she founded Everyday Sexism. She described the dawning realisation that the things she put up with day-to-day – the barrage of unsolicited gendered comments on one’s body shape, employability, attractiveness, mental prowess, clothes – weren’t happening to just her. Hearing the stories of other women and realising how deep this went was what inspired the founding of Everyday Sexism. I find this project particularly exciting because it works on the same principle as the early feminist practice of the consciousness-raising group, but uses the technology of today to amplify it almost beyond recognition. The consciousness-raising groups of the 60s and 70s were where many women made their way from thought to action, famously realising that ‘the personal is political’: as with Bates’ own story, hearing first-hand that it’s not just you, that it’s all taking place on a systemic scale. With social media platforms being what they are, now someone doesn’t even need to find a group to attend in person – thousands and thousands of personal accounts of the drip-drip-drip of sexism are just a few clicks away.

The other section of Bates’ talk dealt specifically with sexism and ‘lad culture’ at university – apparently every Fresher’s Week, the site is inundated with accounts of ritualised sexual humiliation and predatory sexual behaviour: sports team initiation rites including stripping and miming fellatio; themed parties which expressly encourage female students to dress in revealing clothing (‘pimps and hoes’, ‘rappers and slappers’, ‘tarts and vicars’, etc); older male students playing games over how many Freshers they can fuck (extra points for virgins or underwear-stealing). All of this was notoriously epitomised in the loathsome website UniLad, though I’ve seen it in union-specific publications too… On a somewhat more positive note, the NUS Women’s Campaign has commissioned researchers from the University of Sussex (two organisations which of course I have a personal connection with) to perform research into lad culture. And Bates herself did end the talk on something of a positive note – in the Q&A session at the end, she talked about some success stories, where women who had been reading the site stood up against street harassers or sexist comments.

I’d also like to take a moment to be incredibly gleeful about KCL’s blossoming feminist community – and indeed, the state of student feminism in London more generally. Things seem to have come on so far in such a short space of time! In my first year at King’s College, I joined the excellent KCL Sexual Politics society, the LGBT Campaign, and the London Student Feminist Network – but in my second year, most of Sexual Politics had graduated, the LSFN seemed to disappear, and so I focused on being the Welfare Officer of the LGBT Campaign. In my third year, thanks to the dedicated work of one of the sabbatical officers, the students’ union finally brought in Liberation Officers – the Women’s Officer, the LGBT Officer, the Ethnic Minorities Officer, and the Disabled Officer. I became the Women’s Officer (and stuck with my Welfare position on the LGBT Committee). I had a budget of £75 for the entire year, very little union-based support (I didn’t even have the authority to book rooms!) and had to build a campaign from scratch (unlike the LGBT Officer, who was able to link in to the existing campaign). The group I led was small but dedicated: my favourite of achievements were a well-attended confidence-building and self-defence session from the London Centre for Personal Safety (who, despite their focus on ‘prevention’ of assault, are not in the least victim-blaming), and an eating disorders awareness campaign that raised £800 for b-eat. Still, it was something of an uphill struggle.

So, to come back to King’s College and see that there’s now a feminist society with three hundred members – KCL FemSoc, headed by one of the amazing students from my old Women’s Group – and that there’s a well-supported Women’s Officer with a seat on Student Council and an actual budget… well, it’s amazing. Despite the upsetting content, I spent the aftermath of the Bates talk – which was given to a packed lecture room – feeling quite elated. I’m also incredibly happy to see that there’s a new London Student Feminist Network, and it’s organising a grassroots conference next weekend! There’s still time to register for it if you’re a student feminist in or around London: I’ll be facilitating one of the workshops there, and it would be great to see this conference packed with activists on its first year. And on a similar note, registration for this year’s NUS Women’s Conference (to be held in York on 5th-6th March) has been extended until February 20th – so if you’re at a union that hasn’t registered a delegation yet, there’s still time!

What began as a reflection has ended as something of an exhortation – just like in my last entry, albeit in a very different sphere… Perhaps that means something about how thinking about one’s history ultimately leads back to this moment right now; or more probably, I just get excited about a lot of things that are happening. 😉 And I am, most definitely, excited: student feminism is alive and well in my old union (and in my more recent union as well, with Sussex FemSoc launching a regular feminist rock night) and I’m glad to still be playing some part in it.

Extra links:

Laura Bates at The F-Word on Everyday Sexism
Sara Child on consciousness-raising groups
The website for the ‘lad culture’ research
KCL FemSoc on Twitter

The Burchill/Moore saga continues…

… and goodness me, what an epic saga it is. (If you’re reading this as someone with no idea at all why you should care, I recommend beginning with this response – ‘Why a straight man like me cares about transgender rights‘.)

At some point I may write a more detailed timeline of events, but a brief recap: Moore threatens to sue Pink News over their reference to her in their coverage of the murder of a Brazilian trans woman, before claiming it was a joke; on the same day, another piece from her appears in The Guardian where she positions herself as staunchly in favour of ‘freedom of speech’ with a quasi-Voltairean ‘people died for my right to offend you’. A planned protest/vigil outside The Observer’s offices takes place that day/evening: the deputy editor apologises to the crowd, and an apology from Stephen Pritchard is printed the next day (both of those links go directly to the Guardian – those wishing to avoid giving them revenue may want to use Google Cache). The blossoming dust-cloud of press and blogosphere and Twitter response continues to expand, and Trans Media Watch’s Twitter is a good start for following the coverage on this.

Following this mess – and watching it spread around various media at a rapidly-increasing rate – has been at times unpleasant, and at times heartening. There is some incredibly thoughtful, considered, and humane commentary out there – and there’s also cynical clickbait from papers wanting to increase their revenue, a whole lot of really vile mudslinging, and an increasing abstraction of the debate into one about the respective roles of the press and internet commentators.

I’d like to comment on this abstraction. As I expressed on Twitter, I am concerned that trans people (particularly trans women, as the targets of most of this vitriol – trans men and other trans identities are mostly being left out of the debate) are going to become scapegoats in the conversation on an entirely different issue. There is certainly a conversation to be had about anger, abuse, and the internet. Online anonymity or pseudonymity can enable (or at least evade repercussions for) some truly awful behaviour – consider the tidal wave of vicious misogyny directed at Anita Sarkeesian when her ‘Tropes vs Women’ project went viral, or this example of Reddit’s most famous troll. There’s also the debate about call-out culture within activist circles – when engaging with someone who has (intentionally or unintentionally) written/said/endorsed something that harms a marginalised group, to what extent is it appropriate to express one’s (legitimate) anger? I’m not going to cover that in detail today, but some recent examples of that debate can be found here, here, and here. I will say that from my participation in activist spaces both online and offline, I have noticed a tendency for offline calling-out to be much more in the spirit of ‘good faith’ than online – although even if this experience is common to other people, I couldn’t say whether this is a function of how people interact in person vs through text-based media, or just a result of offline spaces being more often composed of people who know each other personally, or some other factor. So, yes – there is definitely much to discuss about how the internet interacts with anger, and with the forms taken by activism, and with abusive language and behaviour.

However, what I am seeing in some of the discourse around Burchill and Moore – and I touched on this in my last post, with the reference to accusations of inauthenticity – is a blunt-instrument conflation of those two debates above. The genuinely important calling-out of Moore certainly began on a polite enough register, and while there has since been an outpouring of anger, this is the rage that comes from genuine hurt, and a lifetime of struggling against a world that has proven time and time again how dangerous it is for people like oneself. The pain and anger of trans people is not the calculated sadism of internet trolls saying anything for a rise out of people, or the knee-jerk cruelty and conservatism of those who mobbed Anita Sarkeesian. And yet, this is how Moore’s supporters – and some in the popular press who would consider themselves neutral – are portraying this. While it would not be inaccurate to claim that ‘there have been counterproductive insults on both sides’, to thence apportion equal ‘blame’ is a fallacy. Moore’s knee-jerk response on Twitter and Burchill’s hate-filled screed come from a place of power – and their angry response to criticism is, at heart, a refusal of the idea that they even have this power: don’t you dare tell me that you’re more oppressed than me, don’t you dare tell me that I’m harming you, I’m a good feminist. (For a very important essay on (cis) privilege as a loaded gun, see the third page of this piece from FemmEssay.) It’s a phenomenon I’ve observed before – I will never forget the man who informed a friend of mine (who is a rape survivor) that she was being unkind to him by telling him how rape jokes triggered her, and that her refusal to just ‘agree to disagree’ was unfair. He was someone who prided himself on being a good, kind man, who always did his bit for charity and the environment – the prospect that he was harming someone that much was so abhorrent to his idea of himself that his only way of maintaining that idea was to cast her as the villain. I see something very similar in Moore’s responses to those who tell her that she is harming trans women – by characterising it as ‘insane wrath’ . (I recently read Doug Muder on ‘the distress of the privileged’, which I found to be an interesting perspective on this, and I once again recommend Dean Burnett on how the Just World Hypothesis may play into this characterisation of victims as villains.)

So, on the one side, we have people who cannot believe or accept that they are genuinely harming a vulnerable group and so choose to cast that group as ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too angry’; we have people who are so wedded to their identity as good people and good feminists that they cannot brook criticism and so lash out; and of course, we have people who are simply too saturated in prejudice to grant trans women their basic humanity – and from all of them, there is anger. (I’m sure these sets of people can and do overlap.) On the other side, we have people who have grown up in a world that teaches them they are pathologically wrong, they are a fetish object, they are broken, they are disgusting; people who bear not only the burdens of being trans, but of being women (or of being men who were once [and perhaps still are] treated as women, or of being people whose gender is not even culturally legible); people who are disproportionately at risk of domestic abuse and suicide; and people who may not be trans themselves, but who are friends or lovers or family or colleagues to trans people and are witnessing their pain. This is a community which spent the preceeding week watching a trusted member being witch-hunted in the national press (see Jane Fae on Dr. Curtis); a community which also told the world in no uncertain terms how its members have been abused again and again by medical professionals in whom they were supposed to put their trust (see Fae again, and the TransDocFailAnon blog and twitter) – and saw this essentially ignored by the national press which has instead chosen to wring all the page views it can from this story. Myself, I am not the target that Moore and Burchill had in their cross-hairs when they wrote of ‘transsexuals’ – and as someone who is not a trans woman, I have tried in my previous entries to use this blog to amplify their voices rather than drown them out, as they are the targets of this hatred – but at the same time, you know what? Many of my closest friends and most valued allies are that target, and I have seen and heard their grief and pain and anger over the course of this media circus. And yet people say that ‘both sides have behaved badly’, as though this means both ‘sides’ have equal provocation for their angry words? Well, well, well.

As many have noted, it is exceedingly ironic that all this began with a mostly-excellent piece about the power and validity of women’s anger. And now, the anger of an especially marginalised set of women – and other trans people, and cis friends and allies – is being systematically invalidated by a discourse of ‘bad behaviour of both sides’, a discourse with the veneer of balance but utterly bereft of context or genuine comprehension of what has taken place. A conversation that began with a multitude of voices raised to tell the world about their suffering – in #TransDocFail and in the response to Burchill and Moore – has become abstracted into a money-spinning academic debate about free speech and the role of the press and the role of Twitter. As Musa Okwonga pointed out on Twitter, this is disturbingly similar to the way that the discourse around Jimmy Savile moved from being about the suffering of child abuse survivors, to being about the roles and responsibilities of the BBC. Is it so impossible to look human suffering in the face that it must be sidelined in favour of the ‘wider issues’ it raises? Or is it worse than that, and they simply don’t care? That is part of what has been so sickening about this whole thing: the way the focus seems to inevitably shift away from the pain of the marginalised, whether that is towards the ‘distress of the privileged’ (to borrow Muder’s phrase) or towards a debate on ‘free speech’ and ‘social media’ that is removed from the realities of what has happened so far.

And so it goes on. Once again, I’ll end with links – all of the following pieces are by trans women, and it is their voices which need to be heard now more than ever in this conversation.

Quinnae – ‘All Things to All People: Some Brief Notes on Solidarity and Free Speech

 If transgender people have a “superpower” it is our remarkable ability to stand for anything:  living, breathing “floating signifiers.” Our meaning d’jour is, for some on Fleet Street, “a professionally offended, Left wing lobby group” that is now the latest “post-Leveson” threat to free speech and a free press. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of things—fleeting as these meanings are, such that we can even speak of stable oppositions—Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill had accused trans people of dividing and distracting the Left from its “important” goals and its “true” cause.

If this seems exasperating and contradictory, you ain’t seen nothing yet, as they say.

But for now, it is enough to deal with these two absurdities one at a time and bring a bit of light to a decidedly un-illuminating heat.

Toby Young and all the other vacuous, fly-by-night defenders of “free speech” filch lovely rhetoric that whistle stops past all manner of liberal democratic tropes while failing to specify the connection between, say, hate speech and liberty. They use language meant to bypass both the intellect and one’s reason, while subtly refusing any attempt at being substantive. To do so would be to pull back the curtain at Oz and reveal the great democratic wizard to be nothing more than a petty would-be tyrant in disguise. In his entire blog post, Young does not mention the content of Burchill’s article once, instead gesturing to the void indirectly by casting trans people as some monolithic left lobby opposed to free speech.

Lefty T-Girl – ‘refusing the call: a trans woman rejects internecine war cry from anti-woman faux feminists’

The news media (as well as most every other media, in fact) has a long history of writing about trans people, and trans women in particular, in ways that are extremely sensationalistic, exploitative and ultimately damaging to our lives and livelihoods. These types of media tropes about trans women, habitually dehumanizing and de-gendering us through words, serve to stigmatize our bodies and our lives and therefore promote the discrimination, marginalization and violence that the vast majority of us have experienced quite commonly. I myself have experienced some measure of all of these, however trans women living at the intersections of racial oppression, poverty, and others tend to experience these even more dramatically than someone like myself with white privilege.

For examples of this type of media reporting in the U.S., consider a local TV report covering the murder of Coko Williams in a Detroit neighborhood back in April 2012. Coko had her throat slashed and was shot, yet the news story said little about the loss of human life, instead airing grievances of a neighborhood man who complained of street crime and finding trash on his lawn. When the loss of human life was alluded to towards the end of the interview, Coko’s name was never used and she was inappropriately referred to with male pronouns; further, another resident basically said she had the murder coming because she was trans. Finally, even when a queer website covered the murder, the picture included with the story featured a picture of trash from the first interviewee’s lawn rather than a picture of the woman who had been murdered.

(Lefty T-Girl has also written two other pieces on this: ‘free speech vs. actual content: a challenge to julie burchill‘ and ‘seeing only the red you want to see: suzanne moore’s bullheaded trans-misogyny‘.)

Natacha Kennedy – ‘An open (hearted) letter to Suzanne Moore’

So I want to ask, please, please do not make this about you. It is not about you, and no-one could ever read into the Pink News article that the death of Cecilia Marahouse is going to have any connection, however tentative, with you. However the fact that she has been murdered needs to be got out there. As far as we are concerned, any publicity about this issue is good publicity, but now is the time to allow the real story to be heard, that is the only way we will ever be able to bring pressure on governments in Latin America to change their ways. Work is under way already but it is difficult.

…We feel angry about the murders and at the same time powerless to stop them, but we are using whatever tiny influence and leverage we can find to stop out brothers and sisters form dying. Last year a young transwoman was tortured to death by a mob of 400 people in La Paz, Bolivia; plenty of others were killed in religious-style stonings across Latin America.

So please make this about them, not you. This is not about getting one back on you, this is about charred bodies in remote ditches, it is about drive-by shootings, it is about bodies of teenagers with multiple stab wounds or bullet holes, it is about religious-style stonings.

(Natacha has also written ‘Putting Words into our Mouths’ and ‘Thicker Skins‘ on this topic.)

And for some excellent posts from allies, see Harry Giles on freedom of speech, this Guardian article by Deborah Orr, and The F-Word’s statement against transphobia (which also compiles a long list of resources on the topic).

There is doubtless much more that will be said on this – and there is much that has already been said which I haven’t linked to here (I have a 3-page document filled with links to responses from across the web, which I may at some point fashion into a timeline) – but for now, I’m once again signing off.

A flying update…

… to say that I’m still watching the Burchill/Moore fall-out, but the next round-up won’t be for another few days at least. I’m still collecting links and watching everything unfold, but putting my writing energies elsewhere for the meantime.

One final, very important thing: while all of this debate was going on, another Brazilian trans woman was murdered. And so we see the ugly heart of this issue, and the human cost of hatred. RIP, Cecilia Marahouse.

More on Moore, Burchill, and hate speech.

Well, the explosion of articles and blog entries around Burchill’s vitriolic ‘defence’ of Moore continues, and the inevitable backlash has begun. Leaving to one side the reactions coming purely from prejudice, I’ve heard a number of defences of Burchill in the name of ‘free speech’ – particularly with MP Lynne Featherstone’s call for Burchill to be sacked, and the article having been removed from the Observer website and replaced with a mealy-mouthed apology about airing ‘difficult debates’ and presenting ‘challenging views’. (Jane Fae has written here on why this response was inappropriate: while it shouldn’t have been published in the first place, taking it down – and as such, removing all the comments which primarily showed people’s disgust – gives ammunition to those who would cry ‘censorship’, and feels rather like trying to escape responsibility. I believe they should have left it up, with an apologetic header – and closed down further comments if they really felt the need, but let the page stand as a piece of internet history.)

The terms of this backlash are incorrect – Burchill’s right to ‘free speech’ has not been challenged. She is free to set up a blog or a Twitter account and say whatever she likes, to call in to radio shows, to hand out leaflets on the high street if she likes. What is being questioned is not her right to say such things – disgusting and wrong as they are – but her right to say such things from the exalted position of a respected national newspaper, in print and online, and to receive money for them.

Moreover, framing this in terms of an abstract debate about freedom of speech elides the cost of hate speech in terms of human suffering. To normalise hate speech is to normalise other acts of hatred and violence: and unfortunately, in their rush to squeeze the latest juicy controversy for all it is worth, some papers have now done just that. The Telegraph has printed a very sensible article by Brooke Magnanti – and a reprint of the original Burchill article, which (in its header, and in another Telegraph piece by Toby Young) is described as ‘censored’ from the Observer. The Independent has published an excellent piece by Louise McCudden – and two defences of Burchill: one by Terence Blacker, who asks ‘Would someone who has had the mental and physical courage to change sex really be upset by the appearance of the phrase “dicks in chicks’ clothing” in the press?‘, and another by Tom Peck, which begins ‘You’d think the trannies could take it really, their shoulders are broad enough‘. The Daily Mail… well, you can imagine what they’re saying. (Meanwhile, The New Statesman has commenced a ‘trans issues week’ – still capitalising on this, perhaps, but also a valuable opportunity for education off the back of this media storm. The first two are here and here.)

Those who are crying ‘free speech’ here need to let go of this idea that mainstream media depictions of a marginalised group are irrelevant to that group’s marginal status. Demonising trans people in the popular press is actively harmful: hundreds of trans people are murdered or otherwise subject to violence every year as a result of their trans status, and recent statistics show suicide attempts for trans people are at a shocking 48%. Framing this ‘controversy’ as an abstract debate, as being about nothing more than free speech, where one side wishes to deny a marginalised group their dignity and humanity in a way that feeds directly into the prejudice and violence they face as part of their everyday lives – well, it’s shameful.

I’ve also encountered critical viewpoints which seem to hinge on the idea that this reaction is somehow inauthentic: that the pain and outrage displayed in the responses to Burchill’s words boils down to nothing but an online rent-a-mob who can be brought out to crucify anyone who makes an innocent slip-up, or that this is ‘me too’-ism, or even that the responses from those who aren’t trans – or even just those who aren’t trans women – are somehow ‘appropriative’. I am honestly boggled by this – hate speech is upsetting. And whether it’s aimed at you, or aimed at your loved ones, or if you’re just someone with a basic level of humanity and empathy, being upset is a legitimate response. The powerful and measured replies by trans people, to which I linked in my last update, are even more amazing when you keep in mind that they are doing this in the face of slurs, of threats, of people who see them as less than human.

Interestingly, Moore – whose ‘Brazilian transsexual’ line sparked all this – has returned to Twitter and apologised, even thanking Paris Lees for her letter, but this afternoon someone posting under Moore’s name has been responding in less-than-conciliatory terms to John Tatlock’s excellent article at The Quietus.

I’ll close this with some more links.

Jane Fae, The Independent (who I was most remiss in not linking to yesterday):

What we are seeing here is a form of victim-blaming. The press likes victims who conform: white middle-class and pretty female victims go down rather well. Black ones, disabled ones, trans ones: we-ell, its partly OUR fault anyway.  And if we should DARE to have the temerity to point out that sometimes, we too can be victims, that is bullying on our part. Our real job, if we want acceptance, is to sit on the sidelines and cheer for the real women arguing for “real women’s issues”.  Except we do that already.

The bottom line?  Expect more of this in 2013.  The trans community has grown up: it is no longer prepared to take this sort of abuse from icons of a bygone champagne feminism.  There is anger abroad.  A new unity, too. Expect to hear a lot more about the abuse of trans folks in 2013. Expect, too, to see some very well-placed journalists squawking back in outrage.

Meanwhile, let’s leave the last word to Deborah Orr, a writer who maybe HAS got it, who tweeted today: “No matter what troubles I face in future, I’m going to tell myself: “This could be worse. Julie Burchill could be leaping to your defence.”

Neurologist Dean Burnett offers a psych perspective at The Guardian:

People see someone suffering, and think “either the world is a cruel and essentially random place where people can suffer for no reason, or this person is suffering because of something they did, so they deserve it.”

Rarely is there any evidence for the latter conclusion, but it’s the one people go for as it offers some form of psychological protection. “It happened to them because of something they did. I didn’t do whatever they did, so it won’t happen to me”, that sort of thing. It’s not nice, but it’s the sort of logic that probably stops many people from constantly collapsing into a weeping heap.

Laurie Penny, feminist and trans ally, on her personal blog:

Burchill’s article is an embarrassment to the British press, an embarrassment to feminist writing and a shameful abuse of a public platform to abuse a vulnerable minority. The Observer has now issued an apology, and rightly so, although I believe the decision to depublish the piece is not wrong so much as bizarre, since Google Cache never forgets. It’s even more dispiriting to see other mainstream media outlets, including the Telegraph, rally around Burchill’s ignorant screed as a ‘free speech’ issue, as if the right to free speech and the right to publication in a major national newspaper were the same thing at all in the age of Tumblr. That’s why, after a lot of thought, I’ve taken the decision to publish this article independently, on this blog. I don’t want it to become part of the symbolic face-off going on between British press outlets this week. I want us to get back to the issues.

Christine Burns’ call for a refocus on #TransDocFail at her blog Plain Sense:

I would like to see more non-trans writers … Suzanne Moore and some of her very capable writing friends … engage with showing that they can learn more about why trans people are so apt to get angry. It’s not pathological. It’s really quite reasonable if you’re in those shoes. The team at Trans Media Watch have offered to help.

A really good ‘win’ would be to see mainstream writers examining and writing about the claims of abuse expressed this week under the hash tag #TransDocFail.

Why wouldn’t a journalist do that? It might not be the most important story at any given moment. However, we are discussing right now how hundreds of people were not listened to or believed when being abused by Jimmy Saville. People are wringing their hands.

If they’ve genuinely learned anything from letting that happen over the course of fifty years then there’s a way to put that learning to effect. Over a thousand trans people have said this week that they’ve been abused … and nobody has wanted to listen. Am I missing something?

Quinnae’s beautiful, logical and passionate response to Burchill at her blog Nuclear Unicorn:

I shall continue to write in spite of having been threatened with rape, in spite of having been told that I’m a “shemale feminazi with too much sand in her fake vagina,” in spite of having been called every misogynist, transmisogynist, and transphobic slur in the book many times over, and in spite of having been accused of “man-hating, race-baiting, white-hating,” and the utterly unreal crime of “misandry.” In spite of being called too loud, too shrill, too whiny, too sexist (against men, of course), and “heterophobic.” In spite of being told I should avoid graduate school unless I had a “rich boyfriend.” In spite of all that, I speak.

I’m not British. But I am a Puerto Rican American who both grew up in and still lives in “the ghetto” and my struggle with class in this country is as much a part of my life, my experience, and my activism as gender and its manifold vicissitudes. Further, it is still a matter of routine for feminists in general to be slapped by accusations of overeducation and ivory tower moralising: jeremiads against “the sanctimonious women’s studies set” are a staple of populist editorialising these days and have been for a generation now. I have not the slightest quarrel with Burchill’s working class background– to hate her for that would be to hate myself. I’m merely baffled at the fact that she antagonises women like me for speaking by suggesting that our attempts to get an education are a bad thing.

It never fails to surprise me to see women like Burchill and Bindel resort to the tics of patriarchs when defending their own bigotries, just as it surprises me to hear her extol her working class roots while mocking “wretched inner city kids” in another breath, rolling a horrifically complex social problem and the people who live it into a neatly poor analogy that insults with stunning economy but does nothing useful.

(Edited to add this when it appeared on my Twitter feed, 5 minutes after publishing this blog entry) Ariel Silvera on the enabling structures of transphobia, in Gaelick:

However, I feel we are ignoring a significant part of the issue. We must remember it is crucial to critique the structures that keep enabling people like Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill to get away with having trans misogynist, transphobic and racist hate speech published in a newspaper with a supposed commitment to social justice. The sheer cronyism in the journalistic world, the way in which mass-media journalism has mutated into the PR arm of corporations, and the way in which it can and often is used to uphold the status quo, are all equally relevant to the problem.

Today it’s trans* women, tomorrow it’s Palestinians, asylum seekers, immigrants in general, women in general, the unemployed, the poor, and anyone else that doesn’t walk through the offices of a major news organisation as anything but the cleaning staff (who are not invited to the champagne dinners).

We must keep counteracting these kind of hateful tirades at every corner, particularly from those who present themselves as our allies in the struggle for a more fair society. Solidarity needs to be expanded among people from all walks of life, and we need to keep examining the overlapping issues of privilege/oppression in terms of race, in terms of disability, trans status, sexuality, gender and migrant status. But it is crucial that we remember the underlying systems of power, which continue to work against us, and which will look for us even in the safest of places.

And finally – to end discussion of this incredibly serious topic on a slightly lighter note – I recommend this satirical video from ‘somegreybloke’ and this apt and hilarious infographic from Dru Marland’s blog: