Tag Archives: Transgender

No more boxes: A person-centred approach to non-binary friendly healthcare

I gave this talk at a seminar on trans affirmative models of healthcare today at De Montfort University, organised by Prof. Julie Fish (#tgaffirm). The key speakers were Jeremy Wiggins from the Equinox Centre in Melbourne Australia and Dr Ruth Pearce, a Research Fellow in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. I would like to thank Julie, and the other speakers for the work they are doing, particularly around establishing an informed consent model for trans related healthcare.

[Content note: mention of mental health problems, abuse incl. csa, suicide, physical and mental conditions]

[image: two new baby cards, one reads "brilliant boy" one "beautiful girl"]An assumption is made on the day we are born that has consequences for the rest of our lives. That assumption is; we should be assigned into a legal and social category based purely on the shape of our genitalia. And if those genitals are ambiguous, we may even have them surgically altered as infants or children, to fit the categories more neatly.

This legal binary of gender has profound implications. For intersex children, it is perhaps the hardest, but women, trans and gender non-conforming people all suffer in different ways from being legally and socially segregated according to their assumed reproductive characteristics. The assumption that our genital shape should say something about who we will be in society can be profoundly damaging. For trans people, it can be impossible to live with.

Since 2004, trans people have had the option of legally re-assigning into the one other prescribed option – they are allowed to change the M for an F, or vice versa. For those who unambiguously align with the “opposite” gender, this is enormously helpful, indeed it is essential. But for many trans people, these two social and legal options, sold to us as non-overlapping opposites, are fraught with difficulty, and may even be impossible to navigate and inhabit.

We are non-binary (NB) trans people, we do not fit the prescribed legal and social binary. Our stories and experiences are many and varied.

So taken-for-granted is the idea that you can force somebody into an identity based on their genital shape that we are surprised when this doesn’t work for some, rather than surprised it works for anyone at all. Society, as a whole, is schooled to look at people and quickly assess from various clues in their appearance what their genitals look like. This will determine our interactions – what salutations and pronouns we use for them, and subtle differences in how we behave that are almost invisible to most of us.

[image: an a diagram of reproductive parts with an arrow saying "this is biology" pointing to it. A sequence of images - school uniforms, birth certificate, toilet doors, with an arrow reading "this is not biology" pointing to them]

What are the implications for this in healthcare settings?

The first issue is about information – what information do we get from a tick on a form that gives options M or F? We are schooled to believe this information is valuable and essential, but in reality if we want to know biological information about our patient – what kind of sex they have, what fertility they may expect, even what their chromosomes are, the tick box approach is neither necessary nor sufficient. Just ask the cisgender lesbian with a cisgender woman partner who is insisting for the 15th time that she cannot possibly be pregnant, or the heavily bearded trans man who has been legally male for many years but is now pregnant with his first child.

One solution is a person-centred approach. To build a relationship with the person in front of you so that you fully understand who they are, what they are here for, and what their needs are, without relying on little boxes that many of us do not fit into, or processes and procedures that are thought to be “one size fits all”.

A person-centred approach liberates us from the idea that biology or identity is simple, and allows us to meet the full complexity of our patients or clients.

I am going to present two essential “anti-box” truths that are central to my work:

  • Both social and biological identity are multi-determined and multi-faceted
  • Wellbeing is founded in human relationships.

What both these things have in common is how important it is not to reduce complex information and interplay down to a set of tick boxes. That does not excuse you from learning all you can about trans people, it simply means you always need to ask the question “I have some understanding of what that means generally, but what does it mean to you?”

Why trans patients are more complicated than most

Research demonstrates that there are a whole bunch of divergent traits that cluster together in the population – non-heterosexuality, left-handedness, genius, synaesthesia, certain tissue disorders such as EDS, gender variance, certain physical appearances, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, intersex conditions, sensitivity, sensory issues, autism, etc.

[image: A cluster of shapes with various traits as listed previously. The legend reads "Differences (like being trans and autistic) often cluster together - this does not imply causality]

So, “different” people tend to be different in lots of ways.  Break down some of these “things” a bit more, and we see that they are in fact clusters of other traits that come together, like Seurat’s dots, to make a certain kind of picture – and that actually, when you start looking at these individual traits, you discover that no two geniuses, and no two autistic people, have quite the same formula of traits, even though the overall effects can have something in common. Genius isn’t a “thing” and neither is autism, nor transness – these are all many threads of experience woven together to create overall effects that are broadly similar but often diverge in the detail.

How we respond to these traits is interesting in itself. A hundred years ago, left-handedness was seen as unacceptable. In my (left-handed) grandmother’s time, children were forced to write with their right hand. In my (also left-handed) mother’s time, left-handedness was still disapproved of, but reluctantly allowed. Now, I hope, prejudice against left-handed people has all but vanished, though the vestiges of it remain in language in words like sinister.

Society decides which traits are a “problem” and which are not. Nobody is going to diagnose somebody with “genius disorder” and raise funding for a cure. Thus Alan Turing was celebrated for his genius, treated (relatively) neutrally for his left-handedness, isolated for his (probable) autism, and driven to suicide as a result of horrific criminal and medical interventions for being gay.

In an increasingly standardised world, where differences are things to be fixed and overcome, rather than allowed to just be, the pressure on non-binary autistic people is particularly acute. To fit a more normative trans narrative, and to follow the “rules” of gender expression and behaviour that will make them more socially comfortable and acceptable.

How do we include divergent people?

I am going to come back to the person-centred, relational, anti-box approach. Unconscious bias is the biggest obstacle here. It is hard to build a relationship with someone who differs from your internal model of how people should be.

Trans people, and non-binary people in particular, also find their various differences can compound each other. They may, for instance, find it harder for their gender identity to be taken seriously or treated because of co-occurring disabilities, and likewise their narrative around other issues may be disbelieved due to their gender identity. This makes trans people particularly vulnerable.

Because of the way studies seek to standardise participants, gender non-conforming people or people with co-occurring issues have traditionally been excluded from research, meaning diagnostic criteria are often inherently biased against them. This means, for instance, that gender non-conforming people are less likely to be identified as autistic due to skewed and reductive diagnostic criteria.

To give some other examples of what can happen – an autistic, gender non-conforming non-binary trans woman who speaks loudly might have her vulnerability missed and her gender identity doubted. The high intelligence of an androgynous young university student might obscure their emotional vulnerability and mental health symptoms. The level of need of an intersex person who is requiring trans healthcare, treatment for a physical disability that has yet to be diagnosed, and is also claiming a trauma history and a need for assessments for both autism and ADHD, might lead healthcare providers across the board to question the validity of all these issues, and yet these are the kinds of issues that frequently co-occur. Factor in that people who are gender non-conforming are likely to be non-conforming in other ways, such as having non-monogamous relationships and other less common lifestyles, and we have a recipe for prejudice and judgement from professionals, disbelief, and dismissiveness.

Non-binary patients are very quickly labelled as difficult, untrustworthy, unlikeable, attention-seeking, aggressive. Instead of understanding that they HAVE more problems than the average person, they are often seen as BEING the problem.

One of the things that perpetuates this is the lack of recognition of non-binary identities in our current culture and the media backlash against us. The judgement of trans, and particularly non-binary, identities is so automatic we don’t even see we are doing it.

[image: a mosaic of negative headlines about non-binary people]

Minority stress

Back in 2003, an academic called Meyer proposed a phenomenon called “Minority Stress” for LGB people. It’s equally applicable to non-binary people. Meyer’s theory, in a nutshell is that the increased mental health issues for LGB people is directly attributable to the trauma of being mistreated by the general population – stigma, abuse, isolation, erasure, lack of support, all add up to take their toll.

A few studies seem to bear this out for trans people. A Canadian study demonstrated that trans mental health improved given certain factors – family support, access to gender recognition and treatment, social acceptance. A landmark Lancet study provides robust evidence that mental health issues do not directly correlate to gender dysphoria itself, but to the treatment trans people experience.

The horrendous figures for childhood abuse of trans people are just one indicator of how bad things can get when you are not socially supported. The abuse of LGBT people has long been cited by bigots as a “cause” of gender and sexual variance but there is no evidence of this. Rather, it is known that abusers are rather good at picking their prey – like any predator, they look to the margins, to the potential victims who have less pack protection – ones easier to isolate, with less friends, who are less likely to be listened to, supported or believed. Long before many of us consider articulating or asserting our identities, sadly others are spotting our natural and visible differences and realising we can be easy targets for bullying and abuse. Some statistics suggest that both assigned female and assigned male trans people have a close to 50% chance of being abused as children.

Other non-binary related statistics show that 43% of NB people have attempted suicide and 50% of NB employees left a job because the environment was unwelcoming (36% for trans men and women).

The antidote to minority stress is relationship.  If we look at minority stress through a pluralistic lens, we can see it as the result of the many fractures in social relationships a person has experienced.

[image: titled "web model" a diagram that shows how minority stress links to numerous social disadvantages and exclusions]

Walking in the world, a non-binary person receives a continual message – your superficial appearance is more socially valid than the self-experience you have amassed over a lifetime. We know you better than you know yourself. This can chip away continually at a person’s sense of self and threaten their peace of mind and mental health.

If we cannot bring ourselves fully into view then how can we have an authentic relationship with anyone? But if we assert our identity in a world that’s uncomfortable and hostile to it, we risk another kind of rejection. Either way, this threatens our sense of place within the human pack.

Our sense of survival as humans is deeply connected to our sense of belonging. Being outside of the pack in primitive times would have almost certainly meant death, and so our primal fears are triggered by feelings of rejection and unbelonging. To be uncertain of our inclusion in human groups is not simply uncomfortable or unhappy, it is potentially traumatising over time.

The opposite of this is all the hidden social support people get if their experience is better understood and socially validated.

[image: previous slide in reverse, how positive or neutral social interactions create a web of hidden support for people]

Finding our way out of judgement

How do we offer better relationships to non-binary patients and clients?

Hard work.

Like gaining an ear for music by diligent practice, making space for non-binary people in our imaginings takes effort and repetition. To practice no longer gendering the people we see, to practice using “they” as a pronoun whenever possible (e.g. in reports, rather than he/she) so that it rolls off our tongue. To simply notice how the structures of gender influence so much of our thought and behaviour. To reflect on our own deep processes around gender.

Such work will be beneficial to everyone we meet, but it may just give the opportunity to non-binary people for something very rare indeed – the experience of not being automatically judged and found wanting.

The difficulty of inhabiting a socially erased and legally illegitimate identity may seem quite an abstract and academic idea to some. Non-binary people are often dismissed as trendy youngsters, “special snowflakes”, or even the result of political correctness run amok.

But of course, non-binary people (in essence, if not in name) have always been here, and at certain times in history, including in 18th century England, and across the globe we have been recognised perhaps more than we are now. And now, we are having a moment. We have found a new word, “non-binary” to describe ourselves, we are organising, telling our stories, asking for our voices to be heard.

At the root of the current clamour from our community is a need to be met, to be accepted as we are, to be understood as legitimate. Our language, the way we describe ourselves, is communication. It is relational. We need a relationship with the rest of society, including our healthcare givers, and we need inclusion.

Find Sam on Twitter 

 

Advertisements

Setting up LGBT+ Networks

It seems to be an LGBT+ week at Hope Counselling and Training. I’m running a basic awareness session at Sheffield Hallam University tomorrow, and I have just come back from my regular slot as facilitator of the LGBT Network at EMFEC.

Today at the Network we reflected on the hows and whys of setting LGBT+ networks up, sharing resources and good practice to make them sustainable, intersectional, and successful in their aim of increasing support for LGBT+ people. I thought I would blog about some of the good practice discussed today. Although we were looking at education, much of this resonates with the community work I have done in many places.

The Benefits

LGBT+ people are at least 5% of the population, and when we take into account their siblings, children, friends and partners the figure of people who may need support around LGBT+ issues is much higher. As more people come out due to increased awareness, we may see these figures rise.

That’s perhaps around 10 per cent of the population who will feel safer and happier if they have support. Safer happier people who are able to be open and feel supported are more likely to achieve, are more likely to stay with their course or in their job, be more productive, be more able to participate in a team.

Happy, included people is not just good for morale, it’s good for business. 

Why “LGBT+”?

wordcloudThe graphic to the right demonstrates just a fragment of the global diversity of terms used for people who diverge from common experience in terms of gender or romantic and sexual orientation.

It’s impossible to pin down an umbrella term that truly covers this diversity, and all these words tell unique stories of individual experiences. Even when we use one term, it can mean different things to different people – to one person, lesbian might simply mean “attracted to women” – to another, it may tell a complicated story about politics, sexuality and relationship with gender.

At one time we kept adding more letters, and ended up with terms like LGBTIQA, or QUILTBAG, but no term will ever encompass everything, and so we seem to have settled on LGBT+. I hope that we can be expansive in our approach, and consider, for instance, bi people, asexual people, intersex people (who want to be included), and people who come from other cultures and use other terms and approaches.

It’s no good just saying LGBT+ and then talking about same sex relationships and that’s it. We need to think about the full diversity of relationships people can have with each other, and with gender itself.

Why “Intersectional”?

Hopefully, the word intersectional, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, is catching on. If you’re new to it, here is Kimberlé’s TED talk on the subject. Essentially, she is saying that our multiple identities cannot be separated out but are woven through us in ways that complicate each other. sabahSabah Choudrey (pictured left), queer and trans, British South Asian, and a practising Muslim, talks about this in their superb TED talk.

When we try to separate out different “diversity strands” people often feel alienated, unable to bring all of themselves into a space, or unclear whether they quite fit the label on the door. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, an amazing writer and thinker (who has also, sadly, said some problematic things about trans people), calls this “The Danger of a Single Story”. Her own mistakes reflect rather well the problem that even when someone is a wise champion of diversity and difference, it’s still possible to make mistakes about groups they have less connection to.

The Issues with LGBT+ Groups and Networks

Groups will take on a life that revolves around a few naturally dominant people or be propelled forward based on a couple of “doers”. Groups ebb and flow in membership as people leave and arrive. The longer they go on, the more cliquey they can become, and the harder it is for new people to feel a sense of belonging. Groups can stagnate and begin to fizzle as people move on.

And, of course, groups often reflect the hierarchies that exist in society, so that the people who are most in the centre or in control of what’s happening are often a reflection of, for instance, the kinds of faces most likely to show up in parliament or senior management.

The images below show some of the many other challenges our Network considered.

challenges.jpg

Building in Intersectionality & Sustainability Principles

Often groups just “happen” because a (usually very put upon) LGBT+ staff member has been asked to or wants to “do something” for LGBT+ students, or because an LGBT+ student with a bit of personal resource wants a group to happen. This organic approach is good in that it isn’t too rigid, but it has its pitfalls, if some thought doesn’t go into the design from day 1.

In my training I use a “web model” to talk about the hidden threads of social support some people get in life and others miss out on. We all have some threads holding us (hopefully) but in other ways some of us may find ourselves dangling precariously. For instance, if a trans student finds their identity constantly undermined through deadnaming and misgendering, no matter how unintentional that is, they will find themself feeling much less socially supported than somebody not experiencing this.

My “web model” is a way of looking at the psychological impact of this lack of social support for some individuals where their life on the margins removes a lot of the supports many of us take for granted. Consciously building new threads to marginalised people is the best remedy, and for this to work, it takes both awareness and creativity.

Follow these steps for success

You’ve got the will to do something? Fabulous! But let’s take some steps to make a structure that works for everyone. This list is not prescriptive, but it might help get things right from the start

1. Anonymous survey

First, consult. And given how hard LGBT+ people are to locate, this probably means doing an anonymous survey.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to survey your staff and/or student population via email, social media, and survey cards. You can find out; who would like support but is scared of coming to a group; what kind of support do they need; what are the specific issues they face; what access needs do they have; how many LGBT+ students, or relatives of LGBT+ people, there are (great for justifying time and budgets to the bean counters); what other demographics these students belong to; and which of them would be interested in coming forward as peer mentors and volunteers.

NB: I cannot stress this enough – make sure you are competent about LGBT+ monitoring questions and language before proceeding, and get a second, knowledgeable person to check the survey’s wording.

2. Create an inclusion policy and some ground rules/constitution

Use a sample document from another organisation and allow members to influence and develop it. Make sure that if a resource is going to be created, it is designed from the very start to be fully inclusive. Our local Trans Space Notts and Notts Trans Hub guidelines are one example of a co-created set of guidelines for inclusive working.

Make it people’s job to action inclusion, by welcoming new members, by learning about access needs they may not have themselves, by actively promoting the importance of difference over sameness.

Stress a compassionate approach which is continually learning – it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s vital to learn from them.

3. We are all allies

There is often some discussion about whether to include allies in these networks, but it is essential to include them somehow for two reasons. The first is that allies can often be not yet out LGBT people testing the water, and these can be people at their most vulnerable.

The second is that we cannot have a fully “safe space” where everyone within “understands” just because they are LGBT+ because the community is just too diverse. We need to make spaces as safe as we can through policy and ground rules.

Everyone will have stuff to learn, and everyone is a potential ally to other members of the community as well as a person in need of allies. Staff members and older students, by virtue of being older, are no longer subject to the specific issues affecting LGBT+ young people, so they too can act as allies even if they are LGBT+ themselves.

A fantastic young person friendly video on the ground rules of allyship can be found here.

So, we need to recruit allies and encourage them to take on some of the heavy lifting involved in making the world a better place for LGBT+ people. Things they can do? Challenge stuff, make the effort to learn more about sections of the community, raise support and awareness through actions.

One ally might do fundraising for badges that read “Support Trans Students” or “LGBT Allies” and encourage people to wear them and engage with what it takes to be an ally (just wearing a badge isn’t enough, but little things can spark bigger things!). Another ally might make a point of learning about disability inclusion, or to understand more about trans people. Another might support a campaign for gender neutral toilets, and do some of the admin and legwork for this (in full consultation with those most affected, of course!).

This doesn’t mean LGBT+ people should never be able to meet alone without straight allies present. It’s important they have that option and that their needs are always centred if LGBT+ is the support issue in that space.

4. Diversify your approach

This is why networks are better than groups; because a one size fits all solution is never going to work for everyone. A “web approach” of creating supportive resources that can reach as many individuals directly as possible is what is needed, preferably a web that helps create supportive threads from each person to others, rather than top-down processes that all rely on the same thread.

Hopefully your institution will have the following:

  • An anonymous contacting system for people to reach out for the first time.
  • Staff and students with rainbow lanyards or badges signalling “you can talk to me about LGBT+ issues” – only useful, though, if they have done some basic awareness training on LGBT+ diversity, and have listening skills.
  • Visible signs of LGBT+ friendliness in the form of flags, posters etc.
  • Contact emails for meet ups.
  • Some sort of social media presence
  • A varied approach to setting up spaces, so that we don’t get one, crystallised group that not everyone accesses – for instance, you could have meets with and without allies, inter-year meets and year meets, meets for trans and non-binary students, meets for BAME LGBT+ people and so on as needed.
  • Available resources – a good LGBT+ page on the website that signposts to local community resources and those within the college, including a clearly marked and well stocked library LGBT+ section and links to online resources for those not brave enough to pick up a book or leaflet in person.
  • Communication lines with local community groups and services, and with university LGBT+ societies.
  • Well consulted and visible policies and initiatives to tackle LGBT+ discrimination and hate.
  • Ally recruitment initiatives and promotions such as Stonewall’s No Bystanders pledge

5. Safety First

Sadly, we still live in a world where LGBT+ people are at risk of violence, where they can be estranged from family and community, where they are more vulnerable to exploitation, where there is still an enhanced risk of suicide due to stigma and marginalisation. Acceptance is highly variable and cannot be predicted based on class, religion, ethnicity, or other generalised assumptions but varies from family to family, community to community and postcode to postcode.

Good support is proven to help with these issues, however it’s important to consider the following:

  • A public or publicised venue may “out” students or deter attendance.
  • Ensure confidentiality among members and peer supporters but be clear this has limits if someone is at risk.
  • Remember communicating risk issues to family or accidentally outing a student may in fact increase the risk.
  • Accept a young person is more likely to disclose risk to a peer. While it may be tempting to block peer relationships for fear of safeguarding issues going undetected, removal of peer support does not make talking to staff more likely (in fact, the opposite is true – people who talk to one person about an issue are more likely to then tell someone else). Instead, ensure peer mentors have an appropriate understanding of safeguarding, and someone to talk to in confidence themselves.
  • Be aware that in some tighter knit communities there may be more risk of a student being “outed” to relatives.

 

This is just a snapshot of the today’s discussion at the EMFEC LGBT+ Network. To be part of the ongoing conversation, email EMFEC  or give me a call to discuss cost effective, tailor made training for your organisation.

business card

 

Setting the record straight on trans issues

This is a more fully referenced copy of a letter I sent to the BACP Journal Therapy Today

I read with dismay the two letters published in December’s Therapy Today in response to Kaete Robinson’s excellent piece Look beyond the binary. I have been reflecting to myself whether such prejudice would have been published were it related to another minority group, although it is of course impossible to draw comparisons between the struggles of different marginalised minorities.

Obviously, Therapy Today does not publish all letters, and as such it must believe the ones it does publish have some merit. I wish to contradict this assumption.

Bev Gold’s letter first: In it she compares gender dysphoria with anorexia, and with negative self beliefs that lead someone to be “uncomfortable in their own skin”. But we have recently heard conclusive evidence from a Lancet study that gender dysphoria is indeed not a form of mental illness, but a legitimate phenomenon that needs not to be pathologised. She talks about the mental distress of trans people but ignores the sizeable body of evidence that suggests any mental health issues are created by stigma, negative attitudes, and barriers to transition, with studies demonstrating that support in transition and acceptance alleviate this distress, while efforts at reparative therapy, what she is clearly suggesting, only do harm.

I am left wondering if someone was as clearly arguing for reparative therapy of gay people, would their letter have been published? As someone who is a member of both trans and LGB communities, I experience a disparity between a growing intolerance of anti-LGB ideologies and an abiding tolerance and dissemination of anti-trans ideas.

In addition, Ms Gold makes the frustrating conflation that accepting someone as transgender will necessitate them having surgical transformations. Many trans people do not have medical treatment. For those that do, it has been proven to be inordinately successful in alleviating dysphoria, with very low evidence of regret. Ms Gold infers the opposite, that this is somehow a dangerous and tragic path.

Ultimately, trans identities need to be accepted and validated whether or not someone has made medical changes. The underpinning message of Ms Gold’s letter is that if a client enters the room and states their name and pronouns and how they experience themselves, we should cast doubt on this, pathologise it and force them to explore it, whether or not that is what they are asking for in their therapy. This is profoundly unacceptable and contrary to the principle of Autonomy in the BACP Ethical Framework.

The second letter is referenced, which lends it a veneer of respectability, however it transpires that one of the references, although appearing to be a reputable journal, is actually a renowned anti-trans blog, another reference is from Tumblr, a social media site, and that the author herself is a prolific anti-trans campaigner. The letter trots out some well-worn anti-trans myths. That detransition is common (it is rare); that the fact detransition occasionally happens means that transition is overall harmful (strong evidence refutes this); and that 80 per cent of trans children “desist” – this is evidenced in many places as a conflation of trans and gender non-conforming children.

In fact, studies have shown that genuinely gender dysphoric children have gender identities that are as consistent as those of cisgender children. In other words, if we talk about not allowing trans children to express their gender through pronouns, clothes, and gendered names, then we should equally be concerned about gendering cisgender children in the same manner.

Most concerning of all is her characterisation of “the autistic spectrum disorder teenage daughter [sic]who suddenly declares herself [sic] to be a boy”. First, let’s be clear that while there is a known correlation between autism and gender dysphoria (birth differences come in clusters, no surprise there), there is no evidence that autistic people lack the self-knowledge to understand their own gender. In fact, my local gender clinic in Nottingham has an autism specialist on staff whose main role is to help gender doctors to take autistic trans people as seriously as they would any other trans person, and not engage in blatant discrimination or infantilisation of the autistic community.

Secondly, she talks about “sudden onset” of symptoms, apparently having no knowledge or understanding of the lengths of time involved in obtaining a diagnosis of, and treatment for, gender dysphoria, or that clinicians will be looking for a consistent pattern and enduring and stable gender identity. Evidence demonstrates most trans people identify their dysphoria from a young age, and any “sudden onset” symptoms would not lead to treatment in anything less than years. Meanwhile, this child will be subject to the relentless doubt, questioning, bullying and attack that you trans people are subject to. It is far more plausible that trans children are dissuaded from transitioning by this stigmatising and hostile world than that we live in a culture where being trans is over-enabled. Anyone making this assumption is fundamentally unaware of the reality of trans lives and likely to do considerable harm.

There are many other inaccuracies and prejudices, too numerous to comment on. I experience the disrespectful tone of Ms Davies-Arai as unprofessional, and not appropriate for a journal, again out of chime with the Ethical Framework’s principles. She talks about “Transgender Indoctrination” as if it is possible for our tiny community to outbalance the from-birth indoctrination of cissexism – that is, the assumption that we should attach entire legal and social structures, names, pronouns, toilet arrangements and much more to the shape of people’s genitals. Not forgetting that intersex children often endure normalising surgery in infancy and later sometimes hormonal treatment, to artificially fit this binary – an issue that somehow incites considerably less outrage than the treatment of trans children in adolescence with entirely reversible puberty blockers.

The treatment of transgender children and adults is, contrary to these letters, slow-paced, conservative, well studied over nearly a century, and very well clinically evidenced. While there are intersections between the gay and trans communities, to suggest that trans people are simply confused gay people or that being trans is somehow more accepted and supported than being gay is not only ludicrous, it is a deeply regressive attitude that does not merit sharing in the pages of a professional journal.

My own article referenced below contains links to many of the studies referenced in this letter, and further information is available in the resources section of my website.

Sam Hope

MBACP, Accred.

FURTHER REFERENCES

https://hopecounsellingandtraining.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/it-is-vital-we-talk-about-the-welfare-of-trans-kids/

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-transgender-mental-illness-classification-20160729-story.html

https://hopecounsellingandtraining.wordpress.com/research-papers/

http://www.torontosun.com/2015/06/08/suicide-rate-much-higher-for-transgender-canadians-study

Update 2018: 1. It transpires Ms Davies-Arai is behind Transgender Trend, a well funded anti-trans organisation that have been sending glossy booklets to schools, urging them not to support trans children. BACP have since published a second letter from her.

101 Makes no Sense Without Non-Binary

I was delighted this month to have two pieces published in Beyond the Binary, an online magazine for non-binary trans people. The first of these addresses the over-simplification of trans people’s experiences, and how when we are training in this subject this can actually be alienating for the audience. The article can be found here.

“people get a much better connection to trans issues in general if non-binary is properly included, and they are not sold a simplified version of trans realities”

Read more

btb

Working with trans students – top tips

Much of the trans awareness/cultural competence training I do is in educational settings – schools, colleges and universities. Last week I found myself at EMFEC training staff from a number of institutions alongside the impressive and trans-famous Lee Gale. My job was to take the afternoon slot and help the assembled professionals think about best practice.

My background as a school and university counsellor gives unique insight into the impact of structures and practices on trans students.

I promised the attendees I would pull together what we had learned into a “10 tips” document for education similar to the one I did for the workplace. Here is that document in handy pdf poster format, and below I give a more in-depth look at these recommendations:

10 tips - students10 tips for working with trans students

Thanks to all the professionals present who got involved in the exercise to consider the needs of trans students , and to Lee for live Tweeting the whole thing. Here are my 10 tips in full:

1. Education, Education, Education

Or more precisely, training. Cultural competence takes work, and without cultural competence, people will either blunder badly (unconscious incompetence) or walk on eggshells (conscious incompetence). Trans lives are not well known about and there is a lot of misinformation out there. As always, go to credible sources and promote knowledge in any way you can. Remember, harm can be done through well meaning ignorance. But even trans people know we can never know everything – we are all still learning.

See my website for some signposts to resources.

The Gender Unicorn from TSER is a good way to start a conversation
The Gender Unicorn from TSER is a good way to start a conversation

Recommendation 1: Mandatory training for all staff (because not all trans students will be known to you) and governors. Gender variance talked about competently and in a non-pathologising way in classes such as PHSE, psychology and sociology. Intersex conditions learned in biology. Trans people visible – on posters, in the curriculum, books in the library.

2. Celebrate trans people and gender variance

A celebratory culture challenges all its assumptions about gender and applauds those who see things differently.  It makes space for people to be different. Trans people are only a “problem” if we don’t accommodate them, and trans kids only have a frighteningly high suicide rate because of the way society treats them.

Lee Gale Tweets: "'Some kids aren't suicidal because they're trans. They're suicidal because it's hard to be trans in this society.' @Sam_R_Hope @emfec_team"
Lee Live Tweeted my talk

Recommendation 2: 

Celebrate anything that challenges gender stereotypes and remember to talk about the trans community during LGBT History month. Share words and images of how gender and gender variance is expressed differently in different cultures across the world.

[Image: 3 Indian Hijiras in traditional female attire]
In India, Hijiras lost many rights after colonisation, but they have fought to regain them
3. Reduce gender segregation

[image: a person stagd in front of gender segregated toilet doors. The sign on the gents reads "get beat up", the sign on the ladies reads "get yelled at"]Trans girls, (assigned male at birth but living as girls), should be allowed to use girls toilets (and vice versa) if they want to, and it would be discriminatory to prevent them. However, gender segregation remains a headache for trans people, causing untold anxiety – particularly for non-binary trans people, but not only for them. Research also shows that emphasising sex differe[image: a gender neutral restroom sign with picture of a toilet]nces can lead to girls under-performing.

Recommendation 3: Reduce segregation as much as possible. With sports, toilets, dress codes and roles there are often ways around the traditional way of doing things. Don’t wait for a trans or non-binary student to show up before you make those changes, because they will benefit everyone and undermine sexism.

4. Be conscious of what story your language tells

The papers tell stories of trans women who “used to be men”, of “sex change” and “having the op”. People often fixate on what is between trans people’s legs and possible medical changes we might make, rather than who we are and how we experience the world. Medicine and psychology treat being trans like an illness that has to be cured. For most trans people, these are narrow and inaccurate stories about a complex and varied experience.

It’s important to allow people to use different words to express their experience of gender without recoiling from “all these labels”. The more stories we hear, the more nuance we allow, the better we will understand.

Lee Gale Tweets: Labels can be important - 'they are the way we tell our stories.' @Sam_R_Hope @emfec_team

Recommendation 4: Be aware of the diversity of language, stories and experience that exist within the trans community. Learn what language hurts or fails to describe trans people. Gender neutral language is a must; find alternatives to expressions like “boys and girls”. Assume nothing about the gender of the person/group you are addressing. Here’s my handy trans language guide.

5. Don’t “out” trans people

Never assume that a trans person wants their trans status to be shared, and that “outing” them may cause harm, as well as contravening legislation. Students may be “out” in some parts of their life but not in others – to family but not to school, or vice versa.

Recommendation 5: Be clear with a trans student exactly what they want shared and with whom. Consider ways in which they could be accidentally outed – e.g. in letters home. Ensure historic name changes and other details do not resurface to expose transitioned students. Know your duties under equality and data protection law.

6. Use inclusive admin systems

Some admin systems are the bane of trans peoples lives: Boxes that ask us sex rather than gender; options that are limited to male or female; insistence on titles (even though these are not legally necessary); and systems that make it difficult or impossible to change our names. These are not small issues because they continually invalidate who we are.

[example of bad practice: options to selct one of the following: male, female, transgender]
Click on the image to find out why this is bad practice
6. Recommendation: Use best practice guidance from Scottish Transgender Alliance on monitoring forms and where gender needs to be asked. If a student cannot legally change their name yet, make sure their “known as” name is what is used. If they have a deed poll, this is a legal document and should be accepted. Alert students to potential issues with exams and certificates – think ahead, and draw up protocols.

7. Rethink Safeguarding

Trans young people are extremely vulnerable to bullying and abuse, including sexual abuse. One of the main reasons for this is that social isolation makes it easier for trans people to be victimised – they are less likely to have people looking out for them, less likely to be listened to, more likely to be seen as attention seeking if they try to speak up about something that has happened.

Because of this, it is essential to re-orientate your thinking – stop thinking of trans people as risky, think of them as at risk and centre them. Support, inclusion, and open lines of communication are far better tools for keeping young people safe than mere vigilance.

7. Recommendation: Don’t isolate trans people – encourage them to form peer support groups and have people to talk to, allow trans kids to be accommodated with their identified gender as much as possible. Focus on the known safeguarding risk (high risk of abuse and suicide for the trans person) rather than imagined risk (trans person somehow overcoming their social stigma and marginalisation enough to have the power to harm other students).

8. Zero tolerence for misgendering and transphobia

Transphobia comes in subtle and blatant forms and is sometimes overlooked by people who see being trans as a choice (hint: it’s not). Trans students who get ridiculed, bullied or excluded are not “asking for it”, and are not somehow extra brave and able to cope with stares, slights, insults and violence.[a trans woman being bombarded with misgendering words]

Misgendering can do a lot of harm, even though it is mostly unintended. Examples are referring to a group that includes a trans boy as “girls”, using incorrect pronouns and gendered words about a person. Though it may seem harmless, it indicates to the trans person the way someone else is thinking about them is at odds with the way they see themself. This undermines the trans person’s sense of self, particularly for non-binary people who have little recognition. As it happens time after time, it can be very damaging.

Recommendation 8: Set a continuous tone of accepting and including trans people, even if trans students are not visible. Act swiftly in response to any transphobia, don’t let it slide. Actively correct any misnaming or misgendering – if it’s you, apologise and move on quickly. Don’t make a big deal about it.

9. Use a person-centred approach

It’s all too easy to make assumptions about what is right for someone else, but really we are all the experts on our own lives, and trans people are no exception. When we think we know better than trans people we make the fatal mistake of thinking our lack of understanding is caused by a flaw in their thinking rather than a flaw in our understanding.

Remember also that trans people may be dealing with multiple issues – a higher incidence of autism, a higher incidence of mental health issues due to trauma, isolation and abuse, as well as all the other things people have to deal with in life. To misquote Dr Stephen Shore, if you’ve met one trans person, you’ve met one trans person.

Lee Gale Tweets: Best practice 11. Person centred approach - include trans people in decisions and solutions to best support them @Sam_R_Hope @emfec_team

Recommendation 9: Listen. Take the time to find out what feels safe and comfortable to the trans person. Don’t make assumptions, and don’t assume you know better.

10. No Gatekeeping

It is unbelievably hard to get treatment as a trans person, despite the fact that overwhelmingly the evidence indicates treatment for those that want it (not all do) is beneficial. This is particularly true for trans children.

Once a trans person gets to a gender clinic, they will still have a very long wait and face a lot of “gatekeeping”. During this wait, some may be suffering as their hormones change their body in ways they don’t want. Extra delays can cause real harm.

Let trans people, including kids, do their thing; it is likely to be harmful to put extra barriers in their way, or be resistant, disbelieving or disapproving. Some trans people experiment with identity before hitting the right formula – that’s okay too, there should be room for diverse self-expression and exploration. It’s healthy.

Lee Gale Tweets: Best practice 12. Most important if you ask me - Respect that trans people know their own minds & identities @Sam_R_Hope @emfec_team

Recommendation 10 : Just allow the trans person to live as they want to live, and make the necessary referrals as quickly as possible. Unless you’re a highly qualified expert on trans people, it is probably best not to make your own judgement about them or try to intervene in the process they are undergoing.

10 Steps to a trans positive workplace

Last Wednesday I gave a talk to a local ACAS Equality and Diversity Forum about the challenges of being trans, and particularly non-binary, in the workplace. Here are my top tips to help employers make their trans staff and customers feel safer, happier and more productive.

Too long to read? Download a quick 10 tips poster in printable format here:10 tips

10 tips for a trans-positive workplace

 

1. Cultural Competence takes work

When at most 1 in 200 people are trans, it’s understandable we are not well understood. Increased visibility is in some ways making this worse, as misinformation is being shared widely in the media. People tend to think they know more than they do. In fact, gender identity is such a complex subject even trans people like myself have to study hard to become competent to talk about the diversity of our community. A lot of listening is required, and a lot of challenging assumptions, complacency, and the unconscious biases we grow up with around gender.

Some people worry about “walking on eggshells” around trans people. One way to avoid this is for trans people to never correct mistakes and to just smile when people get things wrong. Another perhaps better way is for people, including trans people from different groups and communities, to educate themselves and learn to listen.

Recommendation 1: Trans people are different and have differeequalitynt needs, which require learning. Treating people all the same is not enough (see picture for what that looks like).

Go to credible trans sources for information – not the media, not just the trans person you happen to know, and not LGBT organisations (e.g. Stonewall) who may not have yet become culturally competent on trans issues themselves. see the resources section of this website for some ideas.

2. Language matters

Language tells a story about how the world is – the wrong language can be powerfully misleading. The most common misuse of language with trans people is the idea that we change from one thing to another – “sex change”, “used to be a man”, “born a girl”, and other common phrases used in the media tell a story of ordinary people “changing themselves”. Although we have not all known forever just exactly who we are, for most trans people the experience of being and feeling different is lifelong, and any process of transition we go through is more about  becoming visible as ourselves than it is about changing from one thing to another. For non-binary people, transition can be complicated and not have a clear end “goal”, but our experiences and how we express ourselves are just as valid and authentic.

Recommendation 2: Treat a trans person as if they’ve just revealed their secret identity, and that’s who they always were. Even when you talk about them in the past, they were that person, you just didn’t know. Stick to the right names, gendered words and pronouns all the time.

3. Does everything really need to be gendered?

It’s worth checking in with the findings of the recent parliamentary Transgender Equality Inquiry to understand the challenges trans people face, particularly non-binary people. One recommendation of the enquiry is that we don’t actually need to enshrine gender in law the way we currently do. We don’t enshrine other differences, such as race or other physical features, into a legal identity, and we don’t have to put those differences endlessly onto forms. Yet we can still protect people on the grounds of those differences.

What if we just ditched the M or F, the Mr, Mrs, Miss, and treated people as people? This helps make for a less sexist workplace, too.

not biology

Recommendation 3: Review all the ways you record gender and all the gendered practices of your organisation. Ask yourself critical questions about why they are needed. Write the answers down. Do they bear scrutiny? Clothing rules and uniforms that are gendered can be difficult not just for trans people. Do we really use titles enough these days to need to include them on job application forms? Monitoring gender and gender identity are, of course, fully legal and highly recommended, see the Scottish Transgender Alliance guidelines.

4. Misgendering Matters

Misgendering happens in lots of ways. From telling a trans man he is a “mother” to asking a trans woman not to use women’s toilets, they are subtle and unsubtle ways of reminding a trans person they do not fit someone’s idea of what a man or woman should be. It’s even harder for non-binary people who don’t want to be gendered, but just as important to get right. Most misgendering is accidental rather than malicious, and comes in the form of slip-ups about names and pronouns. What’s important to understand is that even though no harm was meant, these incidents can be deeply hurtful and humiliating for a trans person. For a start, they happen a lot, so they have that drip, drip, drip effect, and for second, they remind the trans person constantly that tlanguage mattershe world really struggles to adjust to and accommodate the reality of trans identities.

Recommendation 4: Take misgendering seriously and realise the pain it causes. If you do it accidentally, apologise and move on. If it happens maliciously, treat it as the transphobia it is. And understand that trans people try to be easygoing about this stuff, but sometimes when it’s happened for the 1000th time, we snap. We don’t mean to. Please be kind and let it go if we do.

5. Don’t assume it’s going to be a problem

I was once asked in an interview how my clients deal with me being transgender. It has actually never been an issue, let alone a problem, with any of my clients, but clearly my interviewer was anticipating some difficult reaction – this in itself was a highly stigmatising experience for me.

Recommendation 5: Don’t anticipate problems, and set an accepting, congratulatory tone (rather than worried/shamed) to model a positive response. If a customer or colleague does have a problem, don’t centre their needs and prejudices.

6: Work Can be a sanctuary

Transition can sometimes throw families and relationships into turmoil. Trans people face higher levels of domestic abuse, estrangement, lack of acceptance and relationship break down. They also face problems with hate crime and abuse in their communities. Their workplace can be an oasis during this time. Or if not handled well, it can just be another place where they feel like a problem and not fully accepted.

Recommendation 6: Commit to being supportive, kind and understanding. Regular meet-ups to check in and an open door policy work wonders. Appreciate the mental health impact of being trans. Understand the employee may be openly trans at work but not at home, and allow them the facilities, such as space to get changed, to allow them to do this.

7: We are not all about surgery

Trans people, whether binary or non-binary, sometimes have surgeries, and sometimes don’t. Sometimes we take hormones, and sometimes not. There are lots of different surgeries and treatments. Sometimes we have them to feel more comfortable with our bodies, and sometimes we have them to be more socially accepted. Sometimes it’s a bit of both. What’s important to know is that surgery and hormonal treatment does not make us who we are.

If we are prescribed treatment on the NHS, it should also be understood that qualified doctors have decided that treatment is in our best interests and may well save our lives.

Recommendation 7: Treat all medical leave in the same way you would if an employee was being treated for cancer. Do not assume what treatment, if any, they will have. Do not wait until they’ve had treatment to consider them fully as who they say they are. And hopefully it goes without saying, never talk about a person’s genitals, they’re called private parts for a reason.

8: There are trans people already here, you just don’t know it

You can’t always tell someone is trans just by looking at them. Many trans people make a decision not to transition, or live lives where they are out as trans in some parts of life, but not at work. Many transitioned trans people live quietly as themselves without anyone knowing they have a trans history.

Recommendation 8: Make sure you have policy in place for trans people – they should be explicitly mentioned in E&D policies, and you should follow best practice guidelines such as these, released by the government. You also need a protocol ready for when a staff member comes out. Such a policy should take you through things like putting regular support in place, how and to whom any change will be communicated, name change, legal requirements, and eliminating their previous identity fully from documents and IT systems. Also have a best practice policy for trans customers/clients – for instance, not gendering people over the phone by voice alone, and not using sir/madam or other gendered greeting words unless you know how a person identifies themself. This makes for a trans-positive environment for customers and workers.

9: Understand the challenges trans people face in the workplace

Total Jobs recently did a survey that came up with some alarming findings about how things are for trans employees. It also highlighted particular difficulties for non-binary employees.

Recommendation 9: Digest and reflect on the survey findings, and ask how your organisation can learn from them. Be aware of the kinds of subtle micro-aggressions trans employees might face that can easily be dismissed as harmless or irrelevant, but may add up to a pattern of bullying and marginalising.

10. Celebrate Diversity

Maya Angelou quote: It's time to teach that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength
Image courtesy of Singing Bird Artist

Stonewall says “We know that people perform better when they can be themselves”. What better way to signal that a workplace allows people to be themselves than one that is trans-positive? Happy, content trans employees are an asset. They signal: It’s ok to be ourselves here; We are a forward thinking organisation; We want to get the best out of people; We value difference and diversity; We are a kind employer and a comfortable workplace; We think outside the box.

Recommendation 10: Be celebratory of difference, let everyone know it as an asset that will make your organisation stronger.

A Critical Look at the Hate Crime Agenda

The following is a transcript of my talk at the Five Leaves Bookshop event on LGBT Hate Crime. I would particularly like to thank Onni Gust for their assistance in my research and structuring of the talk, the US organFive Leaves Bookshopisation Against Equality for their excellent resources on the subject, and Dee Fairchild for her proof-reading and encouragement.

This talk is going to be challenging, and I also want to give a content warning for discussions of various kinds of violence, including sexual violence. I spent a lot of time researching what I have to say today, and I hope to boost perspectives from parts of my community that have less of a voice.

I want to focus on the experiences of the trans community, but most of what I have to say is applicable to other minorities who experience hate crime.

When you are part of the trans community, hate crime becomes an everyday thing. Most of the trans women I know, and many of the trans men and non-binary people I know, have experienced hate-motivated violence – stabbing, beating, sexual assault, corrective rape, having their doors kicked in, vandalism and offensive graffiti on their homes, to name but a few. What is alarming is that most hate crime towards the trans community goes unreported. We know that reported hate crime against trans people is disproportionately high – government put it at 1% of crimes reported. That doesn’t sound much but when trans people represent more like only a quarter to a half percent of the population, that’s a lot. We also know from research by London LGBT charity Galop that as much as 80% of crimes against trans people go unreported.

My own personal experience of hate was of being driven close to suicide due to online harassment and defamation of character. This was from organised and socially powerful individuals who campaign tirelessly against the rights and recognition of transgender people. At one point things got so bad I did turn to the police out of desperation. They were kind but unhelpful and uneducated on trans issues. I learned that there is no such thing in law as hate speech against trans people, and no protection for us against incitement to hate crime.

Neil Chakraborti of the Leicester Centre for Hate Studies, who gave evidence to the recent Transgender Equality Inquiry has this to say:

“there are no incitement provisions around the stirring of hate towards trans people, but yet there are those provisions for other groups.  Interestingly there aren’t provisions for disabled people either, so it’s very much the trans community and people with physical and learning disabilities who are left out of the equation when it comes to the incitement of hate.”

He goes on to say:

“It’s frustrating that on the one hand we tell the trans community that we’re there for you, come and report your incidents and somebody will listen to you and that we want to learn from your experiences, but on the other hand we don’t have equivalent hate crime provisions as we do for the other monitored strands.”

Neil Chakraborti

So one of the barriers, then, is a lack of parity in law. But it gets more complicated still, because all the laws in the world will never put any but the most extreme and marginal figures before the courts. Trans people are currently in a position where most people are ill-informed about us, disrespectful reporting is standard, and academics and media representatives can say the most outrageous things about us without any loss of reputation, let alone other sanctions. In fact, it is becoming quite popular to take verbal pot-shots at our community in order to boost a waning academic career or increase ratings.

Our community’s surge in visibility and initial gaining of rights and recognition is double edged in this respect, as this shift in power we have experienced can be seen as threatening to some. That we have gone from utterly powerless to only slightly less so is not the point, the point for some is that we have shifted out of our place in society, and those people seek to put us back in our place.

It is this general climate of disrespect that is the background to hate crime against us, which can leave us sometimes feeling as if the general society message is that it’s socially acceptable to make fun of us, disrespect us, delegitimize us, look down on us, just so long as nobody steps over any lines.

Here’s Neil Chakraborti of the Leicester Centre for Hate Studies again:

“Those people we’ve spoken to through our research who’ve experienced transphobic hate crime have talked about there being a direct relationship between media representation and their experiences of hostility, discrimination and even violence.  I think that’s where real problems are when it comes to media reporting and can have some serious consequences for people.  I do definitely believe that there’s a correlation between representations through the media, and even political representations, the language we use, the normalisation of stereotypes, I think there’s a direct link between that and experiences of hostility.”

Neil Chakraborti pic
Neil Chakraborti giving oral evidence at the Transgender Equality Inquiry

Meanwhile, media representation of hate crime often also subtly manipulates our attention towards other vulnerable communities, pitting us against each other. Last year a friend of mine was in local news following a series of hate attacks. What’s wrong with the people of Mansfield? Was the question asked on local radio about her experiences. They problematised this poorer and more insular community. When in a related radio interview I tried to turn the tables on the media for their representation of trans people, they simply did not put my piece on air. But I feel the media hold structural power in this situation far more than the street-level folk of Mansfield, and it is their influence that perpetuates the problems we experience.

That great thinker and renaissance man Akala has something similar to say on the subject of race:

“all this nonsense about people being racist because they’re frustrated about their lives is totally classist, what we’re saying is only working class people are racist . . . racism was not invented by working class people, it was invented by elite academics . . . and perpetuated as part of political policy – from the top down, not the bottom up”

akala
Akala confronting EDL leader

I think what he says is equally true of transphobia. It is academia, government and the media that support the structural inequalities that make hate crime possible.

Another concerning phenomenon to me is the way the media presents LGBT hate crime overseas. We often ignore the way our own culture has framed and intervened in the countries where homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are rife. We disregard the fact that war stirs up other kinds of violence, so that for instance we talk about oppressive crimes under ISIS or in Afghanistan in the context of Islam rather than the context of a war torn country. Meanwhile the media largely ignored the rounding up of trans people into camps in troubled but then right wing and Christian Greece in 2013. We talk about India and Uganda’s attitudes to LGBT people without mentioning it was the British Empire that exported those attitudes. In doing this, we reinforce our rights to intervene in these countries or judge them. Hate crime is exploited to reinforce Western dominance and superiority.

Is it possible that our focus on hate crime legislation also serves to pit the vulnerable against the vulnerable in a similar way?

I am reminded of my former work in domestic violence. I quickly learned that those brought before the court to answer for their attacks on women do not accurately reflect the structures of power that are in place against women. When I went to observe the domestic violence courts in action I was shocked to see a parade of vulnerable, generally young men, many with poor mental health, many of them black, almost all of them from deprived backgrounds. True power does not get itself caught up in the justice system. It knows what it can get away with and it also makes the laws and runs the structures that govern us.

We know that many marginalised minorities are over-represented in the prison population. For trans people this is no different, and the reasons are complex and multi-layered. Trans people suffer disproportionately from poor mental health which is directly related to lack of social support, discrimination, poor healthcare, poor housing, unemployment and psychological trauma. Trans people are less likely to be in employment, and more likely to be harassed or discriminated against at work. Trans people are even more likely than other LGBT people to become homeless or be poorly or vulnerably housed. Massive health inequality was recently flagged up in the Government’s Transgender Equality Inquiry as a major issue for the trans community. As with many oppressed communities, drug and alcohol abuse are issues within our community. Some of our medicines, if not prescribed to us, are considered class C drugs, and of course some of us in desperation turn to illegal markets for the drugs we need. Trans people are more likely to live in poverty. Trans people are more likely to find opportunities through sex work when there is a lack of other opportunity, and when we are sexualised and objectified. Trans people are more likely to experience sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Trans people’s experience of domestic violence is disproportionately high. We are often, as with other LGBT people, considered the aggressors if we defend ourselves against attack, simply because people look on us with prejudice.

So, like most other minorities, we are thought to be over-represented in the prison system, and we might not always feel that prison is the answer in the way others who have never brushed with the law might feel. And we might not feel safe and trusting to approach the police. We might not expect a fair hearing. We don’t always act like the model minority and our sometimes messy lives may invite more judgement than sympathy.

_86770753_vickyimage
Transgender woman Vikki Thompson, who committed suicide in a male prison in 2015

If we are people of colour, if we are from deprived areas, if we are sex workers, if we have poor mental health, if we are asylum seekers or immigrants, then we may be even less likely to feel the police are there to protect us.

We might also feel that sending hate criminals to prisons when many of us are in those prisons is not going to reduce harm to our community, and so we might feel ambivalent about enhanced sentences for hate crime. Particularly when we know that 75% of prisoners reoffend when they come out. Particularly when we know that non-custodial sentences can be better at reducing offending. Particularly when we know that the legislation is not actually reducing crimes against us.

When it comes to the police, many of us in the trans community are sincerely grateful for how much things have changed for the better. But there’s still a long way to go. Some of us are white and able and middle class and have never felt ourselves to have a complicated relationship with law enforcement. Those people often have the biggest voices, too. But we need to really work at understanding how different the experience is for those of us from even more marginalised communities. Those of us who have mental health difficulties or are neurodivergent, those from communities of colour, those who are sex workers, those who are vulnerably housed and homeless or live in poverty, those who are addicted to substances, those who have uncertain immigration status or are seeking asylum. We need, as a community, to protect and include those vulnerable people and that means putting their needs first and foremost, including showing understanding that they may not view the police as a protective presence.

The hard work has to come from the police and not from us, and the police need to be big and strong enough not to be upset and offended when we are critical. Or when we ask for them to do better for those most vulnerable, or listen to us more, or not put themselves into the middle of our social organising until we’re sure everyone feels safe about that.

Some, such as academic Wendy Brown, have argued that hate crime legislation creates an illusion of equality whilst in fact reinforcing structural power. It increastates of injuryses the power of the state over its citizens. It justifies the need for greater law enforcement and increased incarceration. At the same time it devolves power away from the community and towards the state, asking the community to trust and look up to its protection, even as the state continues to perpetuate legislative inequalities.

This may be an extreme way of looking at things, but at a time when we seem to be questioning whether we can afford to look after our vulnerable citizens I find it somewhat puzzling that we still feel we can afford to incarcerate them.

Prison is expensive. The yearly cost of just one inmate could fund a full time school counsellor. The cost of incarcerating one person could fund two full-time workers raising awareness of trans issues in schools and colleges. As prisons become privatised, we start to suspect that our traumas are being exploited to create inventory for these businesses, while tackling the underlying issues that create our traumas is deemed unaffordable in these times of austerity.

At the same time, we do not seem to be able to provide adequate support to the victims of hate crime and their loved ones and communities. Many of my trans friends suffer from PTSD and access to therapy for this is extremely patchy.

Against Equality”, an organisation in the US who gave me much to think about in my research, have this to say:

“Hate crimes don’t occur because there aren’t enough laws against them, and hate crimes won’t stop when those laws are in place. Hate crimes occur because, time and time again, our society demonstrates that certain people are worth less than others; that certain people are wrong, are perverse, are immoral in their very being.

“Creating more laws wilagainst equalityl not help our communities. Organizing for the passage of these kind of laws simply takes the time and energy out of communities that could instead spend the time creating alternative systems and building communities capable of starting transformative justice processes. Hate crimes bills are a distraction from the vital work necessary for community safety.”

So where does this leave us? On the one hand, of course, I want trans people to feel safe to report crimes against them and for those crimes to be taken seriously. Particularly as it is those most marginalised people I mentioned previously who are also most at risk of hate crime. I want to overcome the barriers – the fear of being outed, the fear of making it worse, the fear of not being taken seriously or not being understood or treated well. The lack of trans awareness within the police that reflects that of the general population and the media.

My own work has focussed on awareness raising and community building. I have found through experience that giving our community a voice and building relationships and understanding with the wider community is more powerful than any legislation.

I would like to quote Jess Bradley from the organisation Action for Trans Health:

 “We are unconvinced that hate crime legislation is an appropriate tool for combating transphobia due to its poor record as a deterrent and low engagement from the trans community. We believe a focus on education, awareness and combating medical neglect is more appropriate a response to transphobia”

The work I and others have done in Nottinghamshire to create a set of Safer Space Guidelines is I believe at the core of how we go forward. Instead of people who aren’t trans telling us what we need, it’s time, respectfully, that people began listening to this community. The guidelines, which can be found on the Notts Trans Hub Website, set out ways in which people can consult us and consider how they interact with us.

One of the repeating themes the trans community face is that everyone has the freedom to speak how they like about us, but when we respond with criticism our own free speech is deemed “too much” for people. I agree, it’s a big adjustment to even begin to adapt to our needs and treat us fairly. But society won’t be equal when everyone who hates us is locked up. Society will be equal when people see no reason to hate us.