Saturday, May 19, 2018

Celebrating Shavuot as a Trans Woman

Ruth and Naomi (Buehring)
In the UK it is Saturday and a long awaited special event. Two people declare their love for each other and marry. At sundown today some of us will also begin to celebrate Shavuot; the feast of weeks.

Shavuot is one of the most significant of Jewish festivals. It celebrates the gift of the Torah to all Jewish people on Mount Sinai 3,000 years ago. It is also associated with acceptance of marginalised people through it’s association with Ruth and her story.

Ruth was a pagan woman, daughter in law to Naomi. She was an outsider from the Moabite nation.  But Naomi lost both her husband and her two sons. Ruth lost her husband.  In a time when widows starved and died with no man to support them, Ruth demonstrated enduring love and commitment to Naomi, refusing to leave her side:

“Don’t ask me to leave you! Let me go with you. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and that is where I will be buried. May the Lord’s worst punishment come upon me if I let anything but death separate me from you!”.

Ruth’s heartfelt vow to Naomi was a commitment of true love.  She returned at Naomi’s side to Bethlehem and was accepted as Jewish. These words are frequently used as a vow in heterosexual marriage ceremony yet they were shared between one woman and another.

Make up your own mind on this one.  The same word is used in Hebrew to describe the love between Adam and Eve as between Ruth and Naomi. Was this a devoted mother daughter relationship, a lesbian one or simply two incredibly loyal and devoted women, does it even matter?

The message of Shavuot has always been one of love, transition and acceptance of outcasts. I am a trans woman born of a mixed faith marriage. Trans women are outcasts.  We’re continually reminded that we are not worthy to be called women and can never be women. If we love a man some contest whether we should be allowed to marry as a woman and become a wife.  If we become mothers there will be those who invalidate our right to be considered good parents. Can we not just love accept instead of throwing up barriers and reasons not to?

At Shavuot we celebrate an outsider’s acceptance into the Jewish faith in spite of laws to the contrary, we remember the devotion two women felt for each other and we give thanks for an event which transitioned the Hebrews into the Jewish People. 

You do not have to be religious to understand and appreciate the significance of this day. Love is love, acceptance is acceptance, no matter what faith or language is involved. Trans women are women, worthy to love men or other women as they wish.  Worthy to choose a faith or not to, to be called Jewish, Muslim or Christian.

Chad Shavuot Sameach, 


Jane xx

Friday, March 30, 2018

This Year We Need Transgender Visibility More Than Ever

Trans Invisibility allows others to pretend there is bland homogeneity and that diversity in sex or gender is deviance.

Saturday March 31st marks Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV). TDOV aims to promote acceptance of trans people, safeguarding their rights and combating hatred. Hatred relies on stereotyping groups of people and on self-limiting mindsets. Too often these are fuelled by a press whose prevalent view of a trans person is ‘a man in a dress’. The person inside is cruelly willed into forced invisibility.

I grew up with a secret, imaginary group of playmates. So many kids have imaginary friends. They provide a platform for rehearsing and exploring experiences outside the child’s own. Lonely children find a companion that comforts them whether it be a friend or an animal. It’s all in your head. When you’re a trans child, you tend live in your head continually. The life you lead bears no resemblance to the one you need in order to help you thrive. Little girls crave other girls to play with, I did too. Until I went to school it was J, the girl across the road. When I started school, that had to change. Boys are supposed to play ball with other boys, not skipping with girls. J and I didn’t play together after that. I made friends with A, another lonely soul in the playground but her family moved away. Then I too became a loner, living inside my head with J & A, as my imaginary playmates. Teachers told my mum, with concern, that I was withdrawn and unsociable. Unknown to them, my imaginary life, though invisible to others, sustained me and held me up. Looking back, the imaginary experiences are the ones I cherish most. They helped me keep the faith in who I was.
Growing up I longed to be an ordinary girl like everyone else, blend in and be unexceptional. I was the boy who wanted to grow up and be a mum and a wife, not a dad or a husband. I viewed the bullying and hatred I received as my fault. Becoming invisible seemed the way forward.

Even though I craved it so strongly as a child, I see now what a dangerous place it is. You are benignly invisible if you stick to the rules. As an adult living in a conservative rural area, I rapidly discovered those rules were very restrictive indeed. Step outside them, dare to be visible and you are a target. Worse of all if others discover your secret they can threaten to out you. ‘Outing’ is forced visibility; their choice not yours. Invisibility becomes a trap not a refuge.

Being invisible with gender identity issues involves hiding your true self. When we hide we get smaller, shrink into ourselves and lose confidence. It is a dismal place to be. More importantly, invisibility breeds ignorance in others. Trans invisibility allows others to pretend there is bland homogeneity and that diversity in sex or gender is deviance. It also prevents others seeing they are not alone. Growing up a trans child, I wish there had been visible role models to give me hope for the future. I had none and the loneliness quite literally nearly killed me when I tried to take my own life.

Ironically, more often than not I seem to be invisible these days. I pass well. Others are doubting or incredulous if I ‘out’ myself. I’m invisible in plain sight, a business woman working alongside her husband. I’m simply a woman. Others are not so fortunate and stand out. At times I’ve felt almost guilty. Passing well is the dream of most Trans people, yet achieving it makes you invisible again. Invariably, I end up being deliberately open about my gender history. In doing so I hope to challenge attitudes. ‘You didn’t know I was trans before I told you. Will you really treat me differently now you know?’

Treating us differently is all too likely. Only a few days ago, The Sun covered the wedding of a young couple, both with trans histories. The front page story ran with the hateful and sensational headline: ‘Tran and Wife’. A happy, smiling wedding photo was accompanied by shots of them both before transition. It typifies the attitude of many that being trans is a joke to be laughed at. Having your ‘big day’ ridiculed isn’t how most of us start married life. Trans visibility is tough.

Today, visibility for gender identity is more needed than ever, it needs to be encouraged not ridiculed. Please give trans role models a chance.

Happy TDOV, 

Huggs, Jane xx

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Excluding Trans Women From Women Only Spaces Is Not Feminism!

The current TERF wars and the animosity between Exclusionary Radical Feminism and Transgender Women seeks to polarise public opinion against Trans people generally. The UK's Sunday Times and Daily Mail have run a number of hateful articles which have only served to fuel this debate further.  Outspoken Feminists like Greer, Venice Allan and Sheila Jefferies have endeavoured to given further momentum to this debate, speaking at a number of meetings throughout the UK.  I know that many of my feminist sisters from the heady days of 2nd wave feminism have fallen for this rhetoric.  The arguments are seemingly very persuasive. There is now a new generation of younger 2nd wave feminists rallying to this call for the preservation of 'sex based rights'.

At the heart of this campaign is the whole debate about women's only spaces and whether Trans Women are men or women. It saddens me more and more, yet it scares me too. As a child my Feminist Mum raised me to believe that I could be whatever I wanted to be, regardless of gender.  I studied hard and got better qualifications than my male counterparts. I also wanted a family and I took a number of years out to raise and care for my two kids.  As a consequence, I'm now seriously disadvantaged in terms of employment.  A single parent, I spent 8 years holding down a low paid job I could have done with half my qualifications. I didn't complain, Men scare me at times: As I child I was seriously abused by one. One of my previous boyfriends, a man I thought loved me, subjected me to serious emotional and domestic abuse. I needed and got help thank goodness.  I therefore value women's only spaces and the support of my sisters. At times, they are the only spaces I have felt safe and secure. I have to admit that I too am unsure and unclear about what the proposed changes to the GRA will mean.  I know however that I would be very unhappy to deny anyone who is clearly a woman access to women's only spaces, no matter how and where they started their lives.

As it happens, although my corrected birth certificate now declares me to have been born a girl, I have a Trans history. Having Gender Dysphoria put me through the worst of times which are now thankfully behind me. One thing I am certainly NOT however, is a man. If we exclude (Trans) people from women's only spaces, we EXCLUDE women.  As a girl, feminism taught me that I have the right to determine my own destiny. Now a small group of my sisters seek to deny me that right. Why?

Excluding Trans Women from women's only spaces is not Feminism.  Feminism is neither elitist or exclusionary.  Once we start to pick and choose which women are deserving of protection and which women are not we are operating Apartheid.  

HUGGS, Jane xx

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Motherhood, Infertility And Being a Woman

Growing up, motherhood was something I could only dream of.  Idealised girlhood fantasies of a handsome husband, a beautiful house and a brood of adorable children dominated my later childhood.  Advertising bombards us with stereotypes and the image of a table full of hungry children (plus husband) eating cereal or a mother's lovingly cooked meals is very pervasive. I was a lonely, only child who dreamed of having siblings to play with. I envied other children who belonged to larger families.  I now have an adoptive sister, but that's another story.  What is important here however is why you should never give up on your dreams and wishes. Living to be a mother when you are a Trans teen girl seems about as probable as flying to the moon.  Still, every Nativity and Mother's Day reminds you of how we celebrate Mums and how you'll never be one of them.

Motherhood can be tougher than you think. Trans Motherhood can be just as tough. I was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder; these days seen as simply Gender Dysphoria.  To grow up a woman I knew that I needed Gender Confirmation Surgery: Living my life in pieces with body parts that didn't belong just wasn't an option: It depressed me so much. I had already attempted to end my life. Aged 20 I entered what was to become a lesbian relationship and marriage.  I'm not proud of what I did, I did it in a vain attempt to conform and have a family to belong to.  A young infant (kindergarten) teacher, my school family of 25 children wasn't enough. My partner and I tried for a baby and failed. I realise now that our apparent infertility was due in large part to my Trans identity. For both of us, infertility was an enormous sorrow that dominated our lives and we sought medical help. When we did conceive it was a huge relief. Our two lovely children were precious miracles that neither of us had dreamed could happen. Essentially two Mums, at first we shared their care. Later I became a stay at home Mum when it made economic sense. When our marriage was later annulled (same sex marriage was then illegal in the UK) our children picked sides.  My youngest chose to live with me and my eldest with my ex.

Things could have gone terminally sour and bitter.  Our children, very much sibling rivals, spent little time together. As parents though we strove hard to redefine a relationship that stretched back to our own childhoods. As a result we each gained a new sister and I consider myself blessed to count her as a sibling. As we worked to redefine our sense of family, we both became single working mothers.  I found how quickly, how tough being a Trans single Mum was. My dyspraxic and accident prone daughter needed constant care and I found myself attending the local hospital emergency department frequently.  On two occasions, nursing staff reported me to Social Workers saying that my child had been injured and was accompanied by a man dressed as a woman.  According to their notes, this same man claimed to be her mother. I learned the hard way that society can be very hard on you and your child.  We ran the gauntlet at the local school, putting up with stares, name calling and stigmatisation. A fully qualified teacher, I took the only job I could get in a hurry; a low paid teaching assistant. Through it all my lovely daughter took my part, enduring the over curious questions from school companions.  We both chose our friends carefully.  I had little money and what I had I went on keeping a roof over our heads and bringing her up well. I had the constant support and help of my new sister and without her I would have been lost and lonely. Family had become very precious, but not the stereotypical TV one. On Mother's Day I got used to being rewarded with presents, cards and flowers by my daughter and it made me cry with emotion. It still makes me cry.

A single Mum, I was always frightened about dating. Mother and daughter can become a self sufficient unit and I was afraid of what a new partner might do to our little family. I didn't look for love until my daughter was in her High School senior year.  She was looking for love at the same time and there were laughable moments when we realised that our experiences ran so parallel.  She is now happy with her lovely and supportive girlfriend and if you follow this blog, you'll know that I myself met and married the man of my dreams.

They say that GCS leaves you feeling that you've been hit by a truck. It wasn't so for me. I healed quickly and easily but later when I married, nothing prepared me for the onrush of maternal feelings that hit me like an express train. Setting up home with the husband I had longed for, I desperately felt the need to plan and start a new family. Like the ghost of a menstrual cycle my hormones give me, those unbidden urges really hurt. The cramps and the mood swings remind me I'm a woman but I also know that I'm infertile too.  No amount of babymaking, wishing, wanting and longing will bring us a new family. I have no regrets but infertility is a constant sorrow for women with a Trans history. I still cry about my unborn children, the names they would have borne and the joy they would have brought in making my husband a father. I know he would be the most amazing Dad.  Indeed it was feeling secure in marriage and able to trust my loving husband that made me want a family again.

Women like Venice Allan and Germaine Greer would dismiss me as delusional and class my marriage as a Gay relationship. The woman you see above would be considered 'a man in a dress'. In the photo above the strap had fallen down briefly on my dress but I didn't care.  I feel much the same about Greer and Allan's pronouncements on Trans women. A woman whose birth certificate says 'Girl', I have campaigned my whole life for women's rights. I grew up idolising the heroes of Second Wave feminism. I came to realise that my activism was wider than that.  As feminists our struggle is intersectional.  I have no idea how it feels to grow up a black African woman but I respect and uphold her right to equality and self determination. By the same token I know that my sisters respect and uphold my rights too. That a few hateful individuals refuse to accept that intersectional truth is beyond me. One thing I do know is that I am not a man. I do not need TERF permission or approbation to call myself a wife, mother and a woman, I simply am one.

HUGGS, Jane xx

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Purim and Celebrating Trans Womanhood

Purim is our joyful, positive Jewish Holiday that falls between 28th February and March 1st this year.  It is a festival celebrating freedom from oppression and the bravery of Queen Esther. Esther married the Persian King Ahasuerus after winning what would now be considered a beauty contest! But she was not what she seemed to be. Like myself, she had changed her name. A Jewish girl born, Hadassah, she refused to reveal her heritage and identity, living in secret; a closet Jewish girl in a potentially hostile community. When political events led to the planned genocide of her fellow Jews she was brave enough to come out to the King as Jewish. The event saved her own people but also herself from certain death.

When you're a child, Purim seems just a heroic story.  One of those rare tales in which the hero is a girl and everything ends happily ever after. As I grew up through a conflicted and confused childhood, tales like this took on a new and more personal meaning. Esther had a very real reason to hide and remain in the closet.  Her predecessor Queen Vashti had met her end for failing to (obediently) comply with her husband's wish to show her off naked in public, wearing only her crown. The Prime Minister, Haman, was plotting to have all Jews killed for being disloyal to the King. Queen Esther might well have been safe, living incognito in the Palace but it was a secret life of being untrue to herself and who she really was. Would she keep quiet while she saw others just like her being put to death?

Growing up, so many of us live in hiding, accepted as long as we agree to keep up appearances. . For me it was agreeing to behave and look like a boy in spite of repeated protestations that I was a girl and always would be. When I was born I was given the name Robyn. I could only be myself in secret, sneaking out in my mid teens to go shopping in town dressed as I pleased, my long hair up in bunches. Aged 13, I risked so much to do that, carrying my girl clothes in a backpack and getting changed at the loos in the city park.  Yet that too felt strange; I passed well and was treated like a girl but nobody knew my given name or who I really was. Aged 18 I came close to death, attempting suicide after years of self-harming. I felt real fear contemplating a future of living someone else's life and never being true to my identity. 

I was lucky, I'm still here. Like Esther, somehow I had the resilience and courage to come out instead and make a stand to save my own life.  When I completed my transition, I seriously contemplated going stealth. Recovering in hospital after surgery, it seemed like a plan. The pain of being stigmatised and harassed had been so tough at times. I had lost my job and I found it hard to get a new one that suited my qualifications. In a new, low paid job, someone had scrawled "Robyn Must Die" on my locker.  Why should I put up with death threats because I was openly out? I knew that I passed well. I had been out long enough to know that men found me deeply attractive. Surely, if I went somewhere new and returned to the closet, I could just get on with my life, have a husband, a family, a life and everything that other women take for granted? A bit like Esther I was tempted to just accept the beauty contest and live in secret. However, beauty is just a genetic lottery. When I looked around at others on the hospital ward I knew I couldn't live in stealth. Not everyone is so lucky, why should I let them face suicidal feelings and death threats because of hatred and stigmatisation. I made a decision to be publicly out and carry on activism and blogging.

Last summer my husband and I were peacefully walking down from our home in Manchester to Sparkle, the National Transgender Celebration. As we headed through a quiet car park a man in a white van drove at speed, straight at us, hurling abuse about 'Tranny Faggots' from his window as we ran to get out of his way. I'm not sure if he meant to kill or injure me but I felt real fear for my life.

So at Purim, I remember Queen Esther's example and celebrate.  In Judaism we have a tradition of dressing up in costume, however we want on this day.  So please, dress how you wish this Purim. In a world where some still want to see Trans people and Jews cleansed for society, it's important to be you and to claim your right to be who you are.

Freilichen Purim, 
HUGGS, Jane xx

Monday, February 26, 2018

LGBT History Month UK - Reading About Sylvia Rivera Helped Me Realise I Wasn't Alone

Kay Tobin/New York Public Library Digital Collections

I have a love/hate relationship with LGBT History Month.  History can be like a drug, we can get very high on the stories of how our elder sisters and brothers fought for our rights. We can do that without committing ourselves to carrying that struggle forward. If LGBT history becomes a sanitised, self congratulatory pat on the back; a look back at how far we’ve come, we are missing something important. 

History isn’t an island in the past, it is a moment in a continual collective struggle, something against which to define and measure yourself. Trans teens and children have few role models and reference points. Discovering about Sylvia Rivera when I was younger was a wake up call to action and a realisation that I wasn't alone. Here was someone I could finally understand and identify with.  I had found gender a bewildering and confusing concept. Sexually precocious, I grew up knowing I was a girl yet was treated as an effeminate boy.  I grew up suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a Gay man. It made me feel dirty and used but it also convinced me I wasn’t homosexual. Sylvia Rivera had been abused too, she was a gender non-conforming outcast and campaigner who unashamedly used sex work to survive and fund her campaigning.

Stonewall was already a thing when I came to adulthood. The name applied to an organisation fighting for Gay and Lesbian rights. I was pretty sure I wasn’t included. A kickass non-binary gender rights activist, Sylvia Rivera was there however during the June 1969 riot at the Stonewall Inn. She is credited as having thrown one of the first bottles! It was an event I had associated with Gay men. To find that gender queers and trans people had been involved too was a revelation.  I felt empowered to learn that someone from my community had been there at the start of a long struggle for equality and inclusion. Sylvia Rivera subsequently joined the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) to campaign for a Gay Bill of Rights in New York City.  Sadly, as Gay issues developed a more mainstream momentum, GAA dropped their inclusion of gender rights in a bid to make their campaign more acceptable.  Through it all, Rivera never stopped campaigning. What isn’t as widely remembered is her work supporting young homeless trans girls of colour working in the sex industry.  Together with Marsha P Johnson, Rivera founded the STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) house to protect and care for young trans kids hustling on the streets of NYC.  She fought continually for the inclusion of black and trans voices in the struggle for Gay rights at a time when the assimilation of Gay culture meant that gender rights got left behind.

Sylvia Rivera passed away on February 19th 2002. She died in poverty but she gave the gender variant community the inspiration to fight for inclusion that we continue today.  In spite of advances, Trans rights are still an afterthought in the struggle for fairness and equality.  Barely a week goes by without one element or the other of our community being vilified in the press.  Feminists we fight alongside want to deny our right to self identification. While society has begun to accept equal marriage, the plight of trans children is not so good.  Parents supportive of their trans children are branded as conniving in a delusion that gender can be fluid or reassigned.  Trans women are still dismissed as ‘men in dresses’ by radical feminists. Trans women like Rivera or myself, who choose to work in the sex industry are stigmatised by a society which sees us as either deviant or reinforcing gender stereotypes. Rivera fought for our acceptance as human beings, regardless of gender norms or stereotypes.  She did so long before many of us were born.

Gender queer individuals have at times been seen as an embarrassment to the LGBT Community.  Too often we iconise our heroes. We sideline individuals who are controversial and hard for the masses to identify with. If someone is uncomfortably difficult to like we can write them out of history. I want to write Sylvia Rivera back in. Sylvia Rivera was a different kind of hero, not an icon but a passionate human being. We need more like her today.

Huggs, Jane xx

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Current Debate About Whether Trans Women Are Women Scares Me.

Trans Women and Trans Historied women have been around for a long time.  They have a long history of fighting oppression. 

Of late I've been trying hard to reach out and understand the concerns of my Exclusionary Feminist Sisters. I've done so as society bravely attempts to define what we mean by the terms 'man' and 'woman'.  Those terms seem to be changing forever.  As a trans-historied woman it has begun to scare me a little too.

I grew up a dutiful little feminist daughter, imbibing the second wave doctrines expounded by my mother. Now I'm not so sure.  A trans-historied female, I've fought alongside my older feminist sisters to combat oppression and to promote an agenda in which we were united by a common experience of misogyny. In sharing my common experiences I genuinely believed we were allies and friends with the same cause.

As women our experiences are parallel. Natal born women cannot know what it was like to grow up a Trans girl. Trans born women cannot know it felt growing up a natal girl. We can however LISTEN and APPRECIATE each other's experiences. Here are mine: I was the three year old who insisted that she wasn't a boy, the one they beat up constantly at school.  I was the awkward, shy, brown haired girl downtown buying new clothes and records in an attempt to fit in. I grew up experiencing my teens as a girl; Men opened doors for me and I was flattered. By the time I was a young single mother seeking a return to her career, the same men slammed doors in my face. As a child I was abused by a man who saw me as a sexual novelty. I've lived half my adult life free from a fake existence forced on me by others. Now I'm lucky to be a happily married woman, working alongside a husband who cares about me. I work as a trained counsellor in the LGBTQIA community.  As a woman I work hard to make a difference to the lives of others.

In all this, I never expected to be excluded by my sisters or told that I was actually 'the enemy'. To divide one group of women from another appears to strike at the very foundations of feminism. Is that what we want?

I unearthed this article in order to establish an overview of the debate. 

It was published some years ago but is still relevant today. It is thought provoking and insightful if you want to understand the vitriol and anger behind RadFem's denunciation of Trans Women. I'm trying hard to empathise with how they feel. This article is my own attempt to reach out to them. I'm asking for them to listen and empathise.

Meanwhile the stand off between Radical Feminism and Trans Feminists rages on.

There are many more burning issues that still face us all like pay inequality, oppression in the workplace, objectification and unequal rights. Why are we so obsessed with talking about women's only spaces as though it is the only current issue? 

suspect that while we take our eyes off the ball and fight each other tooth and nail; we may lose everything that we have fought together so far to achieve.

HUGGS, in sisterhood,

Jane xx