Monthly Archives: June 2016

We’re back here again

A response to the British events on Friday the 24th June, a day called Independence.

 

I want to have words, words that mean something and words that matter. But I feel slightly hopeless on this morning that we start to break away from the world  to become an isolated small island.

But I have a confession, I feel hopeless because my whole family voted to leave, not only my family but their friends and their friend’s friends.  I feel hopeless because for the past, at least forty years, I have been trying to argue against their streams of inbuilt racism and xenophobia and their notion that at one point Britain was good because it was defined by the Empire.

I have failed. Most of them are over 50 and most of the over 50s and certainly the over 65s voted to leave Europe.  I failed then, back in the 70s, and I’ve failed now.

I have always had a single, simple tenet , that you should only talk about the stuff and the people that you know rather than talking about whole groups of people or making vast generalisations. For example don’t talk about the Arabs or poor people or people on benefit or people who work in banks. Talk specifics because that way you have some control over the impact of your words and you can be held responsible for the stuff that you say.

But my central tenet failed to shift people’s minds, the spectre of Enoch Powell’s vile warnings I fear holds much more sway. But this isn’t about my failure,  it is about a collective failure to get people to be kinder.  People, often the poorest, are still willingly swallowing the pup that ‘others’, the ‘even poorer others’, are to blame. People struggling are told, coached and forced to look down and blame the space beneath them, it is a very human frailty that needs to identify and ostracise weakness.

Lower wages, people who don’t yet have the language, people who are forced to work in the black economy and people who are fleeing conflicts and civil structures that threaten the very fabric of their lives. A gay men fleeing  persecution from any number of countries, a family from Syria whose whole town has been decimated and who are terrified on a daily basis of the men we call ISIS.

It is these people whom we have been taught are the enemy.

I, as a trans HIV positive ex-drug user have spent much of my life being seen as the enemy, someone to shout at, spit at, abuse and disenfranchise.  Someone who wasn’t worthy to sit at the table, someone who should be shipped off to an island (drug addicts and people with AIDS). I get that feeling of being  pushed outside by no fault of your own and being kept outside because structural doors close in your face. It’s no wonder at times the kindness of a dealer seemed worth chasing. Being talked about like you are dirty or like you are ruining the pretty patina of society is so damaging. So damaging.

In one foul swoop we have sent out this message to the rest of Europe, to people from foreign lands, to people who saw us as and our country as a brave new world and as a sanctuary, to them we have sent out the  message that we don’t want you, we are better than you and to avoid you we are willing to cut off our nose to spite our green, rolling face.

Blair said ‘Education, Education, Education and built schools.

Farage said  ‘Immigration, Immigration, Immigration and destroyed truth.

And not just any immigrants, a long line of brown faces, brown immigrants,  the irony is that most people from Eastern Europe have white faces but then that doesn’t tap into the long held fears of the British about ‘those people out there, you know the ones we stole from time and time again in Africa and India  coming here to take from us. We owe them nothing, what’s the chip on the shoulder for and why don’t they make their own countries work, why the bloody famines.’

That’s the fear that Farage wanted, him like an insipid, fag waving King Canute, the great white hope holding back the stream of ‘brown others’  behind him, trying to push their way in and ruin our lands.

Its insidious, yet I can hear my family debate this as a real thing. Never mind the data about Polish net contributions to our economy or the great successes of immigrant children in our schools, universities and jobs or just the bloody marvel of living in a land where diversity is something wondrous to behold and celebrate. Never mind the young bodies washed up on the shores of Europe, people terrified of war and bombs and limbs blown asunder.

The apple -pie  image that Farage seeks  is one harking back to days gone past, it’s Thatcher with her handbag and set hair,  the pantomime’ Iron Lady’ destroying the fabric of the working class, it’s  Trump bleating about erecting walls and trying to rally America back to a dystopian time where spies seek out commies, and blacks and whites know their places.

It is backwards-looking to a time that was built on fears, the fears of others that aren’t like us. It’s funny I’ve read a few things where ‘moderate’ people have said ‘let’s see what happens’ ‘no one will be able to take away the things, the rights we have won’. It leaves me flabbergasted. Our histories are littered with examples of freedoms won, lost, stolen, removed, extinguished and stamped on.

Do you really imagine that the people who fear immigrants will support trans kids at school having rights? Do you really imagine that those people care about the independent living fund for people with disabilities and do you really think those people, if push comes to shove. will care about you? Are you their kind of people, in my experience we can never be right enough. Since writing and talking about being HIV and my drug past I have lost almost half of my work. Despite my glossy hair and even glossier handbag and shoes I’m just not enough like them to be part of the pack.

No this path is a fool’s errand, it leads only to isolation and further fears. This exit from Europe is a mark of the worse of the English; an utter fear of everything across the sea, it’s as if the Age of Enlightenment never happened.

It’s our chip on the shoulder after all.

 

Why Did I flee?

When the EU Referendum began I decided that I had to sell my house in London and move away, I ended up in the mountains in Southern Spain, in the middle of nowhere.

 

I live in a small, very small farming village which survives because of collectivism. Water, harvest and the work is carried out cooperatively and often fruits are shared. I frequently find bags on my doorstep and have become good at making a range of jams and chutneys. The harvest is sold at agreed standard prices and these apply across the board. There are no richer or poorer farmers. Fiestas are always a time of celebration.

I didn’t end up here though because of some strange, but wonderful, middle class desire to live off the land,  far from it,  I adore shopping and still spend far too much of far too little in Duty Free coming back to work in London. I didn’t end up here because of some romantic notion of meeting a beautiful Spanish person and like Ms Durrell ending up married and rescued.

I am HIV, transgender and I don’t believe in fairy stories or pray. It can be tough being here and feeling ‘other’,  it can be tough feeling ill here and being isolated. I’m a very long term thriver with HIV and that means I’ve been on very strong drugs for many years so life generally knackers me out now. I reel from bouts of oral  thrush, ulcers and different infections  to just feeling exhausted. But every day I thank my lucky stars that I am alive. I walk in the mountains close my eyes and feel the sun on my face. It sometimes makes me cry good tears, happy tears, content tears, Joni Mitchell tears.

But I didn’t sell up and come over for the mountains or the great collective-collection of fruit. Nor did I come here looking to join an ‘expat’ community. In my local area there are very few English people, it’s old and Spanish and intensely quiet.

Nor did I come here for the quiet but I relish it every minute of every day.

No I came here because I was running away, I was running away from the rising feeling of racism in England. From the tensions that were being stoked by the rich-press, by the far right and by the moderate left. By the ‘everyman & everywoman’ in the street, by the people worse affected and the people not affected at all. I was running away from my family and friends and colleagues. I was running away from anyone who talked about wanting England to be great again, about blaming groups of people, the Polish, the immigrants, the migrants, the Eastern Europeans, the Africans.

I was running away from them all, because I couldn’t stop pleading with them to stop talking about groups of people as if they knew them, or blaming groups of people for the inequality in England whilst arranging a street party for the Queen. I couldn’t live as part of a society that at its core is rotten but constantly seeks to blame others.

I couldn’t believe in Punk as a reaction when these structures had followed.

I was raised in a typical working class white British family who had aspirations but felt these aspirations were fragile and could be taken away at any minute by someone with more or someone with less. It’s a peculiar British trait borne out of a ‘small island mentality that insists that to survive you must be bigger than the biggest, that you must own as much of the world as possible but stay deep within your green and promised land. It is an impossible feat that the working class have had to burden for many years. As the rich fly to every corner of the globe taking, stealing, borrowing and gloating the poor are told that they should beware of the ‘foreigner’ coming to get them.

We even did it with the American soldiers during the Second World War. I was raised in the late sixties and seventies with sayings such as –

“Overpaid, oversexed and over here,” our closest ally seen as a sexual danger in our rolling bucolic lands.

I was raised by a father who thought he knew best about Africa and Africans despite having never been there or knowing an African. The seventies were littered with people who knew how best the world should be run and were still mourning the loss of the Great British Empire. We were still taught it at school.

The Great Britons;  Richard the Lion heart, the Bulldog Spirit, Boudica the Great Warrior Queen and of course Churchill.

When I was at school lots of our teachers were ex-army, ex-Second World War Heroes. My history teacher was revered in our school because he’d flown  a Spitfire.

We were told, even as the lights went out and we read by candlelight that the problem ‘wasn’t us it was them’, the foreign them. I remember (much to my humour now) seeing Germaine Greer on television, on one of our three channels, when I witnessed my families reaction to her ‘otherness’ I felt akin to someone for the first time in my life. Ironically Germaine saved this trans women from being drowned in a sea of British Imperialist thought.

But that was the 1970s. The 80s felt almost the same and the 90s, although by then my personal had overtaken the political and I found myself ‘othered’ by ‘otherness’ and selling what I could of my personal to pay for an addiction to drugs.

Over the past few years I have felt horrified, depressed, intensely saddened and shocked at the re-emergence of a language defined by isolationism, xenophobia and racism. I felt that somehow the rise of groups like UKIP would only be a splinter and a fractious reaction to a clash of embittered right and left politics that just doesn’t fit anymore, maybe it is.

But it’s grown worldwide, fascism and dumb imperialism, from ISIS to Trump to Farage. From Briton First to the Evangelic Far Right groups across the globe,  politics is becoming defined by hatred and blame like it used to be in the fucking bad old days.  I’m old enough to remember signs in pubs saying NO BLACKS, NO GYPSIES, I’m old enough to remember people defining ‘whiteness’ as a goal, as a pinnacle of aspiration.

And there is an acceptance of this position now dressed up as ordinary people feeling ‘shut out’ and ‘forgotten’ by society. And poor people have been. By the rich and the ruling classes and mainly by men.

When I left England I felt weak, I felt like I the campaigner was running away, at that point I had no idea how the debate would escalate but I felt that the tide of hatred was rising and that I was tired of people telling me that I didn’t understand, that I was an idealist, that I was unpatriotic, that because I was different that I couldn’t understand and that because I was HIV I should be grateful for all that my country had done for me through the NHS and that I should be scared that the immigrants would run the NHS into the ground and leave me ill.

I was just really angry that governments and pharma companies weren’t making drugs cheaper and more available, I was pissed off at notions of profit and capital build up that meant people could die when drugs were available.

I found myself literally worn out.

I left because a hopeful, bright England I had always tried to love was again becoming consumed by racial hatred driven by a few men who are seldom affected by politics because they are rich and rich people have money-freedom. I am left feeling guilty because I should have had the strength to stay and keep fighting and arguing but I’ll be honest it feels like a lost cause and I felt like I needed to have a sanctuary.

This past week we have seen crimes, murder, mass murder committed across our world borne out of isolationist fears that ‘others’ will take over. Meanwhile the very people who caused all of this – Farage with his absurd smoking and Trump with his spiteful plans for a wall are getting off scot-free because their narrative, the one we allowed to be created, one of ‘telling it like it is’ is no different to other insidious past narratives that pit people against people under the guise of seeking to balance and redress truth.  They are spiteful men who are creating reams of hatred and anger, frequently in the most dispossessed but there cannot be an excuse anymore, we should have learnt and we should know better.

UKIP and other far right groups should not be able to exist in a just society.

Response to the Morning Star

It is disappointing to have to write this article responding to the very people who I wanted call my allies, my comrades and sisters. Yet here I am again defending an entire community against those who don’t recognise their own privilege and who choose to ignore the mountain of a struggle trans women have had to endure to reach self-actualisation. Let me start by making a positive statement that hasn’t ever been printed in this publication. Trans women ARE women. That’s it, end of story.  And in the interests of balance I am responding to the points made by Jennifer Duncan in her article published a few weeks ago.

“Women are not oppressed based on our identities, we are oppressed on the basis of our      female biology – a fact that is being erased by transgender politics. The concept of gender identity is being enshrined into law in several countries now, giving new legal protections to transgender people on the basis of their identities.”JD

This is a massive statement to make whilst around the world many thousands of trans women are suffering abuse, discrimination, death and state-sanctioned bullying. We are not trying to erase anyone or anything, we just want to breath, meanwhile you are desperate to erase us. And furthermore your highlighting of this almost questions its validity, should we be banned as in many countries? Would that make you happier?

In the United States, the Obama administration recently signed a declaration that all public schools in the country must recognise the gender identity of their students. Canada has recently announced new legal protections for transgender people. In Britain, there is interest growing in allowing people to legally define their own gender. As a person on the political left and as a member of the LGBT community, I am expected to applaud these changes to legislation, but instead I am critical.”JD

Please, please don’t hide behind an abuse of a ‘left wing position’. It’s passive aggressive to call-up a politically moral space (historically) to hide a weak position. My mum always said ‘speak about you, speak from you’. It’s amazing to see this righteousness hanging it’s hat up with right wing extremists worldwide to erase us.

This is because the concept of gender identity is poorly defined, and the politics of transgenderism is harmful to women and girls and rooted in individualism rather than collective action. The NHS defines gender identity in the following way: Biological sex is assigned at birth, depending on the appearance of the genitals. Gender identity is the gender that a person ‘identifies’ with or feels themselves to be. While biological sex and gender identity are the same for most people, this isn’t the case for everyone. For example, some people may have the anatomy of a man, but identify themselves as a woman, while others may not feel they’re definitively either male or female. This is typical of definitions of gender identity offered by other organisations. The concept of gender is not precisely defined, but we are to understand that gender identity is the individual’s feeling of being either a man, a woman, or neither of these. The problem with this is that male and female aren’t feelings — these words refer to the two reproductive functions of mammalian species: those who produce sperm which can fertilise ova, and those who produce ova and can bear young.”JD

I’m wondering if this isn’t some sort of parody, is this actually serious? Are you in charge of all women and do all women fit into one collective box/action? If only that were the case then many thousands of women worldwide would be hooked into the sisterhood and not into slave labour or fixed marriages, or back street abortions. Again your privilege allows you to actually believe that trans people are somehow lone wolves. It’s incredibly spiteful.

And not only that, I suppose now you’ve hit us with the staggering science then we are back to the 1970s and defined as mad, bad, both or somewhere in between. Again don’t hide behind the finest veil of science. Are infertile women still women, are intersex people men or women, is a man without a penis a man. The permutations of male and female are staggering yet again we have a person reducing us to reproduction and reproduction only. Of course reproduction and biological bodies are part of gender but there are millions of exceptions to this and I doubt that all women would appreciate you defining them by their ovaries.

When someone has a gender identity, that means they believe their sex to be the opposite of what their physical anatomy is, or that they are neither sex. The belief that one is the opposite sex is often called gender dysphoria, which is a discomfort and anxiety directed toward the body and its sexed characteristics. Some people with gender dysphoria wish to alter their bodies to reflect the appearance of the sexed body they feel they should have. There is no conclusive research on why some people are deeply unhappy with their bodies, but self-reporting, such as videos and articles created by people who are transitioning, gives us clues as to where their unhappiness is coming from.”JD

A little bit more science and a nod to our unhappiness. Actually Jennifer most trans people who are supported to transition so that they feel more aligned are incredibly happy and contented, you could learn something from them.

When transgender people talk about how they knew they were trans, they often report identifying with the stereotypical behaviour and appearance of the opposite sex, such as boys who wanted to play with dolls and wear dresses, and girls who wanted to wear baggy clothes and cut their hair short. The strong identification with characteristics they are taught don’t belong to them leads them to conclude they must have a “boy’s brain in a girl’s body” or vice versa.

Oh dear lord, what twaddle. My female role models; mum, gran, sister, aunties were strong women with careers, I was surrounded by women who wore wellies and rode big horses and dug the garden over. My sister hated dolls, we played with frogs and toads and when we played hairdressers we created ‘punk cuts’. A good deal of my trans sisters work and play in utterly gender neutral jobs/roles and I never ever thought I had a gendered brain,  I just knew that when asked as an 8 year old that I wanted to be a mum. Not a mum with pink pigtails, or a mum who skipped down the lane but a mum who worked and a mum who loved reading with her children. But for the sake of your piddling argument you reduce us to the most banal of stereotypes. They’re not in our heads but in yours.

Feminists have given the name “gender roles” to the collection of traits and behaviours that are assigned to men and women based on our reproductive role. Some people are deeply uncomfortable with the role they are given, and there are two major ways of dealing with this discomfort — one way is collectively working to change society so that these roles will be abolished, and the other way is changing the self in order to better survive the system that is in place. If it were simply a matter of a few rare individuals having sex-reassignment surgery to deal with overwhelming feelings of dysphoria, this wouldn’t likely have any effect on society.” JD

Research shows that 19% of all trans women are HIV positive and there is not a single piece of funding to address this, mainly because of attitudes like yours that we are not authentic and in some way we are not worthy then of legislation or funding or having a collective part in the role of women and society. Your patronising behaviour towards us ‘if it were just a few’, is staggering when you claim ‘left wing morality and left wing conscience’. Would you rather unhappy people remain isolated and unhappy (suicide rates way up, bullying endemic), what are you scared of. As a feminist I feel part of the need to ensure the safety of women’s spaces but you have to hear me when I say that a woman with a penis is no threat to you, she is not a man.

One of the issues for women is the loss of sex-segregated spaces, such as public bathrooms and changing rooms. When bathroom use is based only on a subjective belief that one is a woman, this effectively allows men to claim a gender identity and enter women’s spaces any time they want to.

There are already many North American schools and recreation centres allowing males to enter female spaces because of their “gender identity,” and this is causing distress for women, who do not feel safe undressing in front of strange men.”JD

This statement is horrendous, and I almost can’t bring myself to reply, here you really are just talking out of ignorance, how many women have told you they are feeling distress? Really I want to see your evidence for trying to create such harm. Back to my mum’s saying, ‘talk about yourself and the stuff you know, the stuff you really know’. I know that I had to use men’s toilets for a great chunk of my life, I hated it so much so that sometimes I would hold it in for the whole day until I was in agony. This is a common experience for trans people, especially young trans kids. I knew at 8 by the way.

In transgender politics, the physical anatomy of the body can be reinterpreted based on the subjective identity that one has — for example, a male body can be referred to as a female body if the man has a gender identity as a woman, and vice versa. This is a problem for women and girls because our female biology makes us vulnerable to men, regardless of how we identify. Seeing a man in a private, female-only space such as a locker room is uncomfortable for women, regardless of how strongly he feels about his gender identity.” JD

So now you give us the collectivism of politics, I thought we ‘acted alone’, as individuals but now to suit your point you bring us together in a political movement. Talk about moving the goal posts!

I agree that violence against women is usually and in most reported cases carried out by men, its disgusting. But you again reduce all women to a silly notion of size and body strength and this is your claim to trans-danger? Does that mean that I as a small, quite weak trans women with a vagina am not a danger?

Is this about height and upper body strength and therefore does it apply to strong women? Your point is facile on one level and comic on another if it weren’t for the fact that men hurt women and sometimes these men are small and physically weak. Your reductive train of thought eliminates the real violence against women and girls that we abhor.

In the United States, “bathroom bills” are causing major clashes between those who want to protect the identity of transgender people and those who want to protect the privacy of women in female-only spaces.” JD

Really major clashes? Are you honestly siding with the fundamental right wing in the Southern states? Oh how the ‘left’ have flown!

Women are not oppressed based on our identities, we are oppressed on the basis of our female biology; for example, in situations where our fertility is controlled by men (in forced marriage, laws against abortion, etc) and in situations where we are sexually exploited (in human trafficking, rape and incest, etc). These human rights abuses do not occur because of our “identity” as women, but because men know that we are female and they have the power to use our female reproductive systems for their sexual pleasure and to create their offspring.”JD

Why do we need to stop the fights above, certainly in my HIV work we fight alongside each other as women fighting structural and repugnant exploitation of women, all women. Why do you find this such an obstacle? The narrowness of your focus is actually pretty damming to us all.

If people can simply decide to be the opposite sex, then a material analysis of women’s oppression cannot be done. Men who commit violent crimes against women can be recorded legally as women due to gender identity laws, which obscures the statistics on which sex is really committing those crimes, and violent males who are imprisoned can be imprisoned with other women, making incarcerated women vulnerable, because transwomen cannot be named as males. Without being able to name humans as male or female, women have no hope of being able to protect ourselves from the crimes men commit against us.”JD

Honestly this is trumped up nonsense, I am legally a woman therefore if I committed a crime it would be recorded as a woman but it would still be the crime. There is no evidence base to back up what you are saying anywhere. It’s terrifying that you a ‘left wing feminist’ think that I should be locked up in a men’s prison, it’s not just unkind it’s actually bloody stupid. Is the abuse and rape of a trans woman a left wing stance, a collective vision? Society is changing, our understanding of gender is growing more elegant by the day but it seems you are stuck in a version of gender that isn’t going to help any of us move on. As a woman I am calling out your prejudice and naming it as transphobic and misogynistic.

It is important to stay away from individualism and remain focused on class analysis, especially for those of us on the left.” JD

The left and class are riddled with as much deficit when it comes to equality as anywhere else, your causal use of statements like ‘class analysis’ is shockingly outmoded and outdated. Trans women are the most vulnerable group in terms of violence anywhere, not only that but their crimes are more often than not unsolved. But you focus on class. You need to check your privilege.

Eliminating oppression based on gender roles will not be achieved by a few individuals changing themselves to fit into a different role — collective action is needed to dismantle the gender system.” JD

Then allow us to join you, we all see gender rigidity as a bad thing, no one wins, it’s a lose lose game. Historically trans women  had to play terribly binary roles to get past cis male gatekeepers, yes the same ones that ruin your lives ruin ours. But that’s changing, we are freer now to express ourselves authentically without having to prove our ‘womanhood’ or ‘femininity’. History will show that you were not helping to dismantle gender but ironically by linking with the fundamental far right you are shoring up the boundaries.

Thank you for listening.

Juno Roche