Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sex, Love & Consent; Gender Recognition in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

Sex, Love &; Consent; Gender Recognition in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

© Stephen Whittle
Prof, Stephen Whittle, OBE, BA, LLB, MA, PhD, LLD(hc)

Schedule 5 of the the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 requires trans people  who wish to obtain legal recognition in their new gender whilst retaining a marriage, to consult with their spouse and obtain their signature on their gender recognition application.

Some have  interpreted this as a spousal right of veto over their human right to live as a member of their preferred gender.

They are wrong. This is not a veto,. Rather it is a mechanism to protect non-trans spouses from those who do not wish to face reality.

Promises, Promises: Marriage

Prior to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act coming into force, whatever promises you might have chosen to make upon marrying; only two were compulsory. Forget all the “honour and obey”, forget “until death do is part’, we were only ever called upon to make two firm promises.
The first promise comes as the nervous couple stand before the celebrant. They are told that “Marriage according to the law of this country is the union of one man with one woman, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusions of all others“. They and the audience are then asked whether they know of any legal reason why these two people should not be joined in marriage. The possibilities are that the marriage is not voluntary, it is not exclusive, or that it is not going to be between a man and a woman. The only time most of us have seen the audience respond is in Charlotte Bronte’s novel ‘Jane Eyre’, where at the church someone leaps up at this point in the service and we learn that Jane’s husband to be; Edward Rochester, is already married to the mad Bertha Mason.

But in almost every other marriage we witness, by their silence, the congregation and, importantly, the couple promising that none of the above are impediments to the marriage.
The second promise, once that heart stopping moment has passed is that the couple promise, in what are now the most anodyne of words, “to be loving, faithful and loyal to” each other “in good times and in bad” ”for the rest of our lives together.”

What did the Gender Recognition Act 2004 require?

Bearing in mind the requirement for marriage to be between a man and a woman; before the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (MSSC Act), the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) requires that if one partner in a Marriage or a Civil Partnership transitions (changes the gender role in which they live), and wishes to obtain recognition of their preferred gender for all legal purposes, the marriage or civil partnership must be ended.[1]

However, if they wish to remain ‘contracted partners’ – which many do, whether for love or survivor pension benefits – the trans person is required to obtain an Interim Gender Recognition certificate, which they or their spouse can then use to have the marriage annulled. The couple can then lawfully contract a civil partnership (or a marriage, if gay or lesbian partners). This system was put in place in order to ensure that nobody was party to any ‘accidental same sex marriage’, and at the same time, protects the hard earned survivor pension benefits of each of the spouses.

Such a couple can have their marriage annulled within the high court, and with a little pre-planning can cross the road to the Registrar’s office and contract a civil partnership (or vice versa) the same day.

It was always rather ridiculous. Couples, particularly if their marriage includes a religious significance for them, are not going to get their marriages  (or civil partnerships) annulled if they are still happy together, especially after their religion has helped them stay together through probably one of the most difficult things that could happen to partners; one of them changing their gender. A few couples did use this route to civil partnership (or marriage), primarily to guarantee the human rights regarding privacy that they are entitled to, but none that I have known were happy about having to end the marriage, albeit they did then become civil partners.

And it was not just trans women who were married to cis-women, who were going through this very British farce, but also trans men who were married to cis-men.
I refer to it as a farce because the process of annulment and re-partnering was indeed
"a comic dramatic work event or situation that is absurd or disorganized ... typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations".
Disorganised, in that High Courts outside London frequently had no idea of the rules of the court under which this process could happen; the courts had to be told which particular rules they could perform their functions. But clearly, entirely based upon crude characterisations of what it means to be men or women.

In reality though, apparent same sex marriages, generally of older grey haired ladies were already being witnessed by the public long before the GRA or the MSSC Act came into force.  And the sky had not fallen in.

To their neighbours, these spouses, whether married or civil partnered, were proof that not only was gender reassignment successful but that same sex marriages already existed, that the children of those families were all perfectly fine citizens, and surprisingly maybe to many on the conservative right, they were evidence that successful same sex marriages could flourish in small rural hamlets as well as large urban centres.

For all other areas of law, apart from marriage, European Union jurisprudence already means that when it comes to employment and equality law, and other related matters such as state pensions (conceded by government in 2011, only after a 6 year battle) trans women and men were for all legal purposes already members of their new gender. The GRA was simply a way of providing the icing on the cake - finally recognition of the right to privacy and the right to form legally valid families, whether married or via civil partnership.

What about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act?

As the MSSCA made its way through parliament, an opportunity came to change what was clearly legally abhorrent; the only time law had ever been used in the western world (and probably also in the east) to insist that a long and happy marriage must be ended before one party could gain their human rights, rights that had been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights as long ago as 2002. 

Schedule 5 of the MSSC Act is intended to finally get rid of that legal anathema, and to allow trans people to obtain their Gender Recognition certificate – and importantly their human rights - whilst retaining their marriage (or civil partnership) to the person they love.

Moreover, the MSSC Act provides a ‘fast track’ for those trans people who had put their request for gender recognition on the back burner because, whether for religious, personal, or emotional reasons, they did not want to annul their marriage and contract a civil partnership. Finally, the MSSC Act addresses the problem of those people who have had their marriage annulled and who have consequently contracted a civil partnership. They can now apply for their civil partnership to be converted into a traditional marriage.

Yet, on the back of this good news, some Trans people who could benefit, and their wives or husbands, have raised some concerns.  Schedule 5 requires the spouse of the trans person to “consent to the marriage continuing after the issue of a full gender recognition certificate”.
They now ask whether it can possibly be fair for them to be required to ask their spouse to give consent, effectively give permission, before they can apply for a Gender Recognition certificate. Isn’t this a veto given to their spouse, who could now prevent them from getting a Gender Recognition certificate?

However, I believe that they have misunderstood the purpose of MSSC Act.

Agreeing the New Marriage Promises

No one has to ask anyone’s permission before applying for a Gender Recognition certificate. All people who meet the requirements for the GRA can apply. In the past they had to get divorced or annul their marriage. Now, from the time when Schedule 5 of the MSSCA comes into force, the GRA will longer demand a married trans person end their marriage before obtaining gender recognition.

Despite what the government has maintained throughout the passage of the MSSCA, the nature of marriage has changed. With the Gender Recognition Act 2004, marriage promises had already gone through a subtle change in that individuals could now promise they were marrying a person of the opposite gender and (if they wished) further promise they would be loving, faithful and loyal regardless of the person’s biological sex, or their genitals now or in the future.
The new marriage contract, after Schedule 5 of the MSSC Act, comes into force, means individuals will be able to promise they are marrying a person of either sex and (if they wish) and further promise they will be loving, faithful and loyal regardless of the person’s gender identity or their genital structure now or in the future.

Clearly this is a significant difference. Those couples who married before the GRA came into force, made a promise to the state that they were marrying someone of the opposite biological sex with different genitals and that is all that they could promise to do. Once their partner transitions and seeks to become - for all legal purposes - (as the GRA puts it) a member of “the opposite gender(sex)”, the fundamental nature of the marriage promises they made is challenged, at the very least logically, but also potentially legally, as the promised opposite biological sex marriage becomes a same gender marriage.

As a legal academic, I specialise in imagining the worst (pre-disaster’ing). Let us imagine a pre-MSSCA married man and woman have parted, but not ended their marriage. After Schedule 5 of the MSSCA comes into force, one spouse then transitions. Without the new requirement for consent of their spouse, the trans spouse could apply successfully for a Gender Recognition certificate, without any reference to the person they are married to - their spouse.  The non-trans spouse will then discover they have broken the promise they originally made and are now married to a person of the same “gender (sex)”.

The requirement for consent in Sch.5 is not that the spouse consents to their partner’s gender recognition, but is rather a requirement that the spouse acknowledge the change in the nature of their marriage promises. By their consent the spouse is updating those promises.
 If they do not consent, then presumably they are not happy with that change, and it would mean then that the couple then have to seek divorce or annulment. Of course they won’t then be married, but not because one spouse vetoes the other from obtaining gender recognition, but because they will not agree to a new set of marriage vows.

Surely this is Overkill?

Sch.5 of the MSSCA pushes couples towards facing the realities of their relationship.
If ​a spouse (or civil partner) is not willing to sign the form saying they recognise the change of status in their marriage (or partnership) it does not prevent the other spouse obtaining legal gender recognition - it simply lays the cards on the table, it is the writing on the wall: "this marriage or partnership is now over".

It is the very least that the legislation can do to protect spouses who have been not been consulted (or have even been deserted) about the proposed change in legal status of their spouse (or civil partner).

In PFC we see what might be referred to as the 'blunt' end of the trans community. I meet trans women (mostly) who have left their original spouse without divorcing them, and got married as a member of their new gender role. And they have no intention of telling their wife that they are now a woman, and they have no intention of telling their 'husband' that they are not legally female, and the marriage is neither legal because they are still married, and they are legally male. They contact PFC when they realise the facade of lies is about to collapse. Whilst we do our best to support them through what is going to be a very difficult time, we wish we could have stopped them creating this fantasy mess in the first place.

Both of my grandmothers were deserted by their husbands during WWII. My maternal grandmother was to find out that her husband had remarried, twice, without divorcing her. When he was prosecuted, she was so ashamed that she developed a lifelong mental health problem that ultimately resulted in her refusing food and starving to death. Three families, all involving children were wrecked because he refused to live in the real world rather than the fantasy one of his own making.  Imagine if my maternal grandmother had found that not only had he created two other families, but that her husband was now a 'she'.
The provisions in the Act are a contribution towards ensuring both parties to a marriage (or civil partnership) are content to live with the consequences of the not inconsiderable change that will befall their relationship when one spouse transitions. They are not a 'right of veto'.
STW 19/08/2013

[1] Henceforth whenever marriage is referred to it also refers to a civil partnership, and when a civil partnership is referred to it also refers to a marriage. This is because gender identity has no relationship to sexual orientation, and trans people can have heterosexual , homosexual or bisexual orientations.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Independent on Sunday Pink List 2013

UPDATE: My apologies to those I missed - and hopefully I have you all now (and thanks to Christine Burns for taking the time and pointing out my errors)

Highest showing ever for Trans folk as 16 Trans folk have made 2013 The Independent’s  Pink List, 3 made the National Treasures List and and another  / One’s to Watch /

National  Treasures:

  • April Ashley, MBE – former cabin boy, dancer, model and ‘she who lost the famous case which lost our rights’, but she never hid. Now can be seen in April Ashley portrait of a Lady, Museum of Liverpool for the coming year
  • Lauren Harries - media personality, former child 'antiques genius'
  • Paul O’Grady MBE - Actor, presenter; became famous as 'Lily Savage'
  • Stephen Whittle, OBE, PhD, MA, LLB, BA Professor of Equalities Law, PFC Vice-President, and the one who contributed to winning our rights
  • Boy George - Transgender Musician
  • Alice Purnell, OBE, BsC, RGN – founder of the Beaumont Society, Beaumont Trust and now of GENDYS

The Pink List

1. Paris Lees – Journalist and social trans activist – and a great No.1 for the list
8.  Jackie Green – Miss England entrant and trans activist
13 (joint). Helen Belcher & Jennie Kermode of Transmediawatch
23.  Luke Anderson – chef and winner of Channel 5's Big Brother 13
27. Sarah Brown – out trans Cambridge Councillor representing the Liberal Democrats for the Petersfield Ward, and now on LibDems national executive
40. Jane Fae – journalist, fiction and faction author and trans activist
41. CN Lester - Co-founder of Queer Youth Network,
43. Tara Hewitt –deaf advocate, Wirral Conservative Future and deputy chair of Conservative Future North West
60. Juliet Jacques - ex-footballer, journalist
61. Roz Kaveney – poet, journalist (New Statesman), author, founding member of Feminists Against Censorship,  former deputy chair of Liberty, trans activist
69. Natacha Kennedy  - former primary school teacher, Education Lecturer at Goldsmiths College, and Trans and intersex activist
77. Lynette Nusbachermilitary historian, director of Nusbacher Associates, and Senior Lecturer in War Studies, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
79. (joint)Lewis Hancox & Raphael Fox - participants on 'My Transsexual Summer', now produce films as My Genderation Films
96. Jay Stewart – PhD student, film-maker, and co-leader of Gendered Intelligence

Ones to watch 

Nicole Gibson – trans model
Sophie Green - Artist and illustrator
Jo Clifford - Edinburgh-based writer, playwright, father, and trans woman

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Trans Heritage Exhibition at the National Museum of Liverpool


April Ashley: Portrait of a Lady

The Museum of Liverpool, 27 September 2013 to 21 September 2014

A new exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool demonstrates, through the story of one life, how much our society has really changed in the last 60 years. In 1950, when 15 year old George Jamieson ran away from the poverty of a Liverpool Council House estate to sea, the city, like the rest of the UK,  was place in which boys grew up to be real men, and girls grew up to be housewives.

George, was born into the most abject poverty in Pitt street in Liverpool, with an absent Navy father whom he idolised. The local bobby* warned his abusive mother that if he saw George with any more injuries - she had punched a hole the size of her fist in his back - she would find herself going to prison.  As a young boy in the war, George, shouted helplessly to two friends from where he had climbed on the cricket pavilion roof, and watched as the incendiary bomb they were playing with, blew off their arms. He helped the same local bobby pick up the pieces, literally, before being told not to say anything to his mother when he got home.

Despite being was an endlessly bullied sissy boy at school, George’s formative life, and a market job with a family who recognised his difference, gave George the courage and guts to escape. Ultimately signing up for the Merchant Navy, he spent 2 years seeking the cure to become a real man. Finding it did not work, another suicide attempt led to incarceration in Liverpool’s secure Walton hospital where a second attempt at a cure; ECT, failed. So George ran away along a road which would lead to becoming a dancer at the famous Parisian club; La Carousel, and then on to a surgeon in Casablanca, by whom he would become she; April Ashley, bon-vivant, raconteur, and high-society model for famous fashion photographers including David Bailey and Terence Donovan, and for Vogue wearing the clothes from the fashion houses of Chanel, Givenchy, and Cardin.

Successful in every way, April’s future in the swinging London of the 1960s looked set to be as far away from the poverty of Liverpool's Pitt Street as it could possibly be. Except, that in 1971, after being ‘outed’ in the 
Sunday People – a friend who must have been desperate took a fiver in exchange for her story – April’s marriage to the minor English Aristocrat, Arthur Corbett, was ended in the English Appeal Court. Lord Justice Ormrod, a man who was qualified as both a doctor and a lawyer, and so was doubly certain that he knew what he was talking about, held that a person’s sex could be determined entirely through their chromosomes, gonads and genitals. He ignored the major clinical and scientific experts of the day, instead favouring the narrow view of his friend, the psychiatrist Dr. John Randell, who was to build up his then very small patient group at Charing Cross Hospital into what has now become the largest Gender Identity clinic  in the country. Faced with Ashley, Ormrod ran out of words, and being unable to describe the gorgeous woman in front of him as a man, he managed simply to say that she was “not a woman for the purposes of marriage.”

At the time, nobody quite realised the consequences of this decision, but a series of cases in the English courts held that confidence in the law could only be achieved through consistency. Gradually over the next 20 years, transsexual people lost one right after another. They found that whilst the NHS was far more prepared to accept their need for Gender reassignment treatment, becoming the people they really were became more and more difficult, as increasingly they were required to disclose their past just to be able to function in daily life. Whether obtaining car insurance, passing medicals for jobs, or claiming benefits, it seemed everyone had the right to know their former gender, and once they knew then to indiscriminately cause them to be disadvantaged.

Whilst Ashley herself tried to make the best of what had happened, in 1992, other transsexual people decided the only way out of this mess was to use the law to fight the law, and on the advice of Lord Alex Carlile, set up the pressure group Press For Change. Since then, Press For Change has been incredibly successful at obtaining those legal rights, especially through their use of the European Court of Justice and the Court of Human Rights. The group has obtained protection from discrimination in the workplace and when accessing services, a right to privacy about their medical history and, most importantly, a right to recognition of their new gender for all legal purposes, allowing them to marry or become civil partners, adopt children, or simply to get on in peace and quiet with their otherwise pretty ordinary lives. The reach of Press For Change has been wide, with their work influencing similar legislation in South Africa, Spain, Argentina Japan, Sweden and many other countries.

The exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool focuses on how one boy, born into the poverty of depression hit Liverpool in 1935, fought the system. How she became an extraordinary woman; part of the back drop to that battle for rights, and how she has survived to become one of England’s Grande Dames. It is right that Liverpool has honoured this woman in this way, like so many of her fellow city’zens, she is another of Liverpool’s children who have carried the Liverpudlian fight for social justice out into the wider world.  She has become part of a movement for change that has created a better life for those who experience their gender differently. April Ashley’s life, albeit unintentionally at the time, helped create a social and political movement [led by legal and transsexual activists from that other great city of the North West, Manchester]. It is a movement which has led to real change to the lives of millions of real people throughout the world. She is another point of pride in the history of the city of Liverpool.

original version first published at

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Chicken Little Tory MP's, Anglican Bishops & Gay Marriages in Church?

This is a message to all Conservative Members of parliament, and all Anglican Bishops and others in the House of Lords, who are opposed to same sex marriage, and/or churches being able to perform the marriages of same sex couples.

 A simple answer already exists and has been in use in the UK for 8 years now.  There is a 'conscience clause' that was included in the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which allowed religious organisations the choice as to whether they were willing to perform the marriage of a transsexual person (who had obtained legal recognition in their new gender role) and their partner. 

As it happens, in 2005 when the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force, lots and lots of trans people married their partners that summer. A very large number of those couples married in churches, in the full knowledge of the minister who married them, and often in the full knowledge of the congregation - as did my partner, Sarah and I. 

We had originally intended to have a registry office wedding. We had attended a small methodist church by then for about 12 years. We went with our children, primarily to inoculate them against ever becoming born again, but also to give them a religious education whereby when they later sang church music  or read poems, or listened to Bach's Requiem, they would have some understanding of the nature of sacrifice. The plot worked wonderfully, they are good cynics but with a strong sense of what is right or wrong, and a better understanding of the human tragedy than most. 

We also found that hour on Sunday morning in which we had both a quiet space to think about our obligations to the world and the people in it, and then a loud space in which to sing our hearts out as a community, a really robust and worthwhile contribution to our otherwise very busy lives.

The church council, at our request and after a meeting with Sarah in which she had explained what the Gender Recognition Act would mean, and why they should give it their backing, had written a letter to the Government to support the intention to bring in the Gender Recognition Act. We were grateful that they had taken what was a very difficult issue for some of them, and had taken the time to read and learn about how our human rights were contravened. When the Act came into force, the church minister came to visit and say that if we were planning to get married, as a church they would be extremely happy to host our wedding. 

We couldn't say no to this offer, knowing how many of the church had put in an awful lot of thought and effort to support the Act.

In June 2005, over 180 friends, family and church members enjoyed the most wonderful day, celebrating not just our wedding but the strength of a relationship of 2 people who had gone through hell and high-water to be together, who had raised 4 wonderful children, and who were still together 26 years later. (as we now are 34 years later).

Eight years later, looking back I think of hundreds of couples, where one is known to be trans, who have married in churches, which have very happily accommodated them. Equally many have married in a registry office. 

In the context and discussion around same sex marriages, and extremely important in the discussion must be the recognition, that as the Gender Recognition Act does not require trans people to have undergone genital reconstruction surgery, many of those marriages, whilst of 2 people with different genders, will have included 2 people who either both have a vagina or both have a penis. In other words, same sex (but different gender) marriages have been going on for 8 years now.

And the sky has not fallen down!!! 

Examples of how the Gender Recognition Act 2004 has led to same gender or same genital marriages legally taking place for the last 8 years.
(all images are copyright 2013 Stephen Whittle, if you want to use them please contact me directly and ask permission)

(all images are copyright 2013 Stephen Whittle, if you want to use them please contact me directly and ask permission)

Friday, 14 June 2013

Time Passes ... and do, sadly, do Friends.

  Time Passes ... and so, sadly, do Friends  . .

Saturday 20th April 2013: Lucy Meadows - her impact on the town of Accrington
Tuesday 11th June 2013: JoAnn Roberts, Cross-dressing and trans pioneer has died

Lucy Meadows: How a Trans Woman's Death brought Accrington into the 21st Century 

Nathan Upton, before he transitioned to become Lucy
20/06/2013: When the trans, primary school teacher Lucy Meadows committed suicide earlier this year,  after press harassment, just over a month later the folk of the small town she lived in; the parents and children from the school she worked in; and many neighbours and teaching and trade union colleagues, marched through the town centre of Accrington.

If you have read 'Oranges are not the Only Fruit' by Jeanette Winterson (and if you haven't, you should, even better watch the films) you will realise that Accrington is the town in which Winterson's evil, evangelical mother raised her, and tortured her, throughout the 1960s, because Jeanette was 'unnatural; i.e. she fell in love with other girls, she  was a lesbian.

Accrington is not far from Manchester, the big cosmopolitan University city, where I live, but it is in reality, a world away. It is a place where until Lucy Meadows' death, most  people were still living in the past. If Dr Who. had landed his Tardis in Accrington, he would have said he had landed in 1973.

Whilst Lucy Meadows has become a martyr in the Trans community's fight against transphobia, her death has reached far beyond  the trans community, out to every right thinking person in that small northern town which, until now, time had forgotten.

April 2013, Teachers and Pupils, neighbours and friends march against the transphobia that led to the   death of trans woman, and primary school teacher, Lucy Meadows.  
If you had told me 40 years ago, in the real 1973, when I was coming out for the first time, that one day the folk of Accrington and their children would march through their streets in the battle against transphobia, I would have responded "never in my lifetime". (see here for Manchester Evening News story)

How things have changed. And it is down to  folk like JoAnn Roberts (see below), who have made that change happen.

Graham Jones, Member of Parliament for Accrington  has said that Lucy Meadows death could be a "watershed moment" for Britain's transgender community. I sincerely hope he is correct. 
In the meantime Lucy Meadows has, in some ways, become the United Kingdom's own Brandon Teena

11/06/13: JoAnn Roberts, Cross-dressing and trans pioneer who co-founded the Renaissance Transgender Association has died from cancer at the age of 65. Joanne unusually for the trans political community was not a transsexual woman. She was a man who enjoyed model railways, and cross dressing. And she never pretended to be anything different. 

JoAnn Roberts
Whenever I went to the 'States' in the 1990s, whatever the event was, JoAnn was there with a huge smile, pushing the services of CDS Publishing - her cross dressers book publishing imprint and what was effectively, a cross dressers support organisation. She always remembered names, and other aspects of one's life, and  I enjoyed her company, her laughter, and her wonderful enthusiasm, not just for life - and she really did have great enthusiasm for life - but also the 'cause'. She was an amazing, true to life, big hearted, beautiful, pioneer for the cross-dressing community.

JoAnn wrote  her first book, Art and Illusion: A Guide to Crossdressing in 1985, which eventually became a 3 volume guide, and  a dozen more books were to follow, including support for those who lived with cross dressers in Coping with Cross Dressing, (1991). At least a dozen video's were produced,  all intended to help the ordinary cross dresser to feel that they could succeed in either passing successfully enough to be able to go to the shopping mall, or to dress and do their hair and makeup in a way they that made them feel good with their personal presentation as a cross dresser. JoAnn's work was about Liberation, not dictation. She did not tell anyone how they should dress, or speak, or be - rather she told them about the options they had and the 'tricks of trade', so to speak.

In 1986 she organised her first Cross dressers weekend event, and these have continued to this day - now called "Beauty and the Beach" held at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, 2013's weekend in November would / will be the 27th such event. There is no news on the event website - I am assuming it will still go ahead, because clearly JoAnn had a community of people who loved her, and I am sure they will not wish to have her memory and what became her life's work ,vanish overnight.

In 1994, CDS went online. Along with Cindy Martin and Jamie Faye Fenton she created the still continuing Transgender Forum, a weekly e-zine and an online resource guide.

JoAnn was so much more than just a crossdresser - or as she put it 'a bit of a drag queen' , she was a political animal as well. She was Chair of the board of the American Educational Gender Information Service (AEGIS) from 1992 to 1996. She was elected to the International Foundation for Gender Education board twice last serving in 1994, and she was a co-founder of the Congress of Transgender Organizations (CTO), the Transgender Alliance for Community (TAC),GenderPAC, and lastly the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC). Joann was also one of the authors of the original Bill of Gender Rights in 1990, which was later expanded into the International Bill of Gender Rights. I remember being honoured to read out one of the Bill clauses alongside her, as attendees did, one by one, at the ICTLEP conference in Houston, Texas. Furthermore, JoAnn is credited as one of three people who coined the term 'transgender community', the other two being the trans women, Justice Phyllis Frye and Kymberleigh Richards.

There will be a large hole now where JoAnn once fitted. She will,  be very greatly missed by those who loved her. I am sure there is a real need now, for someone with high enough heels to fill her place.

I will miss knowing that JoAnn is out there, she was very much a sister in arms. She believed in being truthful. She didn't pretend to have some sort of intersex condition, or to have the brain of a woman trapped inside a man's body. Joanne, was exactly what it said on the packet. And I admired her tremendously for that.  And there I go, - using she, and her all the time.

The thing is that to me JoAnn was a woman, I only ever saw the man a couple of times, and even then I could never recognise him or get my head around the fact that this was one and the same person. JoAnn effectively, very effectively, demonstrated that gender was much more important than sex (the biological duality, that is, not the action stuff, done mostly in bed).

JoAnn was not female, she was a man who was a woman - most of the time and all of the times I saw her, even when pretending to be a man. JoAnn was clear, she wasn't a male lesbian, she wasn't an effeminate man, she was a man who was a strong woman with a good but fair business head, a caring heart, and a political will for the liberation from tyranny of all those who are not white, middle class, reactionary men. 

So how else could I describe her, except as a woman. 

I believe that at times all activists need their own political space in which to commune and raise  consciousnesses. And sometimes that means trans women's space, or trans men's space, or born bio-women's space, or Marxist space, or kids space etc.   

The Radical feminists who chant "'womyn born womyn' only" in order only to exclude trans women from their events, seem to forget what it is to be a woman. 

Being a woman means embodying  an actual physical space in which the light of day is too often blocked out. It is a space in which the fear of experiencing, and often the actual experiencing, of patriarchal, macho, masculinist institutional and structural instruments of hate, oppression and violence are the norm.

Yet it is also a space which embodies, despite that, values of care which can and do thrive. 

JoAnn embodied all of that, so in her space she was a woman. Many non-female as well as female people are women; fearfully but also politically, socially, financially, and emotionally, if not biologically. Yes, JoAnn was a man who experienced much of life as a woman - and it wasn't fake. The train set was the exception  - but we are all allowed a small peccadillo.

Now rad fems may need some space of their own sometimes - but they should say truthfully what it is they want. Their shout should be 
"rad fems only: that is women/womeyn/intersex women/intersex womyn born with vaginas/ or without vaginas or with vaginal stumps/chromosomes irrelevant, and raised as girls, but nobody born with a penis or micro penis/ and nobody born with a vagina who identifies as a man or not as a woman" only space" 
Because 'womyn born womyn' sounds that ridiculous.

If women who have not had the experience of being transgender wish to meet without transgender people, it really is easy: State the meeting is for women without the experience of being transgender.  In other words, instead of being insulting, and belittling the experience of trans women, be truthful and recognise that the only people whose lives  have less experience of oppression are your own. 
[Remembering some of the discussions at the 1973/4 Women's lib conference (yes, I did attend) in Edinburgh, perhaps Rad Fems could also try adding no skirts, no tights, no bras, no sons, no boyfriends, no husbands.]

"Womyn born womyn" just doesn't cut the mustard, Third Wave of Feminism has moved the rest of us on -  sometimes, it seems by light years.

The death of Joann once more reminds me, though, that age is creeping up on so many of us. 

Whilst in my head I may think I am exactly the same as I was when I was 25 - dashing, charming, handsome, slim, a really good win for anyone who manages to snap me up - in reality, like many of my friends, I now carry around a very rusty, clunky, ill fitting, cage with me wherever I go. 

And then I remember - we must not forget to write the record of the amazing events we have witnessed.

Trans Pioneer JoAnn Roberts Dies

posted by Monica Roberts at 1:00 PM , Tuesday 11th June 2013This was originally posted on the TRansGriot website here

I was shocked and saddened to read the TG Forum and Chrysalis posts from Angela Gardner and Dallas Denny announcing the June 7 death of one of the pioneers in the trans community in JoAnn Roberts at age 65 due to lung cancer.

JoAnn Roberts was one of the five founders of the Pennsylvania based Renaissance Transgender Education Assn., the ill-fated GenderPac, and served on the boards of IFGE and AEGIS in which she was the board chair from 1992-1996.
She also was one of the persons who helped give us a major boost in the founding and formation of NTAC in 1999.

She was an early trans political activist and major leader during the renaissance of trans activism in the early 90's.  She authored the Bill of Gender Rights in December 1990 that was subsequently expanded into the International Bill of Gender Rights at the 1993 and subsequent ICTLEP conferences.

JoAnn appeared on many television shows to discuss our issues including the Donahue talk show and served as the founding owner/publisher of TGForum.
'Cousin JoAnn' as I affectionately referred to her as in addition to publishing 'Art and Illusion-A Guide To Crossdressing' also published a 'Who’s Who of the TG Community' and was the driving force for The Second International Congress on Crossdressing, Sex and Gender hosted by Renaissance in suburban Philadelphia in 1997.

I met JoAnn during the 1999 Southern Comfort Conference.  I have fond memories of sitting outside the Buckhead area hotel that used to host SCC with her, Polar, Pam Geddes and Dawn Wilson drinking a 21 year old bottle of scotch while discussing a wide range of subjects. 

Our conversation was interrupted when the chartered bus arrived from an SCC convention excursion to an Atlanta club called the Chamber. 
The persons on the bus began stumbling off of it in various stages of inebriation and hilariously and unsteadily attempted to negotiate in their 5 inch heels the distance from the spot where the bus was parked to the hotel's front door.

She had wound down her interaction with the trans community in recent years to spend more time with her family and work on her beloved model train set when she was diagnosed with cancer in February. 

She'd undergone chemotherapy treatment that appeared to successfully halt the cancer spread in her lungs and liver.  Radiation treatments were begun to deal with a tumor on her spine but were halted last week when it was determined that the tumor there had spread and she opted for hospice care where she passed away on June 7th 2013.

There is a Facebook page that has been set up to commemorate her life and in which people who knew JoAnn can pay their respects.  But I'm sad to report that one of the early leaders in the American trans community and a trans community pioneer has moved on.

Rest in peace JoAnn, you will be missed.  

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Milk Snatcher's Britain

At this time of our loss, let us mourn;
The lost ideals of British socialism, 
expelled by the dark shades of unfettered capitalism,
now watch its ghastly wraiths shackled with bloody  monitors,
screening the endless news footage of a collapsing society,
and the rise of the consumptive individual.
those torn from real work to be condemned to work in retail
and those in retail on the now Low streets, condemned to workfare.

At this time of loss, let us mourn;
The clinker grey faces of our miners slaughtered on the run
by truncheons down the streets of England’s satanic coal towns.
The grey ghosts of demolished and lost steel communities, and
the emptiness of docks where no more fisher men set to sea with their craft.
The once mighty trade unions, and the right to a fair wage for a fair days work.
the bent backs of the men and women, now cast as steps on which
the voracious ascend to purchase fat filled shares in our squandered national pride.

Photo:Huffington Post

At this time of loss, let us mourn;
The destroyed palaces of manufacturing topped by crystallised markets,
Computerised temples in which traders profits from the bullion of our pensions,
Once rich, now nothing more than broken nest eggs of dreams;
A time when money was earned, not remunerated in gratuities and bonuses,
and a pseudo-existence of equities, bonds and subprime mythologies.
the once lauded system of social housing now sold off,
the homeless for whom we now have no homes.

Photo by:
Graham Whitby-Boot/Allstar/Sportsphoto

At this time of our loss, let us mourn;
The loss of our dreams; our social welfare and socialised healthcare
denationalised to make profits for shareholders not stakeholders.
Our taxes, which now fund profits rather than the public good.
The principle in which work paid, instead of work keeping workers
dependant on foodbanks, and welfare for a living wage.
those whose children died for a folk story, some entombed deep
in the sea, for a land no one needs on a windswept rock to nowhere

Photo by: Srdja-Djukanovic

At this time of our loss, let us mourn.
Weep loudly, shriek and beat your breast so the thunder of those screams
pierce the heartlands which were once our home, once our aspirations, once our England,
instead it lies with festered wounds, mouldering and gored on Orgreave’s field,
stomped on in impiety by those wicked boys from Eton’s fields.
Yet, for the sake of history’s accuracy,
this, our ancestor’s toiled soil, was merely beaten to death
with an exocet, an iron, a perm, and a handbag.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

A Good Night's Sleep

Sleeping consumes a third of our life, and as I insist on living my life to the full, I also recognise and want to sleep my sleep to the full. I decided to write this blog post as part of the Silentnight Spring Bedroom Makeover Challenge’, as they promise up to £2k for a bedroom makeover – and much as though I love my bedroom, I do realise it is beginning to look a little bit worn. So, the prospect of some redecoration money has inspired me to write about what it is like to really know what a good night’s sleep is and how to have one.

Born in 1955, I was the runt of the litter. My body had arrived in a rather deformed state. I was a victim of Rickets, a rather common disease before the 1960s particularly when rationing had led to nutritional shortages for many mothers, who had fed their children rather than themselves. My rickets was not from malnutrition though, either of my mother or myself, but rather because my body simply did not absorb Vitamin D. My bones were soft and misshapen from the moment I appeared. A doctor’s report from the time said “your child is like a wrinkled old man” and gave me less than 6 weeks of life. Clearly I paid no attention, as I am now approaching my 60s and becoming that wrinkled old man in reality.

The consequence of having rickets was that the first four years of my life were spent mostly in hospital. I remember very little of that experience; the pink of the hospital walls, the coarseness of a hospital cotton blanket, the sweaty feel of a plastic mattress. However, not all memories of this time are bad. I remember suddenly seeing the words and what they meant in the Ladybird book ‘Down on the farm’ – much to the surprise of everyone as apparently I was not even three. I also remember large spoons full of Cod liver oil, and the red glow from a revolving UV light, like that in a lighthouse, at the centre of a large room in which myself and lots of other toddlers sat in a circle. We wore just our pants and thick red goggles on our eyes, as the forerunner of what was to become a sunbed forced our metabolisms into recognising Vitamin D.

Eventually I was to return home, and I moved into the bottom bunk of the cramped council house bedroom in which the five children slept. I started school, and did well despite my peculiar speech – lack of being spoken to whilst in hospital meant I did not know that consonants existed,  which along  with my bowed legs and humped back were to clearly label me as different. The bullies did their best to make my life a misery, but I barely noticed them, certainly not in comparison to the two things that really bugged me.

The first involved having to get to school before everyone else so as to do endless repetitive and painful exercises in the gym before classes started. They were to continue until I was sixteen. The second was my bed. My two sisters and two brothers each had a mattress and two pillows on their beds, whereas I just had a thin piece of foam on a board.

I hated that board. I hated it because I knew that every night I would wake up from the pains it imbued in my hips, ribs, knees, elbows, and even my ears. Everyone else would be fast asleep, but when I woke in the dark my mind would go into overtime. On still nights, I would hear the sound of the trains, as if they were ghost trains going along invisible tracks down the centre of the street. I would look out of the corner of the curtains, terrified at what I might see, but they were never actually there. On other nights, the screeches from the owls would become the dreadful howling of horrifying ghouls, which I expected to appear before me at any moment.

The final straw came one wet Sunday afternoon when we watched the 1948 film, ‘Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein’. 

That was it.  Every night I would wake in pain, and also in petrified terror. I would make plans of how I would hide under the beds so that the monster could not see me. Sometimes I would manage to break out of the paralysing dread and sneak into the bed of one of my brothers or sisters. Of course they would wake up, furious with me for daring to disturb them, and the next morning I would get a good whipping from dad with the plastic badminton bat which he used to thrash us.

These night terrors went for years. Then, on my fourteenth birthday, I was blindfolded and taken upstairs to see my ‘big’ present. I was to open my eyes, and there on my bed was a mattress and a pillow. I never used the pillow. In fact, I wasn’t to use a pillow until 30 years later, when after major surgery I was required to sit up in bed to sleep. Post-surgery, I spent the first few nights very painfully pulling at and throwing the pillows onto the floor. The night sister would then arrive to give me my injections, and immediately she would lift me up and put the pillows behind my back once more. Eventually I gave up and learnt to love a decent pillow or two.

The mattress though, was wonderful, I could not have had a better birthday present. It was cloth covered foam, only four inches deep but it was like going to heaven. I could sleep all night, and the ghouls and ghosts gradually left me, and my nights of sleep became truly treasured. Even now, though, when working away and in a hotel, or when my wife is away, I still sleep with a light on, but I do at least sleep.

My wife, Sarah, refers to me as the 'Prince(ss) and the pea'. I was always fussy about our bed, but now she believes I have gone truly too far. Ironically, the Vitamin D shortage I suffered as a baby has contributed to the poor health and multiple sclerosis. Once more I suffer from bad pains in my body, and so my determination to have a good night’s sleep is one of the key aims of my waking life. It also means I am incredibly fussy about the quality of sleep our children get. People have often taken the time to tell us how wonderful and nice our kids are. I respond, and truly believe, that much of their confidence, their kindness and tolerance of others, is down to the fact that unlike most children they do not spend their days permanently tired. We taught them to sleep well as soon as they were six months old, and I have tracked down good beds and bedding for each of them from the day of their birth.

We now have a bedroom designed (by me) to make sleep an absolute certainty. Key ingredients include it being small, so it has to be kept neat and tidy. It is also kept cool, so there is every reason for cuddling under the duvet. The wallpaper is black. Our decorator could hardly believe his eyes when he saw it, and he made it quite clear that he thought I was mad. That was until he had decorated half the room, and then announced that it was so good, he was going to recommend it to other customers. There are blackout curtains, and dark Blackwood wardrobes. After looking through hundreds of colour cards of white paint, the ceiling is the brightest white paint we could get. It reflects the daylight and sun which settles into the room in the early afternoon. It also perfectly reflects the time from our projection clock, meaning we don’t have to move to see the time if we wake up. When night comes, it is like a cosy cave, safe and certainly away from monsters.
 The Bedroom 

Following a hard day's work there is nothing to equal the sinking of one’s body into the perfection that comes with the soft cloud of support created by a four inch down topper upon a best quality 1000 pocket sprung medium firm mattress. Accompanied by two Siberian goose down pillows, a pure down quilt, and 400 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton bedding, it is a haven of sleep akin to a heaven.

I do now have good nights, thankfully without the terrors from my childhood and without much of the pain that otherwise my rotten body suffers in the daytime hours. However, I suspect it is probably only those who have not been able to sleep who can really appreciate what it means to have a good night.

‘This blog post is part of the Silentnight Spring Bedroom Makeover Challenge

Silentnight Spring Bedroom Makeover Challenge