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.