Sunday, 17 December 2017

down the toilet

Proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act will result in a flood of male pervs dashing into women's toilets all across the land. Allegedly.

Whoah, though, where did this come from?

Where indeed? If you're worried about the prospect, though (and who wouldn't be?) then do consider;  when people talk about nasty men coming into the women's toilets to, I dunno, do nasty voyeuristic pervy things, they're actually talking about me.

Here's how it goes. It gets personal here, because when you start banning people, you aren't banning your idea of someone, you're banning real people, and I am real. And it's not really about toilets, or not just about toilets. Bear with.

I'm a trans woman, or, if you think that women already get labelled too much, then I'm a woman. Sixteen years ago, I began the long and tricky process of transitioning away from my legal and societal status as male. Back in the day, I carried around what we jokingly referred to as a 'get out of jail free card'; a letter from the psychiatrist I'd been seeing, stating that I was 'officially' transsexual. It was intended to help me out if I was ever challenged; I used it once, in a supermarket in Weymouth, when I stopped to get some things for dinner after a hard and dirty day working in the engine room of  a ferry. Fair play to the young woman at the till, my grimy and overalled appearance must have seemed a bit at odds with the female name on the bank card.

In the early days, I had some vague idea that I needed permission to do what I wanted to do; I was always a bit conformist and excessively deferential to authority. It took a while to realise that essentially I was setting off on my own, my very own, journey, and had to pretty much make it up as I go along (the subtitle of this blog hints at that...). You don't need permission to be yourself. Of course, other people need no permission to refuse to accept the validity of your identity, but that is another matter and we may come to that later.

You do need some sort of official permission and agreement along the way to gain medical assistance, if you choose to go that way; hormonal intervention is only officially sanctioned after a couple of diagnoses and some time spent living 'in role'. But changing my name was a simple matter of printing out a statutory declaration and getting it witnessed. Title, too; by now, the weight of documentary evidence (the letter from that consultant psychiatrist that agreed with my self-diagnosis, and my own stat dec) was enough to get things rolling in the big changeover; NHS record, bank account, passport.  Everything. Except my birth certificate, and the information held on me at the heart of the System. Under all the layers, I remained officially male at the core. So should I be unfortunate enough, for instance, to be sentenced to a term in prison, then to a male prison I would have gone. 

Then in 2004, along came the Gender Recognition Act. It allowed me to change that very last layer, and gave me a new birth certificate to wave at the sort of officialdom that likes that sort of thing. It also protects my past official history from people deemed not to need to know. No doubt somewhere deep in the machine, my past is safely on record, of course, but just for the moment there it is, snoozing in the vaults of Somerset House and the database of HMRC.

It did take a good few years for me to get a Gender Recognition Certificate, though. Firstly, it took ages to get a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic in London, and then even longer to reach the point where surgery was offered me. You can get a GRC without surgery, and rightly so, since it's a bit of an insult to everyone, not just to trans people, to insist that their gender identity is rooted in what's between their legs. And some people choose not to go down the surgical route. Fair play to them. It was just the path I wanted, and chose, and got. It did make it easier to get that GRC, too. The process of applying for and getting it is difficult, expensive (you need reports, for which you must pay) and perhaps rather too medicalised. Remember, this whole process, right from the beginning, rests on self-diagnosis. Official sanctioning of that diagnosis is simply an affirmation that I'm not potty, and a recognition that, while the shrinks and everyone else involved may not understand what it is that makes trans people trans, they do understand that the best treatment for the condition is to accept that that internal sense of identity works for them, and, by increasing the sum of happiness, it works for everyone else too.

The proposed changes to the GRA simply make the getting of that GRC a bit simpler and less medicalised.

Now, when, if ever, during my sixteen years of living as a woman, should I first have be allowed into women-only spaces? And if you think that those spaces should be policed to protect it from people like me, how would you propose to do so?

If you're a woman, you may well have seen someone in a public toilet and thought they were trans. You may have been right. You may have been wrong. But whether or not you have spotted one, you may be perfectly sure that, unless you never ever use public toilets, then you have shared that space with trans women.

Lots of times.

Because that's the way it is. For every 'obviously trans' woman, there's even more that you'd never guess. Is that a scary thought? 

Remember, there is no law ruling who may or may not use which toilets. It is only politeness and convenience (and perhaps embarrassment or even fear - I mean, have you ever been in a men's toilet?) that causes us to conform to the gender signifiers on them. This could change, unlikely as it may sound now. North Carolina enacted a law forcing people to use facilities corresponding to their birth certificated gender. The result of that was an increased policing of women's appearance, and there have been and no doubt will continue to be harassment of women who choose not to dreass or appear in stereotypically 'feminine' ways.

This is the strange, repressive endgame of TERFs - forgive me if you find the term unfamiliar or objectionable. It means 'trans exclusionary radical feminists'. It is a bit inappropriate in all sorts of ways, but chiefly in that there's nothing either radical or feminist in their aims, only one of which is to drive a wedge between trans people and other feminists. I use that term advisedly; just about all trans people I know, male, female or queer, are feminist. Given our 'gifted' insight into gender and roles, we'd have to be pretty obtuse not to be feminist, let's face it.

This week, the Trump administration issued the USA's CDC (their public health agency) a list of forbidden terms. One of those is 'transgender'. As Orwell suggested with Newspeak, if you remove the language for something, you go some of the way to erasing it. This will be a move welcomed by TERFs of course. If alarm bells don't ring when you see an effective coalition between them and a repressive far-right regime, perhaps you need a hearing test?