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Monday, 16 July 2012

Do We want the T in Stonewall?


Do we REALLY Want the T in S-onewall?

or 

Would it be a REALLY BIG Mistake?


A few years back, there was an outcry from the UK's Trans community when Stonewall gave their Journalist's award to Julie Bindel. In the past, Bindel had written some nasty anti-trans articles.

At the time, Press For Change, the UK's transgender lobby and campaigning group, & its volunteers were vilified by many in the Trans community for their refusal to 'publicly' set out to attack Stonewall for the award & Bindel herself.


We. in Press For Change (PFC), felt though that had no choice. PFC has always had Rule 7 – which requires its activists to work 'by making friends and not by making enemies'. However, at the time, we had separately written to Stonewall and made it clear we could not support the award whilst Julie Bindel continued to write nasty things about Trans people. 

After the events of that month, we in PFC set out to create some sort of dialogue with both Stonewall and Julie Bindel. Julie came and did a web streamed debate at Manchester Metropolitan University, with the US transgender activist, film maker and academic, Susan Stryker. Julie didn't do that well in the debate, but during the process she chatted with the many trans people who had attended. At the time Bindel said her views had been very much altered after talking to so many ordinary trans people both at that event, and a previous BBC debate on the programme 'Hecklers'. She made a commitment and since then, she has kept to her word, & has avoided writing about our lives. 


The Meeting with Stonewall

Stonewall is NOT a support or an advice organisation. You cannot just give them a call, or an email and expect an answer to your request for support or legal advice . It is NOT what Stonewall does.

Later, along with reps from various other T groups such as London Spectrum and Gires, we also got round the table with Stonewall. At that meeting, we had several concerns, but the primary one was 'should the T be in S-onewall'? We made it quite clear that we believed LGB Trans people should be welcome and able to participate in Stonewall events about LGB issues, just as trans groups, we would welcome T people who were LGBT, straight or anything else. They agreed. 

Our major concern then (and still is) is that the T, if embraced by Stonewall, would soon, like the 'B' of Bisexual, go to the bathroom never to reappear.


Straight, Trans and Stonewall?

We also discussed what it would mean for the straight Trans community. Stonewall doesn't work on straight people's issues. 

  • Could Stonewall represent straight trans people? 
  • Would straight trans people be welcome at Stonewall events? 
  • How could Stonewall represent the issues of straight trans people?  

Well, as things stood, Stonewall admitted the could not do these things. And, it had to be asked: what would Stonewall's Gay and Lesbian  supporters feel about the money from their primarily Gay and lesbian funded organisation going to support straight people's concerns? We could imagine the answer to be 'not very much'.


The Disappearing B

There are other layers of complexity to be considered. 

  • Did anyone of us really know who would fall into the straight or a gay trans camp?
  • Would a pre-treatment trans man who loved a man, be straight or gay?  

And as for the disappearing 'B' from Bi - our research has shown time and again, that whilst there is a large number of trans people who identify as straight, it is still a minority (47%). Of the remainder 16% identify as gay or lesbian, but that leaves  37% in the disappearing Bi (or Poly) group. 
Where would they be in a Stonewall with the T? Would they have also go to the bathroom and disappear?


Can Lesbian and Gay people accept us as the people we are?

For years, trans people have been like the mascots of the gay world and the gay bars. They take our money, they show us off, we even provide the free floor shows for many of them. 

  • But, do they ever fancy us?  

A few gay men or lesbians can and do, but to most gay and lesbian people we will always be unattractive because, when it comes to the bedroom, for them we will never truly be the men or women we say we are. Ironically, the heterosexual community has proven far better at adjusting their grey matter to acknowledge we can be very sexy as the people we say we are.


The Separatist Lesbian Agenda still Exists

Now for the nail in the coffin! 

What is going to happen, when trans people arrive at a Stonewall event and then several lesbians then get up and leave the room as soon as we enter! 
There still are lesbian women who  still believe that trans women are men, and trans men are misguided self-harming lesbians. 
And they do not won't want trans people in their space.  Worse, they will not let trans people:

  • use their toilets even if they are presenting as women,
  • use their rape crisis centres even if they have been raped,
  • use their safe housing projects even when they are homeless,
  • use their social spaces even if they are lesbian identified.,
  • use their social spaces even if they are women and sleep with women.

What things do the Stonewall funders fund?

Finally, as trans groups, we could all see our meagre bits of funding disappearing into the Stonewall purse, and to do what? 
Well what do Stonewall do?
I will say it again:

Stonewall is NOT a support or an advice organisation. You cannot just give them a call, or an email and expect an answer to your request for support or legal advice . It is NOT what Stonewall does.

Stonewall produce glossy little booklets. These little booklets will never reflect what it is really like to be Trans. For example, the latest 8 page, A6 glossy guide from Stonewall is about being a gay tourist in the UK - lots of pictures but less than 1000 words of advice. Would 1000 words of advice really help a trans tourist in the UK? No way, Trans people would need a short novel. of advice.
 
A couple of years ago, there was another glossy Stonewall booklet that made me jump up and down, go really red in the face and tear my hair out - which along with testosterone explains why I am bald. 

The booklet was about being a lesbian and having a baby. 

  • The pages were mostly empty space - which in a world of disappearing resources always drives me mad.  
  • The booklet really was much the same as any basic guide for a woman having a baby. 

I found myself wondering why on earth it had been written when far, far better books, by experts like Sheila Kitzinger and Miriam Stoppard, already exist.
The most those books need is an erratum page saying 'if a lesbian is seeking sperm, this is what to do ... etc'. 
Yet, I know from personal experience and from the experiences of so many other trans people, and the partners of trans people, to do justice to the same advice for trans folk would again, take a long novel.  
The advice would be very different, and even with it, because of structural discrimination and transphobia, many potential familes with a trans partner would still never succeed in having a child to care for.  And what we did write would be new! [oops, another book to write]


Of course, perhaps because Stonewall has so much funding to waste, we might get the money to write the guides we need to. But if you were Gay or Lesbian and contributing to a fund for your right to get married, would you be happy with it going to a guide for heterosexual trans people wanting babies when they can already get married?


Reaching an Understanding.

At the meeting with Stonewall, an understanding was reached that Stonewall would welcome LGB trans people, but would leave the Trans support and campaigning to Trans people. 

Personally, I still think that is the only way we will keep our issues live and on the agenda. It is certainly in my view, the only way to truly reflect the complexities of ours, our partner's and our families' lives.  

And I will say it again, Stonewall is NOT a support or an advice organisation. You cannot just give them a call, or an email and expect an answer to your request for legal advice . It is NOT what they do. Yet it seems to me, that that is the one and most important thing that the trans community needs.


So, do YOU really want the T in S-onewall?

What do other people really think? 

  • Has the time come for PFC and other T organisations to give up the ghost so to speak? 
  • Do people really want Stonewall to become an LGBT organisation? 
  • What benefits would there be to the T community? 
  • What might the trans community lose? 

I feel that before we set out a stall to get Stonewall to embrace our concerns, we need to decide whether that really would be in our best interests. I am still convinced having the T in Stonewall would not be in our best interests, but am always open to listening to what others think and why they think it.