Sunday, 27 January 2013

Everything In It's Right Place

There's a saying that "Britain is a nation of shopkeepers". Well, I don't know about that any more but it dawned on me last week that "Earth is a planet of librarians" for it seems to me the natural inclination of everyone is to sort everything they come into contact with into the relevant section of the library that is their memory.
Doing so helps us make some kind of order out of the chaos that is all around us. This, in turn, leaves time to enjoy something of our lives without having to constantly work out who or what everything is every time we want to do anything.
But I find it interesting how we classify things.
For instance, if we believe the movies, people who are creepy, untrustworthy or just plain sinister look something like a young Michael Caine and, yet, it never stopped the real Michael Caine being a leading man and heart-throb!
And isn't it interesting how we're far more willing to re-classify good people as bad rather than re-classify bad people as good!
Also - as in the case of Jimmy Saville - the death of a person does not necessarily mean that their story has been told and that we won't have to re-classify them at some point in the future.
So we're finding we constantly have to re-order our libraries/memories which is just plain... annoying!!
If we have to move the book marked "Lance Armstrong", for example, from the shelf marked "Biography" to the shelf marked "Fiction" (as one Australian library joked that they would) then what does this mean for the other books in our library? Will they all have to be moved as well?!!
Then, sometimes, finding the book to re-shelve can be problematic in itself! In the case of a trans person, for example, the book may very well not just have a different title but a completely different cover as well!
Isn't it just far easier to leave things as they are - even if they are wrongly filed - than repeatedly having to go to the bother of re-ordering things about and run the risk of everything descending into chaos as every book keeps getting moved around! It'd certainly be far less time consuming!
So I can quite understand people's reluctance to constantly re-ordering their library/memory (and the evidence of this understanding is the chaos that is my house!).
Some people complain, some refuse, and then there are some who are only too willing to re-order their library... by thinking the worst of someone! (e.g. a daughter may find themselves disowned when they come out as a lesbian)
And what can you say about such a person who is so willing to think ill of someone?
Are they worthy of our respect?
Are they worthy of our sympathy?
Are they worthy of our hatred even?
Decide and classify.  
This is what we do on this planet of librarians and why, whatever the actual words used are, the complaint you'll most often hear as a minority (LGBT, black, muslim, Pole, etc, etc...), from friend and foe alike, is "Stop messing up my filing system!".

Friday, 18 January 2013

There Are Only Two Kinds Of Transsexual

Note: This blog post requires patience and toleration and a far better exploration of the subject can be read in Julia Serano's Whipping Girl...

The Theory: Transsexuals fall into two groups: Those that wish to be attractive to men (homosexual) and those that wish to subsume women (heterosexual).

Except not all transsexuals are "male to female". Some are "female to male".

...but I suppose we could broaden it out to make a similar distinction...

Transsexuals fall into two groups: Those that wish to be attractive to the same sex (homosexual) and those that wish to subsume the opposite sex (heterosexual).

Except, if that were true, then transsexuals would be a very unique section of the populace being compiled of only two sexualities when the rest of the populace are compiled of at least 5 (Heterosexual, Homosexual, Bisexual, Pansexual, Asexual).

...but transsexuals are a tiny minority of the populace and perhaps this is why - it only affects those who are Homosexual or Heterosexual.

...or maybe the other sexualities are bogus and are just people who are greedy/undecided/unconfident.

Except that some transsexuals are "intersex" which would not seem to fit the theory because, biologically speaking, how can someone who is "intersex" be pinned down to either male or female and thus fit into a Heterosexual or Homosexual definition?

...but many "intersex" people don't see themselves as transsexual. In fact some consider the only thing that makes them a transsexual is the operation that was carried out on them in their childhood without their consent to make them fit into someone else's idea of what their gender was. So, really, "intersex" people shouldn't be classed as transsexual at all.

Yes, but, if transsexuals were so pre-occupied with sex as to wish to change their bodies to get the sex they desired, then surely the number one topic amongst transsexuals would be that of the sex they desire and how they're going to get it and, yet, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, when compared to other groups of people, the subject of sex hardly features at all. The vast majority seem to be far more interested in science and technology than sex (to the point of geekism) but I suppose it figures that those who consider themselves 'wrongly made' would be pre-occupied with how things work.

...but, maybe, they just don't talk about that kind of stuff when you're there.

You know, I was always taught that a good scientist derived a conclusion from the known facts. But the theory "Transsexuals fall into two groups: Those that wish to be attractive to men (homosexual) and those that wish to subsume women (heterosexual)." appears to require far too many "if"s, "but"s and "maybe"s to make it work.
It is not one proved in fact and thus could only ever be claimed to be fact by a prejudicial mind.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Turning A Blind Ear(!)

It's been an interesting couple of days.
It started on Sunday when I leisurely wandered downstairs at 11am, made myself some breakfast, sat down on the sofa and opened up Facebook on my iPad (a very expensive birthday/Christmas present from my generous parents).
One of the first posts I noticed was from a Facebook friend who had linked to an article written by Julie Burchill entitled Transsexuals Should Cut It Out. Said Facebook friend warned that it used inflammatory language but I thought, "Come off it! It's The Guardian! How bad can it be?!!".
Well, when I managed to pick my jaw up off the floor, I had my answer - unbelievably bad. In fact, probably the most hate filled thing I have ever had the displeasure to read (and that includes competition from Richard Littlejohn, Melanie Phillips and the BNP website!). Hell! It didn't even pretend to have journalistic standards!
I was staggered at how this could've got past the Editor and be published in a supposed respectable newspaper (which, I should say, turned out to be The Observer rather than The Guardian - they share the same webspace, hence the confusion). Surely, if nothing else, an Editor has a duty to protect his newspaper from a criminal conviction? Whereas, this article laid it wide open to one - for committing a hate crime!
However, up until Sunday, I had only ever felt it necessary to contact the police twice before - once when I found a man in the street who I believed to be dead and the other when my friend was suffering some domestic abuse. So I hardly regard myself as reactionary or "trigger happy".
Having a background in the newspaper trade (once as an Editor for a local news website - but mostly in what they call the "Production" department (aka dogsbodies)), I'm also pretty well acquainted with how newspapers work and how low they'll sink to sell themselves (despite what anyone else will tell you, newspapers aren't about investigative journalism - or any kind of journalism for that matter - but making money for which they need to sell lots of their product that contain lots of paid for advertisements for other people's product in them). So when I see these articles from the aforementioned likes of Richard Littlejohn, Melanie Phillips et al I know what the real motive is - money - and so I take them with a pinch of salt.
However, when someone flat out breaks the law by committing a hate crime with the evidence on display for all to see, as Julie Burchill did with her article, it appears there is not enough salt in all the world that will stop me from reporting said crime to the police.
Thus Julie Burchill's article is now registered as a Hate Incident... and I hope it will follow with a conviction for Julie Burchill for committing said hate crime.
So should you see some of the follow up articles that harp on about "Freedom of speech", I hope you will have a better understanding of the circumstances.
For this much talked about "Freedom of speech" doesn't actually exist because, as has been illustrated, you are not free to speak (or type) as you please.
Also, when journalists reminisce about this much lauded "Freedom of speech" with misty eyed sentimentality, you also ought to be aware that "Freedom of speech" has never ever existed (in anyone's living memory at any rate)! There have always (in living memory) been consequences to speaking unjustly about someone.
So why would the newspapers suggest otherwise? Surely these bastions of morality, such as The Daily Mail, would never seek to mislead their readership?
Well, one theory could be that there has been a report into the goings on in "newspaper land" called The Leveson Enquiry. In this report some journalists were found to be wanting in certain qualities such as honesty and lawfulness. As a result there was a public backlash and a politically supported clampdown on the freedom of the press (as limited as it already was).
So, of course, the press don't like these measures - it makes their job of doing a thoroughly researched article before deadline even nearer to impossible than it already was (as can be evidenced in any daily newspaper you care to read)!
Now these deadlines aren't going to go away and nor is the pressure to make money in this atmosphere of 'new' competition (only 20 years old and going strong) from online media and the reduction in disposable income for disposable newsprint as a result of recession after recession.
So what would any self-interested newspaper publisher do?
Perhaps they seek a way to slither from underneath this oppressive atmosphere by changing the rules??
Perhaps they seek to gain something they've been denied up until now?
Perhaps they seek the freedom to publish what they damn well like with impunity??
A freedom that the newspapers could snappily call, "Freedom of speech".
No need to worry about lawsuits for slander, libel, misrepresentation... or prosecution for committing a hate crime then! Not when you've got "Freedom of speech"!
But a savvy newspaper publisher would know damn well that no one's gonna give that to them! Why on earth would the public give them the freedom to slander, libel, and incite hatred?!!
Well, not unless they're convinced that they actually want this freedom too, that is!
So perhaps the newspapers set about manipulating the public into thinking they do want this freedom and print a whole sheaf of articles beseeching it??
But, think about it, when does the topic of "Freedom of speech" ever come up in our daily lives?
Do we have a row with a neighbour and accuse them of infringing upon our "Freedom of speech" when they tell us to "F off!"?
I think it far more likely we respond in kind rather than harp on about being "bullied into silence"!
Do we think, "You know, I really should be allowed to accuse Mr Singh of being a terrorist if I want to. He is Asian, after all!!"
No, I think it far more likely our conscience sways us towards a more honest course of action.
So why should there be a different set of standards for our newspapers? Especially when it's been shown conclusively in the last year that we want our newspapers to behave honestly and responsibly!
For what a "Freedom of speech" amounts to is a licence to act dishonestly and irresponsibly and I see no reason why we should support that.
So, should they ever ask us to, I think we should turn a blind eye (or ear) and instead demand that our newspapers give us a service that benefits us, rather than one that benefits them.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A Dose Of Reality

It may come as no surprise that we don't live in an ideal society (whatever your notion of an "ideal society" is) but that should not stop us striving for one.
Ideals, after all, are dreams and dreams give us something to strive for and stop us becoming lethargic and ignoring all the bad stuff that goes on.
But ideals can also be dangerous if they lead us to being oppressive and unforgiving.
For instance, one of my ideals is that no one should be judged by their appearance.
But if I were to force that ideal on to others who didn't share it then I would be being oppressive. If I then damned them for not living up to my ideal I would then be being unforgiving.
Neither of those qualities (being oppressive or unforgiving) are ones I value and thus I find it even more damning when I use them against myself - when I force myself to live up to other people's ideals and/or give myself a hard time for not living up to my or someone else's ideals.
Thus it seems a far better thing to do to show compassion by injecting a dose of reality.
So, whilst I think no one should be judged by their appearance, the reality is that it's a mode of thinking that's ingrained into us from the moment of our births.
We are constantly bombarded by adverts that encourage us to define beauty and, through doing so, 'appreciate' that we are lacking in worth as a human being because we don't match that definition (that often has no basis on reality). We are repeatedly told that we must wear something "suitable" or "fashionable" or that only a certain look is acceptable (e.g. "Black tie event"). People are judged on what sex/gender they appear to be (and "never the twain shall meet"!) and expected to live up to the different standards set for each. Whole countries go so far as to define their national identity - even down to defining a "national costume"! - and thereby define those who look different as "other" and thus not their equal.
So it is quite clear the reality is that every minute of every day people are being judged by their appearance.
Thus it seems to me that it is far better for me to appreciate that the reality is what it is and have my ideal as a goal to aim for - not one that I insist is met at this very moment.
Doing so is difficult. It means I have to tolerate - even if only at a surface level - the mockery and social exclusion that goes on in the name of "fitting in" - the mockery and social exclusion that often exhausts our capability and our willingness to survive.
However, in showing toleration of what the reality is, I am offering compassion to my fellow human beings and resist the temptation of replacing one tyranny with another.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


(In reference to the #TransDocFail 'campaign')
There's no way I can boil my experiences with the NHS to just 140 words so here is the full story to date...

Things started in the Spring of 2009. I saw my GP and explained that I believed I had gender dysphoria and thus wanted to have counselling to help me come to terms with what was troubling me. At that appointment she offered me hormones(!) which I said I didn’t want and said she’d organise some counselling for me. Months passed and nothing happened and because nothing happened I had to fund my own counselling at £40 ph which turned out to be counterproductive as my counsellor suggested my dysphoria was in fact internalised homophobia.
Not having any confidence that my counsellor was deluded or had overstepped the boundaries of a professional counsellor, I continued this counselling for ten sessions until May 2009 when I stopped seeing him and went back to my GP to ask again about NHS counselling – which is when she confirmed that she had forgotten to ask for counselling for me but would get it sorted this time.
However, I was again left to fend for myself and things came to a head and I started cross-dressing (androgynously) full-time.
During the summer of 2009, as I have “club feet” and problems with my ankles, I contacted my local NHS Foundation Trust’s Disablement Centre to arrange to have footwear made to help with my disability.
For every appointment with the Centre, I presented as female and stated that I wished to be referred to by my female name, “Claire”. I state “every appointment” as, despite asking them to amend my records and change my name, they never did so. So for every appointment I received a letter in the post and was referred to during my appointments by my male name, which was deeply embarrassing considering, as I say, I was presenting as the female I believed I was. Furthermore, I was pulled aside by the manager of the Centre after one of my appointments and was questioned about my presentation and received the explanation that they could not change my records, refer to me as female or use my female name without a Deed Poll evidencing the change of name (which I subsequently found out goes against guides for good practice). I was thus glad when I got my footwear and was not required to visit the Centre any more.
In October 2009 I was glad to receive a home visit from a mental health nurse who promised to “fast track” me as I had already waited so long. However, this promise appeared laughable when I received a letter shortly after promising a 4 to 5 month wait for NHS counselling! So I decided to fund my own counselling again, this time with a specialist gender counsellor in Salford (which is a 60 mile round trip from my home).
This counselling continued until February 2010 when, approx. 1 year after asking, I received a letter promising NHS counselling in March 2010.
I had asked for – and been promised - a counsellor with Gender Identity Dysphoria expertise but I guess they must be scarce on the NHS as my counsellor didn’t even understand what I was talking about! She did, though, help me come to terms with what was troubling me so I am happy to vouch for the success of NHS counselling (it’s just the waiting time and inherent expense, both mentally and financially, of that waiting time that I find bothersome).
Thus, having come to terms with the fact that I was a transsexual, I realised I needed to put myself on the “gender reassignment pathway”.
Which reminds me – I had sought NHS funding for laser hair removal in February 2010 but was denied said funding on the premise that I was not at that time on the “gender reassignment pathway”. To this day I can not fathom out why laser hair removal on the face should rely on the willingness to have my genitals removed and find such a condition on funding little less than barbaric! I also found out subsequently that, even if I had been on the “gender reassignment pathway”, funding would not have been guaranteed.
Thus, finding my facial hair intensifying my unhappiness, I had to self-fund my laser hair removal – treatment that I still continue to this day, 2 and a half years later (at an average of £100 a session!).
So, going back to July 2010, I asked my GP to refer me to a GIC and waited…
In August 2010, I realised I could no longer live androgynously and transitioned to live full-time as the female I believed I was. Doing so made me realise I needed speech therapy and so, in October 2010, I went to my GP and asked for her to refer me to an NHS speech therapist.
Also in October 2010, I finally got to see a psychiatrist who, hopefully, would refer me to a GIC and I could get the help I so desperately needed.
In that meeting, he seemed incredibly distracted and nervous by my presence and hardly asked me any meaningful questions at all – a point Charing Cross GIC seemed to confirm when we first met and commented that my notes were somewhat lacking in detail – but I left that meeting feeling reassured that my referral was a mere formality… if only that had been true!
In November 2010, having received no information in the 6 weeks since my appointment the previous month, I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary for an update. She claimed that they were in the process of moving offices but my referral was in the outgoing pile waiting to be posted the next working day.
Having received no more information, I phoned a week later and was told the exact same thing. So I waited another week before phoning again and got the same answer yet again!
Up until that point in my life, having both parents employed in the NHS, I had believed the NHS was a trustworthy organisation that, despite severe limitations on its resources, always pulled out the stops to meet expectations.
However, despite my inclination to not make a fuss, I raised a concern with my local NHS Foundation Trust’s Customer Care Manager and my faith in the NHS was restored when notice of my referral arrived a week later! So now it was just a matter of waiting…
In January 2011, 3 months after asking, I had my first appointment with the NHS Speech Therapist who immediately disappointed me by revealing she had no experience in teaching people to develop a female voice. This was reinforced when she kept presenting information she had found on the internet and reassuring me that I needn’t worry too much because hormones would help fix my voice (completely bogus information!). Thus I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise when, six sessions later, my voice had become, in my opinion, strangulated and so I was glad that she then called a halt to things. (Incidentally, from the beginning of 2012, I have been taking singing lessons to help me develop a female voice and have subsequently learned the errors my Speech Therapist enforced upon me).
Meanwhile, back in February 2011 (2 years after first seeing my GP), I got a letter from Charing Cross GIC offering me an appointment six months later. I couldn’t believe that after all this time I would have to wait another six months and I was left distraught!
Matters were made worse in March 2011 when that original appointment was cancelled and one offered for 10.45 in the morning. I could not imagine how the clinic could seem it sensible to offer someone who would have to make a 228 mile trip an appointment for 10.45 in the morning and told them to rearrange it. I also asked them to put me on the cancellation list in case an appointment should turn up sooner.
In April 2011 I got a letter confirming an appointment for June but this was cancelled in a letter I received a day later(!) offering an appointment for July. This chopping and changing of appointments left me lacking confidence in what was arranged and thus I left it until the last minute to book my train ticket to London when I could’ve got it for less than half the price if I’d booked it when I first received the letter. This lack of confidence in appointments made by the clinic was still with me when I last visited them in June 2012 and why I booked myself an overnight stay so that, even if the appointment was cancelled, I didn’t have to waste the expense of a train ticket and could still come to London for sightseeing and make it a worthwhile trip.
So, anyway, in July 2011 I had the pleasure of getting my first appointment at Charing Cross GIC with Dr Lenihan.
I found Dr Lenihan to be very rigorous in her questioning of me in that first appointment, which reassured me that I was being taken seriously and we would get to the bottom of my gender dysphoria.
The next appointment wasn’t until January 2012 but I knew there was a minimum 6 month period between appointments beforehand so I knew what to expect even if I was disappointed by the time lapse.
When I came for my second appointment in January, though, I was appalled that a blood test asked for by the clinic had not been carried out by my GP, resulting in a delay in me getting hormones prescribed.
I then had to go back to my GP and find out why this test had not been carried out and was told that procedure had not been followed and the admin staff had not written to me when they had failed to make contact with me via the phone. The test was subsequently done and I started on the prescribed hormones in May 2012.
In June 2012 I saw the clinic’s speech therapy specialist for the first time and Dr Lenihan for the second time. I left the meeting somewhat disappointed, however, that I had travelled all that way at great expense to myself and the rigorous interview at my previous two appointments had not been repeated. In fact, it seemed like I had gone to great lengths for nothing much more than a cursory chat!
However, I still left the meeting feeling I was on the right path and things were progressing smoothly if slowly – something Dr Lenihan seemed to confirm in her last letter to me.
However, in August 2012, after my hormone dose had been increased, I had a realization I was lying to myself – I did not identify as a woman (trans or otherwise) but as something outside of the binary gender model. Thus the progress towards forming a female body could not ever be satisfactory. That it in fact was increasing my gender dysphoria rather than settling it. Thus I decided to stop taking hormones and I wrote to Dr Lenihan and my GP later that month informing them both of my decision to stop taking hormones.
I did not receive a timely reply to that letter and, as time was getting ever nearer to my next appointment, I decided to contact Iffy Middleton as I had been present at one of her presentations and concluded from that that she was a good person to contact on this matter.
She informed me that she had passed on my letter to her to Dr Lenihan and thus I awaited a response.
In the meantime, I received a letter from Charing Cross GIC in October 2012 that informed me that my GP had been asked to take blood tests for my hormone levels(!) thus making it clear that there was a serious time delay in the clinic’s administration resulting in the clinic asking my GP to take blood tests for hormones I had stopped taking a month before the letter was typed and which, when my GP received it, would’ve been outside of the timescale being asked for in the letter my GP received even if I was still on hormones!
Thus I subsequently wrote to Iffy Middleton informing her of this and my dismay at the clinic’s inefficient service.
However, in Dr Lenihan's last letter to me, she seemed to think something she described as “a typing backlog” is not evidence of inefficiency and, furthermore, that there is no evidence I have had an inefficient service from the NHS at all!
Then as fate would have it, I had a phone call on the 16th October 2012 from my GP asking me to come in for the blood tests the clinic had asked her to do! So it would seem that it is not only the clinic who is unable to keep up with events – even when they’re brought to their attention directly by myself!
So I decided to write to Dr Lenihan taking issue with her comment that there is no evidence I have had an inefficient service from the NHS and received a very apologetic letter from the practice manager (countersigned by Dr Lenihan) promising, amongst other things, that the typing backlog would be addressed. However, I know from my friends who go there, that the typing backlog is as great as it ever was.
However, on the plus side, I feel I have learned a great deal from the last 3 years and I now feel sure in my own mind who/what I am and what I want out of life and it has nothing to do with “the gender reassignment pathway” or Charing Cross GIC.