Perceptions and Transgressions: CAMAB non-binary people and male privilege

While discussions of privilege and oppression with regards to binary trans people (that is, trans men and trans women) are abundant, these discussions with relation to non-binary trans people – particularly those with androgynous and/or changeable gender presentations – tend to be few and far between. The probable causes of this are two-fold: the fact that non-binary transgender identities are less well-known than binary ones, and that it’s an incredibly unwieldy topic to try and tackle. Nonetheless it’s a topic that needs discussion, and I hope to start it here.

A few months ago, Aoife Hart (or aoifeschatology) published a piece entitled On Having and Having Not: CAMAB and Male Privilege- discussing the unpopular but politically necessary idea that, before their transition and changes in how they’re perceived and gendered, trans women have male privilege conferred to them.*

In mainstream trans and feminist politics, the idea of “privilege” is often strained with meaning outside of what is politically useful or reflective of reality. Aoife discusses the idea that trans women have never had male privilege due to the severe harms and disconnection from maleness and masculinity that can come as a result of gender dysphoria – and (correctly, in my view) argues against that, and in favour of privilege as a “consistent allocation of preferential advantage conferred and allocated in a systemic [sic] [manner].”

As an aside: a more thorough examination of the concept of privilege might result in further categorising types of privilege and how various factors may influence whether a person has them conferred upon them/has access to them. Lisa Millbank, in The Gender Ternary: Understanding Transmisogyny, “[unpacks] ‘male privilege’ into internalised, social and power-over privileges.” Millbank talks about the different types of privilege and how they may be “lost” at different points – including a discussion of “internalised” privilege and how it might impact behaviour. In Millbank’s model, Aoife is exclusively talking about “social” and “power-over” privileges. While how one’s internalised gender and gender role impacts behaviour and privilege is an interesting idea (and one, I think, Aoife is a little too quick to dismiss in the face of the other extreme position), it’s not one that will be explored in much detail here.

Aoife’s discussion of the concept of privilege is longer and more in-depth than this (neglecting the “internalised” side as Millbank described), but the crux of this working definition is that “…when we speak of privilege, we must do so in the passive voice of imputation. Privilege is acculturation beyond our own limited agency” – privilege is not so much “had” as “conferred.” The concept of privilege being based on the way one is perceived – that one is read as male or female (or cis/trans, white/as a PoC, straight/queer, etc) – is an idea that has been discussed by many feminist theorists, both trans and cis.

In the vast majority of cases, when one is read as a man or a woman, it is to identify you as a person to receive (or not) the relevant privileges. When a (transitioned or transitioning) trans woman is labelled “male”, however, it is not to identify them and treat them as such. Trans women’s experiences are very much typical of the female experience, even when society insists that they are male – hypersexualisation and objectification, policing and verbal/physical based on sexuality and appearance, high rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence and so on – further exacerbated by their transgender status.

Discussing the non-binary trans experience adds extra dimensions to this analysis. First of all, mainstream culture does not acknowledge the existence of non-binary genders – and as such, the non-binary person will – however they present – never be read as the gender they are (but may still be gendered as a third – “freak” – gender, as discussed later.) Secondly, non-binary people’s gender presentation can vary greatly, both from individual to individual and from day to day. This is not to say that trans women and trans men all present the same, of course – butch trans women and femme trans men certainly exist – but this is a trait more associated with the non-binary transgender or genderqueer person.

While the experiences of CAMAB non-binary trans people and trans women are likely to be similar pre-transition – I.E. they may still have male privilege conferred upon them pre-transition – their experiences may diverge upon transitioning, whatever that may mean for a person. Trans women are, as I previously argued, gendered and treated as women by society – but the situation for non-binary trans people is much more complicated.

Under patriarchy, women, femaleness and femininity are devalued, whilst men, maleness and masculinity are applauded and praised. The genders and gendered behaviour of CAMAB people (even of cis men) are policed heavily – this phenomena is often misattributed to a form of discrimination against men, when, in actuality, it’s about the need to maintain masculinity and maleness (the superior states of being) as “unpolluted” from the feminine (the inferior).

Whilst a (cis) man acting superficially feminine in minor behaviours is often derided, his actions don’t result in anywhere near a total loss of male privilege – a man’s response to said derision can often be an opportunity for them to reassert their masculinity (and distance themselves from the femininity they displayed) via an exaggerated masculine-coded display. Said man is still very much considered to be part of the male class despite their minor transgressions, and as such is conferred the associated privileges.

As the perceived transgression against masculinity increases in severity, so does the associated exclusion from the class of male. Millbank (The Gender Ternary) argues that “mainstream society actually uses a threefold ‘ternary-gender’ model of gender, dividing people into ‘women’, ‘men’ and ‘freaks’.” As someone transgresses their coercively assigned gender to an increasing degree, they move closer towards the “freak” categorisation and the associated dehumanisation.

Millbank also suggests that it is while being forced into this “freak” third-state that trans people experience transphobia – something that is reflected in the patterns of violence and other discrimination against trans women and transfeminine people. It is the homeless trans woman with no means to meet standards of femininity/“pass” who is denied access to shelters; the trans woman who is “found out” (thus shattering the “deception” of being a woman, and firmly being placed into this third “freak” gender) who is assaulted by her partner; the visibly non-binary CAMAB person whose skirt (symbolic of their femininity) is set fire to on the bus,and other, numerous, instances.

It’s worth noting that, even if a CAMAB non-binary trans person is perceived as a cis man (and receives the appropriate benefits) for a particular slice of time, there are other factors that distinguish their experiences – a lot of them related to the erasure and perceived illegitimacy of their gender: mental health issues related to isolation and dysphoria, access to transition related medical care, disconnection from their peers, and other problems. The privilege bestowed upon them for their perceived maleness is, though, a major counterbalance – even if it’s not a thing they personally want or are comfortable with.

As previously mentioned, the presentation (and therefore perception and social status) of a CAMAB non-binary person will vary between individuals, and, for that individual, potentially over time. For someone like me, who varies presentation from day to day, moving between being read as in the “male” and “freak” groups, there is a noticeable uptick in verbal abuse, loss of perceived (and, looking at patterns and statistics of violence, actual, ) safety, a tendency for staring and muttering (as suggests the “freak” state) and (amusingly) mansplaining.

I am acutely aware, however, that when perceived in this more “male” state, my experience of social power for that slice of time is mostly comparable to a cis man’s. In fact, it’s a thing I actively set to counteract: deliberately toning down parts of my behaviour which may allow me to leverage (consciously or unconsciously) some of the “power-over” and “internalised” privileges as defined by Millbank:

“As I’ve moved from ‘male’ to ‘freak’, some of my internalised male privileges have stayed with me and others haven’t. I’ve said before (not on this blog) that, if you had to design a system of social conditioning to strip away self-assurance, the transition process expected by the NHS of a transssexual woman would be a good candidate. Some of us have better experiences than others – mine’s been pretty good, all told, so quite a bit of my internalised privilege has stayed with me. I usually feel that I have a right to an opinion, that my thoughts and choices are valid.”

For a non-binary person who is either not out or doesn’t choose to make any presentational changes, their experiences in society at large won’t be a whole lot different from that of a cis person of their gender assigned at birth – short of, possibly, a small amount of internalised privilege which is lost. On the other hand, the non-binary person who performs a transition similar to that of a trans woman’s will have similar experiences to them. The answer to “do CAMAB non-binary people have male privilege?” is “it depends on the time and person.” Apologies for my existence making your models complicated, folks.

Which leads us to a difficult question: to what extent is including CAMAB non-binary people in feminist space and discourse reasonable? The sexism experienced by cis women and the transphobic/transmisogynistic experiences of trans people (of all genders) are inextricably linked by the system which produces them – the patriarchy. It’s the degradation of womanness, femaleness and femininity, coercive and rigid gender assignments and the gender binary, the policing of gendered behaviour, and so on. Trans activism without feminism and feminist theory is both impossible and likely to result in trans men overrunning everything – as evidenced by, for instance, the 2014 Philadelphia Trans Health Conference – which was overwhelming run by and about them. Feminism and (any remotely decent) trans politics are inextricably linked, particularly any which (correctly) centers trans women and transfemininity.

Given the struggle to get mainstream feminism to successfully include binary trans people in its analysis or movement in any sort of meaningful or satisfying way, it seems unlikely that non-binary inclusion is anywhere close. Any (trans)feminism aimed at being anti-oppression rather than exclusively being about small quality of life concerns will also be addressing the concerns of CAMAB non-binary folks – as people who are the targets of patriarchal violence, and as people who shatter ideas of strict binary oppressions and add to the discourse surrounding them.




*I stand in the position of citing this apologetically, given her particular proclivities these days. I intend on producing a more detailed version of this piece that doesn’t draw from this at a later date, but for now this disclaimer will have to do.

The F Word: Who Your Friends Are Matters

I have a guest post over at The F Word for your perusal!

A recurring theme within a certain sector of feminism, which we might refer to as privileged, professional or media feminism, is the pushing back at criticism based on friendships or political alliances. To critique one’s friends, they argue, is creepy, or scary, even a totalitarian-esque attack on the freedom of association – entirely missing the significance of these associations. No one will find unanimous agreement on everything with everyone; even between friends, there is – and should be – large scope for disagreement. However, there are some issues on which disagreement should be a clear cut deal breaker: I could not, for example, be friends with Fred Phelps, Vladimir Putin or Norman Tebbit, whatever the circumstances.

Why not? Well, because they’re vile human beings. Who would want the company of someone so appalling? However, more than this, it would give endorsement – on both personal and political levels – to their views and actions. My friendship would imply their views were, to me, credible; that I felt these views were welcome in society. This applies to events as well: to invite bigoted and frankly unacceptable views to be aired on your platform is to give them tacit validation and approval. This isn’t a matter of endorsing the truth of an associate’s views, but rather the acceptability of them.

The rest of the post is available here.

You Trans-sexy Thing

I love queer, nerdy, kinky sex – and it’s the only sex I’ve ever known. At 16, I had my first “proper” relationship: it lasted about 3 and a half years, all told, and we were each other’s first sexual partner. On top of the standard teen sex-related anxiety, we both had unresolved gender issues – he’s a trans man, I’m non-binary trans – that neither of us were aware of at the time.

This made following the “normal” scripts of sex quite difficult: PIV sex was basically impossible and, frankly, didn’t interest me a massive amount. As well as getting very acquainted with using my hands and mouth, it turned out we both had kinky interests, too: we laid our hands on a few toys (as far as we could in our nervous, impoverished teenage state) and messed around, experimented, and tried to find out what it was that worked for us.

Creativity is what I think defines queer, nerdy, kinky sex: the ability to experiment and – as is often essential in the case of trans people – improvise. The world outside of cisheteronormative sex is a wonderful one, but the social scripts surrounding sex are so strong that it doesn’t really come easily. This “spark” of exploration can come from a lot of things, including: curiousity, frustration or lack of interest in “standard” sex, and from necessity – with various issues getting in the way.

While I had a very curious mind, and I’d had fantasies for years, the thing that really spurred us to experiment was the fact we couldn’t do what “all the other people” were doing. Our bodies and minds weren’t cooperative – due to things that, in hindsight, were probably caused by dysphoria – so we had to make our own way.

It wasn’t always rosy. Not following the ideas of sex that had been drilled into us was liberating but also challenging. Many times I remember my partner despairing, thinking that they weren’t “good enough,” because their genitals “didn’t work.” Nor did everything we try always work.

Despite our problems, these formative sexual experiences turned out very well for me. I’m confident about sex and my sexuality, my sex life is fulfilling and interesting, and I even, about 5 years later, managed to have PIV sex – though, frankly, it’s pretty mediocre; there’s a wealth of sexual activities that I prefer.  I have managed to work my way through sex, outside of the societal scripts, and did so – at least at the beginning – without much external help.

For a majority of people, sex is an important part of our lives – but it can be a particularly hard thing for trans people to navigate. However, we can improve sex for everyone - and mitigate the potential trauma when trans people try to work it out – by scrapping the fierce social expectations and scripts surrounding sex. To allow people to explore the sex they want and to be without shame when they can’t – or don’t want to – live up to them.

Reasonably, though, this isn’t going to happen very soon – but we can try and offer a dissenting voice. Let’s declare that sex isn’t just one thing, and everyone can make their own – and provide resources for those who need it: both on a community level and by pushing for full and inclusive sex education. Let’s ensure that trans people know that they have many options- we can be someone other than the mainstream portrayals of either the sexless or porn-inspired hypersexualised tropes. We can be fulfilled sexual (or not!) beings with agency. Not everyone has to be kinky or queer – or even have sex at all – but everyone should at least be told there are other options.

An Open Letter to Ruth Hunt, Acting Chief Executive of Stonewall

Dear Ms. Hunt,

Congratulations on your new position as Acting Chief Executive of Stonewall. With your new position, your ability to guide how Stonewall’s influence and resources are used is considerably greater than before.

As a transgender bisexual person of somewhat radical queer politics, I have made no secret of my dislike for Stonewall’s ideology, campaigns and actions in the past. I’ve discussed this on a couple of occasions with you on twitter, and your response gives me hope that the organisation’s operations can be directed in a more inclusive and more productive manner going forward.

Stonewall remains probably the most visible and well-funded organisation dealing with queer issues in the UK – to ignore your influence (whether good or bad) would be irresponsible. Your appointment gives me the perfect opportunity to raise the ways that I – and many others, as evidenced by the many calls for reform on twitter alone – believe that Stonewall could and should improve the inclusivity of their movement.

Firstly, bisexuality and bisexual issues: despite being a “lesbian, gay and bisexual” (LGB) charity, Stonewall produces very little in the way of bisexual-specific content:
  • Stonewall’s website appears to have only one page talking about bisexuality, including a definition of bisexuality that is rejected by the vast majority of bisexual organisations. (See: Stonewall’s versus the definition generally accepted by the community.)
  • Stonewall currently has exactly two bisexual-specific reports in their list of current publications.
  • To my knowledge, there have been no bisexual-specific campaigns.
  • Bisexuality is rarely acknowledged in campaigns.
  • When bisexuality is acknowledged, such as in the latest campaign, it is as a simple word exchange without any changes: you’ll note the poster that is linked to – despite superficially being about bisexuality – goes on to talk solely of “gay”, “homophobia”…

I’m sure that you would agree that this is clearly unacceptable for a charity that claims to be representing bisexuals: inclusivity and representation requires more than just mentioning the group in your slogan.

Furthermore, it needs to be acknowledged that – despite the fact Stonewall no longer campaigns on transgender issues – it is still capable of doing serious harm: both through the erasure of transgender issues and by actively working against transgender interests. I am aware that Stonewall, at some point in the past, was asked to stop dealing with transgender issues by trans people and organisations. However, this is frequently used to dismiss criticism without actually answering the critical question: why would trans people ask for this?

Given Stonewall’s considerable platform and resources, it would seem an illogical step – unless Stonewall’s approach to transgender issues was so immensely damaging that the loss of influence and resources was minor in comparison. This is particularly dismal failure, given that the organisation takes its name from the Stonewall Riots – a movement primarily led by both transgender women and crossdressers of colour. The most notable example of this damage is the spousal veto in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, which passed through Westminster without the slightest objection from Stonewall England. The spousal veto has, however, been removed from the Scottish version of the bill – where Stonewall does campaign on transgender issues.

As the organisation with arguably the most influence in queer politics in the UK, you have a responsibility: while I won’t advocate you restarting your advocacy for transgender issues, you – at the very least – should ensure that you’re doing no harm. Let’s not forget that some transgender people also fall under LGB.

With this in mind, I propose this set of recommendations that would help Stonewall along the path to being suitably inclusive, and not – as some, including myself, would criticise you of – just campaigning for the rights of cis gay men and lesbians:
  • Openly admit the organisation’s failings in the past and be honest about how you’re going to fix them – including progress updates along the way.
  • Produce or modify a style guide to minimise erasure of people’s identities. This includes not using “gay” as an umbrella term (as in “gay marriage”).
  • Work with bisexual organisations and/or people to help you formulate campaigns, reports and policy. It seems obvious that Stonewall lacks the expertise on bisexual issues to meaningfully represent them in its current state.
  • Put out some bisexual specific campaigns: work on people not assuming that someone in a relationship with a person with a person of the same/different gender is gay/straight, work on fighting bisexual stereotypes and just generally get the word out that bisexuality actually exists. (Yes, this is a problem.) This is particularly important in your resources for schools – for many bisexual pupils, it is as if Section 28 still exists.
  • Publish more bisexual content: thoroughly research the extent of bisexual issues (this will probably include working out why bi people don’t respond to your surveys and fixing it) rather than lumping all your statistics into a “LGB” category, examine attitudes towards bisexuality in both the cishet and queer communities and talk to bisexuals about how they can be more included in both the cishet and queer communities.
  • Consult with transgender organisations on a regular basis to ensure that you’re not doing harm.
  • Pass the mic on (frequent) occasion to transgender organisations: your influence greatly outstrips any other queer lobbying organisation in the United Kingdom. Cooperate with transgender organisations to raise awareness, particularly where transgender issues and LGB issues intersect.

I wish you the best of luck with your new position, and I hope you take up this call to action – I look forward to the organisation’s resources and influence being used in such a way that no longer furthers discrimination and erasure of people’s lives and identities.

Yours Sincerely,

Charlie Hale

A Thorough Introduction to Bisexuality and Pansexuality

What is bi/pansexuality?
Bisexuality is an attraction to people of
  • more than one gender or,
  • two or more genders or groups of genders.

Some bisexuals define their bisexuality to be an attraction to people of the same and different gender – and hence, an attraction to people of all genders. Bisexuality can be used to describe a range of different attractions.

Pansexuality is an attraction to people of all genders.

Pansexuality and bisexuality aren’t mutually exclusive – whether a person IDs as bisexual, pansexual, both or neither is entirely up to them. None are wrong. Don’t correct people on their labels; don’t take their labels as an attack on you.

Being bisexual or pansexual doesn’t mean that you can’t have a preference. You could be a bisexual who is attracted to men and non-binary people, and have a preference for non-binary people. Or, you could be a pansexual with a preference for women.

Labels are a tool to allow people to express themselves: they shouldn’t be restrictive.

Problems bi/pan people face
Bisexual people don’t just face the same problems as gays and lesbians: bisexuality has unique problems which interact with the problems of other groups in a similarly unique way.

Bisexuals and Relationships
There are a lot of negative stereotypes about bisexuals – a lot of them about relationships and how bisexuals behave in them.

Bisexuals are said to be slutty, just going through a phase, fickle and likely to leave for someone of another gender, likely to cheat and so on.

The negative stereotyping and biphobia come from both the straight and queer worlds. Lots of people – gay and straight – simply won’t consider dating bisexuals at all.

On the other hand, while certain people won’t consider dating bisexuals, they have no problems soliciting them for threesomes- specifically, female bisexuals. I’ll talk about the intersection between sexism and bisexuality momentarily.

It’s important not to be overly defensive when it comes to addressing these stereotypes. It’s not that bisexuals can’t be these things; it’s that bisexuals are no more so than everyone else.

This is particularly important when we’re dealing with things like sluttiness. Don’t turn your defense against biphobia turn into slut-shaming: some bisexuals, like myself, are sluts – and there’s nothing wrong with that. A bisexual may end up leaving you for someone of a different gender to you. For some, bisexuality is just a phase – but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Bisexual Invisibility and Erasure
On the other side of the coin, we have bisexual invisibility and erasure. People tend to assume that a person in a relationship with a person of the same gender is gay and that someone in a relationship with someone of another is straight. Some people will see this as “passing privilege” – but in reality, it just means bisexuals are invisible. Invisibility can make you feel marginalised and make you doubt your own experiences and reality – it is no privilege.

Bisexual people are bisexual regardless of the gender of their partners. You can’t assume someone’s sexuality based on their sexual or romantic activities – or lack thereof.

There are people who deny the very existence of bisexual people – there are even papers discussing the grand question of our existence. Other than that, there are people who believe bisexuality is a delusion,something done for attention, or a stop on the road to being “properly gay.”

There are problems with coming out as bisexual if you’re in a monogamous relationship. People assume that – because you’re not “actively” bisexual – it’s not important. For a lot of bisexuals, though, it’s an important part of their identities – and it shouldn’t be denied.

Intersection with Sexism: Barsexuals, doing it for attention?
The experiences of bisexuals differs greatly depending on the person’s gender.

There is the idea of “barsexuals” – women who make out with and so on with other women, primarily for men’s attention. It’s bisexual women who are assumed to be sexually available and asked for threesomes. Bisexual women are assumed to be just experimenting or going through a phase, and will end up with men eventually. Bisexual women are infantilised and patronised.

On the other hand, bisexual men are often viewed as either being too scared or too confused to come out as gay properly. You’ll note that in both cases, it’s assumed the person is secretly attracted to men – I’ll leave that as food for thought.

…and Generic Homophobia
On top of all this, bisexuals get the same standard old homophobia that gays and lesbians get, too.

What not to say.
The bisexual is usually a docile creature, but when provoked can turn aggressive. Remember to keep your vehicle’s windows shut and to follow these simple rules:

“Bisexuality is binarist”
Just because bisexual has the prefix “bi”, a lot of people assume that it just means “men and women.” Many people don’t identify as either of the two binary genders – something which I’ll be talking about in a later video.

There is no reason why bisexuality has to be binarist and most of the prominent bisexual organisations have a non-binary inclusive definition.

“Pansexuality is biphobic”
In the same way that a few pansexuals make comments about bisexuality being binarist, a few bisexuals will retaliate by saying that pansexuality is biphobic.

A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not a rebuke or insult to you- it’s something personal to them. Bisexual, pansexual, both and neither are all valid identities.

“Pansexuality is ‘gender blind’”
One form of pansexuality you may hear is that of “gender blindness” – that they simply don’t “see” gender. It sounds good in theory, but is problematic: people’s gender identity is often very important to them and it is definitely important when it comes to how we interact with each other and with society as a whole.

“Do you want a threesome?”
This is one of the most common things a bisexual will hear upon revealing themselves. Being bisexual doesn’t mean that they want a threesome. Some bisexuals might be up for a threesome, but you’re not going to put them in a good mood by asking straight after you find out about their identity.

Bisexuals aren’t here for your entertainment.

“So does that mean you’ve…?”
Someone revealing they’re bisexual does not mean you have the right to ask them questions about their past or present sexual or romantic relationships.

“You don’t know unless you’ve tried.”
Bisexuals get this a lot. We don’t say a person isn’t straight or gay because they haven’t had sex or had a relationship with anyone, and bisexuality shouldn’t be any different.

“Half gay, half straight”
Bi/pansexuals are not “half gay, half straight” – we’re all 100% pure, not from concentrate, bisexual.

That goddamn pan joke

Seriously. It gets old.

Playing Around

Hello all! Playing Around: An Introduction to Kink for the Curious is a new, free e-book for those curious and/or wanting to get into BDSM. It portays BDSM in a positive, ethical, consensual and safe manner – while still providing lots of hot ideas!
It’s released for free under a CC BY-NC-ND license. Available here!

Why Does BDSM Need Activism?

[Content Note: Discussions of rape and sexual assault. Assume that all links have the same content warning.]

You may have noticed that I have called myself a “BDSM activist” in the past but, to some, it may not be immediately clear exactly why BDSM needs activism. The foundation of BDSM activism is sexual freedom and autonomy: defending the ability of consenting adults in private to engage in (and view) whatever activities they like.

This doesn’t just extend to people doing BDSM: the issues of sex work and pornography often overlap. There are all sorts of legal, social and professional ways people are punished for their consensual sexual choices. Perhaps now more than ever these issues are important: in the UK, for instance, there have been many different attacks on sexual freedom and the criminalising and stigmatising people who consume certain pornography or engage in certain acts.

There was the well known “porn trial” of Simon Walsh, who was charged for being in possession of “extreme pornography” for a portrayal of anal fisting. Regardless of the fact that fisting is, as a sexual act, entirely legal, the images were attacked as “extreme” as the acts portrayed were “likely to result in serious injury to a person’s anus.” Walsh was acquitted of all charges, but not without personal and professional harm.

The number of extreme pornography charges now stands at over a thousand per year with only a small percentage of them actually acted on. There are two factors here as to why this is problematic: firstly, the number of people actually charged under extreme pornography laws is probably a mere fraction of those who could be charged under them. The lack of rigorous enforcement shows that, even though prosecutions do occur, the laws are enforced arbitrarily. Secondly, the stigma related to sex-related subjects – on top of the general upset as a result of being charged with a criminal offense – means that people charged with it suffer greatly professionally and personally.

This adds up to a law that is abusable, enforced on a whim and severely damages those charged but found innocent. It’s also a law that potentially criminalises people for possessing images of things that are, in some cases, perfectly legal to do. It’s a textbook example of a victimless crime – and, not only that, imposes the “victim” status on entirely consenting adults.

From the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, section “Possession of extreme pornographic images”:

(7)An image falls within this subsection [I.E. Is an “extreme image”] if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—
(a)an act which threatens a person’s life,
(b)an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals,
(c)an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, orw
(d)a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive),
and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that any such person or animal was real.

The Crown Prosecution Service’s guidelines on extreme pornography slightly clarify a few of the vaguities, but there are still considerable issues with how the law can be and is applied.

There is even talk of possibly expanding this section to include “depictions of rape.” That is, depictions of consensual non-consent or simulated rape – something that is legal to do. The acts in “rape pornography” are rape in the same way that someone in a TV show being punched is assault – that is, not at all. Here’s a post by Emily Rose further discussing the issue.

There are also issues regarding how people with alternative sexual practices are treated in unrelated legal issues – a person’s consensual sexual activities can be used against them on the grounds of “character.” For instance, child custody cases (here’s a specific example) and even when filing rape charges.

This is just scratching the surface on issues surrounding BDSM and alternative sexual lifestyles and activities. For further information and organisations, I recommend:

An Introduction To Non-binary Transgender Identities

This introduction to non-binary genders assumes a basic knowledge of trans issues. If you don’t, check out Not Your Mom’s Trans 101. It’s worth noting that the things said here are very western-focused: a lot of cultures have an idea of more than two genders, but they won’t fit within this framework.

What are non-binary genders?
A person with a non-binary gender is neither a man nor a woman.

Non-binary labels
There are a variety of different labels that non-binary people may use. Remember, that they get to decide their labels – not you – so don’t challenge them. No label is “right”, per se, it’s a matter of how a person relates to them. A person may choose to use any number of labels – or may prefer no labels.
  • Genderqueer – Can be both an umbrella term for non-binary/non-normative identities or an identity on its own.
  • Androgyne – Another umbrella term. Often used to mean that they’re “between” the two binary genders.
  • Agender/Neutrosis – No gender. There’s some dispute (by agender/neutrosis people) as to whether it falls under “non-binary” or not.
  • Genderfluid – A person whose internal sense of gender changes: perhaps they feel like a man one day, a woman the next, and something else entirely the day after that.
  • Bigender, trigender, polygender – Two genders, three genders, many genders. Either identifying as all of their genders at once, or moving between them.

Gender presentation
A person’s gender and their gender presentation are often – but not necessarily – related. For instance, while a woman is expected to wear things that are coded female (dresses, for instance), a man wearing a dress is still a man. People of all genders can present in any way.

Despite this, non-binary people do often present in non-normative ways. When a person presents in a way “between” the two binary genders, it’s often known as androgyny. A person may also combine feminine and masculine coded things in such a way as to deliberately contrast them – this is sometimes known as genderfuck.

Gender Dysphoria is a feeling of discomfort, unhappiness or disconnection related to a person’s characteristics and how they relate to their gender. While being transgender is not a disorder, dysphoria is. Dysphoria can take a lot of forms, from a direct deep hatred of certain body parts to a less obvious “indirect dysphoria.

The majority of trans people do experience some dysphoria, but it’s not required in order to be trans. Dysphoria can be extremely distressing and be a contributing factor to, or cause of anxiety and depression. Dysphoria is treated by aligning a person’s internal sense of gender with their body and the way that they’re seen.

Medical treatment
Non-binary trans people can – like binary trans people – undertake any amount of transition-related treatment. There are two main areas of medical treatment: Hormone Replacement Therapy or surgeries.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a course of hormones given to trans people to change various bodily characteristics: for those who were assigned male at birth (AMAB), HRT consists of estrogen and an anti-androgen; for those who were assigned female at birth (AFAB), HRT consists of testosterone.

AMAB HRT, among other things, causes breast development, a change in the distribution of body fat (to “female typical”), less body hair, a reduction in muscle mass. AFAB HRT’s effects include deepening voice, more body/facial hair growth and a change in the distribution of body fat (to “male typical”.)

In mainstream media, you’ll often hear talk of “the surgery” – in reality, there are a large number of surgery options for trans people. These include: breast reduction- also known as “top surgery” (AFAB people), facial feminisation surgery (AMAB people), vaginoplasty (the creation of a vagina for AMAB people), various surgeries involving the removal of pieces of an AFAB person’s sexual organs, phalloplasty (construction of a penis for AFAB people) and removal of testicle(s) (AMAB people).

Non-binary issues
Most of the issues that impact binary trans people also affect non-binary trans people, but often in different ways. Gender-based or gender presentation-based violence happens to non-binary people (especially those who are transfeminine or present in a non-conforming way).

A lot of the problems that specifically affect non-binary trans people relate to the perception of the identities “not being real.” It can be hard (even more so than it is for binary trans people) to get medical treatment to transition as a non-binary person without lying, in a lot of places there is no legal acknowledgement of a non-binary person’s gender to name but a few. Things that uphold the idea that there are only the two binary genders are often called binarist.

In your everyday life, you probably refer to people using “he” and “she” – non-binary people will often have their own sets of pronouns that you should use when referring to them. Standard trans pronoun rules apply: don’t question them, don’t raise a fuss, don’t deliberately use pronouns you haven’t been told to and if you get them wrong, don’t complain about it – apologise and try harder next time.

Pronouns that non-binary people use include:
  • Singular they – they/them/their (They laughed, I met them, It’s their dog.)
  • Zie – zie/zir/zir (Zie laughed, I met zir, It’s zir dog.)
  • Spivak – E/em/eir (E laughed, I met em, It’s eir dog.)
  • Ze – ze/hir/hir (Ze laughed, I met hir, It’s hir dog.)

How to interact with non-binary people
Generally, you can interact with non-binary people in the same way you would with binary trans people. The general set of rules are:
  • Their real name, gender and pronouns are what they tell you they are. Don’t question them, or ask questions like, “Well what are you really?”
  • Don’t ask about their dead name (birth name), their genitals, how they have sex, and so on and so on.
  • If you don’t know what pronouns to use for someone, ask politely. Try not to assume anything about a person’s gender.
  • If you get someone’s pronouns/gender wrong, apologise politely and don’t raise a fuss.

Other Resources

Drop a question in my tumblr ask or my twitter mentions

“Let’s Just End ALL discrimination.”

“Let’s just end all discrimination,” says a possibly well-meaning and somewhat naïve person. “After all, it’s not nice for anyone to be discriminated against for their race, gender, sexual orientation…” – at first glance, this seems entirely reasonable. However, this sort of thinking doesn’t take into account the dynamics in play. It’s also probably worth noting that the people saying this are pretty much all privileged – which I’m sure is a startling surprise.

In feminist thought, sexism (for example) is often defined as prejudice plus power. By this definition, men can be sexist against women, but not vice versa – because women lack the institutional power behind their prejudice. This is where the “all discrimination” idea falls flat: it treats discrimination from those with power as the same problem as the opposite – when it simply isn’t.

Personally speaking, I’m not overly fond of the “Xism is prejudice plus power” definition – not because it’s not a valid point (which it absolutely entirely is), but because it’s using a term in a way that is different to the majority usage in a way that causes much confusion and misunderstanding. If you, as a feminist, say “men can’t be sexist to women” and are heard by someone with a more simplistic definition of “discrimination based on X”, you’re going to be talking past each other to the point of mutual frustration.

To return to the original point: power matters. When someone “punches up” (that is, has prejudice/discriminates against someone with more power on an axis) the worst that can happen is some hurt feelings. In a lot of cases, prejudice is based on anger at their oppressors. Not only that, in a lot of cases a marginalised person discriminating against the privileged is a survival tactic - for example, a trans woman might avoid cis men because of entirely justified fears about their safety.

On the other hand, discrimination and prejudice against those who are less privileged is much, much more of a problem – it both draws power from and propagates the power dynamics that already exist. The problem of discrimination, prejudice and Xism is not about individuals being mean; it’s about society-wide disadvantaging and disempowerment – and conscious, malicious, individual action is only a part of that.

Oppression is primarily systematic and institutional: the political, economic and social systems of society are structured in such a way to advantage some over others. Furthermore, people are not always aware of their biases and how their actions play into a wider system: unconscious biases – such as in hiring – are incredibly common. The majority of people are probably not deliberately being racist in who they hire, and yet they demonstrably are.

To minimise the problem of an Xism to “everyone should just be nice to each other” completely neglects the context in which all these things happen. It detracts from the real issues and makes it about a privileged group’s feelings instead. If they’re so insistent, I suggest we worry ourselves with white, male, straight, cis feelings at the point when people’s lives and livelihoods are no longer suffering as a result of discrimination. Until then – cishet white dude – it’s not about you.

Guest Post: Hormone Blockers and Daily Mail Outrage

A friend of mine has written this letter to the author of this Daily Mail article - he’s asked me to post it here, and I think it’s a nice look at a few of the issues. Enjoy.

Dear Ms. Evans,

My name is Harper, and I’m writing to you with the sincere hope that you will read my email through to the end.

This week will be held the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. So far, 238 people have been killed this year for being transgender. In fact, I read your article having just returned from a TDOR memorial service. In light of the occasion, I would like to try and correct some of the assumptions which you made in your article about hormone blockers at Tavistock, and try to explain why the piece was both ignorant and dangerous. I am sure you did not intend for it to be so.

Your article is written as though the Tavistock Clinic is providing some sort of unethical treatment, which has only just now been exposed. On the contrary, transgender people who have accessed care in the UK would tell you that they’ve known about this service for years – and if you had interviewed any of them, you would find that the treatment is viewed as unambiguously positive among the trans community. The reason that “the clinic’s approach is a sharp contrast to most doctors’ surgeries in the UK, where children under 16 years old are generally refused hormone blockers” is not a reflection on the acceptability of the treatment – it’s because Tavistock is the only specialist clinic in the UK which can do so. Similarly, the high number of referrals reflects the desperate need for this kind of intervention.

What you failed to note in your article is that, while some GP’s (like the one quoted in your article) may express uncertainty as to the long-term effects, there have been no negative side effects reported from this treatment. None of any kind. The testing required before a child is allowed to access the treatment is rigorous, and conducted by experts in the field, whereas most GP’s have little or no training in transgender issues. If you had done more research you would have found very high levels of support for hormone blockers from the UK’s leading clinicians.

You are rightly concerned about children making big decisions at a young age. Hormone blockers enable children to make decisions about their gender identity at a later age. The benefit is that, in the meantime, the child will undergo fewer physical changes which are otherwise difficult to undo. If the child decides to discontinue treatment, they will immediately proceed to puberty in their original sex. On the other hand, if the child decides to take cross-sex hormones, their transition will be much easier. There is nothing onerous whatsoever about this kind of treatment.

As far as the taxpayer is concerned, it is much cheaper to treat transgender people who have taken hormone blockers than to treat those who have not. For instance, although the choice of procedures is specific to each individual’s needs, many male-to-female transgender people must undergo hormone therapy, genital surgery, hair removal, vocal training (or surgery), and possible breast augmentation, facial feminization surgery, or tracheal shave (reduction of the Adam’s apple) in order to pass as a woman. By contrast, had the same person been given hormone blockers as a teenager, their medical to-do list would be reduced to the single (genital) surgery. Which of those two lists would you like the NHS to pay for?

The legalization of hormone blockers in the UK is a tremendous positive step for transgender people. Perhaps you are aware that between 35-41% of transgender people in the UK have actually attempted suicide – with 84% seriously considering it at some point. Earlier this year, the Scottish Transgender Health Alliance released Europe’s largest-scale study of transgender medical treatment outcomes, which revealed the following: “The most common regrets – in terms of social, medical and in general – were: not having the body that they wanted from birth, not transitioning sooner/earlier, surgery complications (especially loss of sensitivity), choice of surgeon (if surgery resulted in complications or required revisions and repairs), and losing friends and family.” If hormone blockers could be administered then, as before, the list becomes much shorter.

Therefore, on the whole, your article reflects not only a tremendous lack of understanding of one of society’s most vulnerable and ostracized groups: it also reflects a terrible missed opportunity on your part. Thanks in part to Tavistock, the next generation of transgender people might grow up without the constant fear that they will end up as another name in the long list of those murdered each year for their gender identity. You could have written an article celebrating the medical and social advances which are making that happen. I am sorry to see that your journalistic ambitions are so low that you instead chose to write an exposé-style piece on a topic which would be good news – if it was newsworthy in the first place. Unfortunately, it is not news. At the end of the day, the treatment path for transgender children is a private matter between their families and doctors. And the treatment is approved by people who know much more about the subject than you do.

I hope that you will consider revising the article with this in mind.


Harper Robertson