Are the cis supremacists winning?

An excellent piece written by Stavvers, Are the cis supremacists winning? calls out to other cis feminists to stand by our trans siblings and fight the cissexist crap and cries of censorship.

So cis feminist readers, I ask you to join with me in fighting the rising tide of cis supremacy. It is not acceptable. Be a fucking ally. Stand with your trans sisters in solidarity, and don’t let this slide. We have a huge struggle ahead of us, against a structure many of us have internalised, but if we are to win anything, we must first attack the problem within our ranks.

I’m standing.

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Trans suicide

This article was originally published at PinkNews.

TransBareAll are crowdfunding a project to produce support materials to prevent suicide. Please donate anything you can.


[Trigger warnings: suicide, transphobia]

I recently wrote about Trans “regret”, with sarcastic quote marks in the title to highlight that this mainstream trope is not supported by data. No such quote marks are required here, as the high rates of suicide are a very real and desperate situation for the trans community. I will again draw on data from the Trans Mental Health study to highlight the reality behind current stories in the media.

I’ve been driven to write this post by the widespread reporting on the death of Lucy Meadows, a primary school teacher in Lancashire. I should say that at this point, there is no confirmation that it was suicide, but there have been informal reports on social media, and some bloggers have felt confident in saying that it was. The reason that this particular death is receiving widespread coverage, is that Lucy was the target of a vicious article in the Daily Mail just three months ago, covered in detail by Zinnia Jones (no direct link to the DM). Jane Fae wrote about the links between Lucy Meadows’ story and press regulation, which is high on the media agenda right now.

In related news, this week the Press Complaints Commission responded to a selection of the 800 complaints they received about Julie Burchill’s transphobic rant in January. The PCC has ruled that the decision to publish was not in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice, predominantly because the article did not name an individual.

It is with those details in mind that I want to turn to the data. It is all too easy to read a report like the Trans Mental Health (TMH) study and forget that every data point is a person.

The TMH study was the largest of its kind ever undertaken in Europe, with almost 900 respondents[1]. As the researchers knew anecdotally that suicidal thoughts and experiences are a major issue for the trans community, there was a whole section dedicated to it in the survey. The key results are:

84% of respondents had thought about ending their lives at some point, a huge majority.

Of those people:

  • 63% had thought about attempting suicide in the past year
  • 27% had thought about it in the past week
  • 4% thought about it every day

Of those who had thought about suicide:

  • 48% had made an actual suicide attempt
  • 33% had tried more than once
  • 11% had tried in the past year

Factoring back in the people who responded that they had never considered suicide, the overall figures for the trans community are 35% of people have attempted suicide at least once, and 25% have attempted more than once.

These figures compare with global estimates that approximately 5% of people attempt suicide at least once in their life, and 10-14% of the general population have suicidal thinking throughout their lifetime[2].

Bar graph comparing UK trans population, 84% of whom consider suicide, and 35% who make at least one attempt; with the general global population, of whom up to 14% think about suicide, and 5% make one attempt.

Bar graph comparing UK trans population, 84% of whom consider suicide, and 35% who make at least one attempt; with the general global population, of whom up to 14% think about suicide, and 5% make one attempt.

When asked about how their suicidal ideation and attempts changed after transition, 63% of respondents said that they thought about or attempted suicide more before transition, and 3% thought about it or attempted more after transition. Some respondents, 7%, said that they thought about or attempted suicide more during the process of transition, which has clear implications for healthcare and support.

Participants were asked some questions about whether anyone they knew personally had attempted suicide. 68% of respondents reported knowing someone who had attempted suicide due to being trans or having a trans history, and 31% knew someone who had committed suicide.

The TMH study also asked specifically about the media, and 51% of respondents reported that the way that trans people were represented in the media had a negative effect on their emotional wellbeing. 4% felt it had a positive impact, and 31% reported no impact.

Clearly, suicidal thinking and attempts are dramatically higher for the trans community than for the population as whole. That we live in a society where such an at-risk group can be subjected to personal and generalised vilification in mainstream media should be a source of deep shame for us all. As David Allen Green so eloquently puts it; “the tabloids treat trans people the way they would treat anyone, if they could get away with it”.

To bring us back to the start, remembering that these data refer to individual people, I will end with a selection of quotes from the survey participants:

On suicide:

We need to start helping trans teenagers. This would have helped me and probably prevented me from attempting suicide.

If I had not undergone surgery when I did I would almost certainly have either been a suicide or at very least a long-term depressive and possible inmate in some mental hospital.

On the media:

Tabloid stories about trans people are often exploitative, invasive of privacy, inaccurate, irrelevant or intended to drum up transphobia in their readers, often successfully as revealed in the comments on stories. Reading these sometimes upsets and angers me because it shows how hostile many people are to trans people in current society.’

‘The caricatured and stereotyped portrayal of trans issues is the same as racist and sexist jokes. It gives phobic people a means of expression towards other people who are specifically targeted by these jokes. Where are the transgender social heroes who have raised thousands of pounds for charity?’

‘It makes me angry. It also denies me my civic rights. I would never DARE to stand for election, either to the parish, borough or county council, much less to parliament as I would be sure to be ‘outed’ and made to look stupid by the gutter press’

‘The media consistently misgenders, refers to previous names, makes a trans person’s body theirs, theorises why we do it without talking to us properly, makes assumptions about our genders and motivations. They use language that makes ‘trans’ a third gender, stripping us of our identities. They use language that refers to us as abnormal and disrespects our bodies and our rights’

‘At best it’s patronising, at worst it’s a hate crime’

‘we are made out to be freak shows and I am scared that they may come after me or my friends next’

‘We are seen as having sex swaps and mutilating our genitals or we are sexual deviants, we are never just seen as us, the trans angle is always there for titillation’

‘It is a constant reminder of how much most people despise me for what I am.’

‘My parents read into the news too much and think being trans is wrong, this affects their treatment of me’

‘The ways trans people are portrayed in the media generally fosters negative views of trans people. It makes me feel unsafe because it normalises ridicule and violence towards trans people, portrays our identities as invalid, posits being cis as the ‘natural’, ‘normal’ way to be etc.


[1] The number of respondents for individual questions are lower than for the study as a whole, percentages given are of those that answered a given question. Full details are in the TMH report.
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[2] I could not find figures for the UK but if anyone has some, please let me know!
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Furious with the BBC

There’s quite a bit of news coverage today about a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) report that looks at the prevalence of false allegations in prosecutions of rape and domestic violence[1] over the 17 months from July 2011. In a Guardian article, Keir Starmer QC, head of the CPS, highlights the key findings:

“In the period of the review, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. During the same period there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for making false allegation of domestic violence and three for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.”

I first heard about this new report on the BBC Today Programme this morning on Radio 4. I wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention, but they definitely highlighted that false allegations are very rare. My overwhelming thought at the time was “is this news? I’m sure that the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit was reporting on this in the 90s”.

Then someone highlighted this BBC Newsbeat article to me. I am almost – ALMOST – at a loss for words, I’m so angry that the BBC would dedicate an entire article, on the day of the publication of this report, to how awful it is for the TINY number of people who have false allegations made against them. Especially on their Radio 1 news site, with a higher number of young readers/listeners than the rest of the BBC.

This sort of reporting is EXACTLY the sort of thing that leads survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to believe (with good evidence) that if they submit a complaint, they may not be taken seriously, and they will be criticised if their claim is unsuccessful. And woe betide anyone who DARES to accuse someone famous, or in a position of great power, of assault. In addition to all of the usual barriers to justice that exist when you are dealing with such a power imbalance, there is also the near certainty that you will be found out (legal protections be damned) and vilified in the media. Just ask Ched Evan’s victim. And that was a SUCCESSFUL rape case.

My complaint is below, please do copy it and submit one if you are moved to do so.

I am so fucking angry.

The bias in the article is absolutely appalling. It is reporting on a piece of CPS research which specifically highlights how FEW false allegations there are, in comparison to genuine reports (a depressingly small number of which lead to convictions).

As outlined by Kier Starmer in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/13/false-allegations-rape-domestic-violence-rare: “In the period of the review, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. During the same period there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for making false allegation of domestic violence and three for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.”

I find it abhorrent that the BBC has focussed on the ‘devastating’ impact of such a vanishingly rare occurrence, rather than the far more significant issue of underreporting and mismanagement of genuine rape cases. With this story, the BBC is directly contributing to a culture where victims of sexual assault and domestic violence are led to believe that they will not be taken seriously and will be vilified by the media should their claims be unsuccessful.


[1] A key thing I’ve not seen/heard mentioned anywhere is that this is just talking about PROSECUTIONS. Not charges, not complaints, and certainly not incidences. All evidence so far collected suggests that sexual assault and domestic violence are MASSIVELY underreported. Media coverage like this would be part of the reason why.

For Emma

It’s the day after International Women’s Day, and I’ve spent the day pottering around the house and clearing out my room, to make space for a desk and create a little office to study in. Whilst culling my books, using the strict and brutal rule of “if I’m not going to read it again, give it to charity”, I came across The Map of My Life – The Story of Emma Humphreys. From the blurb:

Convicted aged 17 of murder, Emma spent 10 years in prison before being released by the Court of Appeal in 1995. She was welcomed by hundreds of cheering supporters, her case having changed the law for battered women who kill. Emma’s tragic death, three years later, from an accidental overdose of prescribed medication, created shock waves for those saw her as the ultimate survivor.

I confess I’ve never read the whole book. I have often, as I did today, dipped in to it and read one or two of her poems, or some of the passages written about her, but I rarely manage more than a few pages before tears overtake me and I can’t go on. Emma’s death was truly tragic, but it surprises me that I still can’t think deeply about her without crying. I wonder whether it is because I was so young when I met her, so that I am unable to think about her life and death from the perspective of an adult; or perhaps it would affect me just as deeply if I had met her now.

My memories of Emma’s appeal and ultimate release from prison are some of the clearest of my childhood, and most of them are very fond. I remember my mum coming to my school to explain to my teacher, Barbara, that she wanted to take me and my friend Salli out of class for a couple of days to attend a protest outside the Court of Appeal (Barbara’s response was a very enthusiastic yes!). I remember those days, Salli and I happily taking the megaphone and shouting the chants that we’d been taught. I remember the sense of being a part of something important, but not fully comprehending what. I knew that there had been an injustice, that Emma had led a life of unbearable cruelty, that she had been convicted of murder for what surely amounted to self-defence. We shouted “change the law on provocation” but I don’t think I really knew what that meant. At the age of 11, I probably thought that most children got to be involved in campaigns that make legal precedent…

My mum had been closely involved in Emma’s case for some time (she counselled Emma in prison in the lead up to her appeal), and we just got to join in for the big finish. But clearly having two boisterous young girls at the front of the crowd appealed to the media, and so my involvement in those few days is well documented. Emma’s release was front-page news, including the entire of the front page of the Guardian on 8 July 1995. I don’t have the picture to hand (as it is pre-1999, it is in the Guardian’s digital archive and behind a paywall), but I can remember it. Her book describes “a half-page portrait photograph of a smiling, somewhat bewildered looking young woman”. I remember that expression. I remember Emma emerging through the huge doors into the archway at the Royal Courts of Justice with my mum and others. And I remember Salli and I being sent up to congratulate her, holding a balloon. Many of the photos that graced the papers show Emma with two small girls in huge red t-shirts. That’s us, and it was the first time we saw her in the flesh. I remember being startled by how frail she seemed. But I can’t comprehend how overwhelming it must have been for her, emerging into the media circus. The front cover of her book features a painting by Lucy Edkins of Emma in a truly iconic pose, holding the peace sign as she poses for photographs and crowds around her cheer. And again, two small girls and a balloon are by her side.

My memories of the years following her release, and her death, are less clear. Emma’s life after prison was chaotic, and perhaps there was an intentional decision to keep us at a distance.

Some years later, I was in my school library and flicking through the Guardian. In an article about a new case which must have been drawing on the provocation defence, there was another large photo of me and Salli. I made a copy and proudly took it home to my mum, who suggested that we write to the paper and ask for a print of the photo. They kindly sent me a full size colour image, which has been framed and is on my wall to this day.

Me, outside the Court of Appeal, campaigning for the release of Emma Humphreys. Copyright David Sillitoe. (Apologies for poor quality - photo of a photo)

Me, outside the Court of Appeal, campaigning for the release of Emma Humphreys. Copyright David Sillitoe. (Apologies for poor quality – photo of a photo)

I am incredibly proud, and grateful, to have been a small part of the campaign which saw Emma freed, and which has had lasting effect on the law. I wish I had the chance to get to know her better as a person, and not just as a case.

So, for International Women’s Day, I’d like to say thank you to Emma, to my mum, to Barbara, and to all the incredible women who were involved in Emma’s case. I am deeply privileged to have grown up surrounded by such strong women, who showed me from a very early age that we can go out and make things better. I only hope that I can fill those shoes.

A collection of things for International Women’s Day

Just a few of the things that have caught my eye (and prevented me from working) on IWD2013. Also there was an “infographic” from the European Parliament that I had to write a separate post about.

The Economist’s daily chart for the day is a composite index using 5 key indicators across 26 countries to demonstrate where it is good (and bad) to be a woman in employment. Britain languishes below New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Spain, Finland, Portugal, Poland, Denmark, France, Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Slovakia, Israel, and even the USA (a country with NO paid maternity leave).

The website Talking About the T in Feminist invites poeple to submit videos speaking about why it is important to include trans people in feminism. Scottish Transgender Alliance‘s James Morton and Nathan Gale have submitted two excellent videos which say everything I could say and more.

This article about the Babayagas’ house, a feminist alternative to retirement homes in Pari, speaks to all sorts of things for me – feminism, collectivism, downright hard work. I would love to live in this sort of community as I get older (in fact, I’m planning on living somewhere like that as soon a possible).

This Oxfam campaign about equality for women in the cocoa trade is really important. I would also add – don’t buy Nestle. They are STILL promoting milk formula to women in countries with no access to clean water, which often result in debt cycles whereby a whole family has to put their income towards milk products which are then thinned down so that baby and everyone else ends up malnurished.

This next image was doing the rounds on facebook, with a quote from Dale Spender. While I agree with the overall sentiment, the part about “practiced no cruelties” is jarring. With BurchMooregate still fresh in our minds, it is easy to see the cruelty of parts of mainstream feminism.

And finally, if you are unlucky enough to encounter someone who responds to IWD by whining “but what about the poor men, why don’t they have a day?”, do calmly tell them to shut up.

European Parliament Info(less) Graphic

I saw this image on facebook, on the European Parliament’s page. They describe it as an “infography” but I would argue that it is just a pretty picture with some statistics written on.

European Parliament poster on gender equality which simply lists the following statistics: Men: CEOs 98%, Executive board members 91%, Employment rate 76%, University graduates 40%, Working parents 90%, Part-time workers 25%, Average salary  € 34,377.00 Women: CEOs 2%, Executive board members 9%, Employment rate 63%, University graduates 60%, Working parents 66%, Part-time workers 75%, Average salary   € 26,390.00

European Parliament poster on gender equality which simply lists the following statistics: Men: CEOs 98%, Executive board members 91%, Employment rate 76%, University graduates 40%, Working parents 90%, Part-time workers 25%, Average salary € 34,377.00
Women: CEOs 2%, Executive board members 9%, Employment rate 63%, University graduates 60%, Working parents 66%, Part-time workers 75%, Average salary € 26,390.00

The point of infographics is that it is easier for our brains to parse information in visual form rather than as text. I would argue this is especially true of the sorts of images that pop up on our news feeds and that  we might only glance at for a few seconds before we move on. It is far less impactful for me to say that only 2.4% of CEOs are women and 97.6% are men, than simply to show this graph:

Stacked bar chart showing CEOs by gender: 2.4% women and 97.6% men

Stacked bar chart showing CEOs by gender: 2.4% women and 97.6% men

So I took it upon myself to copy out their statistics and, in the quickest, dirtiest way possible, put some visuals into their image. I sincerely apologise for how ugly this is, it was achieved using Excel, Paint and Publisher in the shortest time possible (I should really be studying). A designer I am not. But I find it astonishing that any designer would go to the trouble of making the poster and not including the data in a visual format:

European Parliament poster on gender equality with graphical representation of statistics included. For salary, the data point for men (€ 34,377 is taken to be 100%)

European Parliament poster on gender equality with graphical representation of statistics included. For salary, the data point for men (€ 34,377) is taken to be 100%.