Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Mystery That Is Trans History

Where have transgender people ‘suddenly’ come from?

I’m willing to bet that’s a question asked increasingly often, with trans people suddenly on the television, or standing for Parliament and local government, and even on the fashion catwalks from Paris to Mumbai. It’s a very reasonable question too. If you knew nothing previously about transgender people — apart from the latest shock opinion piece in the broadsheets, or the latest faux news hit piece in some tabloids — then you could be forgiven for wondering whether such people’s relatively recent public appearance was a fad. Y’know, just part of the zeitgeist — like the gypsy look of the seventies or the gangster look that some young people affect to look tough.

The stock answer is that people have been crossing gender boundaries for millennia and in every kind of civilisation around the globe. They weren’t called ‘trans’ at the time, and in truth ‘trans’ is a really wide category for gender non-conformity, as we are belatedly rediscovering in 21st Century Western Society. People will refer to historical examples, like the Chevalier d’Eon, or more recent stories of people like Lili Elbe ('The Danish Girl’), Michael Dillon or Roberta Cowell. They may also refer to anthropological studies of communities like the Inuits (who have seven gender categories), the Indian Hijra caste or the Samoan Fa’afafine. There are many of these and this isn’t an exhaustive list. Google is your friend if you’re interested to learn more.

Missing Histories

But Google isn’t your friend if you want to understand what happened between isolated cases of people transitioning — like Roberta Cowell in 1954 — and what you see today. The reason for that is that people who hit headlines get archived. People who are living on the margins of society — marked as unacceptable by the law or seen as ‘sick’ by the media — don’t get written about very often, or very accurately, so the ability to research even relatively modern history is severely constrained.

That’s a problem I first set out to solve four years ago when I wrote a two part history of the period when trans people formed a campaign called 'Press for Change'. The 25th anniversary of that campaign being set up will occur on 27th February 2017 — this year. ‘Pressing Matters’ was partly a memoir about being on the inside of that campaign, and partly a detailed historical account of how it was formed and made progress. I was only able to write that two volume history because I have well-preserved archives of internal correspondence, minutes and documents. Pressing Matters was self-published as an eBook (see previous posts) because it’s not the sort of book that a publisher would be likely to take a risk on. I had no misconceptions about how niche it was to write even just four years ago.

Even as I wrote Pressing Matters, I was very conscious of the amount of history I couldn’t include. It was my view of what happened, and it was restricted to looking at a particular period in time: specifically the activism taking place in the 13 years between 1992 and 2004.

Two Phases

Trans history in the UK really has two phases though. The first phase started in the sixties. Before that time, the trans people we know about had all individually had to find their own salvation. They found a doctor, they got fixed, and then they mostly tried to settle down. Indeed, settling down and disappearing was very much a precondition of being treated.

During the sixties that changed for the first time. That was when a few trans people began to set up organisations and safe meeting places for people to meet others of the same mind. It began with the formation of the Beaumont Society. Then there were concealed meeting places in back rooms in some of our larger cities — hidden unless you got lucky and managed to find them.

The seventies began with a huge setback. The April Ashley divorce case (1969-70) resulted in a disastrous ruling about the legal status of transsexual people. It meant that documents that could previously be altered to enable people to maintain their privacy and even marry could no longer be changed by officials. There were grace-and-favour exceptions for driving licenses and (in some cases) passports, but there was no actual right to these. This led to a period of almost 20 years where trans people were administratively marginalised in society. It’s a dark age, although as we will hopefully be showing soon, it wasn’t a complete blank space.

Phase Two

The second phase of trans development really starts with the emergence of people using the law to try and restore their lost rights to privacy and having families. It’s not just about Press for Change. The example which activists and newly invigorated community groups created, coupled with the emergence of the World Wide Web, means that the nineties saw an explosion of activity and major milestones in the establishment of rights.

Everything you see about the trans community today has its roots in those two periods of development and the turning points within them. Sometimes one advance enabled another. Sometimes decisions taken far back in this history have had effects which ripple through the present day and add to the unintelligibility of trans affairs by newcomers. How did Gender Clinics come to be the way they are? How did the negative stuff in second wave feminism come about (it wasn’t there to begin with).

Until now, none of this huge fifty year socio-political history has been fully explored and explained in context. And that’s why I’m setting out to fix that.

Telling The Story — In Full

“Trans: A British History” is an ambitious attempt to tell the whole story, via the best experts available: the people who were at the centre of the action at every stage. I have brought together 25 eye-witness experts to tell the story in their own words — from the sixties to the present day.

It will be a unique book. It will be an authoritative book. And it will be a book full of human interest, as this whole struggle is really about people striving to come in from the cold against the most fearful opposition — against doctors; against the state; against the media; and against general all-round ill-informed prejudice. It’s not just a book for trans people. It’s a book for everyone. Each of the contributors will be under instructions to keep it accessible.

To bring this book to the shops I have agreed to work with a very special kind of publisher. Unbound has a unique model. Most publishers want a lot of control over a book’s contents. They demand that because they are taking all the financial risk. They’ll say to trans authors “can you change this?” or “can you sex that bit up”. It’s why so many trans books have tended to focus on transitions and on sexualising subjects. Our history is too important for that.

Crowd Funded Publishing

Unbound’s approach is to enable authors and editors to produce the books they want to write. In turn they enable readers to also control the books they want to read. It’s a crowd funding approach — like Kickstarter, but for books. Unbound is primarily a publisher of great books that other publishers might never consider. The flip side of that is that we writers have to devote a bit of time to persuading people to pledge support for our project.

The campaign to enable “Trans: A British History” to be published got underway on 24th January and it has been so successful that — three weeks later — it had already surpassed 60% of the target necessary to produce it. That’s an amazing response and it shows just how much people value the idea of a unique authoritative book like this.

https://unbound.com/books/trans-a-british-history

Why You Should Pledge Support

Pledging to support the book has a number of great advantages. The biggest benefit is that you’ll be the first to receive the book when it is published (up to three months before the trade edition goes to the shops). Supporters can get a specially printed extra-high-quality first edition hardback. All supporters also get their name in a section of the book, as the people who allowed it to happen. As the editor I will also be writing about the progress of the book — exclusive insider information about the contributors and design process — and almost all of that will be for supporters only.

The basic pledge options are about a first edition of the book, a mention in the back and access to the ‘Shed’, where I’ll be blogging for you. However, for a small additional contribution you can make your copy a true collectible, with my signature (and some of the contributors if I can get them all to stand still in one place). There are then many more great options for individuals and groups with deeper pockets. For a sum your organisation can even be mentioned in the book’s frontispiece as a major benefactor.

I must stress, however, that none of this can take place until the support campaign reaches 100%. By pledging support for this project you really do determine whether it can happen. I really want to get there as soon as possible, so that I can set 25 amazing people with unique eye-witness memories on a job that has never been attempted before.

To borrow from Donald Trump (God help me): “It’ll be great. Just great. I’ve got the best writers. The very best. And we’ll make trans history great"

PLEDGE RIGHT NOW!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Fishing for Birds now in ePub

Fishing for Birds — my anthology of poems written over more than 40 years — is now released in ePub format and will appear in a range of online retail stores over the next few days. This means you’ll be able to buy it in the iBooks store; the Kobo store; the Barnes and Noble Nook store; plus Smashwords.com — in addition to remaining available at Amazon for the Kindle.

Buying at Smashwords.com has the added advantage that you can send a copy to someone you like.

What’s not to like about that?

 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Complete and Comprehensive History

TWELVE MONTHS AGO I published the first volume in my unique history of the rise of Trans activism in the UK.

Pressing Matters reveals the amazing story of how Trans people became one of the most marginalised minorities in British society, and how a tiny group of volunteers organised together to build a campaign to change that.

It was a long and arduous journey — the hardest part taking more than twelve years — and there were many barriers to overcome and disappointments along the way. This was all described from my own unique insider perspective as one of the leading activists. Everything is based on archived records to ensure a thoroughly accurate account of events.

Volume One was published on 29th December 2013 and was met with universal praise from those who’ve read and reviewed it. That first volume covered the period up to the end of 1997, when the campaign group Press for Change was fully functioning and beginning to see the possibility of success.

And now Volume Two completes that story, picking up at the start of 1998 and detailing the twists and turns in a tooth and nail battle to get around the table with government and shape new legislation.

As with the previous volume, this is meticulously researched from contemporaneous records, making this the definitive history of a key period in trans history.

Pressing Matters volume two is available now for download. You can read a sample by tapping and scrolling the image above.

The previous volume is also available here.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Ten Years On

Pressing Matters Vol 1 Book Cover

TEN YEARS AGO, at the start of 2004, the House of Lords was debating the Gender Recognition Bill.

The debate began in the Lords on 18th December 2003 and ended in a long and colourful report stage debate and third reading in the House of Commons on 8th June 2004.

Three weeks later, on 1st July 2004, the legislation received Royal Assent to become an Act of Parliament and, in April 2005, a new Gender Recognition Panel began receiving applications for the legal recognition of people who had undergone gender reassignment.

Recognised

Since that time approximately four thousand people have successfully applied under the terms of the Act to be recognised for who they are in their acquired gender.

After the inevitable rush of cases to begin with, the rate quickly settled down to around 300 cases per year and has remained fairly constant at that rate ever since.

Flawed

The legislation was not perfect by any means.

There were problems for some ex-patriate UK citizens who had been treated by clinicians abroad (not recognised by the panel) and there were disputes over the nature of the evidence which the gender recognition panel insisted on seeing.

The largest problem (and strongly contested all the way) was the requirement for married trans people to end their marriages as a condition for legal recognition (though, with careful planning, they could then immediately enter a civil partnership the same day).

The latter problem has been eliminated by the new legislation enabling same sex marriage; however the government has replaced the provision by an equally objectionable requirement that spouses should consent to their partner’s legal recognition.

Still fighting

Much water has flowed under the bridge since the Gender Recognition Act was passed ten years ago.

Trans people are still fighting for their rights — but it is nowadays a fight for social rights rather than legal ones.

NHS England has only belatedly moved to address consistent treatment for trans people changing gender. Trans people report dreadful levels of discrimination from health workers at every level.

In spite of significant advances in the past year, groups like Trans Media Watch still highlight regular discrimination against trans people in the national press.

Transformational

For all that ongoing struggle there is no doubt, in hindsight, that the Gender Recognition Act had a transformative effect on the consciousness of the UK’s trans community.

When the Act was passed, few people would identify themselves willingly as trans and stand up to talk about these issues. Nowadays there are hundreds — even thousands — of people openly talking about them.

There are trans journalists writing in broadsheet newspapers and magazines. A trans woman headed the Independent on Sunday’s annual Pink List in October 2013, accompanied by a long list of “out and proud” trans activists.

The understanding of the diversity of what ‘trans’ or ‘transgender’ means has been transformed.

Unique history

All this recent activity by a legion of new campaigners is great. But it has become plain that, with the passage of time, people are less and less aware of the history of the campaign that brought trans people to this place.

My new book “Pressing Matters”, published in time for the tenth anniversary of the Act, addresses this dearth of historical context.

Pressing Matters tells the story of how Britain’s tiny transsexual population lost their rights to privacy, legal protections and the recognition of family relationships for more than a generation in 1970. It explains how the long road to organising as a campaign took shape — and the setbacks along the way.

Pressing Matters is not a dull academic history though. The story of how Press for Change took shape and found its feet is woven with my own personal memoir of how it was on the inside — helping to create an effective political force engaging the energy of people who were mostly closeted, frightened, poor and geographically isolated.

Pressing Matters describes a time before email — before the web — before social media — and how the fledgling organisation gradually harnessed the power of computing and electronic communications as these became available. It is about careful strategic planning to use judicial processes effectively. But it is also about swift footed opportunism and community building too.

No Kindle required

Pressing Matters is available now as a Kindle eBook for £7.99 in the UK (€7.27 inc taxes in Europe and $9.70 plus taxes in the US).

The eBook format means that this extensive history can be made affordable world wide.

But you don’t require a Kindle device to read the book.

Nowadays there are free Kindle reading apps for Windows and Macintosh PCs, plus Apple and Android tablets and phones.

If you prefer not to install an app, there is also now a free ‘Cloud Reader’, which enables you to read your Kindle books in an ordinary browser. The Cloud reader is ideal if you use a computer that isn’t yours (e.g. at work) or use Linux.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Making Equality Work

MakingEqualityWork"A huge 'little' book" … "Brilliantly researched" … "A must read" … "Refreshing" say reviewers.

Our new book, is now on sale from today on the Kindle store in all territories.

£7.99 in the UK. Purchase here.

MAKING EQUALITY WORK combines background facts and theory about the history and nature of equality and diversity in Britain with the detailed description of how we set out successfully to raise the measurable levels of equality outcomes for the National Health Service in North West England.

The first half of the book is a theoretical primer. It explains how Britain changed over the last 50-60 years with the progressive emergence of all the diverse groups which we see today, and how society and the law responded to the demands from each group for social equality and protections. We explain why equality matters and why attempts to change public institutions to achieve it often fail. This is backed by an extensive literature review.

In the second half of the book we describe our own practical, evidence-led and strategy-driven approach within a public sector system of over 60 autonomous NHS trusts, and how that can be applied elsewhere. The book explains not only WHAT we did, but WHY we did it that way, and the benefits and pitfalls in hindsight.

The text is written in an accessible style for a wide range of readers and contains many references to contemporary published work from both academics and public sector sources.

"This is a huge 'little' book. A text book that reads more like an engaging novel. Full of facts, statistics and testimony. A brilliantly researched book with a strong narrative outlining the context for equality in the NHS and why, despite considerable progress, equality matters more today than ever before. What you get is written by people with a passion and an expertise, who have got their hands dirty, detailing a candid, system wide case study highlighting approaches and successes but realistic about progress and lessons learnt."

— Dean Royles, Chief Executive of NHS Employers and Acting Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation.

"...a must read for all those who work not just in healthcare but in other sectors too"

— Dr Kailash Chand OBE, Deputy Chair of the British Medical Association.

"It is refreshing to see a book which gives the important background and context of equality laws. This book is important in making equality laws understandable in Plain English."

— Linda Bellos OBE, Chair of the Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners.

"This book provides a solid local, regional and national context to equalities and human rights in the UK and how and why they should be embedded into the work of public authorities. It is a refreshing reflection on real life experiences of equality work in the last 7 years of the NHS. Any due diligence in building new health and social care systems should pay regard to the lessons of the past. This book offers many of them."

— Jackie Driver, Programme Head, Public Policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Chair of Breakthrough UK.

"MAKING EQUALITY WORK is essential reading for equality practitioners as well as senior management in the health sector and beyond. In a refreshingly jargon-free way, the book shows how it is possible to work strategically to achieve positive change, against formidable obstacles, in a very large organisation where promoting equality was not always a priority."

— Peter Baker, Men’s Health Consultant.

"...provides a model that has been shown to work on a large scale and presents it in a way that makes understanding it manageable. This is an essential textbook for those want to bring about real change in their organisations, and provides a roadmap to enable this."

— Sîan Payne, Director of Organisational Development at the Lesbian and Gay Foundation.

"...an important and welcome publication, not just for the NHS but in any organisation or venture: it is not only a 'how to' book but also a 'why to' book. The 'why' is often the biggest barrier, and it is well tackled here."

— Lorraine Gradwell MBE, former Chief Executive of Breakthrough UK.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Fishing for Birds

Fishing for Birds Cover

OUR NEW BOOK, Making Equality Work, will be coming out later this month.

It's all written and copies are currently with a select number of reviewers.

To find out more, click on the tab above.

In the meantime, to ensure everything is ready to release the eBook when we are ready, I have released a collection of poems that I've been meaning to formally publish for many years.

Baiting a line with a kite flying high

The title Fishing for Birds was inspired by a man who uses a wheelchair, whom I met once on Boston Common in the US. His hobby was to fly a kite from his chair (no easy feat) with the aid of a fishing rod.

Richard Troise referred to his hobby as 'Kite Fishing'.

The metaphor of using a kite to fish for birds, even when you can't walk,  struck me as an immensely strong one at the time. So strong that I decided to name my anthology after the poem of the same name, which I penned to describe that encounter.

A mix of emotions

I don't promise that every poem in this book has a diversity theme. Some are just plain absurd. Some capture painful or reflective moments in my life.

I tackle the big existential questions. Do Doughnuts have a soul? Is there a use for Bastards? Are Teddy Bears a single woman's best friend?

The poems have been performed by me occasionally over the years. But I always vowed I would release them as a book one day.

That day has come.

Kindle edition

Fishing for Birds is available in Kindle format on Amazon for £3.99. You can buy it here.

If you don't have an actual Kindle, that's not a problem as there are free Kindle apps for Windows and Apple PCs, and for iPad and Android tablet devices.

A full list of the free Kindle apps and how to download them is here.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Steve Field Moves To CQC

SteveField

STEVE FIELD, Deputy Medical Director of NHS England and the main force behind the commission's Equality and Health Inequalities team is moving to become the Chief Inspector of General Practice at the Care Quality Commission.

The move, announced today, is a logical one for Field, given his background as a former chair of the Royal College of GPs, who also developed GP training. He is also still a practicing GP.

However, the move also raises questions now over the leadership and direction of the Equality and Health Inequalities function at NHS England.

Personal stamp

Field had previously put a very strong (some would say idiosyncratic) personal stamp on the shape of the team and the type of appointments to it.

He surprised many by completely passing over established senior figures in the NHS equality area, pushing for an emphasis on health inequalities.

Job share

In theory the director-level championship role for E&HI was shared one-day-a-week with Paula Vasco-Knight, a practicing nurse whose main role is as Chief Executive of South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

On that one day each week Field returned to general practice in Birmingham so that, effectively, the championship of E&HI was a job share.

Now four fifths of that 1 FTE job share has departed.

Operational Head

Nominally the lead for the E&HI function is Ruth Passman, who was appointed in June.

Ruth Passman is certainly not in the same league as Professor Field. Having known her, I think she would admit that.

In fact this blog was probably the only place you would have heard of her appointment.

So this move creates a space and lots of questions.

We'll be interested to see what happens.