Friday, July 15, 2011

In Memoriam: Jodie - Crumpsall's Popular "It" Girl


This piece was written by me in 2006. Until now I had forgotten about it.

Today I needed to explain Jodie's case to someone and I was suddenly reminded.

I thought it deserved the bigger readership which I can nowadays give it.

And there's always a little thought in the back of my mind about whether I should have been more nosy ... more of an advocate.

Born 20-Aug-72 Died 2006

If you had happened to be around North Manchester's Crumpsall district at any time in the last few years then chances are you might have encountered Jodie.

If you had met her you'd know it. She might very probably have told you to "F" Off. She might have hit you with an (invariably) empty spirit bottle. Or, now and then, she could have given you a cuddle.

When friends gathered at the nearby crematorium to say a last goodbye, the consensus was that Jodie was often given to bursts of anger - and that she was nothing if not unpredictable.

A private matter

Mind you, Jodie could easily be forgiven her violet outbursts and acid tongue; by all accounts she had had a pretty sorrowful past.

In my "day job" I used to be involved in the business management of a company that runs care homes for people with learning disabilities or long term mental health problems.

As I was focussed on the efficient running of the organisation and I wasn't a care worker myself, I always used to take a very strict line over the private and confidential backgrounds of our residents.

Unless I had a need to know then it was simply not my business to ask. And if people gossip, as they unfortunately do, then I generally did my best to tune out.

Nevertheless, there was a kind of inevitability about the fact I would end up learning more than usual about Jodie.


Details were sketchy, but (reading between the lines) it became apparent that this 34 year old woman who once lived with us had some kind of physical intersex condition when she was born. It was enough of an ambiguity for local Police to have once posed the question, "Is 'IT' a man or a woman".

As I gleaned eventually, on the way to her funeral, this had also been the key to how she came to be in care.

I learned that Jodie had had a horribly abused childhood.

Many of our service users sadly had nobody in the world listed as their next of kin. That's how long term mentally ill people are often treated by their families. But I was surprised to learn that Jodie wasn't born with her paranoid schizophrenia; she acquired it from a childhood filled with alcohol and drug abuse and more.

So it was that, when she turned 18 years of age, she was quickly taken into adult care.

For those of us who've been well versed in the stories of children assigned one sex or the other without consent as babies, Jodie's "medical" treatment might seem a little odd.

Again I learned on the way to her funeral that although she clearly and unequivocally came across to everyone as a young woman, and although the discrimination she found was linked with her physical ambiguity, the psychiatrists treating adult Jodie were reluctant to operate through fears related to her questionnable capacity to give legal consent.

They were afraid she might get better, think differently, and sue them.

From pillar to post

She went through a variety of institutions and care homes in her short life, ending up at one of ours for a few precious years before being taken away from that too in February 2004.

When she left I clearly remember some staff commenting, off the record, that they expected she would probably end up dead before too long. Two years later they were unfortunately proved right.

A problem nobody wanted

For social workers Jodie was a problem.

She had only to have a cuddle with a man for folks to start looking worried and consulting their guidelines on "same sex" intimacies.

Maybe that was also the reason why the system didn't seem able to find another stable residential home for her to go to when she moved on.

Instead she found her way to the hostels for homeless people in the City where, predictably perhaps, they didn't seem to know what to do with her either.

Could that have been connected with a physically ambiguous woman trying to find accommodation in a single sex hostel? I honestly don't know, but speculation of that kind is inevitable.

Homeless, but not friendless

Before too long Jodie was therefore literally living on the streets, or crashing with local friends with alcohol and drug problems of their own. How she died is unclear even now. All we know is that it was seven or eight weeks before her body could finally be released for a state-funded cremation.

I couldn't describe myself as really knowing Jodie .. other than to pass and say hello now and then when she lived in our largest home. When I learned of her funeral I wanted to go though. Part of me was awfully afraid of her leaving this world with nobody there.

I needn't have concerned myself on that front.

To my delight the little Crematorium Chapel was in fact packed. Male friends of hers, clearly with mental disabilities of their own, took instruction on how to carry her coffin into the Chapel before us. Female friends wept for a departed friend.

The speakers played Roy Orbison as we followed her casket :

Pretty woman, walkin' down the street,
Pretty woman The kind I like to meet
Pretty woman I don't believe you, You're not the truth
No one could look as good as you.
Pretty woman, won't you pardon me?
Pretty woman, I couldn't help but see,
Pretty woman, that you look lovely as can be.
Are you lonely just like me?

Fondly remembered

Her community psychiatric nurse, a caring sort of man, delivered a eulogy that was honest rather than false.

He described their first meeting -- with Jodie unconscious in his doorway, her body for some reason covered in potato crisps. He spoke ruefully of her attacking him with a high heeled shoe -- of her hitting him with an empty spirit bottle.

The minister spoke likewise about being told to "F" Off one day on the street, yet finding her in prayer the next.

There was no point in covering for the reality of Jodie's mental condition and yet it struck me that these people had seen past that and found someone to love, for ALL her shortcomings and flaws.

And nobody was in any doubt as to Jodie's gender. It wasn't even an appropriate question.

As we said goodbye to her and left the chapel it was snowing hard.

"Jodie loved the snow" said our area manager, who had known Jodie for years too.

It seemed in the biting cold that she had a way of still making her presence felt.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

30 Years On - The Bradford Twelve


July 16th 2011 will mark the thirtieth anniversary of a campaign supporting what became known as the 'Bradford Twelve'.

On that day in 1981 a dozen young Asian men from the United Black Youth League were arrested in dawn raids across the city and charged with conspiracy to make explosives and to cause explosions.

The case was set against a backdrop of racist attacks on black and asian communities in Britain, which the Police had done little to address.

The defendants asserted that "Self defence is NO offence" and the hearing of their case lifted the lid on racism in Britain at that time.

Shahnaz Ali (pictured centre) was a teenage girl at the time and was very much involved in the United Black Youth League in Bradford. She was taken for questioning and came close to being charged with conspiracy herself.

Now a senior public sector official, Shahnaz looks back on those events with me in this Podcast interview, and describes what it was like to almost become the thirteenth defendant.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Showing off our wares


Regular followers of this blog will know that my main work these days is as the E&D Programme Manager at NHS North West.

NHS North West is one of England's ten regional Strategic Health Authorities.

An SHA is a kind of regional extension of the Department of Health, channelling funding from the centre to a network of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) who, in turn, decide how to spend that money on local services to meet the needs of their populations.

The SHA is then responsible for setting strategic direction and monitoring the performance of the whole 'system'.

It's a huge undertaking. In the North West, the SHA has a budget of £12,000,000,000, oversees a system of 63 organisations employing 220,000 staff, and ultimately addresses the needs of almost 6.9 million people living in a geographically massive region.

A story to tell

Earlier this year I published a series of blogs describing our team's philosophy where Equality and Diversity is concerned. The seventh article in that series provides a handy index into most of these articles.

Since then I've also published a few additional pieces about recent advances, such as the launch of our LGB&T History timeline and a unique practical guide to monitoring sexual orientation.

And if you're wondering why all of this matters then here's a reminder.

Credit where it's due

We are very proud of our achievements as a team.

Our work is led by Shahnaz Ali (pictured right), who is simply one of the most effective innovators I've ever met in this field. I don't think her mind ever stops, and she is a brilliant networker. It is her energy that gets so much out of all of us, as a small but very productive team.

My job, as programme manager, is to catch all the balls she throws and ensure everything gets delivered. Along the way I bring in my various creative and project management talents to flesh things out.

Then there is our communications and engagement lead, Loren Grant, who is simply brilliant at coordinating the talents of our creative contractors, organising the nitty gritty details of events, writing publicity and newsletter materials, running up Powerpoints, and generally producing stuff.

Telling the world

The NHS is a huge place. Overall it employs 1.4 million people. The only larger single organisation is the Chinese Army.

It is never therefore enough to just create good strategies and solutions. You have to work very hard to tell people what you are doing and where to go for expertise. Even in our own region it is a significant task to communicate regularly with 63 NHS organisations.

That's why this week we are off to staff our own exhibition stand at the NHS Confederation Conference in Manchester.

If you happen to be an NHS type and are visiting the conference do drop by to say hello. You'll find us on stand B27.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Trans Tapes


I was discussing today with globe trotting blogger Cheryl Morgan the value for young trans people in being able to hear and see older (long settled) trans role models ... a need which mainstream Film, TV and radio are still (as yet) tending to neglect.

Historically, where trans people have been featured on Film, TV or the radio it has tended to be as curiosities, gimmick plot devices, villains or as figures of amusement.

Juliet Jacques discusses the latter in a recent article for the New Statesman. She and I also talked about the broader issues when I interviewed her for my Podcast a few months ago.

Wikipedia provides a long list of films from which you can draw your own conclusions. The topic has also been analysed at length by several other commentators, such as this example from 2007. Others you can find easily via Google.

All this is then reflected in how trans people say they experience the media, as in this report recently published by Trans Media Watch.

A changing landscape

There is no doubt that things are gradually changing. Channel 4, ITV and the BBC have all developed trans characters through their prime time serial dramas, such as Hollyoaks, Coronation Street and Waterloo Road. This is at least a start.

Such stories have been far better researched and characterised than in the past. Nevertheless, the parts are always still played by non-trans performers, and the story lines are almost always around the travails of transition, having surgery, being outed, or otherwise having problems directly related to a trans background.

There is obviously still a long way to go .. though I could entirely sympathise with those trans actors who wouldn't want to become pigeonholed forever by playing trans roles.

Something has to happen before it's possible for trans performers (and they are out there playing non-trans parts) to out themselves and play a mix of roles (in the way that lesbian and gay actors can still get straight parts).

I discussed this dilemma in interviews with both Calpernia Addams and Adele Anderson.

Role Model lives

In my previous blog (and the comments that followed) it was clear that there are many potential role models in real life, happily getting on with valued work, supporting themselves, having fantastic social lives and settled with lovers or long term partners. They're just not being seen outside of their own circle of influence.

These people's lives are far beyond the stories that the media are fixated upon. They have things to say, and except for those few who write for mainstream publications, they are not being heard.

World wide there are even more names to choose from. This site by Lynn Conway, for instance, documents hundreds of examples of trans women ... although it has been criticised for appearing to privilege looks and passability. There is also an equivalent section about trans men.

The Trans Tapes

Although the Just Plain Sense Podcast is about diversity as a whole, I have tried to feature trans people and trans topics as much as I can within reason.

I thought it would therefore be a useful contribution to bring all those programmes together in one place which is easy to bookmark, share and return to.

If you think that's useful why not mention it to your friends. And if you think more voices should be heard this way, why not pick up a microphone or video camera and start featuring more yourself.

The Performers

Calpernia Addams - on the murder of her boyfriend, the aftermath, and making a career in the media

Adele Anderson - on being one third of the group 'Fascinating Aida'

... and on being a trans performer and entertainer

Nadia Almada - on growing up, coming to Britain, transition, winning Big Brother, and her life after


The Activists, Writers  and Academics

Professor Stephen Whittle OBE - on growing up, transitioning, and developing into a law professor

Mark Rees - on growing up, transitioning, taking the UK to court, and retirement

Professor Lynn Conway - on transitioning, rebuilding a career, and being a microchip industry pioneer

Professor Joan Roughgarden - on transitioning mid career, support from Condoleezza Rice, and challenging Darwin

Juliet Jacques - on writing her groundbreaking blog in the Guardian and about trans people in the media


Trans Kids and their parents

A mother's tale - on coping when a small child says they have a girl brain in a boy body

The adolescent hormone blocking debate

Mother and trans daughter update the hormone debate


Events and Issues discussed

Adopting children

Hate crime - The International Transgender Day of Remembrance

Charing Cross - Clinician Dr Stuart Lorimer talks about the service

Media Portrayals - The launch of a Memorandum of Understanding