Same-sex marriage, ciswash and a call to continued solidarity

Though the same-sex marriage bill is a major step forward for LGB equality, it marginalises trans people and their rights, argues Reubs Walsh

, 10 September 2013

In my open letter to Lady Stowell, the Government’s Conservative representative in the Lords for the marriage equality bill, I detailed numerous reasons why the bill demonstrated contempt for the equality and marriages of trans people and the harm that it would do.

I didn’t cover everything. I didn’t cover the way that it conflicted with the Gender Recognition Act which is the major legislation by which trans people are enabled to have any rights whatsoever in our society. The Gender Recognition Act protects the right of a stealth trans person to absolute privacy and certificates issued under the Act state that the holder is “for all legal purposes” their affirmed gender (that is, the gender in which they feel comfortable).

I didn’t mention the disturbing context into which these clauses fell, regarding the recent ruling of the Appeals court that a trans man is supposedly so different from a cisgender man under law that failure to disclose one’s medical history before engaging in intercourse is tantamount to rape; it ‘vitiates consent’ unlike actively lying about your religion, political affiliation and, most distressingly of all, marital status.

Proposals to introduce opposite sex civil partnerships were met with what one MP called “pig-headedness” from Number Ten

Everyone's Invited.jpgI didn’t mention the many other problems with the bill that trouble me not as a trans person but as a Christian in a same-sex relationship, which I hope someday to formalise in the sacrament of marriage, not least of which is the enormous difference in the fee charged to venues wishing to register to provide same-sex marriages than those wishing to register to provide opposite-sex marriages. I also omitted the power of any faith organisation, regardless of seniority, ownership, size, or frequency, which uses the venue, to veto a registration to provide same-sex marriage, effectively setting the right for bigots to be insulated from the impact of our liberation.

In my letter, I asked Lady Stowell to perform one small act of her democratic duty by allowing a debate that was cut short by her lack of preparation. Instead of this, the noble Lady failed even to respond.

Therefore, when I was at Westminster last month on Monday, representing pro-equality faith groups, I took the opportunity to chat with several Parliamentarians about the rights of trans people and, more specifically, the issue of ‘Spousal Consent’ (a regulation added by the Bill wherein trans people would be required to get written permission from spouses in order to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate).

At the time of these conversations I was not planning on writing this article, so I feel that it would be unfair to attribute any quotations to specific individuals. I will however report that, as far as I was aware, those Peers and MPs taking the time to express their support to those of us gathered there were overwhelmingly Liberal Democrats.

Several issues have earned Stonewall the contemptuous nickname among trans people and many of our allies of ‘S’onewall’ (no ‘T’ in S’onewall)

Among those I spoke to, three particular incidents remain with the greatest clarity in my mind. The first is a Peer who told me that trans rights were next, that we have not been forgotten and that work was underway to identify what it was that the trans community wanted or needed in order to approach greater social equality. This was wonderfully heartening.

The very next person I spoke to, however, appeared confused by the very word ‘transgender’ and said that he felt that same-sex marriage was enough to be going on – not so encouraging. Finally, I spoke to an MP who had been on the committee for the bill who reported that Stephen Williams, Lib Dem MP for Bristol West had been frustrated by refusals from Number Ten whenever it was asked to listen to reason and make this a bill that was about equal marriage not just same-sex marriage.

My source described the PM as wanting to keep the bill as a same-sex marriage bill and rebuffed proposals to remove transphobic content on the basis that it would grant trans people new rights. Proposals to introduce opposite sex civil partnerships were met with what one MP called “pig-headedness” from Number Ten and likewise recognition of humanist ceremonies was offered no consideration in this supposedly single-issue bill. David Cameron is not an ally to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans community, and to those who have been taken in, I would point, for example, to his political motive for this bill, the bill’s narrowness and inadequacy on almost every count, and the way it emphasises the right to be a bigoted person of faith over the right to be an LGBT one.

There is something sickening about having to use a law that oppresses transgender comrades in order to sanctify same-sex relationship before God

The group that gathered outside the Lords was dominated by Stonewall, a well-known campaigning charity which calls itself the ‘Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Charity’, except in Scotland where transgender people and our rights are also included in their campaign objectives and subtitle. Stonewall has faced heavy and not unjustified criticism from many sectors of the trans community, and many LGBT campaign groups for ignoring the needs of the very people whose predecessors led the riot from which it takes its name, and for numerous egregious errors, including an incident in which it released an anti-homophobia video for schools, including a section about trans children which claimed that the transphobic slur “tranny” was merely an abbreviation. These issues have earned it the contemptuous nickname among trans people and many of our allies of ‘S’onewall’ (no ‘T’ in S’onewall).

Genitals, gender.jpgWhen the bill passed the third reading in the Lords I was overjoyed. Someday my partner and I will hopefully utilise this law to marry. S’onewall must be thanked for all their hard work in making that a possibility for us. I just hope that the transphobic content has been amended out by then. There is something sickening about having to use a law that oppresses transgender comrades in order to sanctify same-sex relationship before God.

And that is the issue at hand here. I have yet to hear one news report, read one article, one statement from a parliamentarian or LGBT organisation that even acknowledges the serious problems in this bill. With the exception of the personal blogs of trans friends and, interestingly, the Anglican LGBT group Changing Attitudes’ website, not even the LGBT press are addressing this issue (at least, not until Peter Tatchell spoke with PinkNews and GayStarNews, although he then suggests that this bill is a step forwards rather than backwards for trans people). And that frightens me.

Trans people have fought alongside LGB people as fellow LGB people and allies. Can trans people expect LGBs to return the favour? If, in the future, a small concession in LGB rights were to be required for a significant progression in trans rights, would S’onewall remain silent or would they do everything in their considerable power to derail that progression out of simple self-interest? I like to believe that they will follow Peter Tatchell’s lead and actually fight with trans community, as we have with the LGB community.

However, many of my trans friends and allies doubt it very much. All too often the rights of someone to actively oppress another supersede the right of their target to evade that oppression. The opening paragraph of this article details the most recent and relevant examples of this. Another similarly distressing trend is for oppressed groups to achieve some legal aspect of liberation and become the knowing and willing oppressor of their former comrades in fear that reciprocating the alliance they had previously enjoyed would cost them more than they could spare.

I would be more thrilled with same-sex marriage if I could feel that as a trans person I have the support of my cis LGB brothers and sisters just as they have mine

So here I am, asking, now that we have fought with you and won with you this advance, for which we have sacrificed much, will you help us get back what we willingly gave to help in that cause? I address this plea to all LGB people, and perhaps most especially to S’onewall.

Sometimes it is suggested that the criticisms levelled at S’onewall are unfair, and that it is reasonable for a charity to have a particular area of focus for their work. To this I respond by pointing out that S’onewall willingly accepts donations that the giver expects will help LGBT (not just LGB) people ; sometimes S’onewall chooses to advance LGB equality in a way which prevents the same progress for trans people and have on numerous occasions done things which have hindered the journey trans equality.

S’onewall is looked to for advice about LGBT issues, including the ‘T’, and when they miss the ‘T’ out people think that must mean it’s not important. S’onewall gave noted professional transphobe Julie Bindel an award. S’onewall produces a highly respected, definitive guide to the best universities and graduate employers for LGB people, and as a result there is rarely if ever any pressure or motive for those organisations to look at improving their treatment of trans staff and students.

Perhaps the most vulgar thing is that S’onewall are named after a riot led by trans people, among whom were some LGB people who were facing similar intersecting oppressions. This has subsequently meant that people wanting to support that whole community are justified in assuming that giving money to S’onewall would also help in the fight for trans liberation.

And so, in frustration and desperation, I call for continued and reciprocated solidarity. I call for Stonewall to live up to that name and the heavy responsibility it carries to represent trans people alongside LGB people, just as trans and LGB people have been a united force ever since that fateful evening in Greenwich Village, New York City when they formed kick-lines in the street to resist the oncoming oppressor. The time has come for Stonewall to reinstate the ‘T’; appoint (or, better still, elect) a trans representative to your board.

Finally we have same-sex marriage. I am thrilled. I would be more thrilled if I could feel that as a trans person I have the support of my cis LGB brothers and sisters just as they have mine. It is our turn. Do not desert us in our hour of need.

First image of infographic by DCMS reading “Everyone’s Invited” followed by #equalmarriage, uploaded by Flickr user The Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Second image from trans march, showing a sign reading “Genitals ≠ Gender,” uploaded by Flickr user postbear eater of worlds.

Reubs describes themselves as a pseudopansexual genderqueer. Their mother has Multiple Sclerosis, and their father has been absent since Reubs was aged 9. Reubs has Asperger’s Syndrome and has always, in some way, expressed themself as queer. Reubs is about to begin studying an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Comments From You

Mercia McMahon // Posted 10 September 2013 at 7:25 pm

Thanks for the article, Reubs, but I think you should have given more credit than you did to Stephen Williams. If the bill was about equal marriage (as in New Zealand) then there are no further issues for trans, non-binary, or intersex people, as then marriage would simply be the joining of two people in a state-sanctioned relationship. What the bill enacted was a separate category of marriage for same sex couples, meaning that the granting of a GRC requires changing from a opposite sex marriage to a same sex marriage or vice versa. The “spousal consent” would not have been up for consideration if the New Zealand model of equal marriage had been followed.

They are some factual inaccuracies – written permission from a spouse is to convert an Interim GRC to a full GRC, it has nothing to do with the initial application (although that is what the original bill wanted). Stonewall (the organization) did not give an award to Julie Bindel, she was nominated, but the award went to Miriam Stoppard. The motivation for a university to improve conditions for a trans person the Equality Act, which unfortunately only applies to transsexual members of the community. The LGBT political community has not been united since Stonewall (the riot), as T quickly got dropped and B and T only came in to create LGBT in the last decade. The rape case at the Court of Appeal made no ruling on trans people as the appellant did not at the time of the trial or the appeal self-identify as trans, so that issue was never addressed by the court ruling.

Mx Reubs J Walsh // Posted 16 September 2013 at 11:35 pm

I don’t think Steven Williams is especially relevant here, in that although it’s a point that would have been worth including, I had a word limit. Regarding GRCs, the article was first written at a time when it was the application, and since an interim GRC provides precious little legal recognition, and explaining its intricacies would have ruined the flow, I left it as was as short-hand. To me, a nomination is a sub-type of award, and it doesn’t affect the point in the slightest, so your point about nominations is semantic and I stand by what I said, especially since Bindel recently publicly accused the trans community of costing her that reward. Regarding the sexual assault case, the nature of case-law is sufficiently open to interpretation that, insofar as it is possible in case-law, the case in question had that precise effect and you are unusual in disputing that point. And finally, on University’s motives, I think to ignore market forces and lobbying by the powerful Stonewall in favour of utterly inadequate, caveat-filled legislation seems to me, naive.

Amber // Posted 20 September 2013 at 10:23 am

May I just point out, with respect, that in your article, you are using the term ‘cis’ and that is actually quite offensive? and certainly NOT something I would expect when reading an article from a pro trans person! whatever your ‘pro trans’ feeling may be, they may not automatically align with the wider community. for a few years, there has been a creeping attempt to create segregation from a tiny, but very vocal minority.

Using the term may seem harmless, but each use simply reinforces segregation.

I have a ‘trans’ history. but it is just that. history. my past, not now, and not my future. and apart from a few important people, like partners, I have no interest in sharing it at all. and I’m sure from the people I meet, this view aligns with the majority.

To me, the new marriage bill holds no problems at all, and is a step forward, I have held the labels of straight, and lesbian, and I now feel free to be able to marry, and live the rest of my life, cared for by wider society.

And more importantly, the same goes for my (same sex) partner. my minor difference is just that. no big thing between us, we concentrate on what is the SAME about each other.

Cis politics are in danger of destroying this happy place so many have found. by forcing some kind of attempt at making a legally recognized/termed difference, and asking governments create legislation to pigeonhole all people with a T history as different to those who have not had such a history.

I am aware, and sympathise some people dislike gender binaries, and prefer to live freely of them, or to adopt a separate identity, with some, mixed, or no gender factors. sometimes it’s not though choice, most of the time it’s a happy, informed, positive choice.

We (now) use a term for that section of gender ‘Trans’ no problem for me there, and many moons ago, I came in and out, and left. The reason I say I left, is because any gender ‘variance and rebellion’ I do or have now, is no different from other women who happen to have NOT had my history.

So why should I be forced back into a box I have no wish to occupy? what purpose does it serve me, other than negative?

Why should I support terms, that although currently only used a tiny sphere, will if, remain unchecked, spread to wider society, and create even more potential segregation for me?

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