Categories
volunteer trans inclusion

Blu’s Volunteering Story

For Volunteers’ Week 2020, here is our volunteer Blu on their experience at GI

I have been volunteering for Gendered Intelligence for a year now, having been a young person under their wing for 4 years beforehand. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that GI have been a family for me since the beginning.  

Before finding GI, I don’t think I understood truly what it meant to feel empowered. A few years into being a young person with GI, I concluded that the only reason why they had so much belief in me was because it was their job. I can now safely say that this isn’t the case. As a volunteer I am still caught off guard by the time and care that is given to my thoughts (and random ideas that I come up with at 2am). In a world that ignores and suppresses voices on an individual and systemic basis, feeling heard takes a lot of getting used to, but it has given me the courage to keep coming up with those 2am ideas and some of them haven’t been all that bad. 


In a world that ignores and suppresses voices on an individual and systemic basis, feeling heard takes a lot of getting used to


I think something else about volunteering for GI that has really helped me is it’s the first space in which I rarely apologise for things that I don’t need to apologise for. When working in an environment where we try to adopt a transformative approach to mistakes, it’s hard to entertain unnecessary guilt. This, teamed with never ending cart- loads of affirmation, empowerment, and celebration, has really helped me to know my worth and stand my ground. I feel more human than anywhere else when I’m surrounded by people who I can trust to challenge me and who I feel comfortable challenging.  

For me GI feels a bit like that thing where everyone stands in a circle and leans back on each other… 

I guess the word is “community”.

That’s all I really have for now, but I hope it sheds some light into how it feels to be a volunteer at GI.

Blu

Categories
allies trans inclusion volunteer workplace

Volunteers’ Week 2020

A message from Sahaf, our Community Development and Partnerships lead, on Volunteers’ Week

In this time of uncertainty, our volunteers are even more vital to the continuation of our work. At Gendered Intelligence, we see volunteering both as a way to help us deliver our services, but also as a service in and of itself. It’s a tool that helps us empower trans people. It allows for us to provide community members with new skills and experience, and to create spaces for trans people to meet people and make friends. Both aspects are needed now more than ever.

Like all charities, the pandemic has had an impact on our organisation. But our volunteers have been a major lifeline. In April alone, our volunteers donated 30% more time to us than the monthly average. This was in addition to taking extra time to find their way around new software that we’re using for our remote service delivery. We also received so many new volunteer applications that we ran two inductions. We usually run an induction every other month so that’s a fourfold increase in the number of new applications!

But, we don’t just see volunteering as a means for our staff to get additional support delivering their work. We’re currently looking to expand our provision for adult trans people with a new area of work focused on community development and volunteering will be a key tool in this work. Our first community development project, GIANTS, was launched a week after the UK lockdown came into effect. GIANTS provides a group of volunteers with training on campaigning and messaging skills, along with continued peer and organisational support. Our GIANTS will then work within their communities, forming relationships and advocating for change, to create more welcoming spaces for trans people across the UK.

After a two-month long recruitment period, our first cohort of 20 GIANTS will have their induction this Sunday. They’re an incredible group from across England with special focuses on trans inclusion within faith communities, in sport, in education as well as their local high streets. They will be self-organised and their work will be community-led, informed by their own knowledge and experiences of navigating these spaces everyday. As the largest trans-led organisation in the UK, we can provide our support and experience, but they will be the real change-makers as they know best what needs to change. We’re all very excited to see the amazing things they will accomplish. 

As GIANTS has always been envisaged to be a project delivered remotely and online, it was crucial that we launched as planned. It was something positive and uplifting that we could share with our community in a time when hope was and is needed. As a trans-led organisation ourselves, we feel the impact of the current backlash on trans rights, as well as the effects of the pandemic, and we know how much hope and change is needed. Our work will always be driven by a desire and a need to improve the lives of trans people in the UK. And this would be much, much, harder without the support of our incredible volunteers. 

So from all of us at GI, I want to convey our heartfelt gratitude to all of our volunteers who put in so many hours and do so much for us. Thank you!

Categories
family trans youth

Pride in Our Youth Work

At Gendered Intelligence, we are proud of our youth work service. We want to take the opportunity to go further in detailing our practices; we feel it important to delve into and offer more information about the age ranges and safeguarding procedures for the people our youth work service supports.

Gendered Intelligence is a charity that aims to improve the lives of trans people in the UK — we specialise in supporting young trans people aged 8-25. Youth work widely has a long and proud history of supporting children and teenagers in their lives as they are, and also in their journey to becoming young adults.

“My daughter and I attended the under 12’s group. This was led by professional and very lovely youth workers who went out of their way to make my daughter feel safe and welcome. The children remained hearing distance from their parents and carers at all times – I know this because they had to ask me to be quiet (the shame).

My daughter had a new lease of life after the first session and I’ve rarely seen her so relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. We can’t wait for sessions to resume. Thanks to all at GI for creating safe happy spaces for children like mine. “

A parent of one of our users

Since 2018 we have also been running a peer-led 18-30 group for young trans and gender questioning adults to meet together and find mutual support, strength and friendship.

We have noticed over the years that for young trans and gender questioning people, the journey of self-realisation can start later than ‘teenage-hood’, extending into early 20s. The need for support at this stage— from responsible and trusted adults and organisations — is vital.  

Occasionally, across our calendar of events, we have some sessions where we invite children, teenagers and young adults who are members of our groups to attend the same event.

For instance, our Imagining Our Futures sessions offer much-needed information about career and future family opportunities, information which is sorely lacking for these young people. We open these events up to parents, carers and family members as well as our wider age range and more staff. This creates more of a ‘community day’ feel than a youth group, with parents and carers being in the same space as their children and our youth workers and the session.

Our Context

We have been working with transgender and gender-questioning young people for over a decade; around 500 young people attend our youth groups every year. We provide a supportive environment where young people can meet others in a similar situation.

“When my son was 8, we started going to GI, as he was bullied in school for who he was. He needed to hear from and play with like-minded children, who would take him as he is. The first time we came to the youth group, we were welcomed with open arms.

GI is such a wonderful community and an actual, bully free, safe space for my child. He made some incredible friends as well. GI gave him the confidence to be him, unreservedly and unapologetically and they have given me the confidence I needed to be a spokesperson for my child, until he is old enough to tackle society’s pressures himself. “

All our youth work takes place in the context of well-established youth work practice in the UK. We are endorsed by UK Youth, London Youth and the Youth and Community Department at Ruskin College, Oxford , a leading provider of youth work qualifications, as well as by many other senior youth work practitioners and organisations around the UK. There are existing guidelines and frameworks which shape the work of thousands of youth groups across the country, including residential youth trips for mixed age ranges. We are no exception to this framework.

We often find, however, that we attract negative attention because we are trans-identified professionals and work with young trans and gender diverse young people. We welcome criticism or reflections where it may offer us the ability to further improve our youth work practice, but undue criticism on the trans youth work practice existing in and of itself is an obvious outcome of a transphobic mind. Hyper-focus on our professionals — who go above and beyond for the young people entrusted in their care — simply for their identities is callous.

This callousness is met instead with thanks from users and their parents, with one parent telling us:  

“I just wanted to thank you all as an organisation for everything you do. I know that you are such a supportive organisation, and honestly the whole of GI feels more like a family to me.

You’ve saved and changed lives, and I just wanted to drop you an email to say thank you so much for that, and I’m so grateful for it.”

Our Practices

Our work is funded by a range of well-respected grant-giving foundations, including Children in Need, the Blagrave Trust, the Lottery, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Comic Relief, Trust for London and City Bridge Trust, to name a few. Application processes are as thorough for us as for any other organisation.

All funders ask to see our safeguarding and child protection policies and on occasion, asked us to adapt them to include something specific. For example, Children in Need grants officers asked us to develop an e-safety policy, which was gladly produced and approved.

We welcome interrogation and questioning related to our safeguarding processes and practices and have a positive attitude to continual learning.

As with all charities Gendered Intelligence is governed by a Board of Trustees, who have responsibilities to ensure safeguarding is taken seriously and carried out effectively in the organisation. We adhere to the rules of, and are regulated by, the Charity Commission, which includes compliance of safeguarding.    

About Our Practices

At GI, we have been running split age youth groups as part of our services and we believe that those seeking to discredit our work are not representing the facts of our age splits in our work.

For clarity – our youth groups are split by age as follows:

  • 8-11 year olds group (with 7 year olds allowed to stay if their parent/carer stays at the parent group in the same building) in London
  • 11-15 year olds group in London
  • 16 – 20 year olds group in London
  • 13 – 20 year olds groups in Leeds and Bristol
  • 13 – 25 year olds group for our Black, Asian and other minority ethnicities  group in London
  • 11 – 25 year olds group for our Community Saturday, with increased staffing, parents and carers group running alongside and siblings in the same age range welcome to join in.
  • 18-30 year olds peer led group

As stated, on occasion we carry out activities with wider age ranges, including our Youth Board, Swimming, Pride trips, Imagine our Futures season.

On these occasions, the space is staffed with more youth workers and trained volunteers than usual and have strict policies and rules around how the attendees share the space. This includes: no 1:1 areas, facilitated discussions, and toilets separated by over- and under-18. Our workers are briefed in detail about supporting all ages to share and be in the space and all young people are supervised at all times by at least two workers. With the coronavirus crisis meaning our youth work sessions are now online, we felt the immediate need to put strict safeguards into place around our online work. When we host these groups, our young person attendees are not given the option to message each other 1:1 (only publicly to the entire group, or to the Youth Worker hosts). There is no way in our online spaces for young people to privately message each other; therefore there is no possibility for sharing of details. Entry into these groups is vetted through our usual Youth Work procedures. Our workers are briefed in detail about supporting all ages to share and be in the space and all young people are supervised at all times by at least two workers.

All young people under the age of 16 have parental/carer consent to attend our sessions. We communicate regularly with parents and carers over all matters concerning their young people who attend our services.

Our residentials every summer have 18 youth workers to 36 young people, which is a ratio of 1:2. Young people are divided into the following age categories for sleeping: 11-13; 14-15; 16-17 and 18+.  As you might expect, we have a ban on any kind of sexual behaviour and the consumption of alcohol on our residentials. 

Our swimming group and residentials have strict rules and regulations that the workers and young people understand. Changing rooms and sleeping areas are split into various age ranges to keep young people separated according to existing national laws. These age ranges are as follows: under 16s, 16-17s & 18+ spaces.

We always require that young people under the age of 18 have consent from a parent/legal guardian in order to take part in our swimming group or overnight projects. Before we go away or go swimming, we invite young people’s parents/carers to a meeting so they can listen to our project plans in full, ask questions and meet the team of workers as well as the other young people. For our swimming, parents and carers are invited to drop their young people off and talk to workers at that point.

Our safeguarding qualifications 

We have a robust safeguarding policy in place which applies to everyone who works with young people, including volunteers. 

Our Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSL) are Dr. Catherine McNamara who works on the Board. Finn Greig, the Head of our Youth Service is also a qualified DSL 

Finn Greig has a First Class Hons Level 6 Youth and Community Work BA, 15 years’ youth work experience and Level 3 Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) status.

Dr Catherine McNamara has carried out the following training:

  • Child Protection Training, Designated Safeguarding Lead update training, NSPCC, 2017, 2019
  • Organisational development coaching, Institute of Group Analysis, 2016
  • The Prevent Agenda, MASHEIN, 2016
  • WRAP (Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent), Harrow Council, 2016
  • Child Protection Training UK, Safeguarding Children level 3 (Designated Safeguarding Lead), 2015

The deputy to our youth service and residential programme lead, Jake Kelly, also works as a LGBT specialist support worker at Portsmouth City Council as part of the Early Help and Prevention team and runs the PCC’s LGBT Youth Group. In addition to this, he has 10 years’ youth work experience, a level 3 Youth and Community Work qualification, a Masters in Applied Theatre and 6 years’ experience working in various school settings, including Head of Inclusion at a large secondary school in Hampshire.   

In terms of external review or contributions on specific issues, our work is informed by safeguarding and child protection expert Ann Marie Christian. Ann Marie helps schools, organisations, charities, churches and childcare settings to implement their statutory duty and responsibility in keeping children safe. She set up Child 1st Consultancy Limited in 2010 after working for a local authority in frontline child protection since 1996. She works in partnership with colleagues in various settings and supports them in offering bespoke intense support via training and consultancy.

We do not require our youth workers or mentors to have qualifications around psychotherapy, but some of them do. Indeed, some are therapists or counsellors in other aspects of their professional lives. They all have at least a level 2 or level 3 qualification in Youth and Community work, or are working towards them. The youth workers are also situated in a growing interdisciplinary team in the Youth and Communities Services, where we also carry out therapeutic practices.

Misdirected influences

Recently, we have noted an increase in members of the public saying that they have “safeguarding concerns” about Gendered Intelligence. This is not to mean there are any genuine areas of concern with our policies and practices, but as a way of suggesting that where trans adults carry out youth work with young people, there must be a nefarious aim. Thankfully, simply saying “safeguarding concern!” repeatedly and loudly will not bring one into actual existence: we are proud that our safeguarding policies are commendable and watertight.

We find that the assertion that our policies are unsuitable to be a mendacious one, often made in bad faith by people who would like our unique and necessary youth work programmes to no longer exist. It is unfortunate that these accusations mean we have to redirect our energies to protect our young people from even more loud voices. We would much rather use our limited resources to support our users to flourish as individuals. If there is a silver lining, it is that insidious and transphobic invective directed at us stands to strengthen the case that there is an acute need for Gendered Intelligence’s youth work output.

Safe spaces and working with young trans people

You may be aware that trans, non-binary and gender diverse children and young people face significant barriers to living the safe and care-free life that young people deserve. They face bullying and harassment at school or college, in public life and sometimes at home too. This often leads to poor mental health and low self-confidence. 

According to research by Stonewall, almost two thirds of trans pupils are bullied for being trans at school. Whilst we at Gendered Intelligence cannot confirm these exact figures with great certainty, we know from the young people who attend our services that anti-trans bullying is both prolific and rife.

However, with the right support, young trans people can flourish. 

Our support of young people sits within an established and recognised youth work practice framework. Through our youth work, we support young people to: improve their social networks and reduce isolation; achieve a sense of self-empowerment; increase confidence and build resilience. 

When young people come to our youth groups, they find recognition, understanding and validation. They leave feeling seen, with new friends and a sense of pride.

We recently asked a young transgender person, aged 9, what made him proud about being part of our 8-11 youth group. He said: “It feels like I’m part of something, a bunch of special people. Before I felt like I was nothing.” Our youth work practice exists so no child feels themselves to be “nothing”.

Creating a safe space for young people who identify as trans or are questioning their gender identity is at the core of our youth work.


Categories
bodily autonomy Gender Recognition Act GEO policy trans inclusion trans rights trans youth

What is an irreversible decision?

As part of our newly-launched BAEB campaign, Gendered Intelligence CEO, Dr Jay Stewart has written on the idea of bodily autonomy for trans people.

 

Who has the right to bodily autonomy?

In a film called Gendernauts by Monika Treut, (1999), trans historian Susan Stryker said:

It’s been a really powerful way of feeling that I’m in control of my own body, that it’s like saying: my body belongs to me and I’m going to do with it as I choose… I have the right or the ability to exercise complete control over this flesh. I live here. I don’t rent, I’m not borrowing it from someone. I didn’t have to pay a damage deposit. It’s mine. To do with it as I see fit. … [it’s] my responsibility. (Monika Treut 1999– interview with Susan Stryker)

This was the single most important utterance that I had heard when I was developing an understanding of my own gender, and emerging trans identity at the turn of the millennium. The principle of bodily autonomy as a human right is stated clearly. I am in my own body. It is mine. And it is ultimately my responsibility. There is a sense of graveness but also freedom in this revelation.

 

Bodies are also routinely regulated by the state and societal norms pervade our thinking in relation to our own bodies and indeed in the way that we judge and police other bodies. So, I recognise the tensions between freedom and constraint. Nonetheless in contemporary discourse when it comes to trans adults’ lives the sentiment of bodily autonomy is appreciated widely. But what about people who are under 18 years old? Do they have a right to bodily autonomy?

 

On 22nd April, Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss, gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee. Here she set out her priorities for the Government Equalities Office. In response to the reform to the Gender Recognition Act, she stated:

 

“…not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act, but [one which] is relevant, [is] making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future. I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”

 

What is an irreversible decision?

Being a legal adult means something in society. It means the ability to take responsibility for your actions. Children are granted differing levels of responsibility which builds throughout childhood and teenage life before developing into an independent adulthood. With this comes degrees of freedom and opportunity to take decisions  which is generated from demonstrating an ability to take ownership of  responsibilities. It’s an iterative process.

 

For instance, I have ten year old twins and for Christmas last year one of my children wanted an iPhone 11 pro, whilst the other wanted a snake. Having your own smartphone (we settled on an iPhone 7) is a key moment in a child’s and indeed their carer’s/parent’s life. As they step into their own digital social world, I worry. It’s important that I learn about what’s involved – what are the risks? Of course, my constant thought is that I want to protect my child. Allowing my child to have a smartphone involves ongoing conversations about trust. We agree some basic rules. We equip ourselves and educate ourselves about how to keep safe and my child must embrace the responsibility that is involved in having a smart phone.

 

Now, what about the snake – well that’s another dilemma. Will the child look after it, feed, clean out its vivarium? Will the child take responsibility? In addition to this, did you know corn snakes live ‘til they’re 20 and that potentially would make my child will be 30 by the time it dies? That’s quite a commitment for a 10-year-old. However, giving a child an opportunity to be responsible is part of watching them grow. And of course, as responsible adults we are the back-up plan; we are there to catch our young people if they need us.

 

Entering teenage years the journey continues towards independence. Choosing GCSEs, A or T Levels, who to be friends with, who to break friends with, ear and other piercings, emerging sexualities and life experimentation. Decisions are happening all of the time. Which ones can be categorised as ‘irreversible’ is hard to say.

 

Okay, so let’s talk about gender

 

So, how does this relate to gender? Currently when we are born we are given a gender – an emphatic ‘it’s a boy’ or ‘it’s a girl’. That decision is based on genitalia. Each of us has no say in the gender that we are given. One could argue that it’s the first non-consensual act.  We think of ‘being a boy’ or ‘being a girl’ as a very normal part of human existence, natural even. However we don’t have to dig too deep to know that gender is a fundamental aspect of social life and there are deeply embedded social expectations to behave in particular ways based on the gender that we have been given.

 

What if you don’t behave in these particular ways? Or can’t? What can a person do?

 

At Gendered Intelligence we run groups for young people who feel that the gender that was given to them (the gender that they didn’t choose), doesn’t feel right to them. Being trans is an identity category or label that some individuals— including young people— take on for themselves. It is a word that we use to explain something about our gender where we are saying ‘hang on folks! The gender that you’re putting on me – it’s not right. It doesn’t feel right.’

 

Some individuals will use this term about themselves and feel empowered. Finally we are able to communicate something about our sense of self, about our inner feelings to the world around us, including our loved ones and family members.

 

Some will try on the label and take it off again – it’s not for them after all. Young people are welcome to come to GI to explore their gender and if they find that actually they come to the conclusion that they’re not trans, then of course that’s okay too. No judgement on the proverbial journey!

 

It’s not for anyone else to tell another person that they’re trans, or indeed that they’re not.

Being trans or becoming trans involves a process of self-determination. Not all identity categories work this way. I think sexual orientation also involves a process of self-determination in the sense that an individual might say, “I’m a lesbian. That description helps me to organise and communicate my principle desires for other women”. Not that people actually talk like that!

 

The problem with society is that being trans, like being lesbian, gay or bisexual, involves us saying ‘hey, I’m not the thing others have put on me and assumed me to be. I am different to that’. Despite strides made by the LGBT rights movement over the past decades, society continues to assume a person is heterosexual until they tell us otherwise. Likewise, we assume that a person, a baby born and a child growing up, is okay with the gender that they’ve been given or at least that they don’t have any intentions to change it (we often call this cisgender). In short, LGBT people go against the ‘norm’.

 

So, here we are at the crunch point – let’s imagine there is a person under the age of 18, who is telling the people around them that they do not feel themselves to be the gender that they have been given  – what actual decisions are ahead of them? And who is making them?

 

What is an irreversible decision? Or where may the harm lie?

 

Truss’s concern around individuals making ‘irreversible’ decisions is a hangover from a medically framed model of being trans. When a trans person chooses to have medical intervention, they do this in dialogue with a health practitioner who is a specialist in gender care. The doctors’ code of ‘do no harm’ provides an ethical dilemma around balancing the rights of an individual to bodily autonomy and the ability to take responsibility for themselves, with that of the duty of care a statutory funded health practitioner has to their patient.

 

One way doctors have dealt with this is to differentiate the treatments between that which is ‘reversible’ from that which is considered to be ‘irreversible’.  Before a person undergoes any kind of medical treatment via a Gender Identity Clinic or a Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), they will carry out social actions that are changeable, moveable and if wanted also reversible. They are not fixed acts. For instance, to start using a different name, to try it out and seeing how it feels   As a person goes about their daily life, they might try to experiment with their gender expression – clothes, haircuts, make up, or with their mannerisms, walk, voice etc. There is a lot in social life that a person can change if they wish to – all of which are not harmful and are, if you choose to think of it this way, ‘irreversible’.

 

This is about experimenting with the ways in which our expression feels authentic to us as individuals, where we feel that we are being most real, where we feel settled in our self (as much as possible anyhow – I’m being cautious here if we are to recognise the complexities of a world that highly regulates body image, as indeed, we regulate those of others).

 

Trans people, including those under 18, should be – and indeed are – free to change any of these social aspects of what we would call ‘gender’. This is because we have the right to be able to autonomously express ourselves and that should be respected.

 

It is in the refusal to respect a trans person’s wishes where harm is caused. And yet, to use a trans person’s name and pronoun can be such a small act on the part of those around us and the difference can be so very validating for us.  And if a person changes their name and pronoun again, or returns to a previous one, or goes onto wear a totally different style of clothes again, or in anyway reflects a different gender expression again, then that’s all perfectly acceptable. It all forms part of the rich tapestry of diverse life. The more openness to explore the better for everyone.

 

Likewise if a person feels confident with their name and they want to change important documents they can do that – there are processes to change names on passports, getting a deedpoll, changing names on exam certificates and if the person needs to change their name again and again, going back to their previous gender marker, then it is entirely possible – it is reversible, if you choose to think about it like that.

 

So what about body changes?

 

Families and young people who attend the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) will discuss options around the treatment that will change their bodies. Some children (usually around 10-12 years old) might explore puberty blocking treatment. For anyone younger than this, there is no hormone treatment or medical intervention of any kind. Puberty blocking treatment is reversible in the sense that when administered it stops puberty progressing and, if treatment stops, puberty kicks back in (like pressing the pause button – this is how it is currently understood).

 

For 16 year olds who want their bodies to masculinise through testosterone or feminise through oestrogen (sometimes called cross sex hormones) they will need to have been on puberty blockers for at least a year. Remember -sixteen is the age that a person can access health services and administer medicines without consent from their legal guardian; they can also get married, pregnant and join the army – all pretty responsible stuff.

 

So here we have a picture –  a young person and their legal guardians have been in GIDS services for some time, they will have attended several appointments, talked about their relationship to gender and what they would like to happen; they will have had the opportunity to explore and express their gender in everyday life and be continuing to do that; they may have made some changes to their identity documentation, been put on puberty blockers and, at the age of 16, go on cross sex hormones. At 18, they may consider surgery – as Liz Truss MP says, they would “have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit”.

 

GIDS is there to provide a space to discuss and explore – what does the young person want, what do the family members think, what are some of the concerns everyone has, what do we know about the choices that are available? It’s important that there is space for discussion, exploration and to get the right information in order to support decision making. Parents and carers are involved.  Staff in schools are involved. Sometimes Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are involved. Therapists and counsellors are involved. Gendered Intelligence, along with a whole number of LGBT charitable and voluntary sector organisations, may be  involved. We make up a collective of professionals around the child – thinking about what is in the child’s best interests, safeguarding them, holding them at the centre, listening to their wishes, supporting them in the respective roles that we have, asking ourselves ‘where the harm lie?’ We each bear our own responsibilities here, and recognise that the young person has responsibilities too. No one is rushing (in fact waiting lists are long!) There are no quick decisions made out of nowhere.

 

There is always a context – an iterative process of decision making.

 

We need to do away with the false dichotomy of ‘reversible’ and ‘irreversible’ when talking about young trans people and decision making. It’s not useful. What is useful is for adults to process their fears of gifting children their right to autonomy. We all know that young people thrive when given responsibility. We also know that, as adults, we should be supporting and reassuring young people, providing a safety net beneath them, working with them.

 

Trans, gender questioning and gender diverse people, especially those under 18 years of age, need more support not less. We need less judgement, not more.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
allies careers policy trans inclusion workplace

Trans representation and casting. Where are we at?

Jay Stewart, CEO of Gendered Intelligence

As a trans-led organisation, Gendered Intelligence wants to see more roles for trans actors as well as trans people represented in all aspects of the creative process of theatre and performance making (trans writers, trans directors, trans stage managers etc.) Trans people, including young trans people, need to see themselves positively represented on stage and elsewhere.

Trans people face significant barriers in their careers in the creative industries. These are often due to barriers of opportunity to learn and gain skills, as well as experiencing prejudice in the industry itself. In addition, trans people can experience internalised transphobia (the learnt shame of being trans) and consequently have feelings of low self-worth and confidence. We need to work together to remove these barriers in order that all trans and gender diverse people thrive and fulfil their potential.

Gendered Intelligence wants to be part of the change that needs to happen.

At Gendered Intelligence we deliver training and consultancy with organisations to support them in their understandings and in working towards their delivery of trans inclusive services. These services include working with theatres and drama schools. We want all trans people to feel welcomed and supported, whether they are employees, customers or students.

Some will know that Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival co-produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and in association with the Donmar Warehouse are working in collaboration on a musical theatre production of Breakfast On Pluto. The production is based on a book written in 1998 and is about a young Irish trans person in the 1970s.

On Monday 9th March they released a press release about the production, which included information that they had cast a cis actor to a trans role. 

Gendered Intelligence was not involved in the casting process of Breakfast on Pluto and suffice to say Gendered Intelligence does not endorse the casting of a cis actor to a trans role.

We did arrange to deliver consultancy and training for staff at the Donmar Warehouse who reached out to us in order to work with the team to ensure trans inclusive practices will be carried out in the run up to the production. Indeed, we have carried this out with a number of other theatres over the years.

In addition to GI delivering this work, there was discussion around recognising the difficulty and complexity of the task in casting for trans characters. The identity of the character Pussy Braden is both trans and Irish. We also discussed the skillset required in the mix with it being a musical.

Having already cast for the production, our discussions moved to considering those wider, ongoing aims mentioned earlier – to nurture trans talent in the theatre industry. So, a question we posed was:

What could the Donmar, their partners on ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ and the industry more generally, do in order to invest in trans actors and to ensure that things change for the better, so that we won’t see the casting of trans roles going to cis actors?

One idea we had was for the Donmar to donate space for a trans led show, that Gendered Intelligence is involved with. The show is written by trans artist, with a group of young trans people. The show will be directed by a trans person and performed by an all trans cast. The show will involve a short tour across different parts of the country, but this gave us an opportunity to showcase trans talent and tell trans stories at a large theatre space in London where we could offer low and no-cost tickets for a predominantly trans audience alongside our allies.

Another idea was to arrange a showcase later in the autumn period to, once again, showcase trans talent and create discussion and debate about the experiences, representation and politics of trans people in the industry.

Other actions taken by the production have been the employment of two people, who have shared their trans status, in the job roles of production consultant and Assistant Director, as well as a trans academic to curate a ‘wrap around programme’ in Galway and Dublin.

My view is that these actions were taken in good faith to further contribute to the ultimate aim of increasing opportunities for trans people in the theatre industry. I am not of the opinion that these efforts are cynical acts on the part of the Donmar, and their partners, as a way to legitimise decisions around the casting of a cis actor to a trans role.

Some people may feel that the casting decision far outweighs any other positive endeavour. It sends the wrong message and ultimately is highly inappropriate, especially given our current climate of increasing toxicity in the media. Some believe that there are talented trans people out there and more efforts needs to be made to cast them into these important high-profile roles. Others have highlighted how damaging it is to have cis performers playing trans roles. Whilst others still feel that it should be trans people telling trans stories. In short, a line needs to be drawn: no more cis actors for trans parts.

I want to say that I applaud these sentiments.

In 2015, GI began its Trans Acting project – a project that engages with trans and non-binary people’s place within the creative and cultural sector. Over the years we have engaged with over 200 people who have participated in a range of masterclasses, panel discussions and workshops. The Trans Acting project began as a collaboration with the My Genderation duo (Fox Fisher and Lewis Hancock) and Dr Catherine McNamara now Head of School (Art, Design & Performance), at University of Portsmouth. At Trans Acting we want to develop and deliver high quality trans-inclusive performer training with trans and non-binary participants, nurture the creativity and talent of trans and non-binary participants, give producers, directors and others involved in making TV, film, radio, theatre and other media access to that talent and share a model of practice that might be used by other practitioners and professionals.

Over the years, we’ve worked with a range of organisations including the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the Royal Court Theatre, Scottish Queer International Film Festival and BFI Flare. Partners in delivering the project include Outbox, an LGBT Theatre Company with a remit of making performance and doing outreach with young LGBT people.

Trans Acting, among others, are the initiatives needed to nurture talent and profile it in the West End and elsewhere.

Thinking back to 2015, I am reminded of an article I did about The Danish Girl – a Hollywood movie about trans woman Lily Elbe (played by Eddie Redmayne). I wrote:

Representing trans lives in films or elsewhere is a nightmare task for anyone and I applaud anyone who gives it a shot. But this film [The Danish Girl] made by cis (non-trans) people and performed by mostly cis people… will be mostly watched by cis people.

Claudia Rankine…  argued in The Guardian that “Blackness in the white imagination has nothing to do with black people” and I… want to make this parallel.

These films are not for ‘us’ trans people and yet ‘we’ view them nonetheless. What kind of politics emerges specifically from a trans perspective? We are living in very interesting political times right now when it comes to trans equality. We need to make films like The Danish Girl (and the public encounter that comes with it) count. The story of Lilly and Gerda is extraordinary, challenging and painful. So talk about it. Discuss with friends over dinner, colleagues at work, family members, in the classroom. And when you do this ask yourselves “What is the politic here?”, or to put it another way: “Who gets to say what about whom – to whom?”

In 2020, there is certainly more engagement with trans people when producing plays about trans people. But we are still a long way off from bridging the gap between the ways in which mainstream plays portray trans lives, with that of the amazing, rich, intelligent, nuanced, and often quite hilarious ways in which trans and queer people create art works that are by us and for us.

So, I’m still pondering: how can we utilise this debate of casting to progress the aim of getting trans talent nurtured and out there? What is a good way forward? I’m keen to hear your thoughts.

Gendered Intelligence is holding a roundtable ‘think tank’ space for trans people currently working in the industry. If you are keen to attend or can’t make it but want to contribute your thoughts email me: jay.stewart@genderedintelligence.co.uk.

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Uncategorized

International Women’s Day 2020

This #IWD2020 we’re all fighting for a more equal world, improving the material reality for women and fighting bias against anyone who experiences misogyny or sexism because of who they are.

With real term incomes stagnating, the globe entering an unprecedented climate disaster and authoritarian regimes stripping women’s and minorities’ rights to the bone, it’s more important than ever to mark International Women’s Day.

As always, the first to feel the squashing weight of heightened systemic oppression are women and other gender minorities, especially those who are poor or of colour. The global pushback against women’s – and trans – rights is alarming but not entirely unexpected. The simultaneous battles for equality must rage on then, together, if we’re to succeed.

It’s been over a century since IWD was first celebrated. IWD is a moment to remind ourselves of the strength in collective action. Of the strength in uplifting the work of incredible feminists who have fought tirelessly against patriarchy and of those women who dare people to think of a future where communities of care can be built.

One day of spotlight a year is hardly worthy of the acute crises facing women across the globe, who need us to all be united  in solidarity with them. More than that, they need us to open our wallets and donate to their community projects, to fight for migrant rights and to willingly be led by a strong, international community of galvanisers.

Liberation for all and for always.
Gendered Intelligence.

Categories
bodily autonomy policy trans rights trans youth

Judicial Review on GIDS

This case is about trying to draw a near-invisible line in the sand about what healthcare can and should be offered to young people and what should be denied. This is an arbitrary distinction: a child can be informed of any consequences and be expected to fully consent to any other life-saving treatment where possible, but we’re expected to believe this is magically untrue of treatment around gender dysphoria. At the heart of this case lies a mission to run roughshod over the legal precedent of Gillick competence.

With waiting times creeping into the years, gatekeeping of options for young people with gender dysphoria – whether intentional or not – is already causing acute distress to a population who deserve and demand robust and proper care. If our response to young people in distress is to compound these feelings, we are failing them. These people know themselves, know their bodies and know what it right for them individually. Where there exists Gillick competence, they consent in the fullest terms, after several consultations with the NHS’s only service for them, to the treatment which is right for them. Some young trans and non-binary people may choose to take puberty blockers until a time where they can safely and legally access medication which may help them feel more congruent in their gender.

Either a young person can consent to their medical treatment when presented with all known information about that treatment, or they cannot. These are highly individualised conversations which cannot be reduced to simple talking points or a reductive rolling back of enshrined rights through the courts. If we were, as a society, to allow for children to be stripped of their agency when choosing what’s right for them, we set off a dangerous domino effect of others deciding what is and isn’t right for all of us. If this case is successful in removing Mrs A’s child’s right to consent to medical treatment, the line in the sand is removed: A loss to trans youth is a loss to all.

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Uncategorized

World Toilet Day 2019

Everyone should have access to a toilet they are able to use safely.

However, according to Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain trans report – 48% of trans people do not feel comfortable using public toilets.

This means that many trans people, when outside their homes, are faced with a choice of using toilets where they don’t feel safe or welcome, or going home before they need to use the loo. Alternatively, they may not eat or drink all day so they don’t have to go. This situation has a huge impact on how trans, including non-binary people, navigate public space and how comfortable we feel out in the world.

In the UK, we might assume that access to basic sanitation is a given, but a UN statement on the right to sanitation on World Toilet Day reminds us that sanitation goes beyond merely access to a toilet, “Sanitation is not only about constructing toilets or sewerage. It is about understanding people’s needs and finding safe and sustainable solutions that ensure everyone’s dignity.”

It’s important to state that not all trans people have identical needs. While some people would rather use facilities designated male or female, others – particularly non-binary people – would feel far more comfortable with the option of gender-neutral facilities. Individuals whose gender expression does not conform to society’s expectations – whether trans or not – could also benefit from the option of a gender-neutral toilet.

It should go without saying that all men and women should be able to access facilities appropriate to their gender and the Equality Act 2010 gives trans women and trans men the right to do so. Employers and service providers should make sure that all employees, service users and customers are able to access appropriate facilities, without fear of harassment. The Equality Act does not explicitly mention non-binary people. Nonetheless, taking the needs of non-binary people into account is vital if you’re aiming to provide trans inclusive services in general.

The answer is architectural. We believe that a model for all new buildings should be purpose-built, single cubicle facilities that offer privacy and comfort for all, regardless of gender identity or gender expression.

We’re seeing more and more toilets designed as floor-to-ceiling cubicles, like small rooms in themselves, avoiding the potential awkwardness of partially enclosed cubicles that are standard in gendered facilities up and down the country.

However, it’s not always so easy to change older infrastructure to install these unless you’re having a general refurbishment.

A good second option is to make your accessible facilities explicitly gender neutral so that everyone knows it’s OK to use them.  It’s a family-friendly step as well as inclusive of people with non-binary identities and any trans people who may simply feel safer and more comfortable in a non-gendered space.

Doing this is just a matter of re-labelling.  There’s a range of gender neutral toilet signage available on the market, including braille versions.

If you are looking for a short-term solution to labelling or need to create a gender-neutral toilet for an event, you can download our printable toilet signs. We’ve seen them being used across the UK at events!

If you are going to have a refurbishment or new-build, make sure gender neutral facilities are part of the design! Thoughtful design can offer privacy, dignity and safety.

Links to useful resources

Gendered Intelligence Transforming Spaces podcast episode #1 – “Not another talk about toilets!”

Francis Ray White, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Westminster (they/them), Cara English, founder of Open Lavs and Policy Engagement Officer & Research Coordinator at Gendered Intelligence (she/her)  and Irina Korneychuk, FaulknerBrowns Architects (she/her) discuss the context of the fascination around trans people in toilets, and provide some community based and architectural solutions to the toilets challenge

Open Lavs –project mapping gender neutral toilets in the UK

Downloadable all-gender toilet signs from Gendered Intelligence.

Stalled – a US-based advocacy project working on the design, legal and educational barriers to inclusive bathrooms.

Categories
bodily autonomy equal marriage family LGBT Northern Ireland policy

A huge leap for equality in Northern Ireland

Gendered Intelligence’s Policy lead, Cara English, grew up in Belfast, and reflects on what news laws on equal marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland mean to her and other LGBTQ people.

Time for Equality
Image from the Love Equality NI campaign

On the 21st October, the political parties in Northern Ireland failed to restart the Assembly (our devolved parliament), allowing for a cross-party Westminster bill on equal marriage and legalised abortion to come into place.

Despite certain Northern Ireland Assembly members’ last minute effort to sit in session and have the law fall at its final hurdle, the power-sharing agreement that is the bedrock of NI politics meant that – with Sinn Fein unwilling to act against its ostensible human rights agenda – Northern Ireland will soon have equal marriage and bodily autonomy laws.

This has been a very long time coming and as such it has been strangely difficult to navigate the apprehension and the jubilation. I decided to go home to celebrate, as I’d missed the chance to do so when the Republic of Ireland voted to equalise the law in 2015. When you grow up a little pudgy, working class child from the third most deprived constituency in the UK, you’re not expected to want for much. But the people of Northern Ireland wanted more, fought for more and got more.

As the countdown clock ticked down in Belfast’s gay village (more of a hamlet, really), everything felt electric, the start of something new. Apart from a flying, one-day visit, I hadn’t been home in years and wasn’t prepared for how much the city, and myself, had changed. North Belfast is a tough place to grow up as a queer person, so it seemed like a natural step for me to get out as soon as I could. But standing in the bar as the drag queen started shouting “ten! nine! ei—“, I felt a deep sense of awe at all of my queer siblings who had stayed, who had fought for a better Northern Ireland just by existing openly in a way I felt I couldn’t have. It makes me proud of the amazing organisations doing good work in Northern Ireland, such as Cara-FriendSAIL and our friends at TransgenderNI.

Now we will legally have equal marriage for same-sex couples and some of the least restrictive rights around bodily autonomy in Europe. This isn’t just a massive win for lesbian, bisexual, gay and queer people, but a win for women and others who can get pregnant which would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago.

Northern Ireland may still not have anything approaching the legal protections afforded to trans Britons under the Equality Act 2010, but we’re taking huge forward leaps. To the tireless campaigners who refused to kowtow to the push against their right to equality and to bodily autonomy, Gendered Intelligence stands in solidarity with you and wants to say – go raibh maith agat, thenks, thank you.

Categories
allies Gender Recognition Act trans rights

GI’s take on the LGB alliance: they will not divide us

On Tuesday evening, reports emerged that a new ‘LGB Alliance’ was being set up to campaign for the rights of lesbian, gay and bi people. The group excludes trans people on the grounds that gender is a social construct and LGB people are same-sex attracted not same-gender attracted. One person on Twitter announced that ‘gender extremism’ had met its match in the new group. It is also vehemently opposed to Stonewall, accusing the charity of discriminating against LGB people by becoming trans-inclusive. 

This is not the first time that LG(B) people have distanced themselves from trans people. It is a worrying step backwards that highlights the normalisation of anti-trans sentiment in society. Although trans people such as Martha P Johnson and Sylvia Riviera were key figures of the early Pride movement, trans liberation has historically been sidelined in favour of LGB equality.

Two somewhat contradictory philosophies emerged in regards to people’s goals for the new Pride movement. On one hand there were those pursuing an assimilationist view of equality where all the rights of straight people, such as marriage, were available to all. On the other, there were those pursuing radical queer liberation that involved dismantling the societal structures that oppress both cis and trans queer people. Queer liberation questioned the role of the nuclear family, its tendency to reinforce gender roles and the institutions attached to it such as marriage. 

Unfortunately, those pursuing an assimilationist goal came to the conclusion that it would be easier for LGB people to achieve equality if they distanced themselves from trans people, rather than standing with us in solidarity, as we were seen as too much of a ‘hard sell’. It is during this time in the 80s that we first see a clear split between increasingly discrete concepts of ‘sexuality’ and ‘gender identity’ becoming mainstream and the gap between LGB and T widens even further.

This divergence in thought and the practice of excluding trans people go hand in hand. We see it in the first 25 years of LGBT charity Stonewall’s existence. Before the organisation became trans-inclusive in 2015, we saw great advancement for the rights and inclusion of LGB people, but trans people were left far behind.

Following the ‘Transgender Tipping Point’, there was an acknowledgement of the role trans women and trans women of colour in particular played during the early Pride movement. People were talking about trans issues and Stonewall was now campaigning for trans equality. It seemed the days of trans people being sidelined were behind us.

But in the last couple of years there has been a resurgence of transphobia that echoes the darker days of the 1980s. Every day there is a new article in the media using the same hateful, vitriolic language as was used about gay people to stir up the same fear in the public. Not only has this sea of disinformation had the effect of stalling proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, but hate crimes against trans people have skyrocketed. People feel increasingly emboldened to deny us our rights to be treated fairly and with respect under the Equality Act, going as far as barring us from bathrooms and swimming pools.

Now is not the time for LGB people to turn their backs on us. Distancing themselves from the trans community to assimilate and hide will not work. The rise of fascism in all its guises does not end with the attacks on trans people and we need only look across the Atlantic to the US Supreme Court to see how closely a pushback on trans rights is followed by a pushback on LGB ones.

Thankfully, we do have incredible allies who have stood up with us and for us. We’ve seen campaigns like #LwiththeT, #GwiththeT and #BwiththeT that show us that as a community for all LGBTQIA+ people, we are more united than ever. Solidarity is necessary and appreciated, but we also need our LGB allies to stand with us publicly, push for greater representation of trans people and call out transphobia when and where they see it. Together we will continue making space for people of all gender identities, gender expressions and sexualities until everyone is free to safely and freely live their lives without judgement or fear.

Please donate here to support our work supporting and standing up for young trans people. You can also support our ‘Trans Writes!’ campaign by using our webtool to contact your MP and tell them about the need for fit and working gender recognition laws.