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allies Gender Recognition Act guidance trans inclusion trans rights

Where we are as an organisation and as a movement

In the past few weeks, Gendered Intelligence has been able to mobilise almost 45,000 individuals to write to the Prime Minister and/or their MP. That’s not even counting people who have been writing en masse using theyworkforyou.com, and other organisations’ excellent guidance around the importance of writing to decision-makers. As much as the word has become a cliché in the pandemic, this really is unprecedented. We are enormously grateful to everyone who did this, including our allies, and ask that you do not stop now.

We want you all to know that our work ‘behind the scenes’ hasn’t stopped there. Our GIANTS project is helping build stronger and empowered trans communities up and down the country, providing capacity for grassroots work led by our communities with the ultimate goal of wider trans liberation.

We’ve been speaking with sector leaders about where we go from here as a collective in this political moment, but it’s very important for us at Gendered Intelligence that we let everyone who’s come on this journey with us know where we’re up to and what you can do to help our communities.

Frankly, we still don’t know what will or will not be announced by the Government in the coming weeks with regards to the Gender Recognition Act or continued inclusion in single-sex spaces. We do know that the bigger issues facing trans communities – discrimination, lack of access to robust healthcare, housing — are of more acute urgency than any potential reform to the Gender Recognition Act, especially in the wider context of the ongoing pandemic. We’re not taking a ‘one or the other’ approach, but as a small charity with limited capacity we have to pick our battles wisely. This is why it’s more important than ever that we galvanise our communities to keep speaking up.

Where we all may have (albeit limited) ability to collectively shape the discussion around matters, it’s important to do so – this is why we’re asking you still get in touch with your MP, the PM, Ministers; anyone who may be able to ensure we don’t take a massive step back in the UK for trans people.

This is a wider movement with no centralised ownership, leadership, or hierarchy. Trans liberation will be achieved by everyone who believes that trans rights are human rights, that discrimination and stigma against our communities need to end and who are prepared to put their head above the parapet for us. The call to action is carried to all trans people in the UK and our allies. Where we as individual organisations and charities are able to amplify our messages to be heard in the corridors of power, we will of course take those opportunities.

We’re working defiantly and tirelessly, in hope that our existing protections as trans people will not be curtailed. As a trans-led organisation working to improve understandings of gender diversity and material conditions for trans people, we find ourselves quite inadvertently at the coalface of a movement.

We do not speak for you but, we hope, with you. At Gendered Intelligence, we will leave no one behind on our mission towards trans liberation.

Categories
allies bodily autonomy Gender Recognition Act international mental health trans inclusion trans rights

Response to the reporting that GRA reform to be dropped

by Jay Stewart, CEO

The Sunday Times front page announced today that the, “PM scraps plans to make gender change easier”. The article details alleged plans to abolish amendments to the GRA.   

If true, this is deeply concerning.

We need reforms to ensure all trans people have access to legal gender recognition without the unnecessary barriers of expense and bureaucracy. All trans people should have the right to be recognised and treated in their gender.

The UK is falling behind other countries on this matter.

Remember the reform that we are looking for has already taken place in Ireland, Norway and Colombia and many other countries. Whatever the fears are, people should be reassured that they have not happened in these countries and that they won’t happen here.

What’s more 70% of the 100,000 responses to the consultation agree that reform is the right way to go. It is undemocratic to disregard these responses.  

In the context of #BLM and C-19, this is added upset to our communities.

Our health system is failing us with critically long waiting lists that will only get worse; hatecrime is increasing and our mental ill-health is being exacerbated.

At Gendered Intelligence we want a world where all gender identities and expressions are respected, understood and celebrated. If I have a message to trans, gender diverse people and our allies everywhere, I wish to channel Maya Angelou:

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

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trans inclusion volunteer

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
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.

Categories
guidance trans inclusion workplace

The usefulness of gender neutral language

Simon Croft, Director of Educational and Professional Services at Gendered Intelligence, shares his thoughts on how using gender neutral language can help to make everyone feel included and how small changes to the way we address people can make a big difference. 

Gendered terms are some of the most common words we use – pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’, titles like ‘Mr’ and ‘Miss’ and honorifics like ‘Sir and ‘Madam’. Gender is also present in collective terms such as ‘ladies and gentlemen’, ‘girls’ and ‘lads’.

There’s nothing wrong with using gendered terms, once you know what a person’s chosen terms are. Before we have that information, then gender neutral, or to put it another way, universally inclusive, language is how to ensure we don’t misgender anyone.

Misgendering means referring to someone with a gendered term that doesn’t match their gender identity, for example referring to a trans woman as ‘Sir’, a trans man as ‘she’, or a non-binary person as ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.

Many trans people find it extremely validating when their chosen gendered terms are used.  I can still remember how amazing it felt when people first said ‘he’ to me, even though it’s now over 20 years ago.  So using gendered terms correctly can be a really supportive thing.

Having other people refer to you with the correct gender is something that most people take for granted and therefore never notice.  If you aren’t trans (or someone who is regularly misgendered), it’s quite likely you haven’t noticed just how often other people decide what gender you are and then use corresponding gendered language, but if you make an effort to try and notice for a day or two, you’ll see how pervasive it is.

Once, after I’d delivered a training session where we’d spoken about the subject, my contact showed me back to reception where I handed in my visitor’s pass. “Thank you, gentlemen,” said the receptionist.  As we turned away toward the exit, my contact said “Gosh!  I would never have noticed that before…  I see what you mean!”

Misgendering is one of the most common issues trans people encounter.  For some people it happens multiple times each day, dozens of times each week, hundreds of times each month.  This has a cumulative effect.  It’s like being bitten by mosquitoes – one bite you can shrug off; a dozen is really annoying; a hundred and you’ll be feeling really unwell.

“I’m usually misgendered (miss / she / ma’am) and it’s exhausting and invalidating. I’m left in a position to either correct them which is awkward for everyone involved…, or to feel sad and invalidated…” Trans-masculine participant in a GI survey

It costs nothing, apart from a little effort and mindfulness, to change our language to be inclusive of everyone. This isn’t trans-specific – there are plenty of women who don’t like to be called ‘ladies’; plenty of ladies who don’t like to be called ‘women’; plenty of men who find ‘Sir’ too formal; plenty of people who find their first name too informal – it just shows we need to ask.

Universally inclusive language need not be clumsy. Changing ‘Good morning, ladies and gentleman” to “Good morning everyone” will go unnoticed by most people.  But the people who are not ‘ladies’ or ‘gentleman’, such as non-binary people really will notice the difference.

There are plenty of universal terms you can use.  A few might include: people, folk, everyone, colleagues, staff, workers, employees, clients, customers, beneficiaries, visitors, students, pupils, children…  If you need to talk about relationships, then terms such as sibling, parent, child and partner are very useful.  These terms include LGB people too – not assuming for example, that the partner of a woman is a man, or that parents are a male/female couple.

It doesn’t take long to come up with a set of universal terms that work for your particular setting – three or four people getting together for ten minutes is likely to produce a very workable list.

So our top tip is start with universal /gender neutral language, until you find out what gendered terms people have chosen.  That way, everyone is respected.

Categories
education trans inclusion

New online course on Understanding Gender Identity with OU and FutureLearn

In October the Open University launched the UK’s first ever online training course focusing specifically on gender identity, developed in partnership with Gendered Intelligence.

The two-hour short course – Understanding Gender Identity – has been created to help organisations become more trans-inclusive and understanding, after it emerged that one in eight trans employees has been physically attacked at work in the past year.[1] 

The course is based on our 90 minute training session and is aimed at a new audience of professionals and students who are keen to access their learning online.

The course is led by author and academic Dr Meg-John Barker and Dr Jay Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Gendered Intelligence, and will be hosted on FutureLearn, the social learning platform. It costs just £25, and is open to all individuals and employers looking to increase their awareness of trans identity.

The key topics highlighted in the programme include: the core contexts of gender awareness and trans identity; an exploration of key terms and use of language; a basic understanding of legislation around rights and responsibility around trans identities; and an introduction for employers on how organisations can become trans-inclusive. The interactive content includes quizzes and video role-plays showing how to be a trans ally.

This course is the first in a series being developed by The Open University to tackle workplace bias. Other short courses will look to address similar areas of bias and discrimination, including sexual harassment, sexuality, age, race, culture and religion.

Dr Meg-John Barker, Senior Lecturer at The Open University, said: “Few people have a good understanding of gender identity, and they can be negative or overly conscious in their approach as a result. Many trans people face discrimination every day – and it’s time for this to change, which is why The Open University has developed this short course on Gender Identity.

“This is the first in a series of short courses on bias. Bias is everywhere, and it’s essential that employers and individuals take responsibility for addressing it. By increasing awareness and understanding of the key issues both workplaces and society will become safer and more inclusive.”

Jay Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Gendered Intelligence, said: “We are very excited to have partnered with The Open University to develop our training sessions for a new audience who are keen to access their learning online. At Gendered Intelligence we are experiencing huge interest from a wide range of professionals working across public, private and third sectors who are keen to learn more about how they can ensure their organisations are inclusive of trans and gender diverse people. This short course is an affordable way to address gaps in knowledge from organisations who have only a few employees and to those with tens of thousands.”

[1] Stonewall (2018) LGBT in Britain: Trans Report

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careers trans inclusion trans youth

What is it like to be trans at work? We found out at Imagining Our Futures 2017

Last Saturday at Gendered Intelligence we ran our annual day about careers and interests for young trans people in London, Imagining Our Futures 2017. 

In the morning we invited 15 diverse employers and organisations to run stalls and chat to attendees about what they can offer to trans people.

We were delighted to have stalls from Accenture, Amazing Apprenticeships, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, Diversity Role Models, EYLondon College of Beauty Therapy, Media Trust,  Ministry of Justice/Civil Service, NHS Employers, NUT, Royal MailSoho TheatreStonewall, TfL, with Institute of PhysicsRoyal Astronomical Society and National Physical Laboratory on one stall.

A group of trans teachers from the NUT  ran a workshop about what it’s like being trans as a teacher alongside the careers and interests fair.

At the beginning of the day we asked young people to share their concerns about their future at work or following their interest. Their comments demonstrated that there is still a lot of fear and apprehension around what it means to be trans at work. They are concerned about “being viewed as inferior compared to others”; “getting discriminated against” and “being outed against my will”.

Imagining Our Futures gives young trans people a chance to talk to employers and organisations about careers and projects that interest them. More importantly, those employers have an opportunity to tell young trans people that they are welcome in the workplace. Many organisations now recognise the value of a diverse workforce. Resilience and self-knowledge are assets. Imagining Our Futures provides a space for employers to communicate their message that trans people have a place in their workforce.

During the afternoon session, ten adult trans professionals with a range of backgrounds spoke to the audience of young trans people and their parents/carers about their experiences of being trans in the workplace. Just under half of them were non-binary. We heard from an academic, a London Underground driver, a video games developer, a charity filmmaker, a graphic designer, an archaeologist, an IT engineer at Mars, a software developer, a consultant and a primary school teacher.

Our speakers did not shy away from issues that they had encountered at work. They spoke about instances of being misgendered and when other’s lack of knowledge had created tricky moments for them. Everyone had experienced challenges and looked for advice and support from their employer, union or wider networks of friends, mentors and allies.

However, our speakers’ experience of work were overwhelmingly positive. Their employers had been accommodating and supportive and in general they were able to be themselves at work. Many found that their work improved once they felt comfortable in themselves .

At the end of the day, we asked all the young people who attended for their reflections about Imagining Our Futures 2017. Here are some highlights:

“The job fair was interesting – I felt like something positive could come out of it and it was great to speak to real people.”

“The employers I spoke to had a great attitude.”

“This morning’s careers fair showed us that employers are keen to diversify and appeal to trans people.”

“I have learnt that workplaces are accepting.”

“Thinking about a career is usually daunting, but today has given me a lot of confidence. I feel like I have a future as a trans person. “

“It’s reassuring to know that I have options in the future.”“It’s good that the fair focused on the “T”. I graduated recently and have been to LGBT employment fairs where trans gets lost.”

“It’s been empowering and encouraging. We exist everywhere and it’s been great to see companies that value our individuality.”

“I now know there is a place for non-binary people in the workforce. I go by they/them and I see that I can do that in the future too.”

There is a lot of work to be done to make sure that young trans people are, and feel, safe to be themselves in all areas of their lives. Imagining Our Futures showed attendees that progress is being made and that they can have the future they deserve.

We’d like to thank the National Union of Teachers for donating their amazing space at Hamilton House for Imagining Our Futures 2017.