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Orla Blakelock, Univeristy placement student, writes about her experience of volunteering at the WHY? Festival, Southbank, October 2015

It was a dreary weekend in London when WHY? (What’s Happening for the Young) Festival came to the Royal Festival Hall; an event packed full of educational treats for both adults and children! Teachers, parents and young people streamed in from across the land to indulge in a variety of activities and stalls packed full of learning goodness. From political change singing to question and answer sessions on what it means to have a happy childhood, WHY? Festival had a lot to offer. I observed all of these fantastic activities whilst spreading the word about GI on our stall.

As a volunteer, it was a perfect opportunity to learn more about GI and get stuck in to the work that they offer to schools and universities. From MA students, to parents, to teachers – we raised a lot of awareness and planted a seed of interest in those who had never before taken much time to think about the issues trans people face in schools, and indeed in general. I really enjoyed putting out the word on the work GI do and, in some cases, having the privilege of hearing the personal stories of families or individuals who have been affected by the difficulties that can occur when a loved one is transitioning. I was touched by the degree of love and understanding I encountered I relation to this.

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In addition to the stall, GI presented a workshop on gender: ‘Are you a Boy or a Girl’?, run by CN and Jason. The title of the workshop was taken from Sarah Savage’s book for children, which introduces themes of gender to young children, unfortunately she was not able to make it to the workshop itself. This being said, the idea of creating a book for young children on the theme of gender is something that really resonates with me; during the over 21’s workshop, we discussed the inflammation of the terms ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’  among children’s tales over the past decade or so. Namely the increased mantra of PINK for girls! Being a predominantly female group, we talked a lot about the pressure to feminise oneself and the influence this can have on young girls to exhibit girlish behaviour. Some teachers in the room talked in solidarity with one another about the problem with young girls distorting their personalities around what has become the ‘comfortable’ box to sit in: pink, pretty, princesses.

After and hour of discussion, the over 21’s and the under 21’s group reconnected and fed back the findings we came across collectively. As far as I could tell, this was an enriching and beneficial experience for both groups. I found it interesting to hear about the experience of young people compared to that of the older group, mainly because I find it refreshing to see that young people have the opportunity to have access to knowledge that can enable them to be more intelligent about gender! When I was in school, education around sexuality was only just beginning to skim the surface. I am inspired by educational organisations like GI who are unfolding their knowledge to educational institutes across the country. This being said, the over 21’s workshop was a fantastic experience and I felt very happy to share a space with other people who were so willing to explore their thoughts and feelings around gender. It was uplifting to encounter a group of people who were so open-minded and willing to empathise with the issues the gender binaries create for both sexes.

http://genderedintelligence.co.uk/

http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/are-you-a-boy-or-a-girl-93837

http://sarah-savage.com/product/book/

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Gendered Intelligence responds to Mail on Sunday article

Today Gendered Intelligence’s work in primary schools was featured in the Mail on Sunday. We welcome the opportunity to share more about our work. We felt that on the whole the article featured our educational work positively and gave a strong voice to what we deem to be important work.

There are however some misconceptions in the article – mainly the alluding to Gendered Intelligence encouraging young people to become trans, which of course is not true.

To reiterate here what was in the article: ‘Gendered Intelligence delivers age-appropriate workshops and assemblies by working closely with the senior leadership teams of each of the schools that we work with’.

We want to pass on our enormous thanks for the support from the primary school that is featured and the head and assistant head that have supported us in this work all the way. We’d love to come and visit you again soon!  

The article focuses mainly on a short video that we created in 2005 as part of the No Outsiders work which was a large Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project which focused on LGBT equality in primary school settings.  We are also disappointed that the Mail on Sunday were not entirely transparent in ordering our video for the purpose of writing a piece on our work in schools.

The DVD is a great educational resource for teachers and other professionals and is available to order via our website.

Please read  a statement below from our director Jay Stewart:

It’s so important to teach children in schools that they can be anything that they want to be, regardless of the gender that they have been given at birth. They can be engineers, nurses and politicians; they can be caring and kind, strong and forthright; they can wear what they like and look how they like. It’s okay for all children to be girlish, boyish or anything in-between.

Our work at Gendered Intelligence includes going into primary school settings. It’s important because gender stereotyping and reinforcing gender norms start from a young age.

If we are going to tackle the prejudice in society towards those who express their gender differently from what is considered the norm, we need to introduce teaching early on in a person’s education. 

Some members of the general public might make assumptions about what is actually being taught when we go into primary schools.

Gendered Intelligence delivers age-appropriate workshops and assemblies by working closely with the senior leadership teams of each of the schools that we work with.

We are proud of this work. Feedback from students and staff has always been positive. There are amazing schools who have done incredible work to make sure they include trans pupils and staff.  We need to work towards implementing this good practice across the board. The Department for Education can play its part by ensuring that there is systemic change rather than ad-hoc good practice.

We need more open discussions and debates about gender diversity in schools as awareness grows in society. This is a crucial step in ending transphobic and gender related bullying. Young trans people suffer prejudice, and even violence, at school, college and university. In turn, they experience high levels of poor mental health. That’s why our campaigns such as Stop Our Silence are so important.

Trans people – like all people – have a right to an education in a safe environment. The only way to make school safe for trans pupils, and safe for everyone to express their gender, is to start talking about gender variance at the earliest possible opportunity.

Jay Stewart

Co-founder and Director

Genderedintelligence.co.uk


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Ruby Turner, 16, writes about the good and bad of trans representation in recent films and television.

Jamie and Ruby in the office

Hello, I’m Ruby and I’m from Portsmouth and I’ve travelled to London for a week of work experience with Gendered Intelligence. I’m about to start my first year of Sixth Form, studying Philosophy, Psychology, English Literature and Biology and then to study psychology at uni. I’d hoped that doing work experience here would help me to focus my interests and gain a depth in my knowledge of LGBTQ issues I heard of GI when Finn Greig came to my school’s, The Portsmouth Grammar School, Pride society. I thoroughly enjoyed his workshop and it inspired me to do my work experience here. Shows such as Orange is the New Black and my love for Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) sparked my interest in Trans representation in the media.

Recently, transgender and gender queer representation in Television and Film has blossomed, with LGBTQ characters becoming more frequent and positively reinforced. It could also be said that LGBTQ characters are becoming less of ‘tokens’ more just complying a more natural, realistic depiction of diversity in culture. This includes children’s television too, for example, Adventure Time, a wildly successful (not just for children) animated program which has the first example of gender fluidity I’ve ever seen on television. BMO alternates between female and male pronouns without any attention being drawn towards it. This positive representation of gender is subtly ground-breaking, especially on children’s television. Children begin to understand gender and its binaries from a very young age and to have this example of gender fluidity, a concept difficult for some adults even, addressed in such early stages pioneers progression in LGBTQ representation.

I wanted to find out about more shows involving elements of, or based around LGBTQ issues. In doing so, I found ‘Transparent’.’Transparent’ is a fictional program following the story of Maura, a 60 something divorced parent of three self-absorbed adults. written by Jill Soloway, who’s own father came out as transgender three years prior to filming. She says that in filming Transparent, she hired transgender consultants and crew members to ensure that she can make her work more authentic and accurate. Jill Soloway says she wants her set to be a “sanctuary where all are welcome”.  Transparent is fictional and only uses aspects of her father’s experiences. I really enjoyed Transparent and its dark humour and brutal honesty, it seemed that many agreed with me as the reviews were very positive; it has received two golden globes- for Best Television Series and, Best Actor to Jeffery Tambor (Maura).

Although OITNB, Transparent and Adventure Time are all shining examples of positive reinforcement of gender, some representation has generated a lot of scepticism. For example, the film ‘Stonewall’, unrelated to the UK’s LGBT organisation, follows the story of how an affluent young man flees from being bullied for his sexuality to New York, where he finds himself at the Stonewall Inn where he partakes in the Stonewall riots after a police raid. It was written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Ronald Emmereich, an openly gay director- ranking 14th highest grossing director of all time and influential LGBT activist. He is a passionate LGBT rights activist and philanthropist to the ‘Legacy Project’ and Global Warming causes.

This film has faced a large amount of criticism already, especially because of it’s depiction of the people who were involved. It has been accused of being written to appease the white, cis man. Miss Major, a trans woman activist, Stormé DeLarverie, a gay civil rights icon and entertainer, and Marsha P. Johnson, drag queen and gay liberation activist; all these women of colour play important roles in the ignition of the stonewall riots yet Emmerich decided to cast Jonny Beauchamp, a Cisgender male to represent all those women’s important roles. The film has been said to have ‘white-washed’ history and have ignored the amount of butch lesbians and people of colour involved in the movement. This anger became so widespread that there is now a petition of at least 12, 000 signatures to boycott the film. Emmerich responded to these claims to “I think we represented it very well,” he said he wanted to “portray a broader image of what ‘gay’ means.” but this has been scrutinised due to his inaccuracy. However, Emmerich responds to stonewall critics.

Miss Major Griffen-Gracy also spoke on the issue of the media ‘white-washing’ and ‘cis-washing’ history, particularly in regards to stonewall, for the Trans Oral History Project. She was outraged by how the riots are told to be triggered by white and cis-gendered men when that isn’t accurate. ‘How dare they do this again’

Here was our history, a history made real by Black and Brown trans women and lesbians, but it was a false, whitewashed and ciswashed version, a version that the establishment could find respectable enough to be a mainstream story. This was an insult.

Although Stonewall shows that more progress is to be made for fair representation of trans people and issues, I’m hopeful for a future of accurate and celebratory portrayals of gender diversity in the media.

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How schools can become more trans inclusive – Year 12 student tells us how it is

My name’s Tia and I’ve come down from Portsmouth to do work experience with Gendered Intelligence. I’ve just finished my first year of sixth form, studying A level psychology, philosophy, chemistry and biology, and I’m looking to study psychology at university, with the hope that this will lead into a work concerning gender and sexuality, specifically improving services in place for trans people. Reflecting on my own experiences at school, I decided to write about the ways that schools can become more trans inclusive, and help people to become intelligent about gender.

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Around the age of 2 children begin to develop their understanding of gender, and this continues to expand throughout a person’s development, particularly being reinforced at puberty. School is, therefore, clearly a key time to be learning about and understanding gender identity in an open and intelligent way, in order to prevent the formation of prejudices from an early age and to allow young people to explore their own identity.

64% of trans men and 44% of trans women experienced transphobic bullying or harassment at school, coming from both students and teachers. Yet, Stonewall’s 2007 report found that 90% of teachers have received no training on how to support LGBT students. Training is needed for teachers, regardless of whether or not they have trans young people in their classes, due to the influence teachers have on their students, and their ability to foster positive and open attitudes towards trans people, and allow students to question their gender identity. Many teachers may also have trans children in their classes without being aware of this, as 40% of young people are not ‘out’ in their everyday lives (GI’s Capturing Journeys report), making it clear that a more accepting environment is necessary in order to help trans people feel comfortable enough to come out at school.

However, in order to fully support trans young people it’s necessary to also educate students, as many transphobic views and actions stem from ignorance. Currently knowledge about gender identity is not coming from the classroom, for most people it comes from the internet, the media, and through having trans friends or family. Resources on the internet may not always be found unless people are intentionally looking for them, and much of the trans representation in the media can be incredibly harmful. For example Caitlyn Jenner’s transition being discussed using male pronouns and her birth name, and the use of transphobic slurs in shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race. This misinforms people of the appropriate language to be used when referring to trans people. Currently when trans people ‘come out’, they are often faced with many questions from friends and family, although they may not mean any harm and simply intend to gain a better understanding, there is a tendency to ask insensitive and inappropriate questions. This places unnecessary pressure on trans people, as it should not be their responsibility to educate others.

Compulsory introduction of information concerning trans identities and issues into PSHE would give trans* young people the language to talk about and understand their gender identity, as well as reducing the amount of transphobia stemming from ignorance. It is also important to include trans people and the discussion of the issues they face in other areas of the curriculum, for example studying the work of trans writers and artists, or influence figures such as the actress and trans activist Laverne Cox, this provides role models for all students. It is also important for trans young people to have an understanding of the equality act and the rights they are afforded from this, something which will also benefit other people affected by this.

Often unnecessary segregation is made by gender within the classroom, for example boy-girl seating plans and pairings which highlight to trans people who are not out that they are not being seen as their self-identified gender. This can also be harmful for non-binary people who may feel as if their gender identity is being invalidated, and that they are being made to confine themselves to the binary gender they were assigned at birth. Gendered language should also be avoided, in situations where assumptions are made about a person’s gender. For example addressing groups of students as ‘ladies’ or ‘gents’ places assumptions of a specific binary gender onto people, this once again may risk misgendering people and invalidating non-binary identities.

Gendered uniforms should also be avoided, as having distinct male and female uniforms may make a trans person feel as if they cannot wear the uniform of their self-assigned gender, due to the increased visibility this gives them. For non-binary trans people this is also a problem as they may feel uncomfortable having to categorise themselves within one of the binary genders, and therefore invalidating their gender identity. By providing uniform rules which are not segregated between the binary genders, schools can maintain their structure and regularity of uniform, whist being inclusive to people of all genders and allowing students to explore their gender expression.

Even if all steps are taken in order to create a trans inclusive environment, it remains important to also have safe spaces, in which trans students can know they will be understood and accepted. LGBT groups are particularly important for creating a sense of community, and by inviting speakers in there is the opportunity for trans people to gain role models, and also to further understanding and visibility. These groups within schools can play a very important role in ensuring that trans students are aware of staff members who can provide support, and introducing them to the wider trans community.

Strict policies should be in place for challenging transphobia, as there are with other types of prejudice and discrimination, this includes deliberate misgendering. Once students have been educated on what transphobic actions are and why they are harmful, as well as the appropriate way to discuss trans issues, a zero tolerance policy should be adopted. If both students and staff are encouraged to consistently challenge transphobic actions, it will soon become clear that transphobia is not tolerated, creating a safer environment for trans young people.

It is clear that there are many steps a school can take towards creating an inclusive environment for trans people, and also to help educate all young people regardless of their gender identity, in order to create a generation of accepting and understanding people.

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Gendered Intelligence have produced this poster for schools. They cost £1 so if you would like some to put up at your school or college, get in touch with Jay at jay.stewart@genderedintelligence.co.uk

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We are living on the cusp of a gender revolution – Jay Stewart’s TedX Talk

Jay ted talk flyer

I was really excited by the idea of doing a TedX talk. I was nervous too. 10 minutes to reach a wide mainstream audience (450 in the room and potentially more on line) I wanted it to be as high impact as possible plus I wanted to address my thoughts to people amongst our trans communities. So how would I be able to balance that out?

The good thing about doing a TedX EastEnd talk is how much support you get to prepare. Founder and Curator of TedX EastEndMaryam Pasha (an inspiring woman btw who has a finger in so many pies including doing amazing work for women immigrants in London and elsewhere) really helped me to identify and pull together my key messages. Also there was a real community generated with the other speakers, who were all awesome!

I wanted to summarise a kind of ‘where we’re at’ – not only amongst trans communities but also within wider LGBT circles. I wanted to propose that the current way we categorise gender identity and sexual orientation will become no longer tenable. I also think there continues to be an over-emphasis on the causation of being trans (and to a lesser extent LGB) as biologically determined. This works off the logic that if we can identify any cause as something a person can’t help being then we can say ‘hey we deserve our human rights!’

But why we’re trans shouldn’t really come into it. My argument here was that our human rights should not depend on what causes us to be who we are or on that which is biologically determined. Our human rights should be gained by being able to pursue what it is that we wish to become. So it’s about the freedom to act – right? When we feel we can’t become who we are, when we are not free to act, when we feel restricted – well that is an infringement on our human rights and it is there where we need to be focusing our energy and our resources. Not looking for brain cells!

I believe that we all should be able to express ourselves in a way that feels right for us. Because the possibilities of expression are political. We should be able to wear what we want, look the way we want, carry ourselves the way that we want, play with what we want, hang out with who we want, want the jobs that we want and none of this should be restricted quite simply by the sex that we were assigned at birth. And yet it is – all the freakin time!

As trans people when we are told that the way we are expressing our selves is wrong, when we are told that who we wish to become is wrong – well that’s incredibly damaging isn’t it? It can really affect our sense of self-worth and that’s not fair either.

One of the discussions that I have a lot with various people at Gendered Intelligence is to what degree we engage others with the complexity of gender and to what degree is it our job at GI to break that complexity down into accessible formats for others who are new to the topic of trans to be able to take away key concepts that we want wider society to learn and know.

At Gendered Intelligence we feel passionately that everyone can be more intelligent about gender. But I believe that this involves labour. In my TedX talk I wanted to encourage people to put in some effort when it comes to gendered intelligence – to read more about gender, to be critical about the world around them and to do what I would call ‘circulate the discourse’ by which I simply mean to talk about it more – over dinner, in the classrooms, on line. Because that’s what’s going to move the game on.

So… having tried to say all of that in my 10 minutes, I am really keen to hear more about what people think about my TedX talk and some of the things that I posed. Perhaps I have not made my point as clear as I would have liked and you have some questions for me. Perhaps you disagree with bits and I welcome your thoughts. Regardless I hope that you might feel inspired to do a TedX talk too. It has been a bit of a confidence boost for me personally – to be given such a platform and to think: ‘Wow! My voice is being heard’.

 

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My trip to the Palace

Any opportunity that may lead to interesting and useful things, I’m not usually one to say ‘no’. It wasn’t an easy decision to accept an MBE. Our community – and myself included – aren’t so keen on ostentatiousness and establishments and the Monarchy. But I’m in the business of improving life experiences of trans people and part of that is around raising the visibility of, not only the discrimination that we face, but also the value and contributions that trans people can and do make.

So on Thursday 26th February 2015 myself and my family arrived at Buckingham Palace to collect my MBE. Here is my blow-by-blow account.

After stressing about the Met line not working, we did finally arrive in good time. We were ushered into a holding area (a posh one though) and put our coats in the cloakroom. Catherine and my sister went to the toilet and my sister took a photo of the wooden loo. ‘It’s just like the V Festival’ she said, ‘but with Moulton Brown hand lotion’. Me and my Dad were looking at the paintings trying to spot the ones that are in the Harry Potter films. There are quite a few actually.

After that I got split from my family and put with the other recipients in another waiting area with more impressive paintings to look at. So, a room full of people who didn’t know each other. What to do but to mingle. I went to the table to pour myself a glass of water. A woman smiled at me. ‘What are you here for then?’ she asked.

‘Services to the transgender community.’ I replied. ‘How about you?’

‘Services to oral health’ she said.

This lead to a few more sentences bearing phrases such as ‘wow’, ‘how interesting’, ‘golly’ etc. But after that I got onto a bit of a roll. I was determined to tell as many people that I was here for my ‘services to the transgender community’ and that I myself was trans. This would be a good job done.

And indeed I met some lovely people. There were services to disadvantaged Romanians, services to human rights in the security industries in war zones, services to holocaust education, services to research in social sciences, services to P.E – what a bunch of the most random people! Actually the P.E guy was, like me, also from Harrow and we swapped cards with the aim to approach the Harrow Times to see if we can get a feature about the two of us.

One thing that was uniting us as a group though was that we were all panicking that we would get our simple instructions completely wrong. These were ‘move when you hear your surname, bow from the head if you’re a man, curtsey if you’re a woman, chat to Prince of Wales, shake hands, three steps back and bow/curtsy – man/woman and walk off.’ We all watched the video of the first lot that had been sent through. I was third from the end, so had a long wait.

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Anyway it all went fine in the end. I saw my family in the audience smiling over at me. Just before I shook his hand, Charles had a real chuckle and my family watching me were desperate to know what I said. As soon as I was off stage the medal was whipped off me and put into a box for me to take home. After a bit more milling, we left the building (which was an actual Palace btw) and stepped into the pouring rain. We had a few photos taken with and without umbrellas and hopped back on the tube back to Harrow for a celebratory lunch. On the tube my sister said, ‘now you can tell us what you said to Prince Charles.’ I said ‘Oh yeah. Well. As I approached him a person whispered in his ear that I was here for services to the transgender community. ‘So,’ said Charles, ‘Is it a charity that you run?’ Now, whether we are a charity or community interest company wasn’t really the conversation I wanted to have. So I said ‘I work with young trans people. I myself am trans. I was assigned female at birth’.’

‘That must have been when he pulled that surprised face’ said Catherine. ‘I remember’.

‘And he said ‘Really?’ Then Paused. Then added ‘Well it’s worked then.’

‘Err… yes I said. I suppose so.’ I could sense at this point that he was going for my hand to shake. ‘The only problem I’ve got’ I added, ‘is whether to bow or curtsy.’

And that is when Prince Charles Chuckled!

And my Dad and my sister and Catherine thought this was also really funny! And we laughed and laughed. And we went off and had lashings of ginger beer and jam and things.

It was a great but slightly surreal experience.

Now then back to the job in hand – improving the lives of trans people.

 

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a young trans person considers what it means to have an MBE

I woke up on new years eve, to the news that Jay was being awarded an MBE for his work with GI.

Wow.

Dr Jay Stewart, MBE. That’s… Surreal. I’m only just getting used to that fact he’s a Dr!

I’ve known Jay since I first started coming to GI, almost 18 months ago. When I apprehensively walked through the door at my first GI thing, he greeted me with a big “hello”. He instantly made me feel welcome, and it was so clear that he had a passion for helping young trans people. I’ve been to every GI youth group session for my age range since, and managed to do so many things and achieve so much thanks to both the work he has done with GI, but also thanks to Jay as a person. GI means so much to me, that I’ve started giving my time as a volunteer as well, hopefully giving back as much as I can to an organisation that is so fantastic.

I have to admit, I am some what conflicted with the news, being a bit of a republican, and at least in principle being anti-monarchist. The concept of the honors system is archaic and a little  problematic, and I don’t blame people for feeling angry about the concept – and of Jay taking the honour. Regardless, however, of the trappings and the surrounding heraldry, Jay does deserve all the recognition he can get.

Jay Stewart is the most tireless person in the world. Me and friends joke that you have to email him twice to get him to reply to anything, but honestly, that’s because he’s so busy! He is always working for young trans people. He campaigns for young trans peoples rights, he works in schools to prevent bullying of young trans people, and he helps young trans people on a one-to-one basis as well. He genuinely is an amazing human being, and the trans community couldn’t ask for a better man to do it.

Even if he is now a part of the establishment (Down with the monarchy etc.!)

I hope I can speak on behalf of all the young people he has helped over the years,

 

Thank you, Dr Jay Stewart, MBE, for all your work.

Jen Kitney,

Young person, Volunteer, Trans woman.

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Student placement at GI tells us about the trans youth network conference

Hi, my name is Phoebe and I am on the BA Drama and Applied theatre in Education course at Central School of Speech & Drama. I am currently in my third year and so have been lucky enough to be on my placement with Gendered Intelligence.

I attended the National Trans* Youth Conference in Manchester, based at the Manchester Metropolitan University. This was a day full of incredible people who identify as trans, non-binary or questioning their gender as well as some working professionals from services such as CAMHS or LGBT youth groups and there was a turnout of around 200 people.

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As well as it being a day to increase connections and socialise with other people who may be having the same experiences as you, it was full of sessions providing people with important information which can help to empower young trans people by giving them the knowledge they need as well as inform professionals with information and facts on how best to help the people they work with.

The conference started with an introduction to the day, explaining what some of the sessions would be about as well as how the day would pan out. In the morning some of the sessions consisted of confidence building, how to create a petition, information about trans people’s rights within schools, as well as many other sessions.

After lunch, full of sandwiches, crisps, pasta, vegan and vegetarian friendly food, as well as gluten free food which was so kindly provided, there were some more sessions for the young trans people to attend. These sessions were more creative sessions and consisted of Film making, music, drama, creative writing and others.

I attended the drama workshop, as it is one of my main interest. We had lots of fun making sock puppet scenes, in which our trans sock even dated a crocodile, which I found quite entertaining. I believe that using drama as well as other creative fields is a perfect way to build confidence. Seeing people, previously looking slightly unhappy with a big smile and laughing was probably the best part of my day.

After this session there was a panel discussion in the format of question and answer, allowing the questions of the young people, mainly related to healthcare to be answered directly by working professionals.  This was highly interesting and gave not only me but I believe many people answers to queries that had not been answered previously.

This day was an excellent way to meet other people who identify as trans, non-binary and questioning their gender. It allowed people to share stories and experiences as well as being given advice on how they may go about difficult situations in schools.
I felt lucky to be able to talk to many people and learn so much that I did not already know around the topic of trans identities in medicine and in other aspects of their lives.

I am personally cis-gender, however I love to wear shirts and baggy jeans and I have myself experienced hate because of the way I dress. I believe that with these conferences in place, more people can become educated, which I believe is the start to end hate.

If you ever hear of another trans conference, I would highly recommend going, bringing friends and family to the event. Getting everyone involved will start breaking down the barriers between us.

Thank you for reading,
Phoebe

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Finn tells us about the 11-15 year olds trans youth group so far…

What a lovely evening we had at our recent 11-15s trans youth group session. 7 young people came to the session, mostly from London or just outside, but one young person came down from Warwick!

We played a name game with juggling balls which ended up involving a lot of running about the room to fetch dropped balls… Er, from bad throws – nothing to do with anyone’s catching skills…! 😉

Then we worked on our working agreement and had some wonderful discussions about including and welcoming people into the group and during sessions, as well as respecting each other, listening, being sensitive around pronouns and opinions shared etc.

After a relaxed break and lots of biscuits and juice, we took some reflective time to draw our own ‘gender timeline’. Here is mine to give you an idea of what I mean.

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The young people drew, wrote, discussed with friends to produce their own. Then they shared their stories in pairs and small groups. The room filled with more chatting and lots of laughter at the silly names that other young people have called them at school or incidents when people have got things very wrong even when trying to help! It was a great atmosphere and good to hear the young people share their similarities and find humour in moments that when you are alone can cause more distress.

At the end we closed with a circle of what people had enjoyed in the session as well as thinking of more ideas for sessions going forward. We are going to have a chilled out socialising music and games session as our last session on the 18th of December so looking forward to seeing all 11-15 year olds who identify as trans, non-binary or are questioning their gender identity there!

Finn Greig

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5 Things You Will Learn from Being Out as Trans at University

By Jesse Ashman

Having come out in my first year of studying an undergraduate degree in English Literature, I am about to start a new university for the second time – this time as postgraduate student, below are some things I learnt from the first time at university.

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  1. You are not alone

While it seems statistically unlikely, there are other trans people at university. I might have been extremely lucky, but I had a small support-cluster of trans friends on campus. There is, of course, no way to find out if you have a potential trans comrade without being very rude (asking if someone is trans is rude, and does not help with making friends). This extends into professional academia as well. I’ve found, especially when dealing with queer theory, you will start using more and more texts by trans academics; it isn’t just my generation of trans people in higher education, others have walked this path before. This also isn’t just confined to the arts; I particularly recommend Evolution’s Rainbow, by Joan Roughgarden, who is a biologist and a trans woman. For me, it’s comforting to know that if you do get to the higher circles of academia there will be others there who too have had to go through explaining things like ‘my pronouns are actually…’ and ‘the gender is wrong on my passport because…’ which brings me on to…

  1. People will surprise you

It’s nice to have other trans people to talk to, but it’s also good to bear in mind that people outside of the community will surprise you. If you do choose to disclose your trans status, I’ve found that you can never assume who will be understanding and who won’t. Some of the most supportive people of my experience as a trans student have been people who I would never have guessed before coming to university would be. I especially remember one member of staff was extremely passionate about the injustice of me not feeling comfortable taking part in a conference because it would mean being put in single-sex accommodation. The overwhelming majority of people, especially proper-adult people who have had more years or more life experience or both in order to become educated on trans issues, were understanding and used the correct pronouns after having been corrected a minimum of once. That being said, doesn’t just apply to people already informed on trans issues. During my time at university I found myself explaining my trans status to a hall full of boisterous high-school students – after having clumsily explained in what I thought were the simplest terms possible, the reply came back from one of the particularly loud members of the pre-pubescent audience; ‘fair enough.’

  1. You will study texts that completely ignore your existenceSONY DSC

You can explain the existence of trans people to an IRL (IRL = In Real Life, for any non-digital natives reading) person, no amount of careful explaining to a hardbound copy of Freud’s essays on sexuality will change its mind about the development of gender. As soon as you go into any reading about gender a trans person will find many texts that ignore or misunderstand their existence; erasing it or using it as an ‘extreme example’ of gender variance or worse, by implying that the existence of trans people infringes upon women’s rights. There is no easy solution for this, the only partial remedy I can offer is to write your own opinions, challenge tutors who portray outdated theories in a positive light and try to use any salvageable elements of texts like this. It is unfortunate that it’s almost impossible not to encounter academic articles and books that have no understanding, consideration or a negative view of the trans community and it’s important to bear in mind that this does not represent the view of most people. Especially now, and especially after someone has undergone a little education on trans issues – most people have prejudices based on misunderstanding and not on hate.

  1. It is Okay to challenge the institutionSONY DSC

Bearing this in mind, this goes not just for trans issues, and is definitely something that all students should be made aware of ; it’s okay to challenge the institution (the institution being academia, the university system and established knowledge). Being at university means you’re part of the academic community now – and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise, to imply that your opinion is less valued based on your age or position as an undergraduate, is a self-aggrandising moron. It’s perfectly okay to point out when a text ignores or contradicts your existence or when you disagree for any other reason. And it’s certainly perfectly okay to point out when a staff member makes a mistake when talking about gender, either as a general concept and especially when they’re talking about your own gender. One of the problems I regularly encountered on a course made almost entirely of women was seminar leaders jovially pointing out ‘there’s only X amount of boys in the class!’ – the tally was always one short and a lot of apologies were made. Just because someone is an authority figure does not mean they won’t concede when they are wrong, and any member of staff who doesn’t should not be involved in teaching, or in academia. University is about broadening horizons and collective knowledge, not an established knowledge being passed down from on high by the doctors and professors of the university. (Although one piece of information I would like them to pass down is what actually is the difference between a professor and a doctor except that one makes me think of the bird from Bagpuss). It is often difficult to be assertive when you know or suspect authority figures to be wrong, but you should challenge them whenever you are able.

  1. There will be bad days

And lastly this one almost goes without saying – there will be bad days. There will be days when you feel entirely alone, when you feel like there is no one in the institution who would even scrape the tip of the iceberg of understanding trans experience and as if every piece of study was designed without you in mind. The best thing to remember is that this is natural, and this is okay. I haven’t met a single student, trans or otherwise, who hasn’t had bad days. It doesn’t mean you’re not strong enough to get through a degree, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t good days to come – and this is the most valuable piece of information I learnt as an undergraduate and if I was to choose one thing to pass down to my first-year self it would be that bad days are okay. So okay in fact that despite the bad days I chose to start it all over again within few months of graduating.

Jesse is an English literature graduate and aquatic snail enthusiast from Essex. He graduated from Queen Mary, University of London and is currently studying for an MA in Sexual Dissidence at the University of Sussex. 

Follow him on Twitter: @JesseAshman