In the garden!

silk-rosesI’ll be damned, this is my 100th blog-thing. Technically, it’s 101, but my previous was a reblogging of that truly lovely Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism.

So this is me, making my 100th flourish across the cyberdancefloor.

For this blog-thing, I want to focus on something that I feel particularly passionate about at the moment.

I was recently involved in a panel discussion about how to support LGBT young people (I’m in the south west of England, by the way, but all this is relevant anywhere), and the discussion very quickly gravitated towards the education system and schools, and how they’re still really letting down the LGBT young people – and of course, as usual, the discussion gravitated also towards talk of homophobia and sexuality, and abandoned the T in LGBT.

I was “the trans person” on the panel, but was very happy to be invited, as the organisers had told me they appreciate my very inclusive approach to talking about gender diversity, and I wanted the chance to represent on behalf of as wide a community of trans* folk as possible. When I got my chance to speak, about 45 minutes into the allotted hour, I first of all said that trans* young people are very marginalised by society – but also within the LGBT arena, and I drew our collective attention to how the discussion had revolved around only LGB pretty much from the start. I also called out our most famous panellist (Peter Tatchell, a very valuable non-partisan ambassador for all gender/sexuality minorities) for repeatedly saying “…whether you’re LGBT, or straight…” since obviously some trans* people are straight. He took it well :).

But then I found myself pointing something else out that’s been building up in me for a while now, and I’m going to expand on it here now.

It is very right, proper, and vital for us as a society (and us, as a gender/sexuality minorities community) to make constant and strenuous efforts to stem the flow of bullying and undermining coming at LGBT young people from their peers – and even from some teachers, and from many corners of society too – and to educate these bullies and underminers beyond their phobic and prejudiced conditioning. But it’s not enough.

These LGBT young people, from the day they’re old enough to understand what’s going on around them, have been soaked in a constant flow of toxic nastiness and prejudice from the culture around them, perhaps even from their own families. They are poisoned. So many of these young people with nonconforming gender or sexual identities have terrible problems with low self-worth, with feelings of being damaged goods, feeling dismissed and scorned by the society they’re growing up in the middle of, with fear that their families and friends will treat them that way too (or with the reality of that).

So no, it’s not enough to just slow down the flow of toxic effluent still coursing towards them, vital though it is to do that. What we also need to be doing is directly and constantly affirming, encouraging, loving these young people out loud and to their faces, as an antitoxin. We need to be constantly telling them that they are as valuable and beautiful and worthy as everyone else, that they are not less normal, merely less common. We need to be encouraging them to love themselves, because bloody hell, they need all the encouragement they can get.

The more encouraged, and affirmed, and loved they are, the more happy they’ll be – but also the more confident and assertive they’ll become – and the more they are all that, the less they’ll get bullied, because bullies do not gravitate towards the confident and assertive, the rich in love.

If we only work on the external toxic forces, and yet do little to feed these young people from inside themselves, it’s like having an allotment where you’ve planted all kinds of beautiful plants, and you put lots of effort into weeding it and removing pests… but you forget to water the plants, and so they still all shrivel and die.

So many LGBT young people contemplate, or even attempt or succeed in suicide. They need an antidote that they can learn to brew themselves, and keep strengthening, if they’re to grow up strong and healthy and loving in this dubious environment, and to make it ultimately less dubious through their continued loving presence.

I’d like to see many more resources devoted towards their very direct support and encouragement, in as many ways as possible. Youth groups, counselling, buddying, mentoring, befriending… and all that other good stuff that’s already being done too, more of all of it.

There. That’s my say.

*****

Why In the garden! ? As a kid, I read The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s a pretty weird book, and there’s a lot about it that’s dubious, in terms of reinforcing gender and class stereotypes. But the central message is very much bound up with what I’ve been writing about here. The wounded father who cannot bear his son, because he reminds him of his lost wife, condemns that son to illness and bitterness. The son is finally rescued by friendship and a garden to cultivate – partly in the hope of winning his father’s love, but partly just for the love of creation and nurture (and learning in the process to bring this about in himself too).

Near the end of the book, the father is abroad on holiday, when he has a dream in which he hears his lost wife calling to him… “In the garden, in the garden!” He goes home, and finds his son well and strong and happy, the garden restored, and his own loss and bitterness break down and let go into love in the face of this.

As a story, it either gets to you or it doesn’t. For me, there has always been something magical, incantation-like about this In the garden! – yes, you can do all this urban renewal and education, but you have to go to people’s source, their root, and water and feed it with love and appreciation. We each need to learn to do this for ourselves, but it’s that much harder if those around us when we’re growing do not show us how by their very direct example of demonstrating love for us. So anything that we can each do to help anyone learn this for themselves, no matter how young or old they are, is a gift – but the younger people are when they receive this gift, the more they can make it their own, and then cultivate it and share it.

*****

One more thing to add: I was reading a document sent to me by one of the other panellists, the one I got on with best, which was about the prevalence of mental health issues among young people in this country. There was a term in this document I hadn’t heard before: looked after children. This is apparently what has replaced the older term children in care, to describe children who are looked after by the state, in children’s homes or placed with foster families, rather than living with their own family. And reading some of the facts and figures about these children (and what happens to many of them when they grow up), it was obvious to me that everything I’ve said above applies equally to these children – as it does also to adopted children. They, as well as LGBT children (and some of them are both, of course) all suffer from a deeply ingrained message that they’re not as valuable as other people, and we need to counter that with a constant nourishing diet of love.

Thanks for listening. 100. Bloody hell. Sorry, I lack middle gears.

Cherry_Blossom

A Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism

This is a thing of beauty – a true antitoxin.

feministsfightingtransphobia

We are proud to present a collective statement that is, to our knowledge (and we would love to be wrong about this) the first of its kind.  In this post you’ll find a statement of feminist solidarity with trans* rights, signed by feminists/womanists from all over the world.  It is currently signed by 790 individuals and 60 organizations from 41 countries.

The statement can be found here in English. It is also available in French, Hungarian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian and Serbo-Croatian.

The complete list of individual signatories is available here, or alphabetically or by country. The signatory list of organisations and groups is available here. We would love it if you signed it too. You can either use this form, or email us, or post a comment on this post or on the statement.

Our continued thanks to everyone for your support.

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On the side of the angels

ombre-de-citronI have come lately, willy nilly, to the realisation that it’s very likely that I am to be found somewhere along the autism spectrum. The reason why I say “very likely” is that I’m deliberately maintaining some provisionality, uncertainty about this.

Partly because it’s a lot to take in, but partly because there are many, many facets to how AS can present, and some of them map congruently onto the Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome I’m also living with. So I’ve needed to do a lot of teasing out first, a lot of running the light through a prism.

And it seems to me, having done that, and a lot of reading and discussing with my various aspie friends, that though some of my aspie-congruent traits are also PTSS-congruent, many are very much not. The upshot of this is that if I am on the aspie spectrum, I still won’t know with any real certainty which is causing what, when it comes to the traits that map onto both the AS and PTSS. Also, I’m reluctant to acquire another label, and reluctant to call myself something that I’m uncertain I am (and honestly, also afraid to incur the displeasure of aspies out there for saying I’m something when I may not be).

Pragmatically, however… since I’ve been doing my reading and discussing, I’ve found that not only can I make a lot more sense of myself, but I’m able to apply some of the models used to conceptualise AS very effectively to manage some of the states I get into that I was assuming were caused by my PTSS (and that I’d found no way of effectively engaging with until now). And more fundamentally: I intuit this – and I trust my intuition.

By the way, you may have noticed by now that I’ve edited my heading to do away with the now deprecated “PTSD” in favour of PTSS, since Post-Traumatic Stress is these days thankfully more perceived as a Syndrome, and not a Disorder. It took receiving a full and positive diagnosis of PTSS to make me feel able to make this change, which is interesting, innit.

So there it is. Having just recently finally received this PTSS diagnosis, one consequence is that at some point in the near(ish) future, I’ll be coming under the care of the local Mental Health team, who will be looking at ways to support me better with this. That seems like a good context for raising the possibility of me being aspie as well. I’m not going further than this for the moment in terms of Being Certain. But the congruence is extreme, so it’s hard to just sit here and Be Uncertain – one of my classic traits is that I Want To See The Map!

Anyway, this is all a bit by-the-by, I just wanted to mention it because it’s what’s going on at the moment, but also as context for the main part of this blog-thing, which is about an article from the Huffington Post, entitled Is There a Link Between Autism and Gender Dysphoria?

I was drawn to this article because I’m exploring my possible aspieness at the moment, but also because of the posited connexion with gender identity. A number of things bother me about the article – although it’s not actually the article, which is itself nicely open-ended, and is just written as a jumping-off point for the discussion, I think. What’s bothering me is the array of assumptions that appear to be at the root of the research and its conclusions.

There is far too much tendency out there in the first place to pathologise both autism and gender dysphoria. These studies of gender dysphoric autistic people seem to be assuming a pathological link on the wings of that previous pathologising, and then they’re looking for evidence to back that dubious premise up.

My own theory as to why there appear to be relatively more AS people than NT (neurotypical) people with gender dysphoria is twofold, and to do with culture, not pathology.

Firstly, AS people are simply more likely to discover and acknowledge earlier in life any gender dysphoria that they have, because they’re being forced pretty much every day to question their whole identity and behaviour – both from within, and by a culture that is very unforgiving of variations from “the norm”.  NT people are much more rarely forced to question themselves in the first place. It can take some NT people right up until their 70s to recognise that they’re experiencing gender dysphoria and acknowledge their need to do something about it.

It’s also very likely that AS people who are gender dysphoric are more often “outed” than dysphoric NT people, simply by their reduced ability (compared to NT people) to be able to mask their gender dysphoria under gender-stereotypical behaviour – or their reduced desire to do so.

And secondly, because AS people are forced to question their identities from the word go, they also question society’s “norms” and assumptions in general much more thoroughly than do NT people who simply fit in with all that, and for whom those “norms” are just the Way Things Are™. So AS people are less likely to buy into or conform to the gender-stereotyping and assumptions of a gender binary than most people, and are more simply being themselves.

I know many AS trans* people (particularly the younger people) who are very open and non-binary in their experience of their genders. and this is not a “disorder” of gender identity, it’s simply an acknowledgement that the binary gender system that we’re all brought up to believe is All There Is is just a over-simplistic convention, and a fantasy.

AS people not only have to contend with their own often very intense experiences, but also with a culture that’s falling over itself to find something wrong with everything about them, and assuming their different perceptions of how things are to be automatically “abnormal”.

So I find it very frustrating that the medical community should think in the terms expressed by the researches described in the article. To me, it’s like colour-blind people deciding that people who see in all colours are simply ill, and trying to classify that “illness”.

*****

Rhapsody angelThe whole Angels thing? It’s because of Captain Scarlet. The Angels in Captain Scarlet (they all work for Spectrum, see) are a collection of kickarse female pilots with wonderful names like Harmony, Rhapsody, Melody – they were my heroes in the show (along with, for some reason, Lt. Maroon).

And it’s also because of this song by The Damned, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.

I’m normal outside, (he’s evil inside)…The lyrics Me, I’m on the side of the Angels… (but the Devil’s my best friend…) have always stuck in my mind. I can’t explain why this seems relevant (though it’s probably got a lot to do with AS people being demonised and pathologised), it’s just been going round my head while I’ve been writing this, so don’t worry about it, just me making connexions with everything :). I apologise for the grotesque image(s) in the video that goes with this song. They are definitely not meant to be representative of anything real to do with this discussion.