Entitlement and Free Speech….

Another blog that I read, https://sometimesitsjustacigar.wordpress.com/, had a piece about the recent furor regarding Germain Greer and her being refused a voice at Cardiff University.  A comment on that post about “free speech” really ticked me off and I’d like to talk about that.

If you want, you can refuse to listen, refuse to read what I write, ignore anything I say. It will disappoint me, as I like it when people read what I write but, I won’t complain. I won’t go running to the media complaining that I have been denied a voice, because I haven’t. The fact that I can write this and post it on my blog is a freedom that I can enjoy. Whether or not anyone reads it is up to those who find it, not me.

I have opinions. Sometimes I like to share those opinions. Some people may not agree with them but, hey, that’s what debate and argument is all about. I won’t shove those opinions down anyone’s throat, I cannot force anyone to agree with me and I cannot force anyone to like what I say, but I still have the ability to say it.

I am a woman, a woman with a transsexual past. Consequently, any person with an opinion that seeks to deny my existence, or claims to know what I think or how I feel, will be in disagreement with me. I will tell them that they are wrong, and argue the point with them but, if they do engage with me, I don’t have to listen. I don’t have to spread the word. I am under no obligation to allow them a platform and I can quite happily tell them to shut up.

This isn’t denial of free speech. As an individual or an organisation, not providing someone with a platform to speak isn’t a denial of their rights, nor is it silencing them. Its an exercise in free speech itself.

If I were to stand in Parliament Square in London, espouse my dislike of certain policies enacted by the government, and then be arrested and taken away on the orders of the government, then that would be suppression of free speech. If I wrote something on my blog which was then deleted by GCHQ, then that also would be suppression of free speech. Conversely, if I were denied any form of media through which I could express my opinion, then that would be denial of free speech.  Any form of suppression of opinion by a government is denial of free speech.

Anything else is simply “I don’t want to listen to you.”

Transition Truths and Bathroom Lies….

I don’t normally blog about things outside the UK but the problems in other countries, most notably the US, regarding the treatment of TS people, are becoming to big not to. Probably no-one will read this, or maybe some will but, if it helps to change even one life then my time has been well spent.

There are several items that seem to be high in the US news at the moment but, in this entry, I will concentrate on two. One is AB1266, the so-called “bathroom bill” in California. The other is the case of the Florence High School student in Colorado, (known as “Jane Doe”), who has allegedly been harassing students in the girls bathroom. This has since been proven false by Cristan Williams of the TransAdvocate website. Both stories have involved the Pacific Justice Institute, a “Christian” organisation seemingly devoted to eradicating anyone and anything that doesn’t fit their world view, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and The Privacy For Students Coalition (of which PJI is a member). All of these organisations are right-wing, allegedly Christian organisations who seem to see gay, lesbian and transsexual people as some kind of threat that needs to be destroyed.

I suspect that much of their problem is based in ignorance of what being transsexual actually means. I also suspect that they don’t want to know because, in their eyes, acceptance would mean realising that we are not the enemy and are not out to destroy families or corrupt children. All we want to do is be like everyone else and work, earn money, pay taxes and bills, go on holiday and live our lives as we see fit within the law of whichever land we live in.

I. Minds, Maps & Transition

I’m only going to concentrate on transsexuality here since the two stories I previously mentioned (and will speak about further), are about that.

A transsexual is a person who’s gender identity does not match the body they have. It’s not a choice as so many people think. It’s something we are born with and grow up with. The mind’s internal map of the body is confused because the body doesn’t match. The map cannot be changed as it is an intrinsic part of the mind.

Imagine a sat-nav which has one map, a map that cannot be changed without destroying the sat-nav and losing yourself forever, but the map doesn’t match the roads you are on. Rather than destroying the sat-nav and becoming irrecoverably lost, its easier, with a lot of work and time, to change the roads to match the map. That way the sat-nav works and you can navigate with no problems. Changing the body to match the mind is far less problematical and less fatal than trying to change the mind to match the body.

From the UK Home Office Guide: The Workplace and Gender Reassignment:

In medical and scientific disciplines, gender dysphoria is increasingly understood to have a biological origin and is strongly associated with a neuro-developmental condition of the brain. Studies, such as those conducted by Professor Van Gooren, of a region in the hypothalamus of the brain which is smaller in women than in men showed that in M-F transsexuals this region was of female size or smaller. The view that the weight of current scientific evidence suggests a ‘biologically-based, multifactorial etiology’ for transsexualism is supported by articles in journals, the press and popular scientific works. Transsexualism is therefore innate, not acquired. It cannot be ‘cured’ by psychological or psychiatric treatments alone, although psycho-social factors may play a role in the outcome. It is a medical condition and transition to the preferred gender role, thereby confirming the individual’s core gender identity, may be the only solution.

Transition is a choice of sorts that eventually befalls us, but not much of one. With most transsexuals its a choice of transition or a descent into a life of excruciating depression and mental anguish. With many its a choice of transition or die. Transition brings its own problems: Ridicule, physical or verbal abuse, difficulty with employment, housing and finances, loss of family and friends. Along with learning new behaviours, hormone therapy, extremely painful laser and electrolysis treatments, voice training, and eventual surgery, it’s not something that can be undertaken lightly. So why the groups I mentioned earlier want to make things harder is beyond me.

II. Bathrooms and Beyond

I’m not really sure if the case of the Florence High School student, “Jane Doe”, and the opposition to AB1266 are as much about use of the bathroom, (toilet or loo in the UK), by TS students as they are about the hatred and distrust of the unknown and the frightening refusal to learn the facts about that unknown.

It seems that, in the Florence HS case, the facts were totally ignored in order to manufacture a situation that would promote hostility to Jane Doe, and therefore force her removal from the school, or at the very least, prevent her from using the bathroom of her gender. (I’m not going to dance around the fact that she is female, and presents as such). Since, thanks to some in-depth fact-checking by Cristan Williams, it has been proven to be a false claim, the PJI and the PrivacyForStudents coalition have taken to attacking her in other ways, even though she has been put on suicide watch due to death threats received after Fox News aired the story (again, without any fact checking whatsoever). Even the UK media picked up on the story, most notably the Daily Mail, who, along with most other media outlets, after receiving correct information from TransAdvocate and Cristan Williams, removed the story from their web pages and online newspapers.

Along with this, the PJI, Traditional Values Coalition and The Privacy For Students Coalition have also resorted to underhand tactics to try and get AB1266 repealed. These tactics include a manufactured story about a trans student in LA who allegedly peeked over the top of the stalls in the girls bathroom. This, also, has been proven to be false, fabricated because, as with Florence HS, one parent disagreed with a transgender student being at the school and the PJI et al, jumped on the story and twisted it to fit their own ends.

Now they appear to be using even more underhand tactics to scare people into signing a petition that, should it reach the required number of signatories, will open the vote on repealing AB1266. These scare tactics include saying that AB1266 will open the way for gay men to use the ladies bathroom and that it will facilitate rape and molestation by trans children.

III Opinion

Looking from the outside, in, it seems to me that there is a lot of blind ignorance, hatred and simple bigotry going on over the water. What amazes me even further is that many of these organisations claim to have a Christian basis and operate to Christian values. I have many Christian friends, both practising and non-practising, and none of them can understand the attitude of these organisations. In fact, most of them reacted with disbelief when I told them what was happening. I also live in an area with Muslims, Hindu’s, Sikh’s, Buddhists, Christians and various other religions and have good relations with all of them and I am accepted by them as a woman. So, religion itself doesn’t appear to be the problem.

It would appear to me that, as I have said before in this article, it boils down to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear caused by lack of understanding and fear of understanding and finding there is nothing to fear. This fear then gives rise to such hatred and bigotry, disguised by a thin veneer of religion, attempting to give it a socially acceptable face. Take away the fear and the whole house of straw would drift away on the breeze, leaving behind the knowledge that we are trying to live our lives as best we can, to become ordinary in somewhat extraordinary circumstances.

I am not asking for anyone to give up their beliefs, nor am I trying to denigrate any religion. I am just asking for understanding, some compassion and maybe, just maybe, for people to open their minds a little and see us as the men and women that we are.

Its not too much to ask, is it?

Gizza Job, I Can Do That….

It seems that job-hunting has taken a step closer to being a full time job in itself, albeit a very badly paid one. The wisdom of Ian Duncan Smith seems to know no bounds, in fact it seems to know nothing at all. First of all there was the Work Programme. A back-to-work programme outsourced to private companies on a payment-by-results basis which was a massive failure. According to the Public Accounts Committee only 3.6% of claimants on the programme were helped back into work between June ’11 and July ’12, despite a target of 11.9%. Coupled with this was the politically explosive “Workfare” programme, which ended up being branded “slavery” and “indentured servitude” and was challenged in the High Courts.

His latest wheeze seems to be another thinly disguised attempt to grab more votage from the working population, and put many of those unfortunate enough to be unemployed on the back foot. This is the announcement of supervised jobsearch, (starting in 2014), which means that anyone who has come off the Work Programme without finding a job, (which seems to be about 95% of us), have to attend a supervised jobsearch programme at a designated centre for 35 hours a week in order to obtain benefits. Yes, 35 hours a week looking for a job. The idea being to get people used to the 9-5 working day, and looking for a job at the same time.

So, how will this work? I have no idea. Will this work? Going on past performance, probably not. I can’t honestly see how sitting in a job centre, with however many other people all trying to look for a job, is going to work. Resources are limited. Space is limited. Patience is limited. Are they going to place all of us in a single room, sharing a number of computers and one person supervising or will there be multiple rooms and multiple staff? Either way, I suspect it will be like herding cats.

A better option would be to ask each claimant to prove that they are looking for work. This could be by means of email application replies, letters from companies, filling in application forms which are then presented to the job centre for confirmation and despatch. Also, responses from potential employers confirming attendance at interview, or application. Maybe place those who seem to have no interest in finding a job under supervision but some of us actually do want to work and are looking for work.

Being a bit of a nerdy girl and really wanting to work, I spend about half my day and much of my evening looking for and applying for jobs. I am a member of upwards of 30 job search sites, I have a constant email feed, throughout the day and night, of new job lists. I can prove every single job application and interview both verbally (from employers) and on paper, but I still do not have a job. I am one of the 96.1% who has left the work programme without one, but why, with everything I do, would I want to sit in a room for 7-8 hours a day, five days a week, looking for a job? I suspect that there are many out there like myself who can search more efficiently on their own than under the supervision of someone who has, quite probably, no incentive to help anyone find a job other than their wages.

Unleashed, but Barely Alive and Breathing

There’s an old saying in the tech world: “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer“. Having spent some time reading various articles on the DWP’s Universal Credit system, and having been one of the techies waiting to start work on it, (now not working on it at all due to changes made by the DWP), I sincerely believe that the saying should be modified to read: “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a government“.

The whole idea of Universal Credit was an admirable one. Collating and simplifying payments to benefit claimants into one monthly payment, linking it into the HMRC system so that there was no need to sign on or sign off when leaving or starting a job, levels of benefit changing depending on the salary received, reducing fraud, all wonderful things promised by a sparkling new system to be in place by October 2013, shiny, new and tested and working.

This isn’t going to happen.

Instead we are given a multi-tentacled, money-sucking monster that, barely alive and breathing, threatens to destroy every benefit claimant that is caught in its foetid maw, and one which will not now be fully unleashed until 2017. Part of the problem has been the ruckus occurring at top management level, with two stepping down and moving on and one sadly passing away.

The rest of the problem lies with the system itself. It appears that there is actually only one job centre testing the system, (“Pathfinder”), in Ashton-Under-Lyme, while the two others, (Oldham and Warrington), are not due to start testing now until the end of August. Apparently they are only using single people, newly unemployed, to test the system, which is a bit like testing a car by driving it around a smooth track at five miles per hour and declaring it safe. What’s worse is that the HMRC real-time information (RTI), system which is supposed to supply the claimant data is still being developed so the Pathfinder rollout has had to be halted while the data is entered manually. According to an article in The Register:

“civil servants have had to do the sort of basic tasks that were originally intended to be done automatically, like data entry and the verification of basic information about a client such as date of birth, address or right to claim the dole – even though a small number of clients with relatively simple personal situations have been chosen to take part.”

Under no circumstances should this software have been allowed out into the real world in this condition. Entering data by hand on a live system, data that, if entered wrongly, could threaten people’s already precarious financial stability, is ridiculous. If the HMRC RTI system isn’t ready then don’t roll out UC until it is. Using such a simplistic approach and such basic data, probably in the hope that all would work well and the politicians could hold it up as a shining example of government IT, is idiotic in the extreme. I could understand if this approach was for comparison purposes, ensuring the data from the HRMC matched the claimant, but it isn’t.

You rarely see this level of idiocy in a business setting.  It’s yet another case of government touting something wonderful without knowing whether is can actually be delivered on time and within budget. Universal Credit will now be added to the ever-growing list of  huge government IT projects that have, along with the NHS & Child Support, ended up as bloated, over-budget embarrassments which could have been delivered properly had the government listened to the right people.

Sorry, rant over.

The Lords of Orwellian Change

I’ve been taking a somewhat perverse delight in reading various articles about the Same Sex marriage debate in the House of Lords just lately. It appears, with the number of amendments being tabled, that many of the members have an inherent fear of change. These amendments even have a name now, “wrecking amendments”, specifically designed to wreck or seriously delay the SSM bill’s passage through Parliament. They also have one other thing in common. They seem to also be designed to place same-sex marriage below that of opposite-sex marriage, all the while maintaining the façade of equality.

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has tabled an amendment to bring two tiers of marriage into play. This redefines opposite-sex marriages as “traditional marriages” and makes a distinction between opposite-sex and same-sex marriage. The amendment states:

“nothing in this Act could take away the right of a man and woman to enter a traditional marriage. A ‘traditional marriage’ is one where the basis of the marriage is the voluntary union of one man and one woman for life, to the exclusion of all others.”

What concerns me about this is that nothing in the act takes away the right of opposite-sex couples to enter into a so-called “traditional marriage”. It merely extends the meaning of marriage to include same-sex couples, giving them the right to call their union a marriage. Lord Carey doesn’t even bother to give same-sex marriage a label, as if it is beneath him. Also, if it wasn’t so serious, the part about “voluntary union of one man and one woman for life”  would have me laughing, when you consider the divorce rate in this country (42% in 2010).

So, two tiers of marriage then? Both offer exactly the same vows, both have exactly the same status in law, both legally cement the relationship between two people who love each other, both have the same benefits but, if this distinction from Mr Carey were to go into the bill, one would become slightly more equal than the other. To paraphrase George Orwell’s character, Napoleon, in Animal Farm:

“All marriages are equal, but some marriages are more equal than others”

Another amendment, tabled by Lord Mackay of Clashfern, would allow straight couples to enter into civil partnerships. Why? Equality? CP’s were introduced because the SSM bill either wasn’t finished or the government of the day were too scared to bring it in, so they came up with Civil Partnerships.  CP’s were supposed to be equal in law but could never be called marriages. It was another example of discrimination masquerading as equality. So Lord Mackey wants to offer straight couples the ability to join Rosa Parks at the back of the bus? Or is it because same-sex couples had something that straight couples didn’t? Or is it something more insidious? Lord Mackey also went on to say that “marriage should be for natural procreation”. Is there a hint of something there or is my imagination reading something more than is being said? Giving opposite-sex couples who cannot have children a less than equal marriage, maybe?

Probably the most damaging amendment, though, is the call for a referendum on the SSM bill in 2015. This would mean that, even if the bill passed through all stages ready to become law, it couldn’t become law until voters approved it on 7th May 2015, at the earliest. Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I  don’t recall ever being asked if I wanted the country to join Europe, or being asked to vote on Universal Credit, or the Equality Act 2010, or any other bill which affects nearly everyone in this country to one extent or another, prior to them becoming law. So why is it so important that a bill, which will bring equality to a small minority of the country, leaving the majority unaffected, be voted on in a countrywide referendum? It isn’t going to cause the end of the world, nor is it going to cause the downfall of society, or cause a post-apocalyptic degenerative society to suddenly appear. Most countries who have introduced SSM seem to be getting on with things quite well, even the US states which now have it don’t seem to have broken down into chaos and disorder.

I can only hope that the Lords see sense and reject all of these ‘wrecking’ amendments and take another step toward a saner world.