Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Awks SRE Moment No 2 : We Deffo Need To Talk About Asexuality

"If sex without love exists why can't people understand that love without sex exists too". Anon (PinInterest :https://www.pinterest.com/nutellatardis/asexuality-what-you-should-know-what-i-need-to-lea/ )

Mega Phallus LOLs from Natalie at http://ace-symmetric.tumblr.com/ Check her out! 
Takk muchly for those who read my previous blogpost on SRE, namely examining the need for teachers and educators to reflect on the often overlooked topic of Intersexuality  in an impartial but comprehensive manner. Another area that demands an equal amount of attention and scrutiny is that of asexuality. I can remember asking a question in my RE lesson when my tutor was talking about Christian attitudes towards sexuality; I basically asked him whether he knew of "any people who have no sexual preferences towards any gender". He gave me a puzzled look, said "don't be silly God's designed beings are no longer free from desire since the Eve and THAT snake seduction moment in Genesis" (i.e. Original Sin argument) and went on to discuss how homosexual people should be pitied for their sexual desires.

After having done my own research on asexuality for my GCSE exams and then having explored asexual stories during my English Literature study at the University of York, it really dawned on me how bigoted we really are in thinking that human beings must have sexual desires to be seen as a natural human being. That should never be assumed! Just because a friend  doesn't want to talk about sex all the time, doesn't lust after pecs and abs on a seedy gay porn channel like Porntube or
shows no interest in chatting up the blond bird at the bar and hasn't done so for the past year doesn't make them "abnormal" or "needing psychiatric treatment". Asexuality is a perfectly normal form of sexuality. It's time secondary students were taught about such alternative forms of sexuality (or non sexuality).

What Is Asexuality?
Definitions of asexuality vary greatly, which can give a green flag to critics to even recognise it's existence in the world. Few commentators are open to explaining the concept in any great depth. However I'm avoiding that cop-out clause by giving the most concise, recognised definition below:

"Someone who does not experience sexual attraction....another small minority will think of themselves as asexual for a brief period of time while exploring and questioning their own sexuality" Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) (2008).

AVEN are quick to point out that asexuality, just like any other form of identity, is "just a word that people use to help figure themselves out" and encourage those people to use the word for as long as it is useful to do so.

Asexual people may engage in romantic relationships or they may choose to remain alone. Some may feel a level of sexual attraction but not enough to act on it, so you get some who love holding hands and cuddling in public whereas others may only do it in the boudoir or not at all. Naturally like with any form of sexuality there can be a level of curiosity espoused by asexual people, so you may see them having sex because "they want to lose their virginity" or engage in acts of mutual masturbation at college to "fit in" with the frat dudes.

AVEN (2008)  then define the romantic/emotional aspects of asexual relationships by relating it to sexual identity:
  • Aromantic: Lack of attraction to anyone romantically.
  • Gray A: Between aromantic and non-aromantic; some level of sexual attraction but only as a secondary component after an emotional connection has been established.
  • Biromantic
  • Heteroromantic
  • Homoromantic
  • Panromantic
What percentage of people define themselves as asexual?
A popular statistic used by asexual advocates to explain the need to discuss differences in sexuality and sexual desire is that  at least 1% of the world's population are believed to be asexual. This is based on several studies that have carried out on sexual behaviour during the past century:
  1. In his 1948 work "Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male", Albert Kinsey created a scale (between 1 and 6) to rate individuals according to sexual orientation from heterosexual to homosexual. He decided to include an X category for those "with no socio-sexual contacts or reactions". Kinsey found that 1.5% of the adult male population was asexual.
  2. When Kinsey followed up his adult male study with that of women in 1953, Kinsey found that unmarried women were most likely to be asexual at 14-19%, with married women at (1-3%), divorced/widowed women at 5-8%. He also explored male sexuality through the marriage prism and found that 3-4% of unmarried men,  0% of married men and 1-2% of divorced or widowed men were part of the X category.
  3. A 1994 study by Wellings "Sexual Behaviour in Britain" of 18,876 people carried out in the wake of the AIDS crisis found that 1.05% of respondents answered a question on sexual attraction by stating: "they had never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all".
  4. Canadian researcher Anthony Bogaert examined the 1994 study in 2004 and concluded that the research sample size had been subject to bias because 30% of people initially contacted to take part in the survey chose not to participate and that less sexually experienced people would be less likely to take part and as asexual people are less likely to be sexually experienced it is likely asexuals were "under represented". Therefore he concluded there is a much higher percentage of asexual people out there than the survey suggested.
  5. A 2013 study published by Aicken et al that based itself on data from 2000-2001 showed that 0.4% of people identified themselves as asexual in the UK. There was also evidence of prevalent cultural/ethnic attitudes of those who identified with  asexuality: there was a higher percentage of men and women of Indian and Pakistani heritage identifying as asexual and Muslims were more likely to identify themselves as lacking sexual desire than Christian respondents.
Based on the readings of those studies it seems pretty sensible for asexual advocates to suggest a 1% benchmark. SE Smith in the Guardian "Asexuality has always existed, you just didn't notice it" (2012)  has suggested the actual number of asexual people hasn't increased but that it is still important to realise they exist. Whitewashing people sexuality wise just helps the patriarchal Judeo-Christian Conservatives to continue espousing their single binary goodness myths. 

Addressing some misconceptions around asexuality:
  • Asexuality is definitely NOT a gender identity. There may be transgender, non-binary or queer asexuals but asexuality in and of itself is not part of gender.
  • Being asexual doesn't mean you've made some abstinence pledge a la Kooky Conservative Christian College style. There may be some that choose to abstain but plenty just have no desire to have physical or intimate relations full stop.
  • Some asexuals masturbate because they need a form of sexual release. Yet that doesn't mean they are attracted to a specific person enough to have physical relations with them.
  • Asexuality does not equal celibacy. Plenty of promiscuous asexuals out there even if their sexual attraction is not permanent and there are those out there who don't mind sharing a bed with people they like!
  • Asexuality is not a medical disorder. You may have asexuals who suffer from known psychiatric problems like schizophrenia but that is not entirely due to their asexual feelings.
  • Asexuality is not a choice for some but for others may choose to be asexual after years of sexual relationships.
  • Not every asexual person fears having sex but there are asexuals who do fear it. Some asexuals may engage in sex acts because they want to make their partner happy. Others will not entertain the idea of seeing sexual images let alone thinking about sex. Most asexuals seem to not dislike people for wanting to have sex though as proved by Shelley Bridgeman in her article "No Sex Please, We're Asexual" in The New Zealand Gazette (2011).
  •  Some will carry out solo masturbation as a form of release regardless of whether they believe they have sexual desires. This is because some asexual people believe masturbation is linked to sex drive or libido as opposed to desire. They may masturbate because it is a natural impulse even though they dislike the act of masturbation. Some asexual men can't even get an erection in the act of penetration but can do so when masturbating.
So Sherlock, how can you tell whether someone is asexual or not?
If an individual self-defines as asexual and we accept the principle of basic human rights to express ourselves as we see fit, then we have to accept that person's definition of themselves whether we truly understand it or not. Most critics of asexuality say that there has to be a question that they must ask themselves so they can label them as asexual; usually that question is "Do you feel any sexual attraction?". That question is rather inherently vague because if a person has actually never experienced sexual attraction, how would they know what any meaningful difference would be?

A blog looking at "What is Asexuality?" (2014)  has tried to come up with a list of questions that are asked by asexual people themselves to help people better understand their feelings. I reprint the "crib sheet" content below:
  • Are you generally disinterested in sex?
  • Is your interest in sex more scientific than emotional?
  • Do you feel left out or confused when others discuss sex?
  • If you had sex, did you think it was dull or boring, and not the amazing experience other people made it out to be?
  • Have you ever had to pretend to be interested in someone in order to fit in?
  • Have you ever felt “broken” because you don’t experience sexual feelings like those around you?
  • Have you ever felt that you were straight “by default” or that you were bi or pan because you were equally (dis)interested in all genders? 
  • Have you ever gone out with someone or had sex because you felt “that’s what you’re supposed to do?”

  • Stark Truths from https://www.tumblr.com/search/coming-out-as-asexual 

    My feelings re Asexuality and mainstream LGBT responses to it:

    I'm disgusted at the reluctance of some in the LGBT community not to include Asexual people as an essential part of the community. The fact asexuals are often afraid to be open about their feelings for fear of being incarcerated in a mental asylum is enough to justify why we should accept them, acknowledge their existence and welcome them with open arms. The 2012 study published in Group Processes and Intergroup Relations" showed that there is a level of prejudice and discrimination faced by asexual people by members of the LGBT community that should be unacceptable; calling them "unrestrained and animalistic" is an attempt to dehumanise them based on their differences.

    Handy Guide from Pinterest : "Asexuality What You Need To Know".
    I cannot ignore asexual blogger Julie Decker's comments about there being cases of "corrective rape" amongst the asexual community when I myself was oral raped and know what it is like to suffer self esteem issues as a result of an act of hate- a hate crime. When I read about asexual activist Sara Beth Brooks being targeted by LGBT activists because "asexuals are mistaken in their self identification" and seek undeserved attention within the Social Justice movement it reminded me of the battle trans people are facing trying to get self-recognition laws through national parliaments to remove the requirement for medical diagnosis prior to treatment. It's a travesty to think little specific protection exists for asexual people in case they are discriminated against; even our current Equality Act in the UK does not specifically mention protection for those who may be attacked for saying they have no sexual feelings or romantic attraction! Even New York State is ahead of us in the protected characteristics stakes!

    So I say to those  transgender people out there who argue asexual people shouldn't be afforded the same rights and amount of respect for our cause by being included within the LGBTQIA spectrum, you should be in no doubt that there are asexual transgender people out there. If gender and sexuality are fluid but inherently separate concepts, you have to accept that someone may wish to change their gender without there being a need to do it to "normalise" their sexual orientation or to attract more people purely for sexual reasons. I'm not transitioning to make myself more "datable" for straight guys; I'm doing it because I want to change my appearance for myself and my own wellbeing. If you want others to take the transgender cause seriously you have to be willing to engage in and promote other issues, such as those surrounding intersexuality or asexuality. Otherwise who will be bothered to take us that seriously as individuals striving for progressive changes for all with laws surrounding gender recognition, identity and equality?

    Thursday, 21 July 2016

    God Made Us All In His Image Get Over IT! : A Liberal Christian Trans Approach To Christianity

    "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" Galatians 3:28.  

    One of the primary assumptions that is made about transgender people in the mainstream media (MSM) and by the vitriolic filled trigger happy Conservative Christian egotists (aka Alt Right CJWs) is that trans people are not and can never be "people of the one true faith". Current Catholic doctrine, for example, states that gender reassignment does not change a person's gender in the eyes of the "faithful". The key point, says a 2000 document from The Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "is that the transsexual surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person was a male, he remains male. If she was female, she remains female." As recently as 2015 (according to Taylor Wofford) the Vatican has expressed negative sentiment towards trans people; with regards to a Catholic trans man's enquiry about trans Catholics wishing to be godparents they said that because they were revealing " in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one's own sexuality" and so were not fulfilling the requirement to live their life according "to the faith".

    Mind you I expect such tripe from a Church that freely elected an ultra conservative Pontiff  (Benedict XVI) who argues against Gender Theory because it's "subversive" and could eventually lead to "the self-destruction of the human race". Talk about being overly sensitive and deluded; we're more likely to have Mrs "Thatcherite" Theresa May  scare Larry the Cat into "accidentally" pressing the nuke button on New York than Gender theorists have of destroying the procreation process!

    Besides, as I have argued in previous blogposts, Gender and Sexuality may both be fluid yet they are inherently separate concepts. There are stories on forums of  Christian trans women who were happily married and had children prior to their transition and yet are happy/happier when they finish the gender reassignment process! I guess Mr Ex wasn't talking about those trans women per se but liberal ones like me who dare to challenge the "conventional wisdom" that we have to procreate as a human being to have fulfilled any "divine purpose" in my life. Me fancying exclusively men and being trans must be a doubly whammy of subversive for Mr Benny! Make sure that head of his doesn't explode in angst ;)

    So #SorryNotSorry about bursting that normative bubble of yours CJWs but I am a fully fledged Christian, just not a traditionally leaning one! I want to let trans people out there know that being gender fluid doesn't make you fundamentally "immoral" or "irreligious".

    Old Testament Views on Transgenderism:

    Strangely enough in the whole of the Bible there's only one passage which refers directly to any notion of transgenderism being wrong....and guess what....it comes from the OLD TESTAMENT ! Deuteronomy 22:5 proclaims that "women must not wear men's clothes, and men must not wear women's clothes. Everyone who does such things is detestable to the Lord your God". Well if God detested the cross-dressing antics of Israelites in the days of cloaks and sandals, who knows what he might think of Harry Styles wearing "female designated" bomber jackets or Annie Lennox wearing a crisp white shirt in her "Sweet Dreams" music video circa 1983? The lines between gender defined clothing are becoming more blurred as people realise that God allows us to have the freedom to choice how we present ourselves to the world. God created human beings who helped to progress our understanding of gender so that it's no longer shameful for someone like me to attend my local Easter Sunday service in amethyst gold earrings and a funky mini dress. These "purity codes" are just outdated! Some trans Christians would argue that wearing clothing that agrees with their preferred gender means that they are complying with God's commands. I personally don't agree that God wishes us to be tied down in such a Draconian way, especially as he created fashion designers like Mary Quant and Henry Holland to challenge preconceived ideas that we always have to conform to gender normatives.

    1: Samuel 16:17 offers an interesting rebuke to Deuteronomy's demand for outward appearance conformity: "... the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." Equally Zechariah 12:1 talks about God forming "the spirit of man within him".  If God is interested in a person's "interior reality" or spirit, then perhaps he also cares and respects a trans personality which is contrary to the Vatican's statement that there is only a binary form of gender truth that corresponds rigidly to biological determination.  The passage may accept that trans people exist but it's hardly a glowing overt endorsement of trans lives. Promising start though!
    New Testament Views on Transgenderism:

    It's interesting to note that the New Testament is much more ambiguous when it comes to discussions of transgender. Conservative Christians are quick to point out 1 Corinthians 6:18-20: "know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" If your male body is "God's temple", then you should just accept what God has given even if your God given spirit (which includes your female gender identity) is in conflict with the body.

    However, in  John 7:24, Christians are told "Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment". Here Jesus's doctrine clearly contrasts with that espoused in Deuteronomy and seems to refer back to that in 1 Samuel, so perhaps CJWs better stop judging someone's "happiness" based on biological gender and be more accepting of their perceived gender identity, regardless of what clothes they were or whether they have gone through gender reassignment.

    Equally, there are references to eunuchs being acceptable candidates for baptism as found in the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch from Acts 8. Jesus refers to the story in Matthew 19:12 where he states: "there are eunuchs that have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven". The Ethiopian Eunuch was actually the first gentile conversion to Christianity. Jesus appreciated the Eunuch's differences (Conservatives may say this is because Jesus had to accept the Eunuch would be unable to fulfil his natural purpose so can only get pity) but Jesus wanted his apostles and followers to treat the Eunuch as an equal, a "neighbour".

     Loving "thy neighbour" is unconditional for Jesus. Even Jesus's followers were unsure what the term "neighbour" was supposed to mean; that's why Jesus tells the didactic story of Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The story centres around a traveller (his nationality is left out by Jesus but most believe he was a Jew) who is beaten up and left to die on the road and is then ignored by a priest and a Levite before being helped by a Samaritan. Samaritans were hated by Jews so the fact Jesus praised a Samaritan for helping showed that even a perceived enemy can be capable of selfless compassion. So I say even if some Christians may perceive transgender people as the enemy, they should try to love them unconditionally regardless of personal feelings.

    My favourite passage which I've always believed is very relevant to the debate about Conservative disdain and hatred for Christian transgenderism comes from  John 8:7. Jesus actively stopped Jews from enacting the Mosaic law against a woman who had been accused of adultery (stoning required); "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." None of them were completely free from sin, so none of them had the right to condemn her for her actions. So whether people like the way you live your life or not, it is not up to them to judge you for it. If God is Love then he must accept LBGTQIA individuals have a right to exist and that we should be loved for our authenticity and confidence. So what's the point in being engaged in self loathing?

    How can Conservative Christians honestly believe they are "free enough" from sin to judge others who don't share their beliefs if they believe that nobody on Earth is truly free from sin as a result of Eve's actions in the Garden of Eden aka "original sin"?

    There's No Correct Ontological Interpretation Of Scripture:

    For starters, no Christian scholar owns the "most proper correct ontological interpretation" of the Bible. Our understanding of Scripture has changed radically over the past 100 years. It has become apparent through hermeneutic study that Biblical passages had been changed over time to suit the patriarchal requirements of mid Roman society in order to gain more converts for the Christian cause. Modern scholars have also interpreted terms from the Hebrew and Greek in different ways from previous scholars. They have pointed out issues with copying errors and forgeries and can point to instances where views that were previously accepted are no longer acceptable today, including endorsements of slavery of Gentiles and treating women as inferior. John Boswell The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (1994) has found instances of "sinful behaviour" being positively documented in the Bible; for example Ruth having a relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi and David having a relationship with King Saul's son Jonathan.

    In The Body in Context: Sex and Catholicism (1992), Gareth Moore argues that while Conservative Christians are happy to follow the law set out in Leviticus 18:22  (same sex condemnation), they reject the passages later on about advocating for beheading as a punishment or the expressed wish that Christians should not wear garments of two kinds of material. Basically, the Bible is being used inconsistently to reinforce prejudices. Instead Moore believes that Christianity must adopt a more inclusive attitude towards transgender people, because it is a religion that positively seeks to make room for the marginalised and outcasts in society - 1 Corinthians 1:26-28.

    Here's one radical Christian Creation argument for you:

    A radical trans Christian argument comes into its own when considering the initial Creation verses in Genesis. We all know the old story; in the beginning "God created Adam"- an "earth being made in the image of God". Now Judeo-Christian Conservatives want us all to believe that the passage has to refer to our understanding of a "man" because that's how the passage has always been interpreted. Perhaps they should understand in the past that religious knowledge and understanding was "privileged" into the hands of a small minority of educated, rich men who thought their interpretations were wholly correct. Some liberal Christians and atheists might argue that Adam was not actually a man in our biological understanding of man, but "man and woman" or even unisex - i.e. he was the first transgender person in Biblical history. This flies in the face of conventional binary interpretations that centre around Genesis 1:27: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." Perhaps the only reason why God created Eve was to divide a body into two to provide fellowship; it certainly wasn't his original intention to allow them to procreate; God only gave that ability to Eve after she committed the act of "Original Sin" because he wanted Eve to "suffer for her sins through the act of childbirth". Before that it is plausible to argue that as Eve was made from the flesh of Adam (the perfect unisex being) she had to be genderless. In Paradise there is no such thing as gender because God treats us as one in an equal way.

    Perhaps it was the original interpreters of the Christian narrative who decided to lay the blame for original sin at Eve's door because it served their purpose to lock women out of leading a truly authentic religious life on a par with those "educated men". I've never been one to interpret Genesis literally so it doesn't really matter to me so much whether Eve was to blame or not. Of course the fact remains that inheritors of fundamentalist Biblical interpretation feel the need to denounce trans people because they provide a threat to the binary original sin system. They fear trans men getting a foothold within the Establishment because they would seek greater positions of authority within the Church and family unit so the "natural order of things" is disrupted. Hence the initial comments spouted by Pontiff Benny et al. Christianity has a long way to go in terms of accepting gender fluidity but at least there seems to be a way forward, if Biblical hermeneutical research is anything to go by!

    So Any Positives Church wise?
    Luckily some churches have begun to openly accept transgender people as being normal and vital members of their worshipping communities. Unitarian Universalism became the first liberal Christian denomination to accept openly trans people to become part of the clergy in 1979. The first trans Unitarian minister was ordained in 1988 and in 2002 Rev. Sean Dennison had the honour of becoming the first openly transgender person in the Unitarian ministry to be called to serve a congregation in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Church of England has made great strides in recent years to accept trans clergy; Sarah Jones became the first openly ordained CofE minister in 2005.

    My advice to trans people in the Catholic faith is twofold; you can either seek a different denomination that is prepared to accept you for your perceived gender identity or you continue the fight from within your national Catholic church and consider more liberal Cardinals to approach the Pontiff to convince him to treat trans people with the care and compassion they deserve.

    Thursday, 14 July 2016

    The role of the Religious Education Teacher in helping to discuss Gender Identity

    All too often these days I hear people sneering about the importance of Religious Education (RE) as part of a balanced, impartial curriculum. I understand the fear of many atheists and agnostics on the "Left" that RE in state schools over the past half century has tended to reinforce Christian bias in their local communities. Regardless, I have always believed that if such opponents of RE really wanted to help change mainstream opinions about their beliefs (or lack of belief), they would contribute towards the improvement of RE provision by designing appropriate instruction programmes for local schools (since RE is compulsory and yet the responsibility of local councils to design and deliver a curriculum). Some critics should even consider becoming RE teachers themselves. For example, there is no reason why an atheist who identifies themselves as part of the LGBTQIA spectrum could not become a RE teacher. I'm sure many accept the need for reasonable impartial debate around LGBTQIA issues and some would and should easily withstand the "personal abuse" that they could suffer as a result of introducing such issues into the classroom for the first time. To win fellow teachers and students over, LGBTQIA RE teachers have to create content that is carefully curated and delivery has to be sensitive in tone and appreciative of register. Bombarding students with inflamed opinions and overloading them with acronyms and statistics is not the way to go. Best to start with a basic definition of one topic associated with the LGBTQIA community, such as explaining what "transgender" means and then exploring religious and non religious responses by allowing an open forum for debate or spending a lesson looking at LGBTQIA hate crime would allow enough scope for debate and may even help to change the minds of students participating in the debate.

    What is the purpose of RE?
    Critics of RE are all too quick to dismiss the subject as "old fashioned", "irrelevant" or "biased towards one faith or another". In Lincolnshire, Christianity remains the most popular and widely practiced faith; in the 2011 census, 58% of Lincoln residents identified Christianity as their faith, despite its decreasing popularity nationwide. Numbers of Christian adherents have also been growing in Boston and its surrounding areas due to the massive wave of Eastern European immigration. This means that it is probable most RE teachers in Lincs focus on helping students to understand their own Christian values and responsibilities in the hope of moulding them into conforming local citizens.
    However, there are RE teachers in Lincolnshire who prefer a much broader RE curriculum that goes beyond exploring local religious beliefs and practices and allowing students to debate moral issues in depth from religious and non-religious viewpoints. Some even prefer to touch upon philosophical concepts to help students to develop crucial critical thinking skills that will prepare them for HE and beyond.
    Charlotte Vardy (2014) has talked about the need to explore different purposes for RE in the UK. I believe she has touched on 3 main purposes of RE that even LBGTQIA teachers can agree with:
    1. Religious Studies is the main opportunity for young people to address ultimate questions and moral issues which affect people of all faiths and none. 
    2. Religious Studies is a sociological exploration of the phenomenon of Religion, comparing different traditions and showing them to be essentially similar responses to the human condition. 
    3. Religious Studies provides the best opportunity to teach higher level skills such as critical analysis, evaluation and argument, which all students need for university and which other subjects often fail to deliver.
    If local RE curricula focussed on fulfilling these three purposes by touching on a wide breadth of moral issues beyond that of the usual "life and death" bread and butter ones,  then I believe we can make progress in raising LGBTQIA awareness amongst young people from a variety of different backgrounds. It's not about trying to preach that the LGBTQIA way of life is "better" than a Christian "ordinary" way of life; it's about getting students to appreciate and celebrate their differences to the point where they feel unafraid to confront pre-existing bias in their local communities. As long as teachers are prepared to address issues head on in an impartial way, we will make positive progress.

    How to make LGBTQIA issues relevant for RE Exams Example: A Framework for covering trans issues for Lincs local curriculum:
    A discussion about trans issues has to be embedded into the exam syllabuses for GCSE or A Level Religious Studies. Most students will now answer questions on Philosophy (primarily looking at life after death, existence of God etc.) and Ethics (looking at gender identity, abortion, euthanasia etc.) from a religious and non religious point of view. I believe that teachers must focus on at least 3 religions in addition to a discussion about queer theory and feminism to make the discussion impartial.
    • What is transgenderism - offer a number of different definitions from trans organisations' websites, from dictionaries and online search engines and from trans people's own testimonies.
    • Christian responses to transgenderism - Biblical quotes (especially from New Testament - e.g.. John 8:7 "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", gender neutral characters e.g. Ethiopian Eunuch and Jesus's explanation of Eunuchs and need for acceptance. Catholic Catechism (gender fluidity can lead to the "breakdown in the fabric of society"), Anglian/Methodist doctrine (accept transgender people without endorsing their life choices) vs Liberal Christian doctrine (Situation Ethics- God is Love; Love is the goal for all humans "What Would Jesus Do?" etc.)
    • Islamic responses to transgenderism -4 gender divisions : male, female, hermaphrodites (khunsa) and Mukhannas (MTF who want to change their sex through surgery). Qu'ran explicitly recognising trans people (Verses 42:49-42:50). Transgender as genetic "disorder" rather than a matter of choice.
    • Jewish responses to transgenderism - Talmud's gender categories - e.g. the androgynos (a hermaphrodite with male and female organs), the tumtum (someone with hidden or underdeveloped genitalia), the eylonit (a masculine woman) and the saris (a feminine man).
    • Torah - Deuteronomy 22:5 (Against crossdressing) and need for Jews to follow Jewish ethics (tzedek = justice and briyut = health) and treat trans people as part of the Jewish community if they identify as Jewish.
    • Queer Theory - Judith Butler's "Gender as performance" theory. See:http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/life-is-just-one-long-masquerade.html  
    • Feminist approaches to transgenderism - Germaine Greer's "Pantomime Dames" critiquing MTF transgender people as "parodying women" vs Transfeminist activists such as Julia Serano and Paris Lees.
    • Basic GCSE Exam question tie-in: Explain the difference between sex and gender.
    I shall be blogging more on religious responses to trans issues by examining advocates and critics in an impartial manner; kind of reminds me of my GCSE and A Level days when I was writing about Islam's approach to abortion or Thomas Aquinas's "dictates of conscience". Suffice to say there is a lot more work to do to reform GCSE and A Level RE teaching in schools in relation to impartial relation to sex and relationships but it is a challenge that all RE teachers should relish!

    Tuesday, 12 July 2016

    Awks SRE Convo Moment: We Need To Talk About Intersexuality

    "Given the cultural barriers to intersex conversation, the amazing thing is that we would even expect women and men to have anything to say to each other for more than ten minutes at a stretch" Barbara Ehrenreich

    So you know that bit of inadequate (Sex and Relationship Education) SRE that you might have got dribbled in your ear on a Friday afternoon at Country Bumpkin Comp whilst trying earnestly to put a rubbery cheap condom on an over ripe Aldi provided banana before Mrs Riddlebottom catches you blowing empty unused packet condoms up to play #rummybumpkin with your bezzie mate from English Lit. The "lesson" where you watch a 70's made sex ed video that portrays any gay man as an old pervert and heterosexual sex matchups as a "match made in heaven"?

    What they forgot to tell you is that there is more than two biological types of people in this world. There are 3 - shock horror! Some people are born with both male and female genital parts. In fact, according to New Zealander Life Without Purpose, 1 in 1000 babies are born as intersexed! In the old days intersex people that openly displayed their breasts and penis were described as "abnormal" or treated as a fetish sex object to be gawped and titillated at by men of letters who had a sideline in sadomasochism.  Many such "learned" men will have seen the description of Hermaphroditus by historian Diodurus Siculus in the 1st Century BC, where he is described as the son of Hermes and Aphrodite so had a physical body which is a combination of man and woman, "in that he had a body which is beautiful and delicate like that of a woman, but has the masculine quality and vigour of a man". When they supposedly saw such visions "in the flesh"  they pursued them with fervour and discarded them at will when they had their fill of  sexual conquesting their bodies.

    Thankfully, since awareness of gender fluidity and trans advocacy came to the fore in the 1960's, intersex people are beginning to get the recognition, dignity and respect they deserve.

    What does it mean to be Intersex?
    Individuals who are defined as intersex are those who possess variations in sex characteristics including sex hormones or genitals that "do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies" (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). Just like transgender, intersex is an umbrella term which allows for easy definition and understanding but commentators and advocates must remember that not all intersex people will accept that definition being foisted on them, especially as many continue the fight for normativity and freedom from prejudice and discrimination.

    It is still the case that some infants and children are surgically or hormonally altered in order to allow them to conform to one gender by being given "more socially acceptable sex characteristics". There is no real evidence to suggest such measures have any good outcomes for the child involved. The surgical process can actually result in sterilisation, ending the hopes and dreams of many intersex individuals to have that all important choice on whether to start a family, either as a father or mother.

    Just like all individuals, intersex people have a variety of gender identities. Some may be raised as a man or a woman by their parents but may choose to identify with another gender as they go through puberty. Some choose to go through gender reassignment so that they can be seen unequivocally as a man or a woman when they reach the age of consent. Others prefer not to adhere to gender binary definitions and will never live exclusively as a man or woman. All we need to know from SRE as non-intersex individuals is that intersex peeps have the right to choose their own gender identity in a democratic society so they can live the life they wish to lead, rather than having dangerous, arbitrary restrictions placed on them by specialists or parents when they are too young or powerless to stop them.

    Learning from our German Neighbours: The Case of Christiane Völling

    In 2011, Christiane Völling (born Thomas) became the first intersex person known to sue successfully for damages in a case against non-consensual gender reassignment surgery that took place in 1977. She was analysed in terms of her sexuality and sexual orientation but the psychologists and gender specialists at the time never fully explained to her why it was essential that she had her female reproductive organs removed; the medical papers revealed that specialists stated the purpose of the gender reassignment surgery was to remove "testoverectomy" i.e. testicular and ovarian tissue, but no testicular tissue was present. Christiane spent a few years living as a man but soon transitioned. She later managed to gain access to her medical records, noticed the chromosomal diagnosis and nature of the surgery. Christiane then sued based on the fact that with appropriate medical treatment, she could have lived the life of an ordinary woman from 1977 onwards, and that she would never had suffered the consequences of castration as well as urethra reconstruction, including contracting urinary infections if doctors had analysed her sexuality in the correct manner. The surgeon in fact accused her of having had "a fragile mental state" at the time of her surgery and that her body was not one of a "natural female". The court determined there was no acute risk to her physical or mental health that had required such evasive surgery and ruled that Völling could not have given her full consent if she had not been properly briefed on her intersex condition and awarded her €100,000.

    Intersex Human Rights:
    Human rights institutions such as the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) and the Council of Europe are placing increased scrutiny on medical practices and fighting discrimination. The Council of Europe (2015) has highlighted several areas of concern:

  • unnecessary "normalising" treatment of intersex persons, and unnecessary pathologisation of variations in sex characteristics.
  • inclusion in equal treatment and hate crime law.
  • facilitating access to justice and reparations.
  • access to information, medical records, peer and other counselling and support.
  • respecting self-determination in gender recognition, through expeditious access to official documents.

  • Intersex people would benefit greatly from a change in Gender Recognition laws. At the moment they cannot change their gender from male to female without going through medical diagnosis, and as I previously mentioned in my last blogpost, the protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) desperately needs to be changed from "Gender Reassignment" to that of "Gender Identity" to ensure all intersex people as well as transgender and gender neutral people are automatically protected in cases of workplace or public service provider discrimination.

    Finally:Transgender people must remember this:

    Society has so much yet to learn about acceptance of gender and sexual diversity. Even trans individuals have to understand the truly complex nature of the separate yet inherently linked concepts of gender and sexuality. More rigorous, impartial SRE would help all students try and come to terms with such complexities. We may all be human beings but we have to try and accept our individual differences at the same time. Perhaps a day will come when we no longer need gender or sexuality to identify our very existence as an individual. Then again they say the meek will inherit the earth....

    My thanks to iwgregorio.com

    Friday, 8 July 2016

    Leading Lights or Laggy LeftBehinds: My response to the Govt Response to the UK Trans Enquiry

    "Closets Kill. They suffocate us. We drown in the refuse of our own lies, lies that say we're alright. We're only alright when we can be seen for who we are". David Husted.

    Godot Lols (Takk to Bizarro Comics.com)
    So after nearly 5 months of biting my finger nails and endless staring at my emails folder to hear a "You Got Super Important Mail" tagline, the Tory majority Govt. has dared to respond to the 33 Trans Enquiry recommendations that were put forward by the Women and Equalities Select Committee (and mentioned in my previous politics blog post). It's strange how this dicey Directorate decided to sneak their response out whilst uber Brexit economic fallout and the "feminist victory" of an all woman Tory Leadership battle dominated the news cycle. (Quick note: Tory Leadership battle happens to be between two "practicing Christians" who are privately uncomfortable about same sex marriage (SSM) (Andrea Leadsom voted against the SSM bill whilst Theresa May abstained. God knows what their private views on transrights are!)

    As a transwoman currently going through the gender recognition and reassignment process, I felt it was my duty to scrutinise and highlight a few important issues that have arisen as a result of the Trans Enquiry Government response for the benefit of my (international) reading audience. Here is the link for those who have an expressed wish to read the response in full (40 pages in total): https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/535764/Government_Response_to_the_Women_and_Equalities_Committee_Report_on_Transgender_Equality.pdf

    Most trans people probably don't have the time to read such a report in depth, so in the interests of public disclosure and my belief that social media is a valid and important platform for free speech, I summarise my thoughts below:

    International Trans Rights Protection:
    • The Government has expressed their fundamental commitment to improving the lives of transgender people across Europe. I think any UK based trans individual would want the Govt to work within existing UN Human Rights Conventions in addition to advocating the creation of further legislation within the EU. Just rather unfortunate the UK population has decided to leave the EU at such a vital time for equal rights campaigning in the predominantly zealous (anti trans) Christian Central and Eastern European States such as Poland.  They seem to agree in principle with the ideals fostered by the Yogyakarta Principles and Resolution 2048 9 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; important pieces of international trans legislation. However the Govt refuses to see how following the Yogyakarta Principles could add anything to existing UK and international transgender law. They relish the fact it is "non binding". Basically it's a whole load of diplomatic wordplay muck to me! Whilst the principles may not appear to be constructive to UK bureaucrats, to others in Europe and beyond they are seen as key to fostering further attempts at mainstreaming LGB and especially T rights across the world. Therefore the Govt must be careful not to gain a reputation for being patronising with regards to human rights interventions within the international community. Yes our friends and allies realise how socially progressive we have been but we must not think that we know best on all trans issues, as has been demonstrated by Norway's gender legal self-determination already being implemented ahead of the UK.  
    • It is pleasing to note that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office remains committed to providing £900,000 from their Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy in the 2016/17 budget tax year cycle to help fund LGBT projects around the world. It is absolutely vital that the UK Govt continues to work with our European Union partners to raise awareness of transgender discrimination and encourage the creation of LGBT community groups to act as a forum for change. The fact this has been extended to projects in Africa is also welcome as there is a need to support grassroots LGBTQIA groups in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria. Helping to provide training materials on hate crime for local police forces and on trans issues within schools will help to combat the religious zealotry espoused by extreme Muslims and Christians  in countries such as Nigeria or Uganda. This may also help to reduce the possibility of immigrants committing trans hate crimes in the UK as a result of ignorance and religious bigotry. Perhaps including LGBT issues such explaining gender terminology or the fluidity of sex and gender being linked but separate subjects within core UK citizenship testing could also be a welcome step forward in hate crime prevention. After all one of our core British values is meant to be "tolerance" of citizens regardless of their personal preferences!

    The Gender Recognition Act (2004):

    • The Gender Recognition Act must be changed; it is not currently fit for purpose. I believe there is no reason as to why people cannot declare themselves to be non-binary in a legal manner. Gender self-declaration has to change from an application process to an administrative process. It should not be punitive and costly; £140 just to get a certificate can be a lot if you are unemployed and not claiming state benefits! Equally waiting for your gender dysphoria specialist to verify you have been diagnosed as having the "condition" is just plain nonsense! It makes trans people feel as if they are lying unless they pass through a "rigorous truth framework" created by the Establishment to determine your fate. No need for it if we are living in a truly fair and equal socially democratic age!
    • There is also no logical reason as to why gender self-declaration cannot be extended to 16 and 17 year olds. If you can drive, have sex and marry before you are 18 then you certainly have the mental capacity required to decide how you wish to be perceived by others in a legal manner. Therefore I'm disappointed that the Govt has not moved towards absolute gender self-declaration rights for those 16 years and over without parental consent. I believe there may be issues with regards to allowing legal gender self-declaration rights for those under 16 but I would remind the Govt that in Norway, gender self-declaration has been legalised provided their parents have given their absolute consent.
    • Married trans people continue to be concerned about the current requirement for their spouse to give consent prior to changing their legal gender. I believe there is no excuse for such a Draconian law to continue to be endorsed by any government in 2016; it has to be completely repelled. Trans people should not feel ashamed at daring to change their gender whilst still married. It is not enough for the Govt to point out 74 people have been given Gender Recognition Certificates since the Gender provisions were introduced in December 2014 to the SSM Act.
    • I am concerned that there have been no prosecutions under Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act. It is clearly not an effective deterrent if prosecutors are unwilling or unable to provide clear evidence to build a case to prosecute companies or individuals that have violated Section 22 by disclosing confidential historical information about trans people when it is unnecessary to do so. Perhaps all organisations need further nuanced training on the Data Protection Act and its implications for trans people to prevent accidental "outing". This would send a frank and clear message to employees and employers  that they can and must help prosecute those who deliberately "out" trans people whilst in the workplace or whilst trans people are accessing their services. Individuals and organisations must also be aware that they will be prosecuted if they fail to protect confidential information according to DPA requirements as well as under Section 22.
    • There is no fundamentally logical reason to me as to why there cannot be an X option provided for trans, non-binary or gender fluid individuals to use on official documentation such as passports and marriage certificates. The fact it has already been implemented successfully in Australia shows how such passports could be understood internationally. I believe there must be a change in primary legislation to create a third gender option as the impact on fraud and public protection would be minimal if the Govt were to review data from Australia that shows how X passports were being used in the first months after their implementation. It'd be amazing to think that the gender requirement could be dropped from passports in the near future and I wait with interest to hear about the findings from the International Civil Aviation Organisation in December 2016.
    • I am glad to see that HM Courts and Tribunals staff undertake equality and diversity training and that the judiciary have been given adequate guidance to address issues of gender reassignment so as to prevent accidental and deliberate "outings" of trans people whilst going through court proceedings.  

    Equality Act (2010) Protected Characteristics referring to trans individuals:

    • I believe the Govt has wriggled out of the need to change the protected characteristic category protecting trans people from "gender reassignment" to "gender identity". Whilst I accept that "gender reassignment" may be fully compliant with the Equal Treatment Directive (soon to be defunct as we Brexit the EU) it seems overly simplistic to automatically assume that an individual will be protected under the Equality Act even if they are treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic even if they may not deem themselves as having that characteristic. For example, how would a cross dresser know that he or she was protected under the EA if they chose to wear a lace dress to work instead of a suit and tie one day? Would the employer know  whether the cross dresser was protected under the EA when they choose to discipline them? More importantly, would the employer actually care whether they were protected or not? A Gender Identity characteristic I posit would protect cross dressers, non binary and gender-fluid people without any doubt being cast on their intentions or rights. After all, how embarrassing must it be for a cross dresser to know his or her colleagues think that he might consider gender reassignment when this might not be the case!
    • I am heartened to see that the Govt agrees with the Trans Enquiry recommendation 12 at least in principle. It is imperative that the Equality Act be amended to state that if a person has already transitioned legally (i.e. holds a Gender Recognition Certificate) that they should be able to access the single-sex services that relate to their chosen gender. Whilst I understand the concerns from domestic abuse charities such as Women's Aid that trans women may still be seen as "men" by some victims, I believe that if a trans woman has transitioned fully they do not pose a "rape risk" and therefore should be afforded the same amount of dignity and respect when they are also victims of domestic abuse. I do accept that there may be exceptional circumstances where this may not be possible, for example if a victim has acquired an phobia of trans people as a result of being raped by a trans person; clearly that victim deserves to have dedicated care and privacy that may not be afforded them if they were treated with trans victims or treated by trans professionals.  
    •  The Govt may have published detailed employment and service provider guidance in November 2015 to educate managers and HR professionals about trans issues but I've not personally met any manager, or trans employee who has read and understood the guidance in any great depth. Perhaps there is a problem with disseminating the information in an engaging and cohesive way. Information has to be accessible and take into account a variety of different types of reader, not just those who may already have awareness of trans issues (such as HR managers). Why not make the guides interactive? Why not create modules that can be built into existing online learning media programmes that include visual and audio content to take into account learning styles? Very short sighted thinking in my opinion!

    Transgender issues in Sport:

    • It is imperative that transphobia present in some sports is stamped out vigorously over the next decade. Whilst I understand in competitive sports it may be more difficult for trans people to participate in their gender preferred sports due to supposed ability bias due to muscle strength advantages etc. at the grassroots level in schools there is very little room for bias. I'd like to see defined exactly what the "unfair advantages" are with regards to grassroots sport for trans men and trans women. I think they may be able to identify quite a few for trans women but very few for trans men. The Govt. seems committed to helping the UK become a "more active nation" through the creation of initiatives such as Sporting Future: a New Strategy for an Active Nation (2015) but I've yet to see any evidence to suggest trans participation in football, rugby, cricket or hockey has increased as a result of its implementation. Hopefully such evidence will begin to emerge in a positive manner with sports professionals conducting more surveys focussed on LGBT participants.

    Transgender issues and the NHS:

    • Transphobia in the NHS is and must be seen as unequivocally "unacceptable". Trans people have the right to access treatment for any health concerns that they may have, not just ones which relate to their gender reassignment process. GPs must undergo equality and diversity  training as part of their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme so that they understand the importance of treating trans patients with the dignity and respect they deserve. I believe that medical students in the first year of their degree must be taught about trans issues before they enter a hospital environment. They must be vetted to ensure that they understand the need to separate their personal views from their professional competences and to know there will be grave consequences if they fail in this regard.

    • I welcome the Govt view that Gender Dysphoria should no longer be seen as a "mental illness". I understand the complexity of moving the 7 Gender Identity Clinics away from mental health trusts as some trans activists have hoped would happen soon. However it is strange that there is no single body that has the responsibility of transferring GICs away to another speciality. I'd like to see more GICs being established in the UK, perhaps doubling the number by 2030. This would reduce waiting lists dramatically and could solve many of the mental health issues that may arise as a result of trans people waiting for hormone therapy to be approved.  

    • There should also be funding in place to try and increase the number of gender specialist clinicians and nurses within the NHS. Helping trans people can be just a rewarding career as helping cancer patients or working with patients with learning difficulties and often there is a level of crossover between various medical specialities as a result of working with trans people; for example I am trans but I also have dyspraxia and mild dyslexia! There should be marketing in place to attract more medical students GPs and psychologists to retrain within the Gender Dysphoria field.

    • I am disappointed by the Govt's reluctance to change the guidelines around the 2 year RLE (Real Life Experience) prior to Gender Reassignment Surgery. I personally argue that the RLE requirement be scrapped in its entirety because of its purely tick-boxy arbitrary nature. I'm sure that Nicky Morgan understands that gender is just as fluid as sexuality even if you are considering changing your biological parts from those traditionally associated with "man" to those of "woman". I certainly won't conform to imposed societal expectations of what a "normal" woman looks like just to gain support to have surgery. The RLE requirement is not about qualifying for surgery but to allow the trans person to understand the potential consequences of life post surgery. This doesn't mean that a trans person should stop wearing men's tees if they want to be seen as a woman. #JustScrapTheRLELikeTheyDidInNorway!

    Transgender and The Criminal Justice System:

    • Hate crime awareness has to be increased within the policing profession. There is no excuse for local police officers not to be aware of how to define hate crime, let alone not having practical solutions to implement to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Equality training also has to be embedded into Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) training to compliment the training undertaken by full time police officers so all members of the force are singing off the same hymn sheet so to speak. I'm therefore heartened to see that the College of Policing is undertaking a training needs analysis to address the universal gap in knowledge on trans hate crime. I hope they are referring to trans activists and trans police officers throughout this process so that it can be seen as "fit for purpose" when it is finally rolled out nationwide.

    • The Govt recognises the valuable reporting input of third party organisations, in particular the fact that they help make access to justice easier for victims by offering a safe space for them to get the physical and emotional help they may need after the crime has been perpetrated. Just Lincolnshire is one charity that supports victims of hate crime. I also support the Govt's pledge to fund the True Vision website, which allows third parties to report hate crime. It is vital that the Govt builds on this by encouraging all hate crime victims to access and report to third party agencies.

    • Transgender offenders have suffered abuse as a result of their choice to identity with the gender which is the opposite to them biologically. Whilst I do not condone the offences carried out, trans offenders have the right to be treated in a humane way as set out by current UN Human Rights Conventions and enshrined in our Human Rights Act (the same HRA that Tories like Theresa May and Michael Gove want to scrap).  Therefore it is not acceptable to lock transwomen up in men's open prisons where they may be subject to harassment, bullying or rape attempts which could further damage their mental health and lead to potential suicidal thoughts and actions. Treating trans offenders according to their gender identification is certainly more likely to reduce reoffending rates, especially those related to minor theft offences or soliciting. They need hope not our contempt!

    Transgender issues in Education:

    • Whilst I understand the Govt has provided significant funding to bullying prevention programmes (£3 million to date), I continue to read teacher and student commentary documenting numerous transphobic bullying cases in rural and faith schools. Teachers in such schools need to be equipped to deal with transphobic bullying resulting from religious zealotry from the first days of being in the teaching profession. Therefore trans awareness training must be embedded within PGCE programmes to help give trainee teachers practical knowledge of trans issues and the confidence to confront bullies in a direct manner.

    • I believe wholeheartedly that PSHME curriculum programmes have to be reformed so that they deal appropriately with LGBTQIA topics and issues in a sensitive yet engaging intellectually rigorous (impartial) way. I'm afraid I don't share Nicky Morgan's view that we should trust all headmasters and school teachers to approach trans issues in an impartial manner according to their own personal experiences of teaching students. Some headmasters may never have met an openly gay person let alone a trans one! That's why transgender issues must be made a statutory part of the PSHE curriculum. I also believe queer and intersex topics must also be covered as part of a wider, more socially progressive PSHE programme. It's perfectly OK to teach secondary school children in state schools that it's acceptable to be asexual or to be gender fluid. It's time to remove the Judeo-Christian stigma that has been attached to such discussions and there is no reason why primary school teachers may begin to address such issues in their students' last year of tuition (Year 6). It is not enough for the Govt to recommend that schools teach PSHE. They must make PSHE compulsory for all schools regardless of their status. If faith schools refuse to address PSHE they must be highlighted "named and shamed" in my view. I think Ms Morgan may like to read my blogpost on LGBTQIA awareness in schools to see how trans individuals can get involved locally to raise awareness in a sensitive and engaging way!

    Transgender issues in Social Work:

    • It is deeply worrying that social workers are enter their profession after years of graduate study unaware of how to deal with gender fluidity issues in a sensitive and dignified manner. Young people who are in the care of social services are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and they deserve respect and support especially when it comes to them exploring their gender identity. Social workers are often seen as a role model for vulnerable children and young adults and therefore need to be seen as beyond reproach on LGBT issues. It wouldn't take much for CPD programmes to be designed and implemented by HR professionals in the social work field to help fix such a blatant loophole quickly and effectively.

    I hope that the Trans Enquiry conducted over the last year will lead to positive, lasting changes for those within the transgender community. I may have grave concerns as to what direction the Govt may take when under the leadership of right wing socially conservative Tories such as Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom but I sincerely wish that recommendations made for public service providers can be followed through regardless of such a change in the Govt moral makeup. As highlighted in a previous post, I myself would love to be able to hold the Govt to account from within Parliament to make sure progressive changes are considered ASAP. Perhaps there will be other potential trans left candidates who come into the limelight before me. At least we have a framework which we can follow - a blueprint for real change. That is something I can thank the Women and Equality Select Committee for wholeheartedly.

    Tuesday, 5 July 2016

    Addressing my Hygge loving side: Norwegian meets British Values

    "We do not regard Englishmen as foreigners. We look on them only as rather mad Norwegians." Norwegian diplomat Halvard Lange

    Hei alle sammen!

    People often talk about the BAME community in the UK; it's very often those who are from the Commonwealth who get the most (negative) attention thrust on them. It might be startling for those who claim a long line of English heritage since before 1066 (not many can actually claim such heritage)to know that I am not English in any sense other than through an accident of birth. I'm very proud of my mixed heritage and have been vocal throughout my schooling and working life about my mother's Scandinavian heritage. Whilst she is of mixed Norwegian and Swedish descent, she was born in Moss, Norway in February 1958 and has retained her Norwegian citizenship despite being educated in a private school in Durban, South Africa during the 1970's and then coming to England to work after her parents' divorce in 1977. That means legally speaking she is Norwegian. The funny thing is due to the Norwegian population being only 5, 213, 985 people as of May 2016, it does make me a minority person in the UK! So I thought it's about time to talk a little bit the similarities and differences between British and Norwegian values and interests!

    Norwegians and Brits are very patriotic:
    Norwegians care deeply about preserving their national and cultural identity; for hundreds of years Norway was ruled first by the Danes and then by the Swedish until 1905 when Norway finally gained independence under the guise of a constitutional monarchy. The Norwegian royal family descends from Queen Maud who was the daughter of Edward VII and remain beloved by the people. Norwegians celebrate their independence day or Nasjonaldagen on den syttende Mai or 17th May, which was the day that the original Norwegian constitution was signed in 1814 declaring Norway an independent kingdom, despite being in a political union with Sweden. Norwegians may be sympathetic to the Scottish Independence cause because they remember what it was like for Norway to be in such a union contract. Yes many Norwegians do believe it will be inevitable that Scotland will become an independent country but we also respect the patriotic fervour that people in England and Wales feel for keeping the UK together. Norwegians admire the "British stiff upper lip" mentality; the idea that we carry on with our daily lives regardless of what God or life throws at us.

    Norwegians and Brits care about equality and diversity:
    Hundreds of years of foreign rule has made Norwegians very modest. Economic power was centralised in Copenhagen or Stockholm, meaning that social mobility was stilted amongst the local population. Few were of high standing (except for chieftains and government officials) and in rural areas fisherman and farmers were treated as equals as both provided valuable commodities to their community. Neighbours helped each other out financially and emotionally throughout their lives and sense of fellesskap is still strong despite the economic miracle that resulted from North Sea gas and oil extraction from the 1970's onwards. Norway led the way when it came to the suffrage movement; in 1884 171 of the country's leading politicians including the Prime Minister founded the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights which campaigned for women's right to be educated and to work in the same types of roles traditionally associated with men. Norwegianisation (the policy that attempted to assimilate the Sami and Kven non-Norwegian populations of Northern Norway into a socially and culturally uniform Norwegian population) which was greatly criticised by the international community has been abandoned and the Norwegian government has made reparations for this act. Brits have also made such reparations with the disbanding of the Empire and introduction of the Commonwealth.

    Like the UK, Norway has a body of equality legislation and Norwegians are especially proud of the protection they have afforded the LGBT over the past 50 years including legalising gay sex in 1972, gender neutral marriages in 2015 and getting rid of the requirement for transgender people to have to be psychologically diagnosed before changing their legal gender. Maybe now the UK has decided to exit (stage left hopefully) the EU, they may consider adopting some of the more socially progressive LGBT Norwegian laws? Just a suggestion Ms May/ Ms Leadsom/Mr Corbyn!

    Norwegians and Brits care about security:
    Norwegians have always been concerned about protecting themselves against terrorist attacks both internally and externally. Norway has its own National Security Authority (NSM) or Nasjonal sikkerhetsmyndighet and an Intelligence Agency or Etterretningstjenesten that work together with the Norwegian Ministry of Defence to identify security threats and protect the population in the event of a terrorist attack. Unlike many "Little Englanders" who believe that native born (white rural) people can do no wrong when it comes to perpetrating hate crimes, Norwegians do not automatically dismiss the notion that  terrorists can be white, far right extremists who are atheist or agnostic as well as Muslim. The desipcable acts perpetrated by Christian middle class anarchist Anders Breivik where he killed eight people by detonating a van bomb amid the Regjeringskvartalet in Oslo, then shot dead 69 participants of a Workers' Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utøya on 22nd July 2011 demonstrate that terrorists can come from any background !

    Norwegians and Brits care about trading opportunities:
    Norwegians and Brits genuinely care about trade deals and international trading cooperation; there are currently 300 Norwegian companies in the UK of which 1/3 are in Scotland. Norwegian companies that have bases in London include DNB Bank, Norway's largest financial services group, that deal in Shipping and Energy as well as Investment Banking, Goodwille Ltd a marketing and PR firm that helps to bring foreign businesses into the UK and make them feel supported and welcome by providing HR, Accountancy and Payroll services and Helly Hansen an active sportswear designer from Oslo. For Norwegian companies the UK offers a base for trade with the EU; it remains to be seen whether they will reconsider relocation to an EU country now the UK has decided to leave. It's possible they may relocate to Stockholm or Copenhagen in the near future to keep costs of exporting down.

    Norwegians and Brits care about energy sources and protecting the environment:
    Norwegians have always chatted to British energy companies about energy issues. Nearly half of British gas imports come from the Norwegian continental shelf and about 70% of British oil imports come from Norway. Most Norwegian companies in the UK operate in the energy sector.
    Norwegians love being outside in the countryside and enjoy hiking and kayaking just like British thrill seekers. They also care about preserving the countryside from harm and have strict rules for tourists regarding hunting animals such as the moose, known in Norwegian as skogens konge, "king of the forest". Part of protecting Norwegian biodiversity is to focus on renewable energy sources so Norwegians care deeply about increasing its usage both in Norway and abroad. Statkraft and Statoil are two Norwegian companies that are deeply involved in continued development of offshore wind power in the UK.

    Norwegians and Brits have a shared love for the Arts:
    From Henrik Ibsen's shockingly progressive feminist plays of the 1870s to that psychedelic Scream painting by Edvard Munch, Norwegians have always been open to cultural sharing and cooperation. Generations of British pop artists have inspired Norwegian musicians who have created such award winning songs such as "La Det Swinge" or "Let It Swing", the 1985 award winning Eurovision number by those purple sequinned diva duet Bobbysocks or more recently the wonderfully eerie yet lyrical tones of Aurora and her "Half A World Away" which featured on the thought provoking John Lewis Christmas 2015 advert.

    Norwegians love bargain shopping just as much as Brits:
    Due to the ridiculously high clothing prices in Oslo shops, (£30 for a t-shirt) you'll find many Norwegians stocking up on #PrimarniSwag when they are visiting British relatives down London way. My Uncle can easily spend £200 in the Lincoln store because he wants to fill up his import quota with funky t-shirts and bright jeans! Norwegian women love our scarves and shoes too! However, Norwegians despair at our jackets, coats and jumper choices! If it's not pure virgin wool you can keep them!

    Norwegians will drink Brits under the table if asked:
    Now I love a good night out as much as any other person but Norwegians can take their drink much better than Brits. This is because most Norwegians are not binge drinkers; they steady their consumption out over the course of the night and can even go without alcohol if they just want to dance and flirt down the local discotheque. However, if you challenge a Norwegian to a drinking contest, be aware they can often drink 10-11 pints in a row and still be left standing! I know- my Mum has challenged many a man to a drinking game and there's certainly a lot of Skål (Cheers) given by the end! Might be a reason why she married an Irishman!

    So you see Norwegians and Brits aren't quite as far apart as some commentators might make out, even if Norwegians do rebuke Brits with a sympathetic, slightly patronising maternal voice!

    Saturday, 2 July 2016

    "10 Parli Candid Dates But A Transgal Ain't One Of 'Em": Addressing the lack of trans representation in UK Politics

    "Character is the moral strength to do the right thing even when it costs more than you want to pay" Michael Josephson

    Guten Tag!

    Think  I could be a politico one day?
    So after a week of Twitter polling to see what issues people in the global social media sphere wanted me to address directly in my blog, I found the topic that got my respondents most enthused happens to be the most puzzling/baffling one to address: the lack of transgender visibility in politics.

    First thing to note is that there are few polls that have been conducted to show trans voting percentages in the UK during local and general elections. There have been several LGBT surveys conducted over the past decade; one of the most reliable has been the PinkNews Survey conducted in March 2015 which asked 987 LGBT people what their voting intentions would be for the 2015 UK GE.  I summarise the results below:
    • 26% of survey respondents said they would vote for the Labour and Conservative (Tory)parties; a 5% increase for the Tories but a 2% drop for Labour from 2010.
    • 19% said they would vote Lib Dem which had dropped from 40% in 2010.
    • 20% said they would vote Green which was a 16% increase from 2010.
    • UKIP gained just 2% of the LGBT voting intention in 2015.
    Clearly from this general survey encompassing LGB and T voting intentions, one can see they are just as divided politically as the population at large. Notwithstanding this point, I have always believed that trans people are much less likely to vote in GE and local council elections than other members of the community. It's something that has occupied and concerned my mind ever since I got interested in UK politics in June 2010, when I chose to vote for the Liberal Democrats whilst in my final year of an English and Philosophy degree at the University of York (those same Lib Dems ironically ended up screwing over their core electorate by hiking the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 a year whilst in coalition with the Tories #epicfail).  I voted in Lincoln for the Liberal Democrats not knowing that they didn't command much of a mandate in the city and I found out subsequently that Lincoln had essentially become a two party marginal constituency (Labour and Conservative). Since then I've voted Labour and Tory at a local level (councillors) and Tory nationally in the 2015 GE in a rather vain attempt to try and get my voice indirectly heard at a national level. It's fair to mention that the current Women and Equalities Minister (and Education Secretary) Nicky Morgan and the cross-party Women's and Equality Select Committee have made some steps to analyse trans issues in the UK such as the 18-24 month wait that trans people face when trying to get an initial appoint with their local Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) through to workplace harassment often being dismissed as banter.  It's correct to say that they have made more than 33 recommendations to try and improve trans peoples' daily lives including increasing funding to GICs and to step up training programmes for managers in larger firms but it's still rather telling that none of the MPs involved in that consultation were transgender or had experience of gender fluidity. They may have gained testimony from trans people but those MPs do not know what it is like to be in the position of some trans people that feel scared about being themselves openly in public for fear of being sexually assaulted or physically beaten up just for choosing to wear what makes them feel comfortable and secure. That concerns me deeply as a MTF trans person.

    Four basic questions then really come to mind when I think of transgendered politics:
    1. Why aren't there more transgender people choose to vote?
    2. Why aren't there more transgender people get more involved with their local political parties?
    3. Why aren't there more transgender people get shortlisted for local council elections?
    4. Why aren't there more transgender people get shortlisted to become an MP and represent their local constituency?
    I shall try and address these questions with reference to my own experience below:

    Why aren't there more transgender people choose to vote?

    The transgender students I knew whilst I was at Uni (there were a few around who were sociable but not many) didn't seem to care deeply about trying to increase trans representation within the UK Political Establishment. Some trans students didn't even know who Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling were, let alone what the numerous political parties had mentioned in their manifestos and what they had presented as their overall vision for the country during the monotonous slog of Election broadcasts and political "getya" selfie moments. None had even watched that banal yet frankly hilarious BBC1 debate where Gordon Brown's stern visage collapsed after a heavy fire battering by the feisty yet cocky Nick Clegg. I'm sure many of my readers assume that trans students studying politics would care a lot about the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on employment rights or LGBTQIA NHS based issues. Most political pundits assume trans people would be "Leftie Loonies" obsessed with preserving their own identity but not caring a fig about helping others to protect their own identities.
    Yet many trans students wanted to change the way transgender people were viewed by the mainstream media, how schools dealt with transgender issues in RE and PSHME lessons and how employers treated those employees who were going through gender reassignment whilst trying to hold down a job and pay their bills, something they knew they were going to have to grapple with in the very near future (if they were lucky to swag bag a decent entry level grad position that is).

    I've tried to find reasons as to why there was such a blasé attitude amongst those trans students when it came to exercising their democratic right to vote and as a transgendered woman I thoroughly appreciate the fact that suffragettes such as Emily Davidson sacrificed their own lives to enable me to vote in General Elections (GE) as soon as I was old enough to do so.

    However, there have been times when I've felt that the representative I've voted for in Lincoln doesn't care much about LGB issues let alone trans ones (Karl McCartney voted against the Same Sex Marriage Bill on a "personal" basis despite the fact the majority of his constituents were in favour of SSM). So it can lead to a valid conclusion that any representative standing in a marginal seat such as Lincoln can only end up as a backbencher and thus can never truly help to advocate trans issues on the main political stage. That can ultimately lead to disenfranchisement of trans voters in these marginal seats in a irreversible way.

    Part of me believes that trans people generally feel that whichever political party they decide to support or vote for at a GE, there would be no further meaningful progress on transrights; I can remember an elderly MTF in York telling me that she believed the majority of the country wouldn't support any legislation that went beyond the Equality Act legislation put in place by the New Labour Government before it was voted out of office in 2010. Ironically few of my trans peers at York were aware of the Equality Act or had any idea that it had created stringent protection for those going through gender reassignment. Even worse was the fact that older trans people had never heard of the extremely important ECJ (European Court of Justice) decision took in 1996 that extended employment rights in the workplace to transwomen by redefining the UK Sex Discrimination Act through the EU Equality Right Directive prism. This meant that transwomen could not be made redundant on the basis of taking paid sick leave to go through gender reassignment if they had notified their employer of their intention to do so prior to commencing the process. This is why I believe it is extremely important in a post Brexit climate to educate students at secondary school about LGBTQIA rights in the workplace so as to foster a culture of integration and embrace diversity rather than a banal begrudging sense of acceptance. Having trans people involved in designing and implementing such education programmes is crucial to their success and perhaps may even increase political and legal open trans engagement in the future!

    Perhaps even more devastating when I think about older trans people being turned off politics is because some believe that it is an area of their lives that they can't get seriously involved in at any level. Old fashioned Judeo-Christian bias (God created man and woman separate in a biological way malarkey) has permeated their mindset and made them feel essentially inferior from their straight acting "normal" counterparts. How awful it is to think that even in this age of relative transparency and acceptance by most of "gender fluidity" and "sexual fluidity" they themselves refuse to accept their own behaviours and beliefs. After all God made us "in his own image" and that must include a gender fluid one in my opinion- otherwise why did God give us the capacity to carry out gender reassignment surgery in the first place?

    Go beyond the psychological barriers to trans people voting to the physical challenges of voting on the day and we can uncover more reasons as to why trans votes are lower in percentage than the population at large. Some transpeople may feel  threatened at the possibility of having to attend their local polling station dressed according to their gender preference and yet being referred to by their former name (due to them being unable to change it legally or because it takes a long time to change gender legally and thus can't change their name without this change). One never knows the type of person that may choose to cast their ballot at the same time as you and if you live in a constituency ward that has a high hate crime rate it does make you think twice before risking your wellbeing just to cast your ballot. I've never been scared to be open about my transgendered status so it doesn't affect my mental state but those who have been forced to hide their true selves for a lengthy period would view the situation differently.

    Finally it's important to stress that many of the usual edicts which affect voter turnout apply to trans voters too. It's true that middle class trans people will be more likely to vote than working class trans people. This is because many working class people feel they are sneered at just because they bother to express an opinion or political preference in the first place; as a call centre worker (I am a former one) in Clacton told the UKIP MP Douglas Carswell in relation to the recent divisive EU Referendum: "It was the working classes against the smirking classes".

    I believe that trans people are more likely to vote if they know family members or close friends who also vote whether that be for local or general elections. If you live in an area with a tradition of voting Labour or Tory in a GE it is more likely that you will vote in the same way as your friends, neighbours and family members. After all, trans people share many of the traits of those who do not see themselves as "gender fluid"!

    Why aren't there more transgender people get more involved with their local political parties?

    I believe that local political party branches in the 650 constituencies of the UK including my own in Lincoln have to actively engage and make a more concerted effort to attract trans people to become members of their organisations. It's all well and good focussing on trying to maintain the support of those who are more likely to vote for that party during a GE cycle (middle class Accountants going old Tory Blue with engineers and factory workers going Labour Rose Red) but what about those trans people who don't fall into such defined groups? For example, trans call centre workers in the UK are on a similar wage and shift pattern to factory workers but are very rarely approached to join the Labour party except when it comes to securing their final vote in the latter stages of a GE campaign!

    A lot of local councillors and party members seem fundamentally unwilling to talk about trans issues at any great length for fear of offending those voters who may not agree with them. I'm sure most trans people respect the views of hard line Muslims and Christians even if they don't agree with them, but I think these conservatives (CJWs) need to realise that we live in a postmodern Western democracy where fundamental concepts such as gender and sexuality are seen as fluid as religious views and so are all rightly open to scrutiny on the doorsteps and in the local meeting rooms.

    Once trans people do join their local branch and begin to attend meetings, we hear very little about the positive contributions which I'm sure they make to ensuring the local political machine runs smoothly from the local media or from party PR and marketing gurus. If those trans people outside the political machine do not see any trans people actively involved in the administration and organisation at a local level, they are far more likely to see politics as a "normal person's game". Trans people want to be inspired; they want to know their voice matters in the grand old scheme of political things. The only way parties can do that is to increase trans political media marketing presence. This can be achieved positively by encouraging trans members at a local level to get involved with social media; set up those Twitter pages, Instagrams and YouTube Vlogs! Vlogging isn't just reserved for the selfie egotists and future BBC presenters and journalists! Provided you have access to camera equipment and a positive message to impart, you can't go wrong! Equally involving trans people in doorstep canvassing in the same way a party would want straight or gay young people to do would be great!

    Why aren't there more transgender people get shortlisted for local council elections?

    I think one important reason why trans people get shortlisted for local elections is because those trans people affiliated to a particular party are afraid to thrust themselves deliberately into the spotlight to be open to an intense level of scrutiny about their gender identity choices from different types of voters; they may believe social media "trolls" would focus on their appearance rather than consider the ideas they espouse and want to put forward that may have been carefully formulated during their academic or working lives.

    I'm sure most constituents would be in favour of cutting down on bureaucracy in the NHS, so why not scrap the requirement for trans people to be assessed by psychologists and save the NHS millions at the same time? Or more broadly, why not try and lobby the council to invest in NEETs business funding to allow them a chance to test their ideas out without fear of being left penniless in the process? Such ideas could benefit local communities for years to come. The fact is trans people are not "one issue council candidates" as some on the Right wish to categorise us as on a regular basis. Having a desire to improve the lives of those share our traits in any form is not selfish! Sometimes trans people just have to "come right out and say it" in plain, simple English to their potential constituents: "I refuse to be classified as a victim anymore!" I am not ashamed of who I am, what I choose to wear, how I choose to act on the street and how I address others that disagree with me. I'm not ashamed to have an opinion on any topic and I will speak up for those who feel disenfranchised in this supposed "modern equal society". Such a bold stance would impress a great swathe of the local electorate, especially if you are proud to say you come from that local community ward to begin with!

    Part of the blame has to lie with local constituency parties who may be reluctant to put a transgender person on the ballot because they fear they may lose core voters as a consequence of their actions. In certain areas of the country it would be safe to say that transgender people wouldn't even get on the ballot paper for council elections. This may be due to a proliferation of religious attitudes (Leicester, Luton) or due to societal prejudices that have never really been challenged in an overt manner at a local level (Boston.....). For this reason I believe urban areas such as Manchester, Leeds, York or London and most Scotland constituencies would be much more likely to be open to having a transgender person on the ballot paper just because the trans population levels may be higher or trans people are more visible to the local constituency population at large. That means trans candidates are more likely to have a supportive team behind the scenes to help them get elected at a council level when it comes to a General Election.

    Why aren't there more transgender people get shortlisted to become an MP and represent their local constituency?

    A lot of the issues I have discussed above also apply when thinking about the lack of transgender people being shortlisted by their local parties to become a potential MP for their constituency. However, unlike council elections where the stakes might be considered less risky for political parties, especially in areas like Lincoln where Labour already controls the city council and Lincolnshire County Council which has consistently been in Conservative control, General Election candidates have to be seen as electable in the constituency where they choose to stand, otherwise the cost of marketing the candidate will be seen as wasteful. I have wondered at times whether there is downward pressure coming from national committees to prevent candidates being shortlisted that may potentially damage the reputation of the party with core voters if they were to be elected.

    To give an example, look at the bureaucracy network of the Labour Party (they say it is socially democratic but currently I am  trying to reserve judgement after the increased levels of Anti-Semitic insults being spouted by MPs and their "left-wing" supporters in Momentum). There are many different factions who may use their influence to prevent a trans candidate from being selected if necessary. Imagine if a trans woman wished to run for the Labour seat of Blackburn, currently held by Kate Hollern where 24.8% of the population  identified themselves as Muslim on the 2011 census. There could be hard-line  Muslim constituents who complain to their local Branch manager because they believe a non-Muslim trans woman can never represent their views in a meaningful way. If the Branch manager won't change their mind, they can then go to the Constituency Party (CLP) members. If they still endorse the trans candidate, the Muslim opponents may try and go to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) or CLP representatives on the National Executive Committee (NEC) and threaten to withdraw their support if the trans candidate is not immediately deselected. Of course the Labour Women and Labour Youth sections of the party may try to advocate positively for the trans candidate but only if evidence of discrimination and harassment came to light during the campaign. In any case, it would come down to the key figures of the CLP in cahoots with the NEC whether the trans candidate would be deselected (with the reason given based as hollow perennial favourite: electability).  Based on the make-up of the population it seems unlikely (at least on the face of it). Anyone interested in the Labour Party political structure should read the information provided on their home page here : http://www.labour.org.uk/pages/how-we-work

    There have been a few examples of hope in amongst those of despair for the LGBTQIA community; for example, Emily Brothers, (who also happens to be blind) transitioned in 2007 and had full gender reassignment surgery in 2009 and has been living as a female politician ever since. She doesn't want to be labelled as transgender because it's not her "calling card" which is her choice, but I've never been ashamed to own my transgender label and to be seen as different from those who are biologically born as female. Trans people need politicians who can have the moral courage to be defiantly open in the face of criticism. Otherwise what would be the point of trying to advocate an increase in trans political representation in the first place?

    Constituencies such as Lincoln may be a much more favourable seat for a trans Labour candidate; the electorate is diverse, engaged and I believe highly independent thinkers. Having a fast growing university in the city has increased LGBT representation in the city in a positive way. Our local economy is diversifying for the better to employ talented trans graduates in the marketing and financial services sectors. I'm sure the Labour party would be fair in their selection process and look at the character of a candidate based on the views they espouse rather than the way they look. I posit that trans people can make great politicians! Here's why:

    Why trans men and women can be great politicians:
    • Transgender people can certainly be seen as beacons of integrity and loyalty, both to trans individuals and to their constituency at large. This is because trans people can demonstrate a high level of empathy towards those constituents who are suffering as a result of the Tory Government's "Austerity measures" because they themselves know what it is like to be punished and denigrated for trying to be who they are. I'm sure if I was on the ballot paper I'd be spending most of my time getting to know constituent's backstories and asking them directly what specific issues they would want me to try and raise at a council or Parliamentary level.
    • Most transgender people do have excellent communication skills and possess the level of  interpersonal skills needed to allow them work with MPs on a cross party basis to get socially progressive legislation passed through quickly and efficiently to hopefully benefit their constituents in a direct way.
    • Transgender people can possess a strength of character to rival any Old Etonian; they can stand up and say what others are unwilling to say rather than telling the plebiscite what it wants to hear.
    • Transgender people can make unpopular decisions if it is for the benefit of the majority of the population or helps the country to advance progressively. For example, making the provision of gender neutral toilets for customers and clients compulsory would seen draconian at first but would help dramatically increase the amount of conveniences (toilet facilities) available in shopping centres, supermarkets and businesses which would benefit the majority of the UK population.
    I'd sure like to be the first politician to break conventional dress codes and go into Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) dressed in a gold lurex jumpsuit with vintage 70's gold pearl earrings and 6 inch blue glitter platforms and see how many grungy old Tory cages I can rattle for the sheer hell of it! Well actually it may prove to young people that don't need to be a baggy Savile Row champagne swigging Old Etonian to be a great politician! That'd be quite something to be proud of!