Wednesday, 3 July 2013

An open letter to Lady Stowell

Dear Lady Stowell,

In the past few years, significant steps have been taken to improve the
rights of same sex couples in the recognition of their relationships in
law. Individuals who have long been unable to make their long term partner
their spouse and enjoy the same benefits as opposite sex couples are now
much closer to enjoying equality.

As an individual who is married, I am delighted that others who wish to do
so will soon be able to marry as I have done. However, although I am married I
continue to be an individual, and as an individual I am also horrified at the idea
that one partner could have the casting vote over the recognition of identity of

Marriage should be a partnership of equals, and this is not the case if one
partner has the right to deny the other something fundamental to their
identity and well-being. People who are trans already face incredible
obstacles in terms of discrimination, social isolation, vulnerability to
attack and huge prejudice. At a time when they have gathered their strength
to make vital and life-changing decisions about themselves, to make their
recognition beholden to a third party who may be vested in keeping them
from realising their needs heaps injustice on injustice.

I have no idea how I would respond if my partner outed themselves as trans
and decided to transition. The one thing I would never presume to do would
be to try and stop them, but there are those who, for whatever reason,
would seek to do so. By removing self-determination from those people, you
are making them less than human. That has to stop.

Yours sincerely,

Mme G


The letter above relates to the Campaign for Equal Marriage's call for individuals to lobby Baroness Stowell to drop the spousal veto clause in the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill that's currently progressing through the legislative process. The clause includes an amendment to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and provides for the spouse of a married person who wishes to complete transition from one gender to another and acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate if they wish their marriage to continue.

As C4EM point out, that wouldn't be a problem if all partners were understanding, open and accepting of their spouse's desire, wish and need to transition. However, that isn't the case and research has shown that some 44% of trans people's partners have actively tried to prevent them from transitioning and 29% of partners made it difficult for their trans spouse to get a divorce.

By requiring someone to seek consent from someone else in order to fulfil their own basic human needs you are reducing them to the level of a child, or even a posession. This can't be right.

If you want to do your bit, you can write to Baroness Stowell here and make your own views known.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Another piece in the puzzle of the obesity panic

There is a national - nay, international - panic in the offing about the weight and size of people. Using the medical term "obesity," the press and public policy makers are violently attacking people on account of their size. You may think this is hyperbolic, and in some senses it is. Not that much more hyperbolic, though, than the terms that are being used to describe the way in which people who fall outside a "normal" range of body size are targeted. "The War on Obesity," "the battle of the bulge," "burning fat" are just a few of the terms that direct violent terminology at people who don't conform to an imposed norm.

In addition to the angry words that are thrown at fat people (because let's be clear, Obesity means fat people. It's not a nebulous concept that defies embodiment. It's a dehumanising term for people), there is a whole moral component to the treatment of anyone who falls outside the so-called normal range of body size. 

Issa at LiveLoveGrow wrote 21 Things To Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People Unfortunately many (I am almost tempted to say most) people hate fat people at some level. This is usually due to the way in which fat people are portrayed in the media, by the kind of rhetoric from governments and reinforced in daily discourse. In her list, Issa set out a range of body policing, health-trolling and pseudo-moralistic things people tend to trot out when discussing people who are fat.

One of the things on her list is "childhood obesity." As I said above, obesity as a collective term rather than a specific medical state is one that's aimed at dehumanising people. With childhood obesity, society has a way to express its moral outrage at the idea that kids are fat. She puts the point across much more eloquently than I could, so I have lifted the section from her blog.

“Childhood obesity” is a political buzzword. When you say those two words it doesn’t just mean “fat kids”. (It does mean at least that. Every time you hear “childhood obesity” replace it in the sentence with “fat kids” and see what that reveals about the agenda.) “Childhood obesity” is a shorthand for a moral and political platform that spans food morality/policing, issues of class warfare, and pathologizing more bodies for profit.
Here’s the bottom line: we don’t know exactly what makes kids fat or whether it’s a problem that they are and we definitely don’t have any idea whatsoever how to make a fat kid into a thin kid. Anytime you hear people (that includes you!) blaming childhood obesity on something, they are talking out of their asses. What I can tell you is that turning on the news and hearing that there’s a war on your body type sucks for adults and double sucks for kids. Stop saying “childhood obesity” as if it has anything to do with caring about fat kids.
Today, Leeds Met University has shown, contrary to political rhetoric and public moralising, that the poorest kids aren't always the fattest kids. There is a public expectation, largely built up by library footage showing headless fat people in tatty clothes going about their daily business, that poor people will be fat and all fat people are poor. This is largely because we think that poor people have lower morals than those in the higher class echelons of society and fat is a moral issue. From this piece in the New Scientist, in which the letter writer says that people who "eat and eat and eat" are amoral (thereby assuming that the only way one can be fat is by overeating to excess) through to Naomi Wolf's assertion that "fat [as] a moral issue is articulated with words like 'good' and 'bad'," the fact that fat is more than just weight or size is inescapable. 

The likelihood of this piece of research reaching a wide audience is low because it jars with public expectations, government proselytation and the message pumped out by the multi-billion pound weight-loss and "beauty" industry. This view of fat as being something that "happens" to the middle classes is not what the population wants to hear. They want to characterise fatness as a moral failing and affliction of the poor so they can distance themselves from it. They don't want to be chased down and captured by "obesity" because, in our society, there are few things more terrifying and socially repugnant than being fat.

Keep an eye on your news outlets and see if any of this message leaks through. I'll be surprised if it does but if it doesn't, know that it's not because the research isn't good. It's because the odds are stacked against the acceptance of any view of fat people as anything other than morally repugnant individuals who should be distanced from society or forced to comply with a narrow expectation of body type in order to be treated with basic dignity and respect.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Passion of St Julian

This post discusses rape, sexual assault, rape apology and minimisation. These topics are discussed from a position of support of those who have been raped or sexually assaulted, but if the discussion of them is likely to upset or trigger you, you may wish to stop reading here.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

On issues-based theatre, creative challenges & aftermaths

Amongst the other things I do to make money and live a satisfying life - writing,  office working, part-time armchair activism - I am an actor. I have done plenty of different things in my acting life, from musical theatre through to standing in the background in period costume while people who get paid big money talk in front of me to a camera. Most recently, however, I have been involved with issues-based theatre.

For those who don't know what that means, it's pretty simple. Issues-based theatre uses drama techniques to look at things that affect people's lives. Some people call this Applied Theatre and it's used for all kinds of things from communication workshops that use role-play to help people to learn how to talk to people all the way through to drama therapy used to help survivors of awful experiences such as torture or genocide to find a way to externalise their feelings and move on to live a more comfortable life.

The issues-based work that I've been doing is with a company that has worked all over the world with such politically- and emotionally-charged subjects. This includes working in African refugee camps with former child soldiers and witnesses of mass-murder through to people in South America who've been victims and perpetrators of torture. 

The issue that I'm currently working with them about is domestic abuse1. Unlike any other kind of project that attempts to work with people who've experienced domestic abuse, the one I'm involved with uses the same starting point - a short play on the subject - and the same methods to work with both those who have been on the receiving end of abuse and those who perpetrate abuse against others.

Last week, I participated as an actor in a series of three workshops with men who are either perpetrators of domestic abuse or have been identified as being at risk of entering into abusive relationships. Once the men had seen the play, which is two-person piece that tells the story of an abusive relationship from both sides, as actors we are then asked to take part in a number of exercises that enable the workshop facilitators to explore relationship issues with the participants. This could include forum theatre, exercises where the workshop participants are able to control the characters and their reactions and direct questioning of the characters by the workshop participants about their lives and their options and choices.

Last week's three sessions didn't seem at the time to be particularly challenging for me. At the end of each session I was full of energy and because I was still doing my "day job" in the afternoons I noticed that I was getting huge amounts of stuff done with almost unshakeable focus and drive. By the end of the week, with three sessions under my belt, I was effervescent with enthusiasm and could barely stop talking about what I'd been involved with on Friday or through the weekend.

Then this week came. On Sunday I started to feel slightly coldy and out of sorts. By Monday I had a headache and Tuesday it just got worse. Today, I got up and spent about 45 minutes before I had to leave the house to go to work literally just staring into space. I'm achy, exhausted and my mind feels like it's totally blank. I can't concentrate, can't read anything from end to end and work has been pretty much a total bust this week to date. I don't feel as though I have anything to give.

I would compare the way I feel to depression. I have recently come out the other side (fingers crossed) of a particularly severe and prolonged bout of depression and many of the things I'm experiencing this week - the exhaustion, the inability to concentrate, the lack of appetite, the physical aches and pains of no specific origin - are not unlike my depressive symptoms. The only things that are missing are the constant mental chatter and  personal smack-talking and the overwhelming urge to cry.

I've never experienced anything quite like this. I've had post-show blues before now, but not in this way. That's been about missing the people that I've been working with and missing the activity. For this, I'm not missing the activity or the people because I'm doing it all again in a week or so's time for a public performance and meeting with the team I've been working with at least once a week. This just feels like someone's pulled the stuffing out of me, and it's something for which I was completely unprepared.

I wonder whether anyone else has experienced anything similar? Is there any way I can either prepare for or minimise this post-hoc exhaustion so I can carry on with my life in the aftermath of such work without it being such a struggle? I was warned not to underestimate the amount that this process would take out of me physically and emotionally but I wasn't quite prepared for this. I don't feel depressed, but these ailments for want of a better word feel frighteningly analogous to my experience of depression and I have no desire to slide back down that particular slope. How does one inure oneself against this unwanted consequence of an otherwise rewarding and incredible process?

1I am using the term "domestic abuse to encapsulate physical violence; sexual assault; psychological abuse such as undermining, isolating or coercing someone; financial abuse through the removal of money or creation of financial dependency; and emotional abuse, such as guilt-tripping, manipulation or creating emotional dependence.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

More on the Paddy Power debacle

This morning I received a generic, content-free response from Paddy Power in response to their "Ladies Day" advert (the text of my complaint to them can be seen here).

Below follows the response I received:
Hi [my name] and thanks for taking the time to e-mail Paddy Power.

We are fully committed to our current UK television advertising campaign “We Hear You” which includes the 30 second commercial “Lady’s (sic) Day”.

“Lady’s Day” was preapproved by British television advertising watchdog Clearcast who took the view that the humour, while not to everyone’s taste, fell short of causing offence.

Paddy Power welcomes feedback and would like to thank all those who took the time to share their views. We would like to apologise to those who took offence.

Yours truly,

Paddy Power

This evening I visited the ASA website to make a complaint and was greeted by the following splash-screen on their online complaints page:
Making a complaint about Paddy Power?

The ASA has received a significant volume of complaints about an ad for Paddy Power plc. The ad, which alludes to Ladies’ Day Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse, features crowd scenes and close-up frames at a racecourse. Viewers are invited to guess the gender of the individuals depicted in the ad. Members of the public have objected that the ad is irresponsible and offensive, because they consider that it is transphobic and derogatory towards transgendered people and women

If you have seen the ad on Paddy Power’s YouTube channel or on their facebook page or Twitter account, your complaint is outside our remit and you should not submit it to us. This is because Paddy Power is an Irish company and editorial decisions for the contents of these sites reside in the Republic of Ireland. Marketing originating outside the United Kingdom is considered to be foreign media and excluded from our Code. There is, however, an equivalent organisation to the ASA in Ireland called the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI). Complaints about Paddy Power’s social media sites mentioned above should be directed to the ASAI. Similarly, complaints about Paddy Power’s website should be directed to the ASAI.

We have, however, launched a formal investigation into the TV ad. We don’t need to receive any further complaints about the TV ad and if you do submit a complaint, we won’t respond directly. Complaints that are lodged, however, will provide us with an opportunity to continue to monitor public response to this ad. Our findings will be published in due course and you will be able to read the decision in full on our adjudications page.
I have made my complaint to them so that it might be added to the weight of numbers that they have already received. The description of my complaint was this:
The Paddy Power advert "Ladies Day", about which you are already well aware, aims to shame transwomen and is derogatory to women. The advert suggests that transwomen should be sought out and openly identified as men, normalising bullying and harassment of transgendered people. I also found its dehumanising portrayal of women offensive, with the advert comparing women to mares. At one point, the narrator also seems to imply that a woman pictured is a "dog", known as a pejorative term for an unattractive woman.
It's clear that many people have already complained and it is still worth adding your voice to those that have been heard. I will also be complaining to the ASAI as suggested on the ASA website.

I'll be keeping my eye on the story and will update as further information becomes available.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A complaint to Paddy Power

This morning I was made aware of a thoroughly unpleasant advert from Paddy Power, openly inciting viewers to "out" transwomen as a 'bit of fun' during Cheltenham Ladies Day.

I've written to Paddy Power's Director of PR to complain, the text of which is shown below:

Dear Mr Robertson

I'm writing to complain in the strongest terms about Paddy Power's recent "Ladies Day" advertisement.

The advert aims to shame transwomen, and suggests trying to differentiate "the stallions from the mares".

Transpeople in the UK experience discrimination & harassment on a daily basis. The 2010 crime statistics showed that recorded transgender hate crimes rose 14% on the previous year. Transwomen are subjected to abuse ranging from taunts & name-calling to sexual assault & rape. The 2007 CPS guidelines on prosecuting homophobic & transphobic hate crimes* states that these acts are taken particularly seriously because they "undermine people’s right to feel safe about... their gender identity, whether they are women or men."

By suggesting that transwomen should be sought out and openly identified as men, your advert not only shows a gross misunderstanding of gender identity, it is inciting viewers to transgender bullying and hatred. I'm sure this is something the ASA will view as seriously as the CPS, and I will be forwarding my complaint to them in addition to my direct complaint to you.

I request that on the basis of the offence caused by this advert, and particularly the incitement to transphobic bullying, Paddy Power withdraws the advert immediately and publishes a full apology to the trans community on your website. In reparation for the offence & potential harassment of transwomen incited by the advert, I also suggest Paddy Power considers donating to TransEquality ( who support transgendered people who have suffered bullying, abuse or hatred as a result of their gender identity.

I look forward to hearing from you.


I'm going to do a bit more research to find out where the ad's been broadcast on the TV before forwarding my complaint to the ASA. I'm also considering forwarding my complaint to the Police.

If you would like to contact Mr Robertson yourself you can find his contact details here.

I'll post any response I receive.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Time To Talk - about people like me

Time to Change, a joint project from the mental health charities Mind and Rethink, is currently running a campaign to raise awareness of mental ill-health and reduce stigma for people who have experience mental illness.

The project is tackling head-on the misinformation and stigma attached to people with mental illness. The campaign has a number of facets, including advertising in the mainstream media. Although the advertisments on television and radio are hard for me to see and listen to – the impression I’m left with is that the majority of people would rather do just about anything than talk to someone with a mental illness because they think that something terrible will happen if they do – I can definitely see the benefit in confronting these preconceived ideas head-on.

Another part of the Time to Change campaign is Time to Talk. The organisation is seeking pledges from people to talk about mental health.

I have made my pledge and here’s my fulfilment of it.

I have depression. Depression is the most common form that mental ill-health takes and one in four people will experience it during the course of their life. For my part, I have been depressed to a greater or lesser extent for all of my adult life and long before that. I remember a GP appointment when I was about 12 where the doctor taught me breathing exercises to help me cope with troubling thoughts and the anxiety they caused.

I only faced up to my depression a few years ago and my reluctance to do so was in large part due to the myths that surround it. I thought that I had no right to feel as sad as I did. I had a family, friends, a home, a regular income, hobbies I enjoyed and plenty to look forward to but I still felt I was having to drag myself through the day more often than I’d care to admit. I thought only people who had been traumatised or abused were ‘allowed’ to be depressed. I’d been led to believe that depressed people were losers or drop-outs who just couldn’t cope with ‘real life’. The idea of being put into that category terrified me and when I was first told by a doctor that I was clinically depressed I felt like my world was ending.

Thankfully things have moved on a lot since then but there is still so much stigma surrounding people who experience mental illness. People with depression are just lazy. Schizophrenics are dangerous. If you suffer from bipolar disorder you’re completely unpredictable. That’s just a few of the things I’ve heard over the years that keep people who do have these conditions afraid of speaking up.

If you and I have been in contact before – either by you reading this blog, following me on Twitter, or because you’ve met me in some other context, I can tell you one thing for certain. During that time, I have at some point felt desperately miserable, beyond what is attributable to my circumstances and sometimes completely contrary to what is going on in my life. I have probably considered or maybe even acted on an urge to self-harm. I’ve had days when I couldn’t get out of bed. I’ve felt like a vile, toxic weapon, harmful to myself and those around me and have considered whether it would be better for all concerned if I were, to borrow a weapon-decommissioning term, put beyond use.

During the same period, I’ve had some great days. I’ve spent time with friends and loved ones; read interesting things; laughed at silly cat videos or pictures of derpy dogs on the internet. I’ve made things with my hands that I’m proud of, done things I’m pleased with and gained huge satisfaction from my life.

Some days the good things are hard to recall and the thought of being able to do or feel those things feels nigh-on impossible. Some days are so down I feel I’ll never get up, but I always do. Things are getting better for me, even though there are some days I feel like whacking myself upside the head! But I don’t actually do it. And besides, those days are getting fewer.

I am putting this out there in case you don’t know of anyone else who has a mental illness. Well, now you do! A lot of people reading this, including people who’ve chatted with me online or followed me for months or years on social media, won’t have known until now the fact I suffer with depression or the extent to which it has affected me. In addition to the other bits of me – the down days and the persistent, angry thoughts I get sometimes – I am all the other things too. I am the same person you thought I was before, but now you know a little more about me. If it seems like I’ve been going through the mill a bit, you never need to feel afraid to speak to me. I won’t ever crumble into a pillar of salt, I promise! And if you’ve never spoken to me before, it’s never too late! I’m not at all scary. Then hopefully between us we can help stop society being frightened of people with mental illness; being frightened of people like me.

[Image © Time to Change and borrowed from the Time to Talk website, which you can see here]