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.