What a drama!


Tomorrow is my first rehearsal with Stage Left in Loughborough for their forthcoming production of the Vagina Monologues at the end of March. I’m yet to meet other cast members and they’re already a month into rehearsals. I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve let myself in for. So what’s it all about?

Eve Ensler wrote the first draft of The Vagina Monologues in 1996 after conducting interviews with 200 women about their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. The interviews began as casual conversations with her friends, who then brought up anecdotes they themselves had been told by other friends; this began a continuing chain of referrals. In an interview with Women.com, Ensler said that her fascination with vaginas began because of “growing up in a violent society… Women’s empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality.” She also stated, “I’m obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas.”

By 1998 the focal point of the Vagina Monologues had changed. No longer simply a celebration of the vagina and femininity  it became the cornerstone of a campaign to end violence against women and girls. The V-Day movement, in which participants stage benefit performances of the show or host other related events in their communities, usually between February 1 and April 30. The performances benefit rape crisis centers and shelters for women, as well as similar resource centers for women. The Stage Left production will benefit the Leicestershire charity Living Without Abuse.

On a personal level I’m really nervous: it’s about 40 years since I last appeared on a stage in public for a school nativity play. I’m not sure I even had a speaking part. However, fears of stagefright aside, I’m more acutely conscious of the fact that the play is called The Vagina Monologues and some seem to think that this ought to preclude me. As I was asked:

“Don’t you actually have to be born with … ? ”

There was an embarrassed silence at that point as the questioner tailed off and I waited for them to dig a deeper hole and no I didn’t let them off the hook! Suffice it to say that my response included (in an appropriate context) an old-fashioned Saxon word that I don’t think certain social media sites will let me use!

To be clear, never shying from controversy, Eve Ensler has updated her original work on a number of occasions. In 2003, for example, she included a new monologue about the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule titled “Under the Burqa”.

In 2004 an all-transgender performance of The Vagina Monologues was performed. The monologues were read by eighteen notable transgender women, and a new monologue revolving around the experiences and struggles of transgender women was included. That monologue; ‘They beat the girl out of my boy…   or so they tried’ reflects on the violence which some transgender women have experienced. Parts of it certainly resonated with me. Those of you who have travelled with me a little longer than others may remember why!

So why am I doing this? Because I’ve been asked, because I believe that the lived experiences of transwomen should be heard alongside the experiences of other women when we’re discussing violence against women and girls, because I want to support the work of Living Without Abuse, an organisation which has helped transgender women who experience domestic violence, and last of all, because I can!

I’ll leave you with a link to a performance of ‘They beat the girl out of my boy…  or they tried’


Flying the Flag on Commonwealth Day

In 1949 the London Declaration formally established the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of nation states, former territories of the British Empire in the main. Today it is an organisation of 53 member states, ostensibly united by language, history, culture and core values and principles enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter; democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

For the first time in my memory, we are being encouraged to celebrate Commonwealth Day. The Fly a Flag for the Commonwealth  project, an initiative promoted by the Peter Virdee foundation, will see most local authorities in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man hosting civic flag-raising events on 10 March.

However for many people, the Commonwealth is not the champion of human rights it claims to be. In 2013 the Kaleidoscope Trust published Speaking Out, the rights of LGBTI citizens from across the Commonwealth, reporting that

The Commonwealth, which accounts for 30% of the world population, has shown a stubborn refusal to address the human rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) citizens. Of the 78 countries worldwide that still criminalise consensual and private adult same-sex sexual acts, over a half are Commonwealth members states. Nearly 80% of the countries making up the Commonwealth – 41 out of 53 – still maintain such laws and show few signs of accepting that the organisation’s Charter commitment to opposing ‘all forms of discrimination’ must include discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.”

LGBTI issues have been a contentious issue within the Commonwealth for some time. In October 2011 a Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) published A Time for Urgent Reform. Having heard evidence that the decriminalization of same-sex sexual acts helped to reduce rates of HIV infection, and noting that it was an issue which could

“call into question the commitment of member states to the Commonwealth’s fundamental values and principles including fundamental human rights and non-discrimination”

the EPG recommended that:

“Heads of Government should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and commit to programmes of education that would help a process of repeal of such laws.” (Recommendation 60)

In December 2012 the Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth nations adopted recommendation 60, although they qualified it with the caveat that member states

“have the discretion to identify which, if any laws are considered discriminatory, and the steps deemed appropriate to address these.”

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which followed the 2011 EPG did not formally address the matter of LGBT rights although it was addressed in plenary sessions. However in agreeing the Commonwealth Charter in March 2013 the Commonwealth Heads of Government reinforced the Commitment by all Commonwealth nations to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating

“We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.

International law supports the position that “gender” and “other grounds” must include LGBTI people but, in the words of Dr Purna Sen, Chair of the Kaleidoscope Trust, and former head of human rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat, in his Introduction to the Speaking Out report:

“By refusing explicitly to reject discrimination against LGBTI people it let them down once again.

“The wording is almost identical to that in the 2009 Trinidad and Tobago Affirmation of Values. Despite the Secretary General’s encouraging words, in four years the organisation has made little or no real progress on the issue. In four years time will we be forced to reach the same conclusion?

“This cannot go on. Rightly lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are demanding that they be recognised and that their rights – which are exactly the same rights to which every other Commonwealth citizen is or should be afforded, are protected under the law. The immediate demands outlined below are simple and speak for themselves. By themselves they would not deliver the equality to which LGBTI people are entitled, but they would show that the Commonwealth is sincere when it claims to be an organization that believes in universal human rights applicable to all persons throughout the Commonwealth in accordance with the principles of international law.”

Since the publication of ‘Speaking Out’, the situation has deteriorated further. In December 2013 the Supreme Court in India affirmed that although section 377 of the Penal Code, which outlawed “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, may violate human rights, it could not be held to be unconstitutional; it was for Parliament to determine whether it should remain on the statute books. On 13 January 2014 the President of Nigeria assented to a law which banned gay organisations, same-sex marriage and public displays of homosexuality.    On 24 February 2014 the President of Uganda passed into law a bill which increased the penalty for first time offenders convicted of same-sex sexual acts to 14 years, and which criminalised the failure to report gay people to the authorities.

LGBTI people might well then wonder why we should celebrate Commonwealth Day. The Sochi Winter Olympics raised a similar dilemma, with public opinion divided on the merits of a boycott. Having recently filmed ‘Young and Gay in Putin’s Russia’, an expose of the impact of the anti-gay legislation passed by the Russian government in June 2013, Oscar Rickett of Vice.com was well placed to offer an informed position:

“Homophobia in Russia is rife at the moment – you only need to see our film, you must see our film – but it’s worth remembering that it’s a problem in the West as well. More importantly, our politicians, athletes and celebrities must listen to Russia’s gay community. They must go to Sochi and put Russia in the international spotlight in the hope that Putin and his cronies will re-consider their awful, divisive law. Because in Sochi, gay rights activists from Russia, supported by their friends around the world, will stand up and draw attention to a situation that needs to change – even if that means having to do it in a park seven miles from any Winter Olympians.”

As in Russia, LGBTI activists in the Commonwealth do not want us to remain silent. On 7 March we have been called upon by LGBTI people in Nigeria to join in a Global Day of Action to stand against homophobia and human rights violations in Nigeria.  ‘Speaking Out’ would not have happened without the contributions of people across the Commonwealth who have spoken out against oppression. As Dr Purna Sen tells us:

“Although not claiming to be a complete account of all the many social, legal and economic challenges facing LGBTI people in the Commonwealth, this report illustrates some of those challenges. Most importantly however, it provides a platform for the voices of LGBTI people from around the Commonwealth – voices that too often go unheeded by Commonwealth governments and the institutions of the Commonwealth itself.”

At the heart of the Commonwealth we do not find institutions and nations, but people, and in our iteration of the Commonwealth Affirmation on Commonwealth Day we are called to celebrate the diverse lived experiences of the people of the Commonwealth. These by definition must include its LGBTI citizens, the vast majority of whom live in nations in which they can be prosecuted and even imprisoned. Flying the Rainbow flag in tandem with the Commonwealth flag is an apposite reminder to us all of the appalling discrimination which they encounter and makes it very difficult to ignore the fact that when we pledge

“to support the Commonwealth, working together for a future in which there is freedom and justice and prosperity for all, with peace and understanding between peoples and nations”

we are working towards a Commonwealth in which LGBTI people are free to live their lives without fear of persecution.

In memory of …


, , , , ,

Rita Hester   d.28/11/1998

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), 20th November is a day set aside in the calendar to remember those who have died as a result of transphobia, and to highlight the continued violence which transgender people are forced to endure.

TDOR began in 1999 as an act in remembrance of transwoman Rita Hester. Rita lived in Allston, Massachussets and was a popular figure in local bars, where she often performed on stage. On 28 November 1998 she was murdered in her own home, dying of multiple stab wounds. News coverage of the story at the time was unsympathetic. According to the Boston Globe account;

“Before he was stabbed to death in his Allston apartment, William Hester was a night-club singer and party-thrower, a man who sported long braids and preferred women’s clothes, according to neighbors.

Hester was a mystery to those around him – so much so that, until his body was found on Saturday, many in the building on Parkvale Avenue believed Hester was a woman.”   

The post-mortem character assassination of Rita Hester enraged local transactivists; prompted by an overwhelming demand from community members for a response to her murder and the insensitive press coverage, the Boston based Transgender Education Network called an open meeting. Local activists, trans people, family and friends of Rita congregated on 1 December. The meeting inspired many others to write to Bay Windows, a Boston based LGBT newspaper, The Boston Herald and The Boston Globe to protest about the negative coverage and the press was roundly admonished for “re-assassinating Rita Hester in their stories”. In the face of such pressure, the media was forced to reappraise the way it had approached the story; subsequent reports about Rita’s death were noticeably more respectful of transgender sensitivities. A candlelit vigil took place in Boston on 4 December.

The following year transactivist Gwendolyn Smith started both TDOR and the Remembering Our Dead project which lists those who have lost their lives as a result of prejudice and hatred of transgender people. As she explains on the Remembering Our Dead website;

“The idea for this memorial came while posting to a message board in the Transgender Community Forum on AOL, discussing the murder of Rita Hester and the wrongful death/survivor’s action for Tyra Hunter. So many had forgotten some of the individuals we had lost in only the recent past and I felt that, by forgetting those individuals, we would be doomed to see their deaths repeated. Indeed the passing of Rita Hester is similar enough to the death of Chanelle Pickett to leave one wondering.”  

TDOR has grown since the first candlelit vigil in San Francisco in 1999. Last year TDOR was marked by events across the globe, each informed by the guiding principles of TDOR;

• “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” (Santayana)

• All who die due to anti-transgender violence are to be remembered.

• It is up to us to remember these people, since their killers, law enforcement, and the media often seek to erase their existence.

• Transgender lives are affirmed as valuable.

• We can make a difference by being visible, speaking out, educating and organizing around anti-transgender violence, and that can effect change and stop the flood of violence against Transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.

TDOR 2012 will be all the more poignant for me. Earlier this year, after experiencing a sustained campaign of antisocial behaviour, I was put on the council’s housing list. Those on the list have the opportunity to participate every fortnight in an online bidding process for available properties; those with the highest priority needs and who have been on the list longest are successful. In August I placed a bid on a one-bedroom flat in Maughan Street in Earl Shilton, I was surprised to get a telephone call from the council asking if I could come into the office to talk about my bid.

The council told me that I was the highest placed bidder at the time and therefore would be awarded the property at the end of the bidding cycle, but they had genuine concerns for my safety if I had to live there. They wanted me to rethink my bid. I demurred, I hadn’t been safe at my previous address, Perhaps they could explain the nature of their concerns so I could at least make an informed decision. The answer challenged me; while I was aware that Earl Shilton was not renowned for its tolerance and acceptance of diversity, I had not appreciated that some years ago a trans person had been killed in the property I had chosen. If that was the case, why hadn’t I heard of this before? I hadn’t seen any reference to this on the ‘Remembering Our Dead’ website. In the end I decided to withdraw my bid, much to the relief of the housing department and the police. But I felt compelled to investigate further; if what I had been told was true, here was a brother or sister we needed to be remembering.

After a lot of research, I have been able to corroborate only part of the story. In January 2006 there was a violent death in Maughan Street; a man and his teenage son were later convicted of murder. This much is discovered simply by googling ‘Maughan Street’, ‘Earl Shilton’ and ‘murder’. However although the incident was widely reported at the time and was the subject of an IPCC report in 2010, nothing I read indicated that the victim was a trans person; they were instead described as having serious mental health issues.

I do not want to disbelieve the story I was told even though there is not enough evidence to support it. On the one hand, I find myself asking why the police and the council would tell me that the victim was a trans person? Cynical me says that here was an attempt to play on my fears to deter me from applying for a property in a location in which I might well have found myself in an exposed and vulnerable position, making even greater demands on the resources of the police and council. If  so, it worked. On the other hand, I question why the press would refrain from mentioning that the victim was transgender and deny themselves the opportunity of the usual sensational and lurid headlines. Could they have been deferring to the sensitivities of a grieving family still in denial of the gender identity of a loved one. If so, it would not be the first time that the press has erased trans history! But I do not have a definitive answer and that leaves me feeling dissatisfied.

You will no doubt note that in retelling this story, I have used gender neutral pronouns. I am not comfortable in identifying the victim by the name given in the press. If what I have been told is true, it is not the name they preferred, and I have no wish to add to the indignity they suffered by misgendering them. However I suspect this story will continue to haunt me until I find someone who knew the victim well and can put my mind to rest. In the meantime  I take from this the knowledge that in 2006, a desperately vulnerable person with complex mental health issues, which may or may not have been compounded by gender dysphoria, died in an act of horrifying violence. It leaves me feeling a strange kind of kinship with them and I will remember them in this way on Transgender Day of Remembrance. You may wish to do the same.


So who Ordered the Pink Unicorn?

At playschool, all little Alexander wanted was to be Alexandra. Now the eleven year old is seeking hormone treatment. The Jugendamt (Youth Department) is set against it.

“Hi, I’m Alex!” The smiling girl, who opens the door to an old but pretty dwelling somewhere in Berlin, has long blonde hair, wears skinny jeans and a blouse. But this lovely eleven year old character, who readily shows us her pink room with white furniture and a pink unicorn on the, this should be a boy!

No, nothing suggests ‘boy’ here, yet for Alex gender identity has become a battlefield. Alex is transsexual – a girl with the sexual characteristics of a boy. And because of that, the child is now threatened with a secure psychiatric ward. The Youth Department wants to section her.

“For how long have you believed that you are a girl?” Alex looks me in the eye and answers back “for how long have you believed that you’re a girl then – always!” For Alex, the position was clear. Because she still had short hair she put on a hairband with two wool braids fastened to it. Her mother, Anna Kaminski*, had no problem with that.

After playschool Alexander officially changed sex and went to elementary school as Alexandra. She was accepted as such, which revitalised mother and child. Alex was a normal, happy girl.

A normal happy girl

But all was not well. The father continued to address the child as Alexander. He dressed his son in boy’s clothes and then when Alex cried and resisted, according to Mum, he got rough with Alex. Does one try to make the life of a boy more palatable to Alexander or let Alexandra continue to live as a girl? The parents separated over this conflict. They transferred responsibility for Alex’s healthcare to the Youth Department. Father fought with all his might against the behaviour of his child. Mother wanted to let Alex have her own way.

But now Alex has reached puberty. Her body is developing into that of a man. A man she does not want to become. She would rather die. Alex wants to be treated with oestrogens so she can develop as a woman. Her father wants to stop this. He has besieged the Youth Department, writing more than 150 pages about his supposedly disturbed wife who merely encourages the child to want to be a girl. IN response to all of that, as his wife tells it, the father himself does not even respond to inquiries.

What he has not written, but has told his wife, is that transsexualism has occurred once already within his family. It was, as is usually the case, concealed and suppressed. He wanted to spare his son from that Because of this he fought desperately, and thereby created a situation which is extremely stressful for his child.

How does one avoid the problem of transsexual children? Not only Alex’s parents are split; the scientific community is also divided. Children who want themselves to be of the opposite sex are not so rare. The desire to be of the opposite sex often disappears at puberty. In place of it, a homosexual identity often establishes itself.

Klaus Beier, sex therapist at the Berlin Charite, knows something about that. “If we could determine the criteria that could tell us for sure when a sexual identity problem in childhood turns into transsexuality, the gift of puberty blocking medication could be justified” says Beier. “But we don’t have the criteria, so forecastable cases must always be considered on the basis that discomfort in the biological sex could be left behind during the course of further development.

Against Nature?

It has also been claimed that one of the parents can induce gender identity disorder, for example if the mother herself has a disturbed relationship with men and forces her son into a feminine role. Has Alex’s mother, this very normal and seemingly happy woman, painted the room pink and bought the unicorn contrary to the natural instincts of her child? Hardly conceivable. But Alex’s father is convinced the mother is the problem and that without her the child would be a boy.

There are also other stories concerning early transexuality besides those of Beier. A Dutch study, in which the development of children with so called gender identity disorders was monitored, indicated that biological boys who were particularly persistent in alleging that they were girls later developed into transsexuals. The late developing homosexuals were more likely to have said that is was always their wish to be a girl. But unfortunately they were boys. The Dutch are confident in the distinction and, in what they see as the clear cases, to begin with hormone treatment during puberty.

In Switzerland also, someone dares to diagnose children before the onset of puberty and to treat them. “I would accompany the child for a while” said Professor Udo Rauchfleisch of the University of Basel a renowned expert and consultant for transsexual people. He needs to see the child weekly for at least six months, then he can make a diagnosis. “If it is a transsexual, then one wants to begin the hormone treatment soon” said Rauchfleisch.

“It is of course a tremendous relief when the child develops in line with its preferred sex”. Some children treated with oestrogen never go on to experience a breaking voice or, instead of getting broad shoulders, would develop breasts. As an adult they would look like a woman and not like a man in disguise.

Alex has never had an unbiased assessment. Six years ago she should have gone to a major hospital in Berlin for tests. “They told me I would be unhappy later as a girl. After that I didn’t want to participate anymore” she says.

Stereotyping by doctors

She wonders about the stereotyping by doctors. They put me in front of a shelf; pink princesses on the left, cars on the right. I’m supposed to decide what I want to play with. That’s ridiculous. I play with a puzzle.” On hearing such stories, one realises just how absurd it is to assign to a child a behavioural role which otherwise gender-conscious educators simply try to put into perspective.

Alex is forever playing with dolls. But not football as well. Her hobbies are breakdance, swimming and reading. And what does she read? Books about girls on horses? Alex is reading Harry Potter – fairly gender neutral.

I wanted to speak to an impartial figure. Her teacher refuses; the case is too delicate. In the Youth Department the subject is addressed only once. The Mother is the problem? Why then is there no professional psychological assessment of her? Or perhaps the authorities, who simply want to avoid any further hassle with the father, are under no pressure from him.

The senior doctor spoke about the examination cut short by the father six years ago, then followed by an hour with the mother. He never got to see Alex herself. Nonetheless the diagnosis stands; the mother has influenced the child into a transsexual identity. Anna Kaminski consulted a therapist. Does she have a psychological disorder of which she is not aware? The therapist was unable to establish anything of the sort.

Never thoroughly examined

However to this day, Alex has never been thoroughly examined. Especially not over a long period of time as Rauchfleisch deems necessary. In this case, a report or an in-depth observation would now be so important. Because in the Youth Department, which was so quiet for years, a new nurse looked at Alex’s case. And she believes the father and fabricates information. The child is in danger of suicide and needs to be in a locked psychiatric ward. Under no circumstances should it receive hormones.

Instead it should experience puberty in the hope that it thereafter still wants to live life as a man. To that end it should be treated; should be offered inducements to develop into a manly role. Football and cars. Womanly desires ignored. Later Alex needs to go to a foster family. The most important thing – separation from the mother.

“That is absurd. One doesn’t take a child from its usual environment like that” says Professor Rauchfleisch. “And if one now wants to put it through a pseudo-upbringing, the child would most likely pretend, and be unhappy to death. That’s got nothing to do with therapy. Therapy guides people by way of self-discovery, it neither persuades nor dissuades. If the child is really transsexual, then therapy like that causes damage to the child. “

But although there aren’t any medical reports, the Youth Department is seeking to enforce involuntary committal through the district court. Anna Kaminski, totally shocked by this decision, has taken it to the next level, the case now lies with the Supreme Court. But the Youth Department wants admission to take place now. By way of interim injunction. Any day now they can stand at the door, and drag a happy, open-minded girl into a psychiatric hospital without a shred of medical evidence.

*Names have been changed

Original article in German by Heide Oestreich, Transexuality in Childhood 19/01/2012


This English translation © Rebecca Amanda Shaw 01/02/2012

Introducing the Reluctant Transgender Activist

One Saturday afternoon in September I became a book; a living book in a human library. I hadn’t heard of human libraries before; apparently they date back to the Summer 2000 Roskilde Festival. They’re all about breaking down barriers. “Take out your prejudices” potential ‘readers’ are urged. They mean it literally; living books offer readers the rare opportunity to engage openly with people whose voices are usually drowned out by the rhetoric of the Daily Mail.

The human library organised by St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace took place during the St Barnabas Community Fête which, since 2003, has been held annually in Mile End Park. Known locally as ‘Bowstock’, it’s not your average church fête. It’s styled as “a non-religious, participatory, free and not-for-profit festival organised by local people” with a mission “to break down social barriers”.  In recent years it has participated in projects such as The Future Laboratory’s ‘Living Britain’ study commissioned by Zurich Financial Services Group, and has worked with Professor Margaret Harris, Chair of the Centre for Voluntary Action Research at the Aston Business School.

First of all though I had to choose a title for my book; that was a problem. How could I possibly sum up the path I had travelled over the last ten years in just a few words? ‘Reluctant transgender activist’ was by no means perfect, but it came closer than any other label I thought of and at least hints at the dilemma I found myself facing some years ago.

“What dilemma?” Well for me the answer to that lies in an A Level English Literature syllabus. Dick Diver, the protagonist in F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender is the Night’, was a man who knew that “the price of his intactness was incompleteness”. When I first read that phrase in a classroom in a grammar school in Essex, I had no idea how it would still resonate 30 years later. However I doubt I will be the only member of the transgender community to identify with the truth it holds; we cannot be complete unless we are true to ourselves, but being true to ourselves involves personal risk; order and balance fly out of the window.

The dangers are not imagined. Research published by the Equalities Review chronicles a history of exclusion from family and home, the workplace, from public spaces and in accessing healthcare services.  In the largest survey of its kind, 45% of respondents reported that gender variant behaviour contributed to the breakdown of a relationship, 23% either lost their job or left because they felt their position was untenable, more than 36% were subjected to inappropriate comments in public and in more than 15% of cases, medical treatment was denied or delayed because doctors or nurses did not approve of gender reassignment. It’s hardly surprising if transgender people delay the decision to transition; in its 2011 update on the number of gender variant people in the UK, GIRES (the Gender Identity Research and Education Society) reports that the median age of those presenting themselves for treatment for gender dysphoria is 42.

But transgender people always seem to get left behind: government has been particularly slow to recognise or respect transgender identity. In 1970 the House of Lords ruled in effect that, for the purposes of getting married, the sex of the bride and groom was determined by their birth certificates. On that basis, April Ashley’s marriage to Arthur Cameron Corbett, subsequently the third Baron Rowallan, was a nullity. It took 35 years and the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights to introduce a mechanism for amending birth certificates.  Similarly guidelines on the detention of transgender prisoners, which the Home Office began to review in 1996, were not published until March 2011. Equal rights in the workplace were delivered in stages; those who had undergone, were undergoing or intended to undergo a process of gender reassignment benefited from the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999. Those who did not intend, or were unable, to present for surgical intervention had to wait for the Equalities Act 2010. It was the same Act which finally outlawed discrimination against transgendered people when providing goods and services, but it’s worth noting that similar discrimination against gay or disabled people had already been unlawful for some time.

The bad news is that bigotry against transgender people seems to be increasing. Figures published by ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) show that although the number of reported hate crimes decreased during 2010, year on year transgender hate crime increased by approximately 13%. Should we be surprised? Public perception of transgender people is informed by a media that reinforces stereotypes; we remain a focus for ridicule. Who can forget the monstrous Emily Howard from BBC TV’s Little Britain? Newspapers pandering to the prurient interests of their audience are equally insensitive of transgender identity. Misgendering (addressing a transwomen as “Sir” and applying male pronouns and vice versa for transmen), is commonplace as is the disclosure of previous names.   Transgender lived experience is sensationalised in pejorative terms and salient facts such as the cost to the taxpayer of medical treatment under the NHS, are routinely exaggerated or otherwise misrepresented.

So how does this relate to a community fête in the east end of London? While transgender people welcome the progress represented by recent legislation, the fight for equality and justice is far from over. The advances we have gained have been secured in the main by a small group of determined people who risked much when public opinion was even more firmly set against us, but there are still those who continue to oppose transgender identity and who seek to stand in the way of further progress. Transgender people cannot afford to be complacent about their hard won freedoms; the need to celebrate and champion transgender lived experience is as great as ever.  But if I expect someone else to champion my rights, do I not have a responsibility to champion theirs? Selfishly, it’s something I would rather not have to do; it’s not an easy life. As I told those few people whom I talked to in Mile End Park in September, I guess I’m just a reluctant transgender activist.