When an asterisk is all you've got left. The poly* bi* trans* diaries
To come out or to not come out?
I was never very fond of coming out narratives. I understand their extreme importance to the ongoing dialogue between, for example, the LGBT community and mainstream society, but cannot help the feeling that a lot of the stories are being downplayed to match the image of a “perfect specimen”. Coming out narratives very often lack an intersectional approach – they teach us that sexuality can be placed in stable, safe categories and that once you position yourself in the structure and accept it, you are sure to live a happy and fabulous life.
It is obvious, however, that this particular idea comes from an oversimplified western view on society, telling us that we have to label ourselves whenever and wherever we can to claim our spaces and that, in the end, we shall be rewarded for such actions. Even if they compromise our safety. I, too, was and still happen to be a part of this process. I do not share the view that coming out is always the best solution and I do not believe in the simplicity a lot of those stories are trying to channel. Still, I have numerously repeated my story, targeting different audiences and various purposes. And, following the vicious circle of oversimplification, I have presented myself using almost every possible trans* cliche in the book, knowing that in many ways it is the cliche which is often helping others to realize that they are not alone, that they are not delusional. That being trans* is a simple fact and not a negative label, “condition” or something to be shamed for.
What’s your label?
I did, however, refused to follow one element of the “classical transsexual narrative” and decided to openly state that I was bisexual, knowing also that the usage of that particular word was mostly political. At the time of my bi* coming out, I have already considered myself pansexual – attracted to people and their personalities and not their genders. Because genders are so unique and personal, that – in my view – one cannot consider to be attracted to one or even two genders. How can one actually state that there is, in fact, a finite set of genders? Identities, expressions and experiences can be so extremely unique that no single mix of traces and characteristics can even begin to describe the enormous diversity of what our bodies, various accessories and their use bring to our social and sexual lives.
Not bisexual then, but bi*. Preferably, however, pansexual – sometimes maybe omnisexual. Omni*, maybe? When speaking of sexuality which goes beyond what society constitutes as a norm or transitioning sexualities, one can only have trust in those typographic characters which help you grasp the complexity of availability. It is only fair to say that I like all of those labels and tend to switch them on various occasions, making people not only confused about my somehow fluid (I prefer the term “non-stable”, though) gender identity, but also uncomfortable with the fact that my overall view on gender describes it as a concept taken much too seriously.
Please, do not get me wrong – whatever constitutes us and ourselves in relation to gender is important. Identities can be extremely crucial, especially for those of us (trans*, of intersex status and beyond) who have spent years struggling for recognition. Some of us have won, some have fallen, others went into hiding – and there is no shame in whatever experience brought us to the position we currently identify ourselves with or feel comfortable in. What did make us feel as outcasts or has strongly influenced the way we see, read and feel our bodies was the gender system and the importance it puts into the binary spectrum. To put matters in a simple way – if gender was not taken as serious, I would still transition. I would still have taken an informed decision to take testosterone so that a number of my physical characteristics would change and I would still undergo chest reconstruction. However, I would not have experienced stigma or trauma related to transitioning. No one would ever think of diagnosing me with a disorder, I would have never become a patient of a psychiatric hospital, I would have chosen a surgeon who would make my chest look the way I wanted instead of being operated by someone who was “simply not afraid to take up that task”. And finally, I would have never been questioned about my sexuality by a team of psychologists eager to “help me get to the right place”.
There is no procedure to determine whether a cisgender (non-trans) person’s gender identity is “truly” congruent with their body, no one actually asks cisgender persons to “prove” that they are the gender they claim. The process of medical assessment to which transgender people are subjected is not only unfair, but simply wrong from the very beginning. We are not actually asked to prove who we are but rather disprove that we are not what everyone else thinks that we may be. And, to make matters worse, this translates also to the assessment of sexuality.
Heteronormativity combined with cissexism – stereotypical beliefs that all humans comply to the traditional gender binary and the culturally default heterosexuality – have had an enormous impact on how transgender and transsexuality are being perceived by the medical establishment. Not only are we obliged to hate every single inch of our body, genitalia and secondary sex characteristics especially, we – those people who decide to confront gatekeepers and follow our transitioning path – are also forced to accept the fact that our sexual, erotic and romantic desires need to be fully representing the opposite gender to which we have been assigned at birth. In other words, when becoming a man or a woman in society’s eyes, we are also expected to love and perform sexually the same way everyone is expected to.
Oh, but times change – as I was told not a while back ago in a conversation about modern sexology – and now a transgender man can (oh, the patronizing “can”, how I loathe thee!) openly discuss the fact that they are gay. Great – was my first, not very euphoric answer, as I was already bored and annoyed by the constant gay/straight binary opposition. As if there was nothing more, as if us – the bi* was out of the question, as much as trans* a while ago, bi* was simply outside of the sexology spectrum. A bisexual, even when only cisgender persons were taken into consideration, was the undecided one, the person who breaks up either their own or someone else’s relationship, the overwhelmed hedonist whose only reason to live is to make gay and straight people miserable. “But…! – continued my discussion partner – you obviously cannot use your vagina during sex. That’s not gay, that’s obviously feminine!”. Let me out of here – I tried to whisper, banging my forehead on the table. The obvious femininity argument put forward by a straight and stealth transsexual man who also happened to be majoring in sexology – did I really expect something else? Did I actually think I would even hear the word bi*?
My bisexuality was never mentioned during diagnostical interviews. Having read comments and notes about the gatekeeping team who was tasked to assess my need to transition, I already knew that whatever mention of any experience outside of the usual trans* masculine, post-lesbian spectrum could get me back few weeks or even months in therapy. Being bi* could have equaled “not transitioning” and the price would have been too high for me to bear. I have not only decided to not disclose my status. I have deliberately lied about my love life, my partners, my desires and every single romantic detail which might have given the psychological team an even slight idea about my sexuality. The diagnostic process took more than a year. A year during which I have exchanged the stories of my boyfriends for that of girlfriends, have recreated most of my puberty experience, straighten out the description of desires. All of this to create the perfect specimen, the stereotypical heterosexual transsexual male.
The illusion was so complete, even for me, that it took almost three years to get back to those feelings and behavior from the past. Blocking the bi* caused me to lose myself in everyone else’s image. While recreating my sexual label and sexual identity, looking for other bisexuals with similar experiences, I have vowed to never lose myself again, to not stay in closet. Coming out became a thing of pride. But not the kind of pride one would earn thanks to peer support. No, I did not earn it, neither became proud. I had to regain my pride and refuse all the suppression the medical system has subjected me too.
Foolishly enough, I went to the media.
Intersectionality in the wrong hands
In 2009, me and Anna Grodzka – who in 2011 had become Poland’s first transgender member of the Parliament that we now off (I am certainly not a fan of describing someone as “openly LGBT”) – have decided to say “yes” to an interview about the newly established organization Trans-Fuzja and our own experiences with gender, sexuality and life in general. The title of the article – “Transsexuals are braking the silence” – was one of the few, but probably most important, things we did not authorize. It was not, however, the title that made me realize how bisexual voices can be ostracized and ignored within the LGBT community, once they are labeled as transgender.
I remember smiling when the journalist asked me about my sexual identity. “I am bisexual” – I said with a nice and satisfied smile. He smiled back and nodded. I already knew that this one sentence will surely become part of the final text. And it did. Without any changes. What was surprising, was the fact that the journalist did not have many questions concerning the matter. The fact of being transgender just so happened to be of more interest than the sexual identity. I cannot say I was happy with that. I actually thought that this particular interview – a political coming out of two trans* activists – would be the game changer, a chance to finally speak about our issues from various perspectives. That the bi* part of myself is as important as the trans* part and that my whole existence as a person can be viewed through more than one feature or experience. Apparently, what I had in mind was a bit too farfetched for the whole concept of the interview and my vision of a double coming out turned into the event that shook the world of trans* but not the world of those who position themselves outside of the straight/gay binary.
A year or two later the most popular LGBT magazine “Replika” printed an interview with “the first Polish bisexual coming out” – this time it was a cisgender man who told his story of growing up bi* in Poland. A story where gender issues were not transitioning and, come to think of it, were almost absent. As much as I enjoyed learning about the cisgender side of being beyond homo- and heterosexual, I couldn’t help but feel a bit tricked. Not by anyone in particular, but rather on how I might have been read by everyone at that point in time. The incredible important part of my life, one that might actually have influenced my whole transition, was not even read as important by the community to which I have had close connections. To be honest, even though I find it extremely unfair, my bi* experience was actually seen as something legitimate when I was still in my “pre-trans years”, forcing myself to live by society’s standards. As a girl.
My bi* coming out had, however, a great impact on my family. And not just the statement in the 2009 interview, but an event which for everyone else meant that I was not just “stating” that I belonged to the invisibilized spectrum of the LGBT. I met a person who was definitely NOT on the female spectrum of gender – my boyfriend (first ever to be introduced to everyone in the family after I transitioned) and later on my partner in life. Shit got real – as I would vulgarly summarize. It was not just a phase, nor were the previous experiences simply “experiments” – my family needed to come to terms with my sexuality and my romantic choices.
“Why would you have a boyfriend if you transitioned? And what about that girlfriend you had before?” – asked one of my closest cousins shortly after excluding me and my partner from coming to her wedding. The explanation being that she could not guaranty us safety. Homophobia driven by trans- and biphobic circumstances.
I can still hear my mother whispering to me in a shopping center – “so what do you REALLY mean when you say you are bisexual?”
There’s actually a B in LGBT…?!
But it is not “just” family who can make you feel uncomfortable, it is also those of whom you would think that have at least a slight idea of what being bi* might be. Once me and my partner settled in as a couple, we have started to visit friends, LGBT spaces, including organizations as both us happen to be local trans* activists in Poland and Slovakia, where even LG issues are often seen as ideas undermining the very fabric of society.
Having a partner who was read male by everyone else, of course, implied a lot of questions and doubts concerning my actual identity. A lot of comments about my gayness have been shared, I have been labeled as the one who is indecisive, who cannot make up their mind, as “the one who should finally tell everyone whom I really am”. Bisexuality was almost never an option. It was either to choose between being gay or acknowledging that this particular relationship was just a phase. Because trans* people cannot be anything else than heterosexual. If they are not – they are obviously not trans*. Maybe this is the reason my partner tends to call me his “bearded woman” when we are alone. To be fair, I laugh every time.
“So, finally you can become a member of our organization!” said one cisgender gay activist once, when I introduced my partner to him. We were cooperating on various projects for quite a while back then and it has been my second year since I became a volunteer for the initiative. I gave him a puzzled look and he immediately added “You know, because you have a boyfriend!”
I know he meant it as a joke, but I remember taking it very seriously. Maybe because it is not funny when you are being reminded that there is a great number of people who consider your identity fake.
The political bisexual
Fighting for one’s right to recognition, especially in LGBTI spaces, is often one of the most disappointing experiences in a bisexual person’s life. Mine was the recent voting at the ILGA World 2012 conference in Stockholm to establish a bisexual secretariat. During this meeting I have heard all the common misconceptions about bi* persons, including accusations of us wanting too much from an organization that is supposed to deal with our issues.
We were said to be disorganized, pushy and picky. We “overreacted” when someone from the audience pointed out that there were not enough of us to actually “deserve” our own secretariat. And we also “have to wait for the right climate” because our issues are a matter of a democratic vote and not a matter of their importance. Yes, we all have to wait. Because the fact of calling marriage equality “gay marriage” is not a wake up call for our allies or at least those of the LG (both cisgender and beyond) spectrum who could influence the overall public debate.
I do not want your gay marriage. I am not gay, never have been and never will be. I do not want a straight marriage as well. I am not straight, never have been and never will be. I want an inclusive marriage, a possibility to tell the world – “Hey, you know what? I am marrying whoever the hell I want and I don’t need any of your exclusive labels”.
Struggling with monoamory – the bisexual paradox
The paradox of the political bisexual is that to become a political figure you also need to challenge stereotypes. But how do you challenge the “partner swapping” stereotype when you are also living a non-monogamous life, valuing more persons in your life than just one partner, or simply enjoying the possibility to explore your sexuality, but still have one or even more stable relationships apart from that?
As a trans*, bi* person living in a poly* partner relationship, this is the most problematic question of my overall intersectional life.
This particular dilemma can be seen in some of the newest bi* narratives, where much pressure is put on monoamory or the fact that a lot of bisexuals are not sleeping around – a positive image of bisexuality is supposed to be created by redefining the same heteronormative values, which have been already imprinted on the description of gay and lesbian lives. “We are not as you think, we are exactly like you” – seems to be the message and to that particular type of bisexual activism I have to clearly say “no”.
No coming out narrative or even challenging prejudice cannot happen by deeming one group lesser than the other, whatever the comparison may be. It is not creating the perfect image, nor is it telling the normative society that we come from the same place. We actually do not and that is something to accept for ourselves and to make them understand. No one is the same and has never been, which is why we can live diverse and fascinating lives. Whether we talk gender, sexuality or even something completely out of the scope of these two. Hobbies, for instance.
To quote a lovely internet comic strip – We are all different and that is okay.
Is there any hope for us?
Coming back to the beginning of those notes, I realized I might have been extremely negative on the current position of bisexuality in various situations, whether driven by hetero- or homonormative issues. But it is not without a reason, being bi* has been and still is a problematic matter. Because, in fact, we do not belong anywhere. Our issues are different than those of gays or lesbians and certainly different from straight dilemmas. At the same time though, we are confronted with a general perception that there are no bi* issues and that whatever we do can fall under either of two most available options. Maybe there are no bi* issues, because no one wants to see them as separate. Because instead of talking about diversity and educating about many possibilities for a person to experience their romantic drives and sexuality, the normative approach still sees two main defaults.
Unless we do not change these attitudes, we cannot even think about bi* inclusion in any space. I certainly cannot. And have a number of experiences to keep my claim.
Unless the individuality of bi* experience is not properly recognized, there is no space for my sexuality under the rainbow.
This narrative will become a part of a Spanish publication on bisexuality to which the wonderful Miguel Obradors is collecting various stories of bi* and non-straight/non-gay/non-lesbian people.
Dlaczego warto zastanowić się nad niepisaniem o literze T, gdy ma się na myśli prawa osób LGB.
W ramach początku chciałbym jasno zaznaczyć, że choć pomysł na niniejszy tekst narodził się jako reakcja na artykuł Pawła Gawlika zamieszczony w serwisie homiki.pl zamierzeniem nie było deprecjonować tezy autora. Wprost przeciwnie - z nieukrywaną ciekawością zapoznałem się z historią opresji osób LGB w niejako sąsiedzkim Polsce światopoglądowo (gdy przyglądamy się z perspektywy wpływu kościoła katolickiego na dyskurs publicznych) państwie, z radością zaś reagowałem na kolejne przykłady fantastycznych zmian w sytuacji osób LGB, które zaszły w Irlandii w ciągu ostatnich lat.
Reakcja dotyczy nieco innej kwestii, tj. kolejnego przykładu pisania o skrótowcu LGBT w rozumieniu przede wszystkim interesów osób homoseksualnych, tj. literek L oraz G. Stanowi zatem pewnego rodzaju uzupełnienie, nie zaś czystą krytykę.
Znów pytamy: dla kogo związki partnerskie?
Czytając o “prawach osób homoseksualnych do zawierania związków”, zamyślam się prywatnie nad swoją własną sytuacją jako osoby spod literki B. Związki partnerskie, będące alternatywą dla heteronormatywnego małżeństwa, to również instytucja pomagająca tym z nas, którzy w przygodzie życia znaleźli osobę tej samej płci prawnej - partnera, partnerkę, osobę bliską.
Prawo do zawierania związków jednopłciowych nie jest jedynie interesem osób homoseksualnych, dlatego też zaczęliśmy właśnie różnicować pomiędzy płciowymi aspektami tych związków, nie zaś seksualnością osób zaangażowanych. Płeć natomast - taką mam przynajmniej nadzieję - traktujemy przede wszystkim na poziomie prawnym i jednocześnie pamiętamy, że literki w naszych dowodach osobistych i paszportach nigdy tak naprawdę nie powiedzą nam, kim jesteśmy. Ale mogą zdecydowanie uprzykrzyć życie.
Pamiętamy również, że prawnie jednopłciowe związki mogą zawierać również osoby heteroseksualne. Jeśli na przykład jedna z osób jest osobą transpłciową, a jej tożsamość płciowa przedstawia się przeciwnie do płci osoby, z którą zawierany jest związek - co będzie stanowiło “wyznacznik homoseksualności” takiej konfiguracji? Nic. Bez względu na prawny i cielesny status tożsamość człowieka to najważniejsza kwestia, która miałaby go identyfikować w oczach społeczności.
Swego czasu, jeszcze przed zmianą dokumentów a już przedstawiając się męsko, rozmyślałem z ówczesną partnerką o zawarciu podobnego związku, gdy tylko nadarzy się okazja. Paradoksalnie korekta oznaczenia płci w dokumentach ułatwiła nam możliwości - zaledwie pół roku później w oczach państwa polskiego byłem mężczyzną. Mogliśmy zawrzeć małżeństwo. Uzgodniliśmy wtedy, że ślubu nie weźmiemy dopóki Polska nie wprowadzi instytucji związków partnerskich. Ponad cztery lata później wzdycham nad możliwościami, które dała mi wtedy korekta oznaczenia płci w dokumentach. Dzisiaj, będąc z partnerem o identycznej płci prawnej jak moja, o takiej możliwości mogę jedynie pomarzyć, mimo że sam jako osoba niewiele się zmieniłem, zmienił się jedynie mój status prawny.
Być osobą transpłciową w Irlandii
Gdy wiosną 2011 roku wybieraliśmy kraj, w którym miała odbyć się kolejna Transpłciowa Rada - Transgender Council - wciąż wiedziałem stanowczo za mało o sytuacji osób transpłciowych w tej części świata. Idąc za stereotypem Lepszego Zachodu, sądziłem, że niewiele rzeczy może okazać się gorszych niż w naszym ogródku. Dzisiaj nie wiem, czy powinienem się cieszyć, czy smucić, skoro nie miałem racji. Być może cispłciowe osoby LGB mają się obecnie w Irlandii świetnie albo - jak niekiedy słyszę - o wiele lepiej niż w Polsce. My natomiast - osoby transpłciowe bez względu na nasze tożsamości seksualne - mamy się najgorzej, jak tylko można.
Z jakichkolwiek praktyk i możliwości prawnych, wspominanych jako odpowiednie dla osób transpłciowych kraj ten umożliwia zmianę imienia. Aby żyło się lepiej - nieustannie pod okiem urzędów i społeczeństwa, napotykając przeszkody niemal w każdym momencie ezgystencji jako człowiek pomiędzy innymi.
Na szczęście zakres obowiązków organów ds. równości obejmuje również osoby transpłciowe. Więcej to niż w Polsce.
Dwadzieścia lat walki o prawne uznanie
Gdy w roku 1992 dr Lydia Foy zdecydowała, że zakończyła proces tranzycji zgodnie ze swoją wolą, wystąpiła o zmianę aktu urodzenia tak, aby odzwierciedlał jej preferowaną płeć. Mimo że była w stanie zmienić imię, nadal nie otrzymała decyzji o zmianie oznaczenia płci. Wszystko niezgodnie z orzeczeniem Najwyższego Sądu z 2007 roku, w którym jednoznacznie stwierdzono, że taki stan rzeczy jest niezgodny z Europejską Konwencją Praw Człowieka. Decyzja Sądu nie spotkała się jednak z reakcją ze strony władz Irlandii i dlatego też, zgodnie z zapowiedzią jaką złożyła podczas Transpłciowej Rady, dr Foy rozpoczęła ponowną prawną walkę o uznanie zaledwie pięć miesięcy temu.
Dziś - po dwudziestu jeden latach od pierwszej próby wywalczenia przez dr Foy odpowiedniego oznaczenia płci w dokumentach - projekt prawa regulującego uznanie płci dopiero wkracza do irlandzkiego parlamentu. I choć przygotowano go w zgodzie z najnowszymi standardami praw człowieka, trudno zapomnieć, w jaki sposób władza starała się zwodzić zarówno środowisko osób transpłciowych, jak i organizacje działające na ich rzecz. Pierwsze zapewnienia o wprowadzeniu jakiejkolwiek procedury natychmiast spotykały się z entuzjamem.
Wkrótce jednak okazało się, że prawo zawierać ma konieczność rozwodu - a zatem zależałoby od procedury, która w Irlandii (ze względu na bardzo skomplikowane regulacje) może trwać nawet do pięciu lat, włączając w to separację zarówno osób pozostających w związku, jak i dzieci od jednej z nich oraz diagnozy transseksualizmu. Prawo takie składałoby się z dwóch punktów, których aktywistyczne grupy chciały uniknąć i które bez wątpienia nie idą w parze z międzynarodowymi standardami praw człowieka, a jedynie utrwalają patologizujący i arodzinny obraz transpłciowości.
A jednak można…
Projekt prawa jednakże powstał. I na podstawie założeń przedstawia się wręcz imponująco, biorąc pod uwagę, że jeszcze we wrześniu zeszłego roku wszyscy razem protestowaliśmy przeciwko wspomnianym propozycjom. Z gorzkim uśmiechem wyśmiewaliśmy minister Burton, która naprawdę wierzyła, że proponuje irlandzkiej transpłciowej społeczności to, co najlepsze.
Dziesięć miesięcy później Anna Grodzka poprowadziła Paradę w Dublinie.
Jeśli wspomniane prawo przejdzie drogę legislacyjną w niezmienionym kształce, wtedy będziemy mogli powiedzieć, że jesteśmy sto lat za Irlandią.
Bodies without human rights. Transgender people, sexuality and parenthood
A speech and presentation on trans* issues I gave during the IPPF EN conference. The transcript of the lecture is located below this description.
Important: Before reading: DOWNLOAD the presentation
Be sure to check out http://tgeu.org where the Trans Map along with its index has been published.
Bodies without human rights. Transgender people, sexuality and parenthood
Good morning everyone and thank you for inviting me to this important event. The importance of it, seems even greater today, two days after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has passed a resolution (1945 (2013)) which not only condemns forced sterilizations and castrations in the region but also urges Council of Europe member states to end any kind of activities which result in breaching a person’s physical integrity in that matter. The resolution also urges states to change existing laws and policies which allow for those to still take place.
I must say, to some extent, I could just read this resolution and the presentation would have been over, especially that the document – less than two pages long – mentions the following groups threatened by coerced sterilizations and castrations: Roma women, convicted sex offenders, transgender persons, persons with disabilities, and the marginalized, stigmatized, or those considered unable to cope. In other words, it is a very inclusive document, one that should definitely be circulated within your network and respective organizations.
It is titled: Resolution 1945 (2013), Putting an end to coerced sterilisations and castrations and is available at http://assembly.coe.int.
A note on content and language
Before I came to this conference, I was given a 2007 issue of IPPF’s “Choices” on sexual and reproductive health rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Europe. I found it extremely helpful in terms of structuring this presentation. It saddens me that the one-page article published six years ago could have been easily reprinted today, since things have been moving very slowly for transgender people in individual Council of Europe member states, even though we have seen a lot of international support from various other international institutions, including the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
To bring you closer to the context of transgender issues, I will be speaking both as an expert and as a transgender person myself, since I cannot and do not want to deny my own experiences which have led me to explore the vast world of transgender human rights.
I already apologize if my presentation touches definitions and terms of which some of you might think that they are very basic. It is quite important from my point of view that we all understand the issues we are discussing.
Gender and sex in your own lives
If you look into your national IDs, passports or other documents aimed to identify you in the eyes of the law and the general public, you will find a category which some of you might never have been preoccupied with, something which comes to you as a natural fact, a small detail. It is the “sex” category or, as us, transgender activists like to put it, your legal gender marker. The either F or M, and in some countries also X (but not within the Council of Europe) which is assigned to you shortly after you are born and what in our language, and hopefully soon in other languages, is identified as the gender assigned at birth.
A peculiar process surrounds this “assignment”. With your first breath in this world, you are being sentenced to live as society dictates. The words “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy” clearly determine your future, or rather – the future everyone perceives as obvious. Sometimes your social assignment takes place even sooner and once you are born, you are expected to fulfill what has been already established by – for example – identifying your chromosomal configuration.
Still, the physical aspect of your body, however it might play out in the complicated genome game, does not have to correspond with what you feel inside and what you identify with. Your gender identity – the inner feeling of being either male or female, beyond it, not being them at all – is what constitutes you as a gendered entity in your own life, and not only to you, but others around. This deep independent feeling creates your personal perception of the gendered system.
Apart from having an identity, you also choose various types of social behavior corresponding with the idea of gender, you choose how to visually present yourself, how you communicate and therefore you can influence how people see and perceive you. This is your gender expression which in the end does not have to correspond with your gender identity. Gender expression is to gender identity as a book cover is to its content. Never judge a book by its cover.
How you use those various features constitutes your experience. Your gender life story.
Today, we are talking about transgender people or transgender persons, NOT “transgenders” as some media like to portray us. We call ourselves in many different ways and work differently with the system that we have been born into and brought up in. We are transgender or transsexual men and women, we are genderqueer, we are beyond male and female, we are agender, bigender, trigender, we are trans masculine and trans feminine, or simply trans – we are what our identities, expressions and experiences have made us.
I would also like to underline that I am not speaking on behalf of every trans person on Earth, but rather use the collective “we” to determine a common human rights activism perspective.
Some of us are comfortable with how the system works and simply choose to “change sides” (although I use the word change, I strongly underline that we hate the expression “sex change” as it deprives us from our dignity, marking our lives unimportant by reducing them to a mere procedure of which most of society does not have a sufficient knowledge) and visually become one of the many, some of us defy the system and even though we might present ourselves normative, we are certainly not. And then there are those of us who choose to express themselves outside of what one would consider “norm” or “normative”.
We have our own language on our issues, we go through legal gender recognition when we want to change our legal data – name, surname, gender marker, etc. and through gender reassignment, when we somehow alternate our bodies to match our gendered needs. Whenever we change our position from our initial assigned status, we transition.
Sometimes we even write our trans* category with an asterisk at the end to let you and other members of our communities know how diverse we really are. That simply saying trans* opens so many possibilities that we decide to alarm you even before you really get to know us.
Our communities use different cultural possibilities to express how they feel about gender, one of which are pronouns – those words which define us in language categories. We try to be polite about it and, especially when speaking English, ask about a preferred pronoun. Because no one wants to be called a name they do not like. We treat respect to pronouns very seriously, since some of us have been denied them for a significant part of our lives. That is why we demand respect.
Within this we try to understand our own differences and work together to ensure that our rights as human beings (living in certain economic conditions, who have various educational backgrounds, experiences with harassment and violence and other) are respected, protected by law and seen as human rights, which is sometimes, sadly, not the case.
We also have a word for those who never had issues with the gender system, whose upbringing as either male or female did not bring them to a conclusion that they would like to explore “the other side”, look for other options within the gender spectrum or travel through it in a way that brings them to a completely new perspective on gender. A perspective teaching us that male and female are in many cases identities bottled up with assumptions, labeled as either “obvious characteristics” or “simply facts”. These non-travelers are cisgender. Cis, as oppose to trans means to not move, to stay in the same place, to stay still. Those who did not take the self-discovering journey of gender, are cisgender.
That said, I would like to officially introduce myself. My name is Wiktor Dynarski, my preferred pronoun is they, my gender marker is male, I was assigned female at birth 26 years ago in a small town in Poland. And, as you might have already noticed, gender bothers me in many, many ways.
Transgender reproductive and sexual rights
What are transgender reproductive rights? In the Council of Europe context, family rights and recognition of family are of great concern, especially in asylum cases of the same-legal gender couples struggle (often labeled simply as LGBT), but many transgender people are being denied the possibility to become biological parents. They are being subjected to forced sterilizations or castrations – procedures treated as a prerequisite for legal gender recognition. Moreover, hormone therapy is in many countries of the Council of Europe region treated as a must, creating a false impression that every person desiring legal recognition is willing to subject themselves to such procedures, but also dangerously putting a lot of power into the hands of medical professionals instead having them simply provide services to their clients. We call this method gatekeeping.
There are many concerns in terms of parenting rights of transgender people as well – many of the Council of Europe member states lack the legal framework to protect families of transgender people from discrimination and sometimes even fail to provide recognition for those families whose members decided to transition. This is usually executed by not allowing to change one’s parental status, not reviewing unclear policies which do not give transgender people and their families the security that once they decide to change their legal status, they do not need to worry about their legal relations with their children. This is especially a concerns for parents of minors and other youth under the age of 18. And it of course also affects various forms of parental benefits.
Another great concern is the parenthood recognition of those transgender people who became parents after legal gender recognition, especially when a country does not give their citizens a possibility to include same-legal gender parents on a child’s birth certificate or any kind of other documentation. This matter is also extremely important to trans masculine persons who give birth, as they can have issues in accessing proper health care, especially in countries where pregnancy-related services are defined to be of female concern only.
Of significant importance is also marriage and/or registered partnership where applicable. In most countries to execute legal gender recognition a transgender person is expected to be of “unmarried” status, which for many individuals means that they are expected to divorce their spouse. In many cases the practice destroys those relationships altogether. In some Council of Europe members states a divorce is not a simple procedure, but a long court process, which in addition might end in creating an impression that it is the person’s transgender status that is the reason of the divorce and not unfair procedures.
Some countries provide a possibility to automatically transform one’s marriage into registered partnership after the legal gender recognition process has been finalized. This, even though it might seems as a satisfying alternative, is nothing of a kind, since it is still restricting marital rights simply because of gender status and nothing else. Therefore marriage equality is also a transgender concern. But it is not the only perspective, as transgender people are of many various and diverse sexual orientations and also seek marriage equality of the same reasons cisgender lesbian, gay and bisexual persons do.
Sadly, within the Council of Europe, there are still members states which do not allow transgender people to marry after their legal gender recognition, denying them any form of legally establishing a relationship.
And last for this presentation, but not least in terms of how many other issues are there, transgender people are being denied proper sexual healthcare. This includes gynecology services for trans masculine persons as well as andrology and urology for trans feminine persons. Sexual health of transgender people has always been quite problematic for gatekeepers, since it is been only recently that the subject of transgender sexuality has become an open topic, where research is being conducted and transgender people themselves are speaking out on how they view their own sexuality and not how it is viewed by others.
In many countries, we observe a significant lack of knowledge on transgender sexual health and sexual needs, leaving transgender people without proper healthcare, as transgender is not a subject of concern in medical studies and if it is, it is highly pathologized and only viewed through gender recognition procedures and not the actual needs of this specific group. Transgender people are not given proper information on STI prevention, safer-sex, contraception methods and general sexual healthcare, which leads to a significant marginalization of transgender needs. This is extremely worrying when one considers that transgender people are a group in high risk of poverty, being subjected to violence and various other situations which affect their possibility to participate in social processes and societal situations, especially when a person is of transgender and other sensitive status for example, a transgender person of color or a disabled transgender person.
Forced sterilization and castration – an inhumane violation
Before I finish the presentation, I would like to draw your attention to one of our current main concerns in today’s struggle for transgender human rights – forced sterilizations and castrations.
Within the Council of Europe, transgender reproductive rights have not been highlighted for a very long time. Two days ago we have received this wonderful resolution, but we have still a long way to go.
In fact, up to this day the European Court of Human Rights did not rule in any case involving forced sterilization or castration. The Court has even stated that although gender transition is a right which needs to be secured by the Council of Europe member states, it is up to those states to define how this process is executed. In many cases this means creating an environment where sterilization, castration, hormone therapy and other surgeries become part of the legal process, seen as “much needed prerequisites”.
If you look at the map of transgender rights prepared by Transgender Europe and ILGA-Europe you will definitely see that the situation is still alarming. Countries marked in red do not give their citizens and residents the possibility to change their legal gender status, countries marked in orange have legal or practical provisions in place, but requite sterilization or castration before legal recognition and, in the end, we have those few blue countries, where transgender people are not submitted to castration nor sterilization. This does not, of course, mean that the gender recognition process is easy, it does, however, bring a bit of hope to the whole situation.
And, finally, let us recap and use the information gathered during the creation of this map to summarize what is the overall situation of transgender reproductive, parenting and sexual rights
Legal Gender Recognition
Legal Gender Recognition (Change of Name/ Gender marker in key documents) is NOT possible in 16 countries
34 countries have provisions for Legal Gender Recognition, but Out of those:
24 countries require sterilization by law
All countries require a mental health diagnosis/psychological opinion (Not Sweden – please mind that this map was also created before new changes came into practice)
19 countries require divorce
All legal (this is to be changed when Sweden adopts its new law) provisions for a trans person’s gender identity recognition require a mental health diagnosis. Only five countries (Austria, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and UK) allow for these procedures without further violating the right to physical integrity. Though Hungary and UK force a married trans person to divorce as pre-requisite.
Protection from Hatred and transphobic Violence
9 countries protect trans people against hate crime
5 countries recognize ‘fear of prosecution on grounds of gender identity’ as asylum ground
Equality and Non-Discrimination
15 countries provide protection against discrimination in employment
The mandate of 21 equality bodies extends to cover trans people
10 countries have trans-inclusive equality action plans
15 countries do not allow a trans person to marry upon legal gender recognition.
With that said, I would like to thank you for your attention and if you have any questions, I am available to answer or at least try to answer any of them. If you do not feel like asking a question at this very moment, I am available throughout the rest of the day and later on via one of the many channels listed in the presentation.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate throughout the whole event, as they flew me on Thursday evening (landed in Stockholm around 10:30 PM) to give a speech on Friday morning, hang out a bit and fly back home on Saturday morning (6:40 AM, to be exact…). The unfortunate part was mostly the fact that it seems that a lof of LGBTQI discussions took place the day before, including a lively debate on intersex and queer exclusion by using the LGBT abbreviation as that which was supposed to embrace all of SOGIE experiences. So, I missed that, and after I heard all those presentations where people were twisting their tongues trying to go through the extended abbreviation - I thought that I missed something really important.
It was good to see RFSU there and all those who either consider themselves somewhere on the LGBTQIA…O spectrum and those who wanted to learn. And, for the first time in a while, it was great to see people actually listening about trans* issues and not “just being there", as it tends to happen on regional conferences of network related very close to the SOGIE theme (ILGA World or ILGA-Europe for example - those are always problematic for me in terms of ITB visibility and the actual inclusiveness). I had fun giving that 20-25 minute talk which served as an introduction to trans* sexuality, parenthood and human rights in general, especially body integration.
And by the end of the day I was pleasantly surprised that they have introduced gender neutral toilets during the event. They called them unisex which I found extremely funny, since I link that word mostly with fashion and just couldn’t get out of my head the idea that it was a fancy toilet place, where all the new designs go to… Oh well, as a long time sceptic, this was not only pleasant, it - once again - made me realize that sometimes, even if you’re going to attend a very cisgenderish space, you do not have to await the worse that can happend.
It doesn’t mean, of course, that the event was perfect and that there wasn’t anything I would complain about. Even though the toilets were there, the space still felt very binary, but at the same time - if it was their first LGBTQIA…O-related event - then wow! Good job, people, good job.
I also had a bunch of interesting conversations, some of which lasted until 2 AM leaving me with no choice but to stay on my feet until 4 AM when it was about the time to go to the airport. Which actually wasn’t that hard since I was already not in the mood to sleep due to the Stockholm’s weird summer nights which last for 2.5 hours, maybe 4 if one is lucky.
Nevertheless, a very, very interesting experience altogether.
And on a side note - the day I arrived there was a Depeche Mode concert next to the hotel (didn’t make it!) and a bomb alarm on the other side of the building, which left the police looking for that bomb (with actual results - there was one) outside of the hotel for the whole Friday and Saturday night.
I’ll just share this bit of Stockholm, if I’m already here. And will shortly upload my speech.