1. I Went to the Senate Once. It Was Awful

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    For your information: This is how I looked a few minutes before the Polish Senate began discussing the gender recognition law.

    Full disclosure – I have never, ever once in my life watched or even monitored the work of the Polish Senate except for a short statement created together with Campaign Against Homophobia just a few months ago. And to be honest, I never understood why some Poles call it jokingly the “Reflection House” and urge for dismissal of the whole institution. I voted in the elections, that’s for sure, but didn’t really bother to take a look at what was happening afterwards. I have been monitoring Members of Sejm (the lower house), especially those who received my vote, but never once did it occur to me to actually do the same for the Senators.

    After yesterday’s discussion on the Gender Accordance Act, I can clearly say that I started to understand the Polish Senate dilemma.

    I caught a glimpse of a discussion concerning in vitro fertilization and the law which regulates it (barely passed by the Senate, by mere 3 votes), which gave me an idea what could be at stake with the gender recognition discussion. But nothing, and I really mean nothing, could have prepared me for what went down.

    As I mentioned in my previous note, one of the Senators, Mr. Jan Rulewski is absolutely concerned about the well-being of children born to transgender parents. He proposed an amendment to ease his concerns and “ensure that rights of children in such situation are protected”. As Richard Koehler from Transgender Europe writes:

    Still for some this is not enough. For the sake of children “to have certain legal protection” a surprise amendment was introduced in the Senate that would foresee a special procedure for those with minor children. If the amendment is passed, it would be a European first to make a legal gender recognition case dependent on an opinion coming from an expert witness – child psychologist or a court-appointed guardian. (…)

    The amendment is in itself also problematic as it does not introduce how much power said psychologist or guardian will have over the gender recognition process. Can an expert witness advise the court to deny recognition? How certain is it that a court-appointed child psychologist knows anything about gender identity issues? Trans-Fuzja Foundation report problematic attitudes amongst professionals who view transition and gender recognition as a “problematic issue for a child to comprehend and to be able to thrive normally”.

    You can view Richard’s whole article on Thomson Reuters Foundation website. I do recommend it, it’s really worth the read, especially if you’re coming from a different than Polish cultural and societal context. It does explain a lot about the legal proposal and the mess it is being surrounded with.

    Before the Senate began its discussion, Lalka Podobińska, my Vice-President and an amazing person to say the least, approached Mr. Rulewski to ask him about the proposed amendment. She tried to make him realize the fallacy of his thinking about gender recognition, pointing out that most probably there will be a lot of trans people already in-transition who apply for legal recognition, as it used to be the case before. She even went onto visually describing how “a transitioning mother” (that is a very descriptive senator-tailored way of saying “trans man”) would look like when accessing legal recognition. 

    “Can you imagine, Mr. Senator? This person is both socially and visually already a man. What if a child psychologist advises the court to not confirm legal recognition? Do you think it is in the best interest of the child to have a male parent whose personal data are still female? Don’t you think it would be unfair to a child to have an unhappy mother instead of a fulfilled second father?”. The conversation went further on, ending even up with me coming out to the Senator with my own story, trying to let him know that our lives are not something he reads on paper, but actual stories of real people for whom an amendment like this could mean the absolute end of legal recognition. Out of fear, out of insecurity – there are too many issues at stake here.

    Mr. Rulewski didn’t reply to all these concerns, but instead dwelled upon how this law creates something absolutely new within the Polish legal system, hence a compromise had to be achieved. Well, from my point of view, the law is already an act of great compromise, since it officially introduced forced divorce, made gender recognition inaccessible to minors and used medical authorities to confirm a person’s gender identity. But no, children had to be brought into this. As if it wasn’t enough that for many trans parents coming out to their families can not only be difficult, but also heart-braking. Especially if one is confronted with a spouse who refuses to discuss and understand the issue.

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    This is how it feels to talk to a Senator who already made up their mind.

    Fortunately, we managed to find understanding Senators and already had fruitful and meaningful discussions. At this point I should definitely mention Mr. Józef Pinior who not only protected the law during the outrageous discussion, but also kept shaking his head and facepalming through most of the session (which is how you identify your political allies, basically). But even he and other allies to the law (such as Mr. Borowski, Mr. Borusewicz – who had a few extremely clumsy lines, but still wanted to make things right – and Mr. Kutz, who – unfrotunately – was not present during the debate) were not able to get their arguments across surrounded by Senators who were keen on dragging euthanasia, gender ideology, redefinition of men and women, posthumanism and even Giorgio Agamben into the issue of gender recognition. 

    Mr. Jan Maria Jackowski made me realize for the first time that the concept of biopolitcs can be used as an argument against gender identity, instead of what it was meant to be used for i.e. criticism of societal norms surrounding gender, sexuality, body autonomy, bodily functions, fluids and everything that makes us human. As a social scientist who teaches queer sociology, I do believe I know my biopolitics quite well, but the Senate made me reflect on that. I was struck by the “Reflection House effect”.

    Both the queries and the whole debate took more than 5 hours. Neither I nor Lalka managed to stay until the very end although we made sure to tell our Twitter and Facebook followers what was really happening (just follow #uzgodnieniepłci on Twitter). A lot of people were also watching at home and were struck by the sheer ignorance some Senators have been presenting. But the ignorance was not the most problematic thing for me. To be honest, I did await a lousy, tradition-centered package of political nonsense. What really struck me was the fact that the Senators were using arguments very often raised by The Institute of Legal Culture “Ordo Iuris”, a right-wing driven non-governmental organization connected to C-Fam, European Dignity Watch and Alliance Defending Freedom. All of which lobby extensively (C-Fam especially, as it is extremely active in the United Nations) against LGBTI rights, especially against broadening a traditional definition of family and ensuring equal rights related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Senator Jackowski outright read an opinion issued by “Ordo Iuris”, underlining that it came from this particular organization, which is why Trans-Fuzja posed a question after the session about the possibility to have its opinion expressed before the Senators. It was especially crucial since, contrary to “Ordo Iuris” Trans-Fuzja actually works with trans people and has a well documented expertise in that area.

    Fortunately, the Act had a great team to protect it. Minister Jerzy Kozdroń (Ministry of Justice) and Minister Igor Radziewicz-Winnicki (Ministry of Health) had a very tough role to play, as they both took the stand and were bombarded by questions that could have been avoided if a Trans 101 workshop had been held for the Senate even a few days earlier. And it is not to say that Senators cannot ask basic questions about a certain issue, but if a law was processed in the lower House for three years, one would think that a Senator could revisit the first reading and watch their colleagues ask the same questions and being confronted by experts in the field. We heard many weird statements that day, but let make a short list of my absolute favorites:

    • “Human rights depend on the situation” a statement shared by Senator Bohdan Paszkowski, who would be very keen on introducing forced sterilization, if he ever got a chance,
    • “Does the VAT number change if the social security number changes?” a very basic question, easy to Google, especially that the Senate has free Wi-Fi, but I guess Senator Jackowski wanted to have his 15 seconds of fame,
    • Senator Zdzisław Pupa who was even able to compare gender recognition to euthanasia and drug addiction,
    • “How many times can a person change sex during their lifetimes” asked Senator Jarosław Lasecki and Senator Alicja Zając took it up asking whether there was an age limit to gender recognition (proposing most probably that some people could be too old to go through this process),
    • “Can’t transsexualism be cured using drugs? Like depression can?” Mr. Pupa did a number on himself, not only showing that he didn’t research transgender issues at all, he apparently also doesn’t know that drugs are simply a part of depression recovery and they are not some magic potion in a video game,
    • and finally – Senator Bogdan Pęk, who asked whether trans people going through genital surgery could have their biological children according to the gender they transitioned to. Maybe I’m expecting to much from someone who is payed from our taxes to actually have basic knowledge on how the human body works? Honestly, this is a question I could have answered in 6th grade, but I doubt I would find an adult williing to ask me this.
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    Me and Lalka Podobińska, Trans-Fuzja’s Vice-President, after 3 hours of listening to the intense ridicoulusness that was the Senate’s debate.

    There were many other different, often tragically naïve questions. Fortunately, or so I like to think, most of it was only for show, as are some other parliamentary debates, especially those organized by the lower house. It is very unlikely that a debate changes the outcome of the final voting if parties and parliamentary clubs already have it all figured out. But since the show lasted so long, the actual voting has been postponed until tomorrow. 

    Having been there for the discussion and in need of fulfilling other duties that have been overlooked due to this extremely tiring week, our team at Trans-Fuzja decided to stay at home and watch the session on our laptops. Especially given the fact that the Senate does not publish an agenda of its sitting until the very day things are being organized. We already did spend a whole day at the Senate once. It was awful.

    Whatever happens tomorrow, make sure that you make some noise. Share a tweet, Facebook post, whatever you can with the hashtag #uzgodnieniepłci and #Senat to let the Senate know that the world is watching. Fingers crossed.

    If you’re interested in reading the minutes from the debate, they can be found online (Polish only).

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      Here’s about that gender recognition bill I was talking about few days ago. It passed barely: two votes switching sides...
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