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Monthly Archives: June 2018

Trans Rights and Healthcare are on a Precipice

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This piece comes from an anonymous contributor, a comrade of the writers of Feminist Ire, speaking out at a crisis point in trans healthcare in Ireland from the perspective of a trans woman. 

I’m currently writing with feelings of anger, sadness and frustration at two powerful elements within Irish society that seem intent on further damaging the health and well being as well as perpetuating the overwhelming stigmatisation of trans people in this country. When we peel back the surface and uncover the plight of Trans people this ultimately and all too often reveals itself in violence, disenfranchisement, poverty, rape, self harm and suicide. It’s often highlighted in discussion around trans topics, the terrible statistics of self harm and suicide when it comes to the trans community for example. To reference some headline figures a study by the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland in 2012 shows that 78% of trans people have had thoughts of suicide, 40% have attempted and 6% have attempted five or more times! Self harm is not much better with 44% of trans people reporting that they have self harmed at some stage in their lives with 6% actively currently self harming. Unfortunately this very plight of trans people which should be an impetus to drastically improve the standards of care for a vulnerable and suffering minority is often used as a stick to beat us with.

These heartbreaking statistics are a reflection of a wider societal issue, that of the systematic oppression of trans minorities where a binarist, cisnormative, patriarchal society violently attacks in both it’s messaging, actions and structures, every aspect of trans people’s public and private lives as we fight to exist openly and authentically and navigate within it. The statistics quoted above are a snapshot taken three years before marriage equality and legal gender recognition had passed and at an earlier stage in a sizemic cultural shift currently taking place on this island, which has seen a new generation of progressive and radicalised citizens and residents pushing through sweeping social reforms and resisting privatisation through grassroots activism in a country still dogged by it’s colonial and theocratic past. Indeed this aspect of Irish culture and the potential it envokes in shaping our society in the near future makes this Island a pretty good place to be trans comparatively, albeit coming from a very low base. The presence of a strong grassroots, intersectional and women led network of activists has helped to stave off much or the recindance of trans rights that can be seen happening within our two giant anglophile neighbours. To our left we have bathroom ‘debates’ and the dismantling of legal protections along with scores of murdered trans people, excused through panic defense. To our right we have the potential of a depathologised legal recognition for trans and intersex people being attacked, alongside numerous cases of trans women sent to their deaths in male prisons.

However despite this somewhat favourable environment, there remains two large and prescient threats to the progress of trans liberation in Ireland. Namely, a couple of chiefs based within one hospital in south Dublin who seem intent on limiting access to health-care and perpetuating an outmoded and dangerous conservative pathological ideology, discouraging people from transitioning where possible, refusing to listen to the increasingly angry and desperate voices of the trans community, refusing to implement international best practice when it comes to trans health care, criticizing us for demanding such health-care and proportioning partial blame on the healthcare demands of the trans community for the regrets of a small number of detransitioners all the while conflating their situation with the desperate mental health situation alluded to above. Thier prejucicial elitist practices are resultingly working to conserve the violent patriarchal transmysogonist aspects of a society that kills us and in order to do this these dinosaurs are allying themselves with traditional media to spread this destructive message and shore up their status as Ireland’s premier gatekeepers. This is a high risk strategy and very dangerous to the health and wellbeing of trans people, the same people they proport to care for.

The media narrative in Ireland in relation to trans people is currently being pulled in two destructive and harmful directions. On the one side there is an old school and elitist club, most prominent within the broadcast and ‘newspaper of record’ realms that projects a veneer of liberalism, but in reality paints over the cracks of a declining conservative, ignorant and voyeuristic mindset influenced by the ‘medical oddity’ genre of pseudo scientific transexual documentaries of the 90s to early 00s emanating from either side of the pond. The impact of this club’s influence can partially be evidenced in the cautious language reflected in the recent together for yes campaign which amongst other things erased the effect that the eighth ammendment had on trans and intersex people in much of its messaging in the penultimate weeks of the official referrendum campaign.

While many trans people who worked hard to secure a yes outcome and their grassroots allies were prepared to begrudgingly go along with this messaging to secure a victory by not actively speaking out, a hurt and resentment remains that has spilled out in potentially destructive ways. A statement from anonymous members of the trans community demanded an apology from together for yes literally hours after the results were declared. This resulted in an unintentional indirect attack on the grassroots, who are made up of pragmatic trans people and their allies and threw trans women and femmes to the TERFs. The downplaying of the intersection of trans and intersex people in relation to the 8th has also resulted in gendered language in the headings of the prospective legislation which, if not rectified could potentially leave trans and intersex people with uteruses still unable to access abortion healthcare in Ireland. Thankfully there seems a concensus around rectifying this situation but this should never have arisen in the first place.

On the other side there is a red top brigade that on the one hand is perfectly content to sensationalize, hypersexualize and dehumanise the trans experience to titillate and incense their diminishing white cis-hetero audience. They are in turn being pushed into even more dangerous territory by their sister publications in the UK that are largely owned by an increasingly centralised right wing conservative and billionaire class, who by co-opting the language of feminism and fueled by evangelicals are giving voice to their willing lackeys in the form of a loud minority of middle class TERFs who are ramping up their attacks on trans people. This tactic compliments their agenda of dividing people into competing groups and hierarchies to distract from intensifying inequality, debt and economic stagnation caused by their economic plunder. Although making inroads into online spaces where increasingly their once captive audiences have deserted to, their impact on these realms on the mindset of people living in Ireland remains limited. That being said it’s this cohort of nasties that have the potential to derail impending legislation that should increase the ease of legal transition for trans people in Ireland and regognise non binary and intersex identites. Hopefully the former cloak offered by the marriage equality results and resulting legislation while the original gender recognition bill was passed will again be offered by the success of the repeal campaign.

The results of this unholy alliance between the chiefs and the dieing media, aside from the problems stated above is that healthcare in Ireland for trans people is in a dangerous and delicate impass. The chiefs want to model the recent and welcome investment in trans healthcare in their own image, to preserve the status quo and bolster their own professions albeit with shorter waiting times. Trans people as individuals are a small disparate and oppressed minority with limited voice, resources and energy fighting for a depathologised and informed consent model that is on demand and without apology. We are at the mercy of the chiefs despite a favourable cultural environment, despite support from politicians, and even tacid support from the health service.

What we’ve currently been able to muster in terms of advocating for health care is a small and problematic campaigning group centered around inexperienced trans-masc indivituals who are currently on the outside of the health system. They speak out loudly and attempt mass protests for healthcare. They have uncovered the sinister ideology begind the masks of the chiefs but they tone police their own community members who wish to speak out at protests, disengage with non-binary ‘trouble makers’ online and sit in meetings with the likes of Joan Burton and celebrate it. Of special note however is the emergence of Radical Queers Resist, a broader queer alliance who came to light during the refferendum campaign by largely nullifying the effects of the most grotesque forced-birther group in the form of the ICBR. This group offers the potential of offering an effective avenue for the campaigning elements of the trans liberation movement going forward.

Meanwhile non profit organisations working largely within the system with limited clout, work desperately behind the scenes despite stretched resources and limited funding pools. They are, as the system dictates heavily funded by the very organisations they are advocating towards. They can not speak out for fear that the chiefs in a strop, stop treating half of the countrys trans patients within the health system overnight. The only solution is the mobilisation of the existing wider grassroots movement of allies. This has the potential to effect change in our favour but it must be built upon a greater understanding of our predicament and the sharing of experience and resources. This can be realised through the amplification of our voices through the correct use of it’s inherant privelege.

In the meantime waiting lists continue to lenghten causing massive mental strife. Trans people continue to be subjected to invasive and unnecessary psychological and psychiatric assessment based on outmoded and offensive criteria, being actively discouraged in their hormonal and medical transitions and twarted at every stage. Non-binary people have to lie and pretend not to exist in order to access the same treatment as their binary counterparts, access to counselling and non-patholigising forms of mental health care is sparse to non existant albeit linked with the wider defunding of mental health. Recieving hormone replacement therapy for already transitioned individuals from GPs on a parity with their cisgender counterperts is almost impossible. Autistic people and those with other and often linked mental health problems such as PTSD are not deemed to be ‘true transgender’, expensive treatments deemed cosmetic because they don’t conform to the male gaze of medical practitioners rather than seen as alleviating the distress of dysphoria remain out of reach and patients are forced to travel abroad for intensive operations with limited aftercare and financial support. The potential outcomes of this impasse will have a greater threat to the lives of trans people than the unfortunate decisions and regrets of a minority of detransitioners currently being used as false equivalencies to preserve the status of the chiefs.

 

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Where ROSA and the Socialist Party get it wrong on sex work (part 1, maybe)

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A response to this

First of all, I have to acknowledge that ROSA and the SP have moved a good way on this issue since the last time we wrote about them here at Feminist Ire – back when they were still supporting the Turn Off The Red Light campaign and refusing to use the term “sex worker”. I don’t know whether it’s a case of minds being changed after looking at the evidence, or just of sounder party members winning the internal policy debate, but it’s still a significant step forward for them and this deserves to be recognised (and hopefully followed by certain other parties on the left).

But it’s still not good enough – for a few reasons. We hope to have a guest post soon from an actual sex worker explaining some of them, but for now I’ll highlight a ROSA/SP position that would continue to leave sex workers extremely vulnerable: their support for broad “anti-pimping” laws.

The problem with these laws is twofold. Firstly, as currently written in Ireland, they don’t only criminalise “pimps”. The offence of living on the earnings of (another person’s) prostitution is not only committed when a sex worker works for someone else – it’s also committed when someone else works for a sex worker. This means that a sex worker cannot hire someone to do security for her, screen her calls, drive her to and from outcalls, etc, otherwise that person will be as liable for this offence as if they were the one in the “employer” position. No less than the brothel-keeping laws, the over-application of these laws forces sex workers to work on their own, without anyone else who could help ensure their safety.

The second problem is they seek to force sex workers into a particular business model – the sole trader – whether they want it or not. In sex work no less than in every other industry, mine included, not everybody is ready or willing to be their own boss! A lot of women start out working for agencies or in parlours or saunas etc, and then go out on their own once they’re experienced and comfortable enough; others simply prefer not being the one that has to deal with things like advertising and security and so on. And others go back and forth as their circumstances dictate. This is a reality in the industry, and criminalising “pimping” doesn’t stop it. It just means that the sex workers who do have bosses can only – by definition – have bosses who operate outside the law. It’s fair to say that these guys aren’t losing sleep over the possibility of WRC complaints.

In this article ROSA/SP draw a comparison with coal, saying “we oppose the filthy profiteers of that industry“. And that’s fair enough. But they’re not calling for criminalisation of everyone who employs someone else in the coal industry, are they? They’re not insisting that everyone who goes to work in that industry should have to navigate it – and its dangers – all on their own.

With a predictable reference to Germany – which, for the zillionth time, has a legalisation model that literally nobody in the sex workers’ rights movement advocates – they make the point that a legal industry isn’t necessarily an industry that looks after its workers. This is not actually a point that needed to be made; in fact it’s one of the reasons sex worker groups favour decriminalisation over legalisation in the first place. But if only the worker herself is decriminalised, how can she possibly access the available remedies for breaches of labour and health and safety law? The answer is she can’t, because her employment is illegal anyway.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the Socialist Party are a socialist party – or at least that’s what it says on the tin. They make a big deal about their policy being derived from their socialist principles. Yet ironically, it’s a policy that protects only petty bourgeois sex workers, while throwing the wage-earners under the bus.

And while this should go without saying, I’ve been having these debates long enough to know I need to spell these things out, so for the record: this is not about supporting “pimps”, or some non-existent concept like “pimps’ rights” or something. It’s about not putting sex workers who are already being exploited (I mean that in the Marxist sense, though quite often it’s also in other ways) in an even more precarious position by relegating them eternally to the shadow economy. Nor does it preclude the possibility of penalising those sex industry bosses who are particularly exploitative. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

Whenever I’ve seen ROSA/SP get all defensive about this subject, they’re very insistent that they support sex workers. But I’m not sure which sex workers they’re taking their cue from. Where is the sex workers’ movement that is advocating for decriminalisation of the worker and her client, but not for any third parties? To me this reads more like an internal compromise sort of position, aimed at placating the wing of the party that had them on board with the Swedish model just a few years ago.

Notably, their writing on the topic is absent any reference to the New Zealand model (except for this five-year-old piece which, um, seems not to know what the New Zealand model is). Given that this is the most widely-supported model within the sex workers’ rights movement – and also has a decent track record of actually protecting sex workers’ labour rights – you’d expect them to take an interest in it, if they really wanted to support sex workers. If they have examined and decided to reject that model then fair enough, but I’d like to know their reasoning (and especially how they think any problems they may have identified with it can be overcome in a system where there is no regulation of the managed sector).

Again, I do accept that their position has improved over the past year or two and it is no longer really fair to describe them as SWERFy – at least in terms of their overall party position (though I admit I still have my doubts about some of their leading activists). But they still don’t seem to be really listening to sex workers; they still seem to be overly concerned with adhering to a rigidly dogmatic ideological view of the sex industry. As long as that remains the case, they’ll continue to be criticised for holding an anti-sex worker position – and, at least when it comes to sex workers that don’t work the way ROSA/SP thinks they should, that criticism will continue to be justified.