Tag Archives: disability

The Dichotomies of Labour

 

 

I am a traditional Labour supporter. I believe in fairness and equal opportunities for all. Just last night when interviewed by a market research company carrying out polling, I gave Labour maximum ratings as the party I am most likely to vote for in the General Election.

However I have become furious at comments made by Rachel Reeves in the Guardian.

The interview begins in fairly recognisable Labour territory, a pledge to reduce reliance on food banks. Now, food banks do fantastic work, that is indisputable, but one cannot turn their face away from the fact that it is the Coalition’s unrelenting ideological pursuit of austerity which necessitated their creation.

But, ensuring that people have enough to live on to purchase their own food restores their dignity and allows them to participate fully in society.

It was not the proposal to reduce the use of food banks that provoked my anger however.

Politicians of all colours have been at pains to suggest they support hard-working people. On the face of it this is a good thing, if you contribute to the country then you should be rewarded for your efforts.

However this drive to support the hard-working has had an unintended consequence, hostility towards the unemployed and those who cannot work. What this debate lacks in abundance is nuance and the ability to drill down into the many reasons why people cannot work.

In further comments, Rachel Reeves appears to pander to that hostility. In suggesting that Labour does not want to be seen as the party of the welfare state, she says;

“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen and we’re not the party to represent those who are out of work. Labour are a party of working people, formed by working people.

However, in attempting to diffuse criticism that Labour is soft on the unemployed, you are saying that you do not care about vast swathes of the electorate. I find the assertion that Labour does not represent me insulting. Labour should be out to win not haemorrhage votes

 

It is little more than a betrayal of the strong socialist credo upon which Labour is founded to disassociate itself from the welfare state. Labour should be proud of the fact that it created a framework which helps the sick, and the vulnerable and most needy in our society.

More worryingly, it communicates to a huge proportion of the electorate the message that this politics business is not for them¸ that you just don’t understand how politics works, you proletarian oiks!

I felt small when I read Rachel Reeves’ comments. It reminded me of the visceral pain William Beech, the young hero of Michelle Magorian’s novel Goodnight Mister Tom feels when he is sent to the “baby” class as he is unable to read.

Having a disability does not preclude you from voting. Nor does it make you any less politically savvy than anyone else. I think that disabled people as a social group are much disenfranchised with their treatment at the hands of the Conservative led coalition and would gladly use their vote to help form a Labour led Government on May 7th.  The comments of Rachel Reeves do feel like a betrayal

I voted Labour in 1997 because I saw politicians like Tony Blair as understanding of my situation. I saw John Prescott produce his pledge card on television, and felt he was a conviction politician who believed every word on that card – therefore I believed him too.

Things Can Only Get Better became more than a catchy campaign anthem (which should definitely be on Ed Miliband’s campaign playlist by the way). It became a state of mind for the British electorate, in economic conditions not altogether dissimilar to those we are currently experiencing. It offered real hope.

But today’s Labour seems hamstrung by two things, an ideological fight with the Conservatives, and a paralysis over economic stewardship. But I would invite Labour to think introspectively about who they are fighting the election for, or against. Are they fighting against the Tories, or for the voters?

When I first saw Rachel Reeves comments I thought they were crass and spiteful. Such commentary does not emerge from socialism, it emerges from a desire to be seen as ideologically tough on an issue which is costly to the Exchequer.

However, if you boast that you will be tough on welfare, then, although many benefit claimants are in work, you are also adding to the stigma that people such as those with mental health problems or disabilities face.

If I have noticed one thing living under the brutal austerity of the Coalition, it is a politics riven with a hectoring, bullying tone towards the unemployed. I know politicians might say that they are not talking about me, they are talking about people who can work who don’t. But do you know why I am not reassured by this placation? The public does not differentiate between different types of benefit claimants, nor their individual narratives, because endless games of divide and conquer do not afford such opportunities. Egged on by the Coalition, and now it seems by the Opposition, on the issue of welfare the electorate is enticed into a game of dog whistle Heroes (those who work) and Villains (those who don’t). But it is not that simple.

For behind the grandeur of social theory, there are human beings who will live out the costs of politicians’ ideological boasts. I find a delicious irony in an interview that on one level, wants to reduce food bank use that on another level simultaneously vilifies the unemployed without even a flicker of awareness. That is why I think the morals of making such pronouncements at best questionable

I will end with a reminder and a warning. It is not for politicians to dictate who votes for them, creating a false dichotomy between desirable and undesirable voters, or put another way, good and bad ones. The electorate can however, choose to vote for you, or consign you to the Opposition benches. Labour would do well to remember this today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For me, the real row on Channel 5 was not about benefits at all. It was in my own head.

 

So anyone tuning in to Channel 5 last night at 9.00 pm  and expecting some form of high calibre debate of the kind offered by Question Time on the BBC or The Agenda on ITV1 would have felt short changed, I expect.

A show entitled The Big Benefits Row is instructive in itself. Rows imply conflict, not a cup of tea and a cosy chat. Substitute the word row for conversation and you may end up with a more productive debate useful to everyone, audience and participants alike.

For me the first paragraph of this piece from the social commentator Laurie Penny is very telling and typifies the end result the programme makers wanted from last night’s debate. Laurie says, almost prophetically;

“The producer knocked her fists together in the dark backstage. “We want you to, you know…” She made the motion again, smiling sweetly, as my hired nemesis and I were strapped into radio microphones for a five minute debate on the evening news. It was clear what she meant. She wanted us to scrap. She didn’t want us to talk sensibly and work out our differences. She wanted blood on the floor.”

In part, this is understandable as all television wants to be noticed. It wants to create those so-called watercooler moments and talkability. Not talkability that lasts for a day or a week. More like a year. Programme makers want to create a programme in current affairs that makes you pick a side. You’re either Team Hopkins or Team Currie, for the bad cops, or indeed you may be Team Jones or Team Monroe for the good cops. As a viewer and a participant you are left in no doubt that you must pick a side. For the duration of that program you must pledge allegiance to either team. Indecisiveness or dissonance is not available to you. It is survival of the fittest: dog eat dog and we must buy into it for current affairs debates to work.

Now for me I was originally a refusenik. I had planned purposely not to watch the debate. Anything to me which gives Katie Hopkins airtime is not a productive use of a platform that many people would relish not least me.

What prompted my renewed interest in the debate, was the fact that Sue Marsh the renowned, ardent and brilliant disability campaigner had been dropped from the panel at the last minute.

Given that a sizeable number of those with disabilities depend on benefits to exist I was disgusted that they were left without representation on this debate. I still am. In fact I am seething. I have read through the commentariat’s responses today to the programme and only two have picked up on Sue Marsh’s bumping from it.

You see the thing is I know roughly what Owen Jones will say about benefits. I know roughly what Jack Monroe will say about benefits. The latter put in a sterling performance last night taking on Edwina Currie over her barbs towards her family and may have dropped an F bomb on Channel 5. Meanwhile Owen Jones compared the possibility of debating with Katie Hopkins to having a cheese grater rubbed in your face. I should confess at this point I do have a love for cheese and I want to be able to eat a cheese roll again without thinking of her.

But I find myself thinking as a person with a disability who eviscerated Katie Hopkins spectacularly in this blog for disgraceful comments she made about the former Paralympian Lady Grey-Thompson, I would welcome the chance to debate with her. I wouldn’t want to be placated and told I did not have to on the grounds of my own foibles. I would instead relish the chance and grab it with both hands. I don’t want this post to turn into a Hopkins themed diatribe.

I am always amazed by the paucity of diversity within the media. There is nothing the media relishes more than talking to itself about itself.

I am concerned about is there is a huge swathe of the population that is being excluded from this debate. That is those with disabilities. It is telling that the producers saw fit to drop Sue Marsh from the debate, allegedly because space needed to be made for other contributors. I put this question to you though. Which contributor could be more important than many of those who depend on benefits to live? I make no secret of the fact I would like a media platform across all media, television and radio and online. Why?  I have the qualities, I have the confidence and currently, somewhat regrettably I do not see myself represented.

The comedienne Ava Vidal was also ignored, despite pointedly shouting Matthew Wright’s name for at least enough time to induce laryngitis (maybe!)

When I switch the television on I see  nobody like me is telling my story. It is nothing short of a scandal that a programme about disability benefits had limits on the numbers of people it could take in wheelchairs.

I don’t want this piece either to be too hyper focused on one debate, because there is a wider debate to be had too.

You see I am also transgendered. But, in an affectionate nod to the words of the Natalie Imbruglia song I often find I’m torn.

Trans representation on screen is increasing. Paris Lees has been on Question Time, which commands huge audiences and is the premier political programme. So the trans community is understandably very happy about this.

But I feel conflicted. For disabled people are virtually invisible on-screen and I think this is wrong. I found it hard to celebrate when the trans community  were extra happy about Paris Lees  appearing on Question Time.

Essentially I feel torn between two minorities. Extensive progress on one hand and zero progress on the other. But I don’t intend to give in. I think it would be fantastic if for example a person with a disability was giving their viewpoint as an invited guest on Question Time or on the newspaper reviews on Sky News. I keep across the news agenda every day. I am a newshound if you like. I am also news hungry.

Radio is slightly more progressive in this regard. With the use of telephone communication, ISDN lines, and Skype of course, there is less need for people to appear directly in a studio environment. But on the other hand, why shouldn’t we appear “in quality?” Why shouldn’t that be an aspiration for radio producers?

I have no doubt that the commentariat as it currently stands make many well-meaning contributions and interventions in the disability debate. But in terms of people like Sue Marsh, it is not the same and cannot be equivalent to hearing it from the horse’s mouth ever. It is not good enough and the boat needs rocking.

I am perfectly capable of writing articles. Therefore I am perfectly capable of translating those articles and opinions into articulate speech. I should stress that I recognise fully that this is a privilege that not all of my disabled colleagues have. Therefore I feel it is incumbent on those of us who do have that privilege to use it for maximum effect and benefit.

I have to say too, I have enjoyed the few media appearances I have done. For LBC as a caller, and another for BBC Radio 5 Live for the Eastleigh by-election debate.

But just as some of the media has a race problem I think it also has a disability problem. I would applaud the efforts of Samantha Asamadu for her consciousness raising initiative Writers of Colour which gives people of colour the opportunity to write and have their work seen by thousands and embedded into people’s consciousness. Sam was inspired to start this campaign after noticing that there was a trend for all front pages to be white, as in stories related to white people.

But also, I wouldn’t just want to be pigeonholed into a disability slot. I have views and opinions like the rest of the commentariat, I wouldn’t just want to talk about disability. Indeed panel shows require versatility and people have to be well read and briefed on a number of subjects.

But by excluding one of the most important groups from a panel about benefits last night, Channel 5 failed as a broadcaster. Of course, the terminology specially invited audience implies some level of segregation from the outset.

People like Owen Jones, Katie Hopkins and Jack Monroe are panel show veterans. Media appearances are something they do regularly and often. I’m not asking that the able-bodied commentariat is and zapped and rendered invisible from our television screens by Team Disabled. What I would like to see is parity. I would like to see disabled people welcomed into the media sphere and their views sought. Not just on disability but on the multiplicity of issues a globalised world presents.

I would like the media to cast its net wider than the usual contacts book. Current affairs could learn a lot from the soap world in this regard.Coronation Street has the character of  Izzy Armstrong, played with aplomb by the actress Cherrylee Houston. Her disability is incidental compared to the rest of her character. The scriptwriters do not dwell on a disability, but rather they integrate it into her overall character.

Inevitably there would be initial shock at perhaps seeing the sofa in a different position on Sky News to let the paper reviewer in. But that would dissipate over time.

I knew what Katie Hopkins would say. However I did not know what Sue Marsh would say and I feel somewhat cheated because of that.

I am fed up of turning on the television and never seeing myself on it. Perhaps 2014 can be the year that changes. For my perspective is just as valuable as Owen Jones or Paris Lees. Sue Marsh’s perspective is just as valuable too, but programme makers will not realise this until they take a risk particularly producers.

Equally, we need more with disabilities involved in television, radio and journalism. Otherwise, programmes will never be shaped by us either. The input and who crafts it has a dramatic influence on the output. People with disabilities need to be a part of this at both ends of the spectrum, and I certainly want to be.

Also, I saw many friendly photos on Twitter last night after the debate. I was saddened not to see a disabled person in a single one. Producers, widen the scope of your guests on television and radio, and widen the range represented in your specially invited audiences. That will make for a much higher quality, less segregated debate. It is great for those like Paris, who are achieving greater representation for themselves. However, I still feel invisible. Five, four, three, two, one, run titles, and now it really is time for action. Yes producers, I fancied a drink in the pub after the debate as well. Mine’s a Malibu and Lemonade.

Whether people are still scrapping today or not, disabled people were underepresented. Maybe the media as a collective should think about that.

LINKS

  1. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/benefits-row-live-jack-monroe-3111253#.UvE_LGLudfR
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/owen-jones-on-the-big-benefits-row-the-hopkinsisation-of-political-discourse-9106227.html
  3. http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-big-benefits-row.html

I am not your totem, Tim Montgomerie, and you are not my able-bodied saviour. Listen!

 

The debate around abortion, foetal abnormality, and disability was re-ignited by a piece written by   Tim Montgomerie (£) in The Times.

At the outset of my own argument, I would like to commend to you this latest post from Glosswitch. It outlines many of the arguments around pro-choice and reproductive rights.

I fully support women’s bodily autonomy and their own choices. However I felt strongly that there had been an important omission from this debate. The voices of disabled people themselves. That alone is my rationale for this piece.

When I was born, I was born at 28 weeks gestation, that is to say three months premature. I was born on the  17th January. I was due on 30th March.

Doctors told my mother explicitly that my chance of survival was 50-50. It could have gone either way. But also, given my level of disability, and the impending challenges that would bring to my mother’s life, she could have easily chosen to end her pregnancy and that would be a decision which is utterly understandable.

However, she chose not to and here I am. But a conversation around the dinner table this Christmas made me realise how premature my birth actually was. It scared me. I was so small she could pick me up in the palm of her hand. My organs were not fully developed.  I had trouble breathing and contracted pseudomonas on my chest.

I do have to give utmost credit to my mother because she brought me up single-handedly with no help from my father. We were pretty isolated in a small flat with little outside assistance.

Tim Montgomerie stated that many people are simply too “frightened to raise a disabled child.”

My mother wasn’t. But that does not mean women who are should be vilified, condemned and made to feel ashamed of their choice. I am fully aware that my disability came at a cost to my mother. She missed out on a social life, holidays and employment.

There is also nothing simple about it. That is why it is equivalent to a full time career. That is why we employ care workers to ease that burden on relatives.

Therefore, it is entirely proper that women should be able to meaningfully reflect upon any residual impact on their own lives without feeling like The Worst Woman. Furthermore, it is entirely proper they receive whatever emotional support is necessary to enable them to understand the implications of giving birth to a disabled child.

I would far rather a mother had an abortion than for her to carry a child to full term out of guilt.

Having a disability myself, you may be surprised to hear me say that. But you know who would suffer as a net result of such a decision, don’t you? The baby, who then morphs into the child, and lastly they will morph into a damaged adult.

I cannot support a two dimensional framing of this debate, whereby women who choose to keep their disabled child are hailed as the best of modern parenting, and those who choose to abort are an evil heartless abomination

It angers me viscerally to be a pawn in this game of Heroes and Villians. Tim Montgomerie later said that he could not support laws which made disabled babies second-class citizens. This would be the bit where I tell Tim how happy I am and say “Thanks Tim. Thanks for standing up for me. I’m so grateful.” Love you Tim! How sycophantic and saccharin. But no!

I do not need a saviour. I need someone who is prepared to listen to the sheer complexity around these issues.

I am not your totem, Tim. Nor do I want to be used as a vehicle to facilitate the poisoning of the pro-life standpoint. Nor will I be manipulated.

Women are the ultimate arbiters of their own individual bodies and minds.  That process of arbitration should be respected without “saviours” like Tim Montgomerie playing the totemic violin.  It is utterly insulting to women, their autonomy, and the intelligence of disabled people themselves. The work of caring for a disabled child is not glamorous, and by the time we reach adulthood is fraught with frustration and setbacks..

Either caring for a disabled child, or having an abortion due to foetal abnormality, are both scenarios filled with cost to parents, emotional, physical and psychological. That is why all women need our love and support, free of invective.

A disabled child is for life, not just for Christmas.

An Open Letter To Katie Hopkins

Dear Katie,

You describe yourself on your Twitter biography as “the one who said no to Sir Alan.”

Well today Katie, I am saying no to you.

This letter is hard for me to write. I am a feminist and a strong supporter of all women. I believe in freedom of speech and expression. I also believe that anyone should have the right to function in daily life free of censorship. For context, I think women in Saudi Arabia should without question be allowed to drive. This is a human right, not a topic for debate.

Alongside freedom of speech however comes responsibility; and it is incumbent upon all of us to use it wisely and use it well, bearing in mind in some parts of the world many are not allowed to exercise it.

Therefore, I was aghast to see this Tweet appear on your Twitter timeline yesterday.

 “Tanni Grey-Thompson. God I wish there were some carpet tacks lying about between her and the BBC studios.”

James Moore, writing in yesterday’s Independent  for their Voices strand observes thus.

 “She chooses her targets carefully focussing only on people whom it is judged socially acceptable to demean. “

I am always suspicious of anyone who is handed on a silver platter a media career resulting from their ability to say controversial things Katie. The polemic is an art form that you just have not mastered. The polemic is a journalistic art form designed to make people think about a situation a first time, a second time, and maybe even a third. It is to prove that you are in the right, and others are in the wrong.

What made me aghast about you yesterday Katie is this. This is not just a dislike of Tanni Grey-Thompson, nor her personal opinions. You chose the thing about her, that is different from you, the idea that you have a non disabled body and she doesn’t. That is utterly nasty, cruel and beneath contempt.

That was the moment you made it personal and revealed the true face of Katie Hopkins. Or is it indeed the true face? Perhaps the meeja one, where the cameras turn on you, you say contemptible things, receive a nice pay cheque and go home again?

People with disabilities fight extremely hard battles every day. For some they need help to perform the most basic activities of daily living. But naturally The World Of Katie Hopkins remains coldly dissonant to that.

Of course never mind the fact that Lady Grey-Thompson is one of our best Paralympians ever? I thought you of all people would support meritocracy and rewarding achievements.

What I am interested in though is what was going through your mind when you sent that Tweet? Does seeing somebody who doesn’t conform to the archetype of normal on television threaten you Katie?

I would actually like to see a far greater diversity of social commentary on television  for there is a paucity of diversity at the moment.

You must know that people with disabilities suffer greatly due to hate crime and  demonisation in society? I must ask, do you think your Tweet assisted in reducing the impact of that upon people with disabilities.

You see Katie, you have a media platform. A media platform which many would love. Yet you use it to spread this kind of hate speech? I suspect you are a kind of puppet who bubbles with joy over the thought of making a controversial statement.

This time though, I fear you have made a woeful misjudgement. I am sure as a celebrity you receive no end of nasty tweets. I’ve seen you retweet some of them. I expect you feel pretty lousy when they come through? Well I felt lousy when I saw that tweet.

You see in between the QWERTY keyboard and the Tweet button, there are readers and there are feelings.

I have never experienced a carpet tack in my wheel, but I have experienced a thorn. It punctured the tyre, rendering me unable to use it for the day.

I think the meaning behind your “joke” Katie was that if her tyre punctured she would have been unable to grace your television screen with her presence, charisma and wit.

Outside the realms of your pithy joke though, that has real life consequences! It is like somebody taking your legs away for a day. Perhaps you should do your next television appearance in a wheelchair, or spend time in one and see how people treat you.

Knowing you though, you would just dismiss this blog as faux outrage, and maybe tell me I needed therapy.

Do you know why your comment is so shocking Katie?  The decent majority in society have moved on from joking about disability. I mean, we can even joke about ourselves sometimes?

Your joke stinks because it’s hierarchical. It creates a false equivalence, inferring that able bodied people are somehow less inferior  when compared with disabled people. The carpet tack wouldn’t inconvenience you, because you are able bodied, and making the joke from a vantage point where you do not even have to consider disability as an axis of oppression impacting on your life. You take things for granted and it shows.

You have much chutzpah.

But you know, it’s not just a question of “things we are not allowed to say.” Most people don’t say them because they are reprehensible, over privileged and selfish.

Do you think you would have a media career if you were rendered unable to talk or think? My advice to you this time would be to actually apologise, and think about the impact your words have on real people with real lives. Many of those with disabilities make contributions to the world which are just as valuable as yours.

My guess is, you have such rants on Twitter because you know the OFCOM Broadcasting Code wouldn’t indulge them.

After this blog, my life will continue, mine in my wheelchair, and yours not having to give carpet tags a second thought. You are lucky Katie, really lucky.

I’d swap your legs for my chair any day.  Not because I think your legs are particularly distinctive or a piece of high art, but simply because they work.

Also, I don’t want your mouth. I have a conscience.

I must close soon, but I have one more thing to tell you. Pneumatics have come a long way since the thorn. Tyres are puncture proof now.

Oh and if you ever fancy a day off from numerous TV engagements, I’d gladly step in for you. If the studio is wheelchair friendly of course. I can write and talk rather well.

I find it socially unacceptable that you demean those like me.

Best wishes,

Hannah “Chelsea” Buchanan.

PS Pushing my luck here, but do you ever let your children play with children with disabilities? It’s called integration, it won’t leave scars and it is quite healthy.

A Lesson in Psychology and Perception

I had an interesting experience on the bus the other day. It’s a common journey for me and one I make often from my local town to the nearest big city as there are more shops and amenities which I can access.

I am a big music lover and a particular fan of HMV. However on the way in on the bus a small child asked of me “why are you sitting down?”

I could tell the child’s mother was embarrassed and wanted the ground to open up. However when you have a disability, open questions like this are pretty run-of-the-mill. Children are known for their curious mind and nature. I believe firmly that education begins not in the classroom but as soon as the child has the ability to comprehend and make sense of particular realities. I think also that there is nothing wrong with this. Asking questions helps ameliorate prejudices and fears in later life. Not being able to walk, I was a very curious child myself. From my vantage point of the wheelchair I saw the micro as well as the macro aspects of the world.

So I simply explained to the little girl that I was sitting down because I was born that way and my legs didn’t work properly. I then explained that the messages of the brain didn’t always translate into the body. Rather the messages from the brain go down to the body but they don’t come back up again. I applauded her courage in asking. I would far rather she asked than ended up with a confused nebulous jellylike mishmash in her mind. She then said to me after I said I can’t walk, well I can.

Good for you I said and she smiled at me.

What I haven’t told you up until now is that her mother chastised her for even asking the question at all. She told it was rude and that some people would like it. This was in spite of me telling her I didn’t have a problem with it.

She looked embarrassed and pulled the child away to the back seat as quickly as possible where she repeated the warning again in louder decibels I would surmise for my benefit.

I am only too happy to answer anyone’s questions. I’m a very placid gentle and easy-going person. This girl was only little. She may never have seen a wheelchair before. So, I made allowances for that and accommodated her curiosity.

I cannot condone the premise that it is right to shut down a curious mind due to your own fears. That little girl ended the bus journey having learned something and probably will be less fearful of those with disabilities as a result.

I have seen babies with their eyes out on stalks because I am sitting down like them, but yet I am much older. Life to them must be a strange contradiction.

But for me the whole thing was down to perception. In case mine was a little wrong I asked the passenger opposite me if he thought the child had done anything wrong. No he said she was just curious.

I answered the questions of the child good-naturedly. What would be the alternative? To leave her pondering not knowing? No the younger she learns about these things the better. I am also in favour of people with disabilities being integrated into mainstream school alongside their non-disabled peers. Education is a formative time in life. The ideal time then  for people with disabilities to be part of the social fabric of society and the children to see this as the norm, not the exception.

I suspect in this case the mother was projecting her own embarrassment at such a question onto the child. Adults and children have different sensibilities, and I guess we know as adults that asking such direct questions is thought to be socially inappropriate. But the thing is children break down these socially constructed maxims in the pursuit of knowledge. We should give them that knowledge.

The saddest thing for me in the whole encounter was that in raising her voice to the child in public the mother felt she was doing her job under the glare of society.

But actually her overcompensation made me feel worse than the actual question. It made me feel really small because if I could hear her at the other end of the lower deck of the bus that I anticipate the rest of the lower deck must have heard also and I find this highly embarrassing.

Publicly I’m not the sort of person who likes to draw attention to myself. If I could I do the sort of person who would sit at the back of the bus either with earphones on or a good book. Sadly the wheelchair space in the middle of the bus renders the possibility of not being ubiquitous a non-starter.

I wish I had an invisibility cloak sometimes! In summary what I’m really trying to say is the child did nothing wrong. My lack of upset or anger should have been a fairly good indicator to the mother that a further high-volume post-mortem was not necessary.

I sometimes wish adults thought more like children. Inquisitiveness is not under be stifled it should be encouraged.

Before having a further shouting match especially after I thought I had diffused the situation her mother should have considered the impact on me rather than what a bus load of people might think of the hardly deviant behaviour of her daughter.

I have never met any person with a disability who has been intolerant of questions from a child. We were all children ourselves once. Plus I would rather a child understands directly from somebody in the situation rather than a discombobulated third-party. Parents should never shy away from the children asking difficult questions. It makes my life happier and more bearable in the long run.

Perception is a funny thing, isn’t it?

Where the child’s mother saw the possibility of offence and rudeness, I saw the possibility of opportunity and education. Lots of people after all make up the world and not every child is identical. In my view the more quickly children find that out the better.

Dear #FuckCisPeople;You Don’t Speak for Me and You are Not my Voice

Lately, I have learnt one thing above all. Sharing differences in ourselves and being part of a minority is not enough to sustain a friendship or build common bonds.

Commonsense you might think but when you begin to introduce the notion of a community into the discourse, then you take it for granted that the community speaks with one united voice. This has been the case on Twitter this weekend with the fuckcispeople hashtag.

Most communities, as Benedict Anderson posited, are imagined.

The motivation behind the hashtag was to alert non-trans people to the ways in which they oppress the trans community. It was meant to provoke a debate about how we treat trans people in society and how we could do better.

Well, it would be fair to say that the hashtag provoked a debate with many supporting the hashtag, saying it highlighting the oppressed status whilst others felt it did not speak for them.

I am not denying for one moment the trials and tribulations trans people face in everyday life.They include; Street harassment, discrimination in the job market and also punitive irrational social exclusion.

However no matter how much pain you are going through, a whole group should not be demonised. They are not responsible for your pain.

Being in a minority is hard I know. I have done it through no choice of my own for 32 years. Indeed one question posed to me with a kind of devils advocacy was why would I put myself through the process of joining another minority, bearing in mind the pain and the extra prejudice it would bring?

Well as long as I’m happy that what matters, as long as those who love me love me that what matters.

What does not matter is the ignorance of a few people.

I understand the pain underlying the fuck cis people hash tag genuinely but it is not the right way to go about it. If you want to think I’m telling you you’re doing feminism wrong then fine think it. I no longer care. The world is broadly made up of cis people. The job market is probably made up of cis people. Educational establishments are made up of cis people. They are here and they are not going anywhere! So get used to it.

The way to bring about change is not to pile on people for having views you disagree with. The way to bring about change is not to swear shout and be belligerent. I am not saying that women of any hue should be chaste silent and obedient for that is a discourse that belongs to a bygone age.

What I am saying is that you don’t win an argument by simply turning the volume to maximum and putting your fingers in your ears wilfully ignoring what people are trying to say to you. People who could give you useful advice and support are instead turned on for the most minor infractions of a rulebook which nobody has ever had the pleasure of reading. They are manipulated into apologising over the most minute issues and end up issuing grovelling kowtowing apologies.

Nobody can be expected to be an expert on trans issues within five minutes. We are all still learning as life is a journey of discovery. But how can you expect people to want to learn more if all you do is show them hostile aggression and present the so-called misery narrative?

The happy days of My Transsexual Summer on Channel 4 now seem a distant memory. Donna, Lewis, Sarah, Karen, Fox and Drew were fun people having fun times going out and enjoying life to the max. That’s a positive outcome for trans men and women. When I wrote about that TV show I looked forward to writing about it and I was happy to meet the cast. I admired their zeal, their passion and their determination to show that people who are trans can live a good, happy and fulfilled life.

Yet oh my god how the worm has turned. Gone are the heydays of that time. Gone is the good work they did. It’s been replaced with sadness and misery after misery. Putting myself into this misery narrative for a moment it seems to me that for some, trans is an oppression, an affliction they would rather not deal with but garner sympathy instead and as much of it is possible.

What did you expect when you came out as trans? An easy ride? Candy floss? A medal?

You know I don’t know whether some of the shock I see on Twitter is real. People staring in the street, people making rude comments, people bullying. Now in an ideal world of course bullying wouldn’t exist. We would all live happily ever after, as one harmonious homogeneous humankind. But it isn’t going to happen.

I have been in a minority for 32 years. I have had to deal with stares in the street for as long as I can remember. I have never passed society’s ideals of beauty. When I hear some of you talk about passing as cis men, quite frankly it makes me jealous yes jealous, for you have at least experienced that life of normalcy before you joined a minority. I never have. I look at your pictures and I think some of you are really beautiful in the same way as all women are but then I see you moaning about has how much you’re suffering in this oppression Olympics and I feel angry with you because you don’t realise how lucky you are. I assume for most of you even though you are trans you can still drive if you’re old enough. I assume you can put your clothes on in the morning and cook your own meals go on a holiday and choose what you want to eat and cook it for yourself. Well I can’t so count yourself lucky.

Lastly I want to address the Trans Excluding Radical Feminist Issue. I am not a sympathiser to any kind of exclusionary ideal. I am not ambivalent to trans deaths of women of colour or otherwise.

Indeed I saw yesterday that I was called a shitbag for merely expressing another view, the view that the hashtag was destructive and would not bring about greater dialogue or discourse.

I am a sympathiser of many issues radical feminists campaign about including sexual violence, and rape. I also support an end to sexism and misogyny in society. I would dearly love for trans women to attend radical feminist conferences. The way things are going though I think that will happen in the year 3013. If you continuously attack and belittle motives and beliefs of fellow women then what do you expect them to do in return; welcome you with open arms?

The backgrounds of radical feminists often make sorry listening. What is revealed are a litany of woes and misogyny at the hands of men. If we just put our fingers in our ears and ignore that that it shows an utter disrespect and disregard of the suffering of the class we are transitioning into. We must be mindful of the fact that woman space is politically sensitive and painful sometimes. In some countries space for women to meet together is not even granted.

The central plank and the immovable plank of my thesis against the hashtag however is this. Cis people have problems too. Just because somebody is born in a body that is congruent with how they feel inside it does not mean they have a problem free existence with roses round the door.

They have problems too, just like us. This is such a basic fact I can’t believe I’m saying it but it’s true. Being trans is not the only oppression ever to have faced the Earth. It may feel like it is but it isn’t.

When you say fuck cis people, do you know what you’re really saying? You are saying fuck the doctors who kept me alive; they don’t matter just collateral damage. You’re saying fuck my mother; the person who gave birth to me and had to deal with the heartache of having a disabled child when she didn’t expect it. You are saying fuck the world, stop it I don’t want to be part of it I want to live in my own trans utopia where everything is perfect nobody disagrees with me and there is no challenge to my experience where I can say what I like without condemnation or critical voices. That isn’t reality.

However, we don’t transition in a vacuum. We transition into the real world. And whether you like it or not that is how it is. I would hate to live in a world where everyone was disabled or trans or lesbian, an exact copy of me. How dull! How anodyne and boring. Moreover how fucking unrealistic do you want to be?

What sort of dystopia are we living in when somebody with an opposing view is a shitbag? When the only view people are interested in is an identikit one? A sad dystopia of Orwellian dimensions is that sort of dystopia.

The greatest irony is I used to write the sort of blogs the dystopians would lap up like cream. Loads of likes, happy trans community job done. These days for seeing beyond the prism of the trans community I’m often attacked or at worst blocked on Twitter. But I know one thing. I go to sleep at night with my integrity intact because I am not writing what people want to hear. Instead I am writing what I believe.

Some elements of the train carriages of the trans community appear to have broken away from the train and are travelling in an increasingly separatist direction. If that is you please end all contact with me on social media it is not something I want to be part of.

You may feel alienated from society; you may feel abused and let down by the wider population? What do you expect when you never leave the safe confines of the trans community and only talk to each other, and a coterie of allies?  Of course this way you will get affirmation and solidarity and a challenge free life, but is that integration? Is that truly living? I understand this may feel safer but how do you know until you try?

By creating the hashtag fuck cis people you are creating division and ghettos where there need be none. I think it is getting to the stage where the trans community or at least some elements of it is becoming its own worst enemy.

It bemoans lack of acceptance from society, but yet refuses to engage with it at every turn. It creates hashtags writing off the majority of society, but if society were to do the same merry hell would break loose.

The stench of hypocrisy is alive and well. Who is now going to step up and make the air fresh once again?

It is no good fighting discrimination with yet further discrimination. If politics operated in this way the country would be ungovernable. People in opposing parties sit down and have congenial discussions for the good of the country.

If you want acceptance and understanding don’t belittle half of society to get it. I was disgusted by this hashtag yesterday. It made me feel almost ashamed to be trans.

And I love myself I’m proud of myself my achievements in life and my positivity in life. And I will sure as hell not be dragged down the tunnel of misery and negativity by a group of people who feel the whole world is against them. That mindset is easy. Far harder though is the challenge to do something about it. Change starts from within all of us whether we are cis, trans or dolphin.

We can either be part of that change or stay closed off in our ghetto. I broke free from the ghetto last year through my own choosing. I engage with people, I write professionally. I don’t feel the world is against me because I don’t hate myself. I put it to those who originated that hashtag that perhaps your quarrel is not with cis people at all. It is perhaps a quarrel in your soul.

Finally I will say this. I heard somebody suggest yesterday that cis people need to know how they fuck us up. Yes fine! I agree. However it is our choice and within our grasp to decide how much we let circumstances fuck us up. It is also within our grasp to determine how long we want to stay that way for. Otherwise we would be puppets with no control whatsoever of our own lives. I know people for whom this is their reality. Now that’s oppression.

What we go through may be tough but it is not the only kind of oppression there is. We could be LGBT in Russia right now  for example. It’s not easy to deal with people staring at you in the street, but you can get stronger and learn to deal with it. If you choose a certain path you have to accept the consequences. You are different but living in a way that feels amenable to you should be a comforting experience not a horrible one.

You cannot write off a whole subset of society based on your experience. That hashtag was a damaging point in my lifetime. I hope I never have to see it again. I will continue to campaign for the rights of women and trans women. I will continue to be a successful writer. I will continue with my happy positive outlook on life that has paid dividends so far. What I will not do is place the T above all else and ignore the world generally.

I have grown up with and around women all my life. If I was to ignore cis people my life would be pretty lonely. If that makes me a shitbag then so be it.

Many trans people also spoke out against the hashtag. This was dismissed as hatchet jobs. No! It’s  real people disagreeing with your actions. It’s called democracy.

The Current Debate Around Stealth in the Trans Community is Interesting But….

As a writer the current debate within the trans community around stealth and passing really interests me. The main bones of contention concern the ability and right for people to live in stealth, and whether they should disclose their trans status to any prospective partner. Now this has definitely ruffled a few feathers and we have not arrived at a consensus yet. Perhaps on this issue we never will. But I just wanted to share a bit of my own perspective and why I think the way I do.

When I think of stealth I think of the cast of Cats. I went to see the touring production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical recently. It begins with a gaggle of cats on stage. The stage is dimly lit and strewn with rubbish and various other oddments. The cats are prancing around alert to any noise and try desperately to evade the gaze of humankind, congratulating themselves as they succeed.

Kinetically speaking, the movement of cats is very quick and light. You may catch a glimpse of them for one minute or so and then you will find them gone.

For some life as a trans woman or a trans man is based upon living by similar norms. They don’t disclose their trans status to anybody and live in stealth. The brouhaha around disclosure for stealth trans people has been reignited in recent weeks thanks to legal developments. I won’t cover analysis of those legal developments here as they have been well covered by others. I will post some must reads at the end of this entry though..

But for me I find the notion of stealth quite peculiar. This is in no small part due to my disability. Somebody once remarked to me that many people like me grow up thinking they are public property. Honey stealth isn’t even an option for me. There are times when I would love to hide from the telescope that is society but I can’t.

Being blunt about it I require a lot of physical help to go about my day and require 24-hour care. So any developments in my life are not only known to myself but also to my carer and other involved third parties.

People have seen my body thousands of times and let me tell you, it’s hardly Boudicca. The body is a temple trope goes out the window. It becomes an object for people to do things to. The person is a body, a damaged deformed body. Whilst many do find love happiness and fulfilment, disability does make it harder to love your body, because it would give anything to have one which moved properly, or looked aesthetically pleasing.

Nothing can ever either be done in peace. For me I require assistance to carry out many basic tasks.

My transition itself was also a very public one. I lived in a care home at the time. But the staff team at the care home were trained around issues of sex and gender dysphoria and my name change and timescales were publicly agreed. I could never take ownership of my transition in the same way a person living in stealth could, and indeed does.

It was something to be talked about gossiped about and disseminated amongst as many people as possible. They made the most of the exclusive story. Don’t get me wrong – I knew what I was getting into but that doesn’t make it easier. It just means you have to develop a thicker skin.

Often in trans circles people trade on their bodies and their photographs on social networks to gain validation in their female role. Understandable perhaps in a world that is obsessed over visuals and aesthetic. However deformed body is not the typical representation of sex appeal.

This is not though a ‘woe-is-me’ type reflection. But stealth has never been an option for me. Nor have I had time to worry about passing. Because I am stuck with my body for the rest of my life and I have to make the best of it. I understand why people may want to live in stealth, but for some of us this is not a choice we can ever make

I read a Tweet the other day from someone bemoaning the loss of male privilege, saying they used to be considered handsome. I was always, and still am “sweet” or “cute”. A classic patronising construction of the disabled child. The thing is though such constructions are based on a very narrow sample frame, if you like. As my counsellor once remarked wryly “there are no disabled pin ups are there Hannah?”

She’s right there aren’t. And it would be easy to give up. But I don’t want to. Do you know why? Because other women don’t give up other women stand strong and I must stand strong with them in solidarity. In some ways with transition I feel as though I have nothing to gain from my birth sex identity and nothing to lose either. Disability pretty much ransacked any male privilege I could have had at birth so it is not something I’ve ever known. Perhaps this helps me to approach myself in a blank way allowing myself the reflexivity to just be without any preconceived ideas. I’m not a stereotype and I don’t pander to them. I’m just me. I like the same things as I’ve always liked – my writing, my keyboard and my musicals. I dislike the same things as always disliked. Namely, they are football, ignorance and prejudice.

You can’t be at all stealth like if you have a disability. You can’t hide a bloody thing. When I was going through some particularly intense times and intense counselling sessions back in the care home I cut myself with a razor blade. Something in me just was about to explode and I couldn’t take it any more. Cutting then was a release, and I couldn’t even do that in peace. You can’t be emotional or vulnerable in peace either. Being disabled means you forfeit any of these rights, even though people around you are as respectful of your choices as they can be. But in my case the physical disability means I’m dependent on somebody else.

There are times when this stealth thing sounds quite seductive and appealing. I think the reason why I feel a bit disconnected from the debates around stealth the moment, is because it is something I have never and will never be able to practice in my daily life.

I’m just concentrating on surviving, living life to the full, and being the best me that I know how to be. Such debates to me are beamed from an island of remote privilege which I shall never be able to contemplate visiting. People have always stared ever since I was born.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is a spare space in the Louvre you may as well hang me right there is an exhibit and pay me for my services as the newest painting. Stealth could never happen for me. Just something to think about. Honesty is the alternative. But for me it’s a good thing.