Wednesday 13 November 2019
My name is Steph Calvert, and I am currently the Vice Chair of a:gender, which is the cross-government support network for trans, intersex and non-binary people. A (very!) little explanation: trans people can be described as those whose gender identity (their sense of self) doesn’t match that assigned to them at birth, while non-binary people are those whose gender identity doesn’t fit into the typical male-female binary. Their sense of self is a rich collection of no gender, a mix of genders, fluid gender and others. Gender identity is typically established in a human by the age of four; in my case, I was two years old.
Gender assignment is done, to be blunt, by the simple process of checking visually for the presence of a penis. Intersex people are those whose sexual characteristics don’t match those typically expected of male and female. These perfectly normal variations may be hormonal, external, internal or genetic, and a very high proportion of intersex/variations of sexual characteristics people only discover they are I/VSC late in life. This may be when puberty doesn’t happen, or when they are trying for a family. Often, there is infantile surgery to “correct” matters.
What do we do as a network? Simple, really: we support our members, we advise on policy, we raise awareness (ask for a session from us) and we engage with, and rely on, allies. Our allies are our strength; other human beings who believe in the simple fact that we all deserve respect and fair treatment.
We offer membership to our allies, with a regular newsletter to help keep them informed and engaged, and run a network of regional reps.
It is now Trans Awareness Week, which leads to the darkest day in our calendar, Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) on November 20th. At the moment, the trans community is under relentless attack by well-supported and financed people, and the media are at the forefront. Research from All About Trans and King’s College London shows the impact positive media coverage of trans people can have on the lives of individuals. This is where our allies can help, by challenging ignorance as well as outright hatred. That hatred is immense, typified by the murder of Dee Whigham, 25 years old, a trans woman stabbed 137 times, mostly to the face, her throat slashed four times.
I don’t want to dwell on that, but merely ask for a few minutes of thought on TDoR.
My own story is a typical one. Born in 1958, operated on at birth, at 10 and at 25, with no real explanations given. I knew I was female from the first moment of self-awareness, but only saw the problem when, at 2, I saw my first brother in the bath. Fast forward, and you find a highly depressed “man”, as macho as a naga chilli sandwich with extra spice, who is looking to decide when and how to end “his” life. Two previous attempts, at 12 and 15, had failed or been interrupted, but adulthood brings the necessary privacy. Given a few months more, I would have been one more on the TDoR list, but unrecognised as such.
That is when I encountered a:gender. To put it another way, that is when I found hope and support. I work as a front-line Border Force Officer, and my transition was not exactly easy, but it happened, and I am still here. Being alive gives me more choices than that other option, and I fully intend to exercise them, and not just for myself. Hence my work for a:gender.
I don’t see it as work, to be honest, but as the true responsibility of a human being in caring for and respecting those around them. We can quote religion (I am not religious) in talking about loving one’s neighbours, or simply say “be excellent to one another”, and it all adds up to the same thing.
Learn about gender ID, intersex, other people. Ask necessary questions in private, and don’t be intrusive (such as asking about genitals). Respect gender identities of all sorts, including using preferred pronouns and names. When you get it wrong, and we all do, apologise, move on and learn from it. Put your pronouns into your e-mail signature—a small step that makes a huge difference.
Above all, look around you at your fellow people, and be excellent to them.
November 13-19 marks Trans Awareness Week, a week which helps to raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the issues the community faces, particularly on Transgender Day or Remembrance (20th November each year) which remembers the victims of transphobic violence.
This blog comes from Steph Calvert, the Vice Chair of a:gender, an inclusive support network for staff in Government Departments and Agencies, covering all aspects of gender reassignment, gender identity, gender expression and Intersex.