Stephen Hawking, a fellow alumnus of my adolescent alma mater, St Albans School, has just died, over 50-years after he was forecast to by doctors upon his diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. Stubborn and resilient to the last, he also added humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges.
“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” – Stephen Hawking
“Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humour.”
Even in his older years he still regarded himself as a “child, who has never grown up”, maintaining his curiosity till the end. Best known for A Brief History of Time – on many people’s shelves but less often read, we were lucky to have had his challenging mind and courageous heart on this planet and in this universe for so long.
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
Hawking was a profound thinker who found women more complex than the universe, questioned religious and scientific views alike, but for all his deep wisdom and intelligent theories, I like his saying that –
“It matters if you just don’t give up.”
At school, apart from traditional studies, he messed around manufacturing fireworks and building computers, the latter inspired and aided by his British-Armenian Maths teacher Dikran Tahta, of whom Hawking said:
“…behind every exceptional person, there is an exceptional teacher”.
Although intelligent, Hawking was initially not very hardworking nor academically successful and used risky tactics in both his studies and when coxing an Oxford University boat crew resulting in a few scrapes and crashes. Too busy “enjoying himself” rather than working, he spent an average of just an hour-a-day on his degree.
“I was never top of the class at school, but my classmates must have seen potential in me, because my nickname was ‘Einstein.'”
He described himself as essentially an introvert yet needing the stimulation of others. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, Stephen Hawking said:
“I need discussion with other people to stimulate me. I find it a great help in my work to describe my ideas to others. Even if they don’t offer any suggestions, the mere fact of having to organise my thoughts so that I can explain them to others often shows me a new way forward.”
He did not see progress as inevitably leading to utopian improvement, instead, he cautioned that greater inequality could result.
“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” – Hawking on Reddit
Given that the announcement of his death came on the same day as the reigniting of Cold War tit-for-tat expulsions between Britain and Russia, and sitting alongside the incendiary dialogue between North Korea and the US, one hopes that Hawking was wrong that:
“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.”
To most people, it is Stephen Hawking’s mind that inspires or his positive attitude in overcoming disability. To me, it was his attitude to life and his mental health that encourages me.
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
His changing health being the biggest adaptation he had to choose to deal with. He recognised that you could not be angry with the world and be a part of educating it.
“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.”
Focus on the good, on what you have, be a glass-half-full person:
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
Not only intelligent but wise Stephen Hawking used humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges, his legacy is his spirit as much as his mind. He chose Je ne regrette rien, on Desert Island Discs, and that is as inspirational an attitude as all his writing.
The third Norwich Reclaim the Night took place on International Women’s Day 2018, spearheaded by UEA students and young intersectional and international feminists. It was inclusive of trans and non-binary people, as well as men, focusing on safety for all not gender. Sex worker freedom from violence, intimidation and harassment was also signposted. This was feminism for all without any infighting or exclusion.
“Many marches are women-only and sadly some groups have discriminated against trans participants… We came out to show that Norwich is no longer a place where you can be harmed or discriminated against for the colour of your skin, your faith, gender, sex, nationality or sexual orientation.” – UEA event organising group
March chants – and Poppy Rose was in good voice, included:
“Love, not hate
Makes Norwich great!”
“Claim our bodies
Claim our right
Make a stand
Take back the night!”
The march of some 50-plus people was one of solidarity, safety, and sensitivity, looking after the welfare of everyone involved, several of whom spoke of surviving sexual abuse or other forms of harassment.
During the march, some dozen men on the streets asked me what it was about – there was no mockery but positive approval. Women standing in the queue for nightclubs gave us whoop-whoops as we passed, a couple of times cars honked their horns in solidarity.
As an invited speaker, for the second year running, I was loathed to draw attention to the issues of trans people, particularly trans women, and especially on #IWD, but current media headlines necessitated it and it was a safe place to do so given how inclusive an event the organising team had made it.
Here’s what I had to say:
Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018 speech
“Reclaim the night is an annual march … intended to reclaim bodily autonomy and space that is often stolen from us by gendered and sexual violence”
Student-organised Reclaim the Nights tend to be women and non-binary, and male allies and victims inclusive – many don’t even mention trans inclusivity as it’s taken for granted that trans women would be included in women.
“All genders welcome. This is a sex-worker inclusive event, and we actively advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work. This is also an explicitly trans inclusive march. Given the chequered history of Reclaim the Night elsewhere in the country, we consider this vital to state clearly, and to do all we can to challenge the worrying rise of so-called radical feminism” – Brighton
Trans people are no safer on the streets than cis gender women, creating safe spaces on our streets, at our workplaces, in our homes (where 90% of DASV occurs among people we know, ie not stranger violence) is about protecting the vulnerable and policing the aggressors, not stereotyping and dividing down overly-simplistic/reductionist gendered lines.
Solidarity, inclusivity, and intersectionality should be with all victims of violence and gender-based oppression.
We should be fighting oppression, arm-in-arm, not fighting each other.
Artist and friend, Katherine Gilmartin, says:
“Boss babes see one another fighting for not with other women and systems.”
One Billion Rising, International Women’s Day and Reclaim the Night are all occasions when I prefer to emphasise women and girls and not draw attention to trans specific issues, but the current heat on trans women makes it unavoidable.
It is claimed that trans women mark the same level of risk to cisgender women as cisgender men do when in fact they are themselves at a higher risk of some types of abuse and attack (and ironically trans women as perpetrators of extreme violence pose a greater risk to men rather than women!)
This debate has not moved on in a year and trans women remain under fire for “Not being real women”. It’s time for all women, all minorities and/or oppressed to stand together for equality, human rights and mutual respect. It’s #PressforProgress not regress.
Reclaim the Night and Take Back the Night began in the late 1970s, a time when women and LGBT people had been standing side by side to advance gay rights and women’s rights. 1970s American lesbian radical feminists embraced their trans sisters until the 1979 publication of Janice Raymond’sTransexual Empire and attacks on Sandy Stone. Now it appears some women and media muck-rakers are trying to take us back to the 70s!
It’s an age-old war fast becoming an old age war. It is dividing feminists of one generation from feminists of the next. It is defeating our common aims of reducing violence and oppression because we are divided against ourselves.
Today has been used by a number of feminists as an opportunity to leave the Labour Party en masse for its defence and inclusion of trans women (in accordance with equality laws).
The first attack, I mean “free speech debate”, that I saw in the media was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day and was by Judith Green of A Women’s Place UK calling it “transgender activists and the real waron women“.
I would have thought that the real war on women was from Boko Haram, Saudi Arabia, FGM, everyday sexism and stereotyping, Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo and
Not from a handful of trans people who in almost equal numbers now are traversing the gender divide and leaving biological birth essentialist determinism behind thus showing that neither the gender construct nor birth lottery need define you. Surely, that IS feminism?
We are stronger together than tearing each other apart. I am proud and pleased that the April WOW festival in Norwich, like Reclaim the Night, is trans and non-binary inclusive, male allies and victims of abuse and gender role oppression also.
It is time we stood together,
it is time we rise up together, and
it is time we marched together,
to reclaim the media high ground,
to reclaim our study and workplaces, and
to reclaim the day and the night as sisters diverse but not divided!
For united we stand, divided we fall.
Safe streets for women, trans and all!
Wonderful night! Thank you so much to everyone who showed up for #NorwichReclaimTheNight2018 and dug into their pockets to donate to @LeewayDV and to all the readers and speakers! A great inclusive way to mark #IWD
[There are no apologies for what follows, on a day such as this, these things need to be called out, trigger warnings of statistics of abuse but no details of abuse]
Norwich Rising (EDP report), in its sixth year, is a part of One Billion Rising, founded by Eve Ensler in 2012 and celebrated usually on 14 February to combat and end violence against women and girls. In 1998, the V-day (Victory, Valentine & Vagina) movement grew out of her Vagina Monologues performances and a campaign to support domestic violence shelters and agencies. Art and activism come together to support female victims of abuse.
What follows is the text of my speech at the event. As someone born male, but now transitioned, and having been in both some amazing relationships and some abusive ones, I am always both honoured and ashamed to be invited to speak at these events. Honoured to be included, ashamed of what (mostly) men have done to women.
That these ‘Rising’ events take place on Valentine’s Day serves to remind us that not all love is loving; that on this day some people would be better off leaving rather than staying in their relationships, and that so much ‘romanticism’ can be coercive control especially when used with ill intent to prey upon the vulnerable.
Text of Speech
Just walking up to the Norwich Rising event I overheard two guys describing a woman as a fat pussy. When we reduce people to their body parts, we dehumanise them and make abuse easier.
This last year has been the year of Donald Trump and pussy hat women’s marches, the year of the #MeToo movement against abuse in the movies and media industry and the likes Harvey Weinstein, the year of the Presidents Club charity dinner for sexist dinosaurs, and just this week the boasting of the Philippine President of how he ordered the shooting of female rebels in the vagina because without one, women are useless.
It’s also been the week of ongoing revelations in the charity sector, of Oxfam’s workers sexual exploitation in Haiti and other humanitarian agencies admitting similar; up to 10% of female workers abroad had been sexually assaulted or witnessed abuse. Even at home, there a 6 allegations a year of abuse in Oxfam shops.
Every year we have events like this, we get asked “What about the men?” Yes they get abused, raped and killed too, but not nearly in the same quantity or severity. Of course we want to end violence and abuse against all people, by people of all genders. The reality, though, is that 3x as many women as men are killed in domestic situations. A third of the men are also killed by men and another third by women who had been abused by men. 15x more men than women are convicted of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is massive, over a million women a year, 10% of all recorded crime, but only 10% are prosecuted, fewer still convicted. Half of women in prison are themselves the victims of domestic violence.
People aren’t born abusers, they witness, repeat, and learn sexism from media stereotypes and scenes of graphic sexual exploitation and violence. We need to educate now not later in life. Consent and respect classes for pupils reduced rape offending rates by half in Kenya.
The UK government just closed its consultation on the sex education – whilst the opt out is all but gone the way it is taught remains a grey area. It should be compulsory and standardised in all schools. It should not have taken till now to be teaching better attitudes to all, without exception.
It’s also been a year of challenge to trans women and whether they present a risk to women’s safe spaces. Of 4 support services I’ve spoken to in this region they are all trans supportive but also risk assess all service users and workers.
Yes, 12 transgender spectrum people committed murders over the last decade, 7 victims were male, 4 female, and 1 was a trans on trans killing. Men are twice as likely as women to be the victims of transgender perpetrators of serious violence. Trans people are disproportionately likely to be victims.
We can all twist statistics, and these figures mask different degrees of abuse, but 1 in 5 men face abuse within relationships, 1 in 4 LGB, 1 in 3 women, 1 in 2 trans people (mostly female-identified), but every one is one too many. Hashtag #TimesUp.
It is time to stop violence against women and girls be it domestic, sexual coercion and violence, or ritualistic FGM. Misogyny, molestation, mutilation and murder of women and girls must stop.
Don’t send a card for Valentine’s, send a message – NO MORE violence or abuse.
I’ll end by quoting just two verses from the intersectional poem against sexism and racism by Maya Angelou:
As New Year 2018 breaks, and on a bright light January mid-winter dawn at that, I realise that 2017 has been a year of two halves or even four quarters, much like the seasons. I’ve diaried most of my non-married adult life, including the last 11 years. Along with an insomniac’s sleep spreadsheet and a bipolar mood diary, I’ve a fairly good idea of my moods and their seasons.
“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino
Light and Darkness
I’m going to pepper my reflections with random quotes about light and darkness, which diurnally deliver some of the starkest contrasts of daily existence, but which are at their hardest to endure when the nights are sixteen-hours long and the days excruciatingly short. And particularly hard, when one’s mood is low, insomnia debilitating, leaving one drawing the curtains at midday and getting up as the sun sets in deepest winter. I long for the lengthening days of 2018 as it progresses to June’s summer solstice.
“Every human being is a mixture of light and darkness, trust and fear, love and hate.” – Jean Vanier
MAD, BAD, and SAD
For someone who is or has Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD), with an annual accretion of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it’s only appropriate that I confess to also being MAD. Whilst calling someone mad is deprecated, it is thoroughly modern to have a Mood Affective Disorder including various depressions, bipolar disorders, and anxiety disorders – yes I have a GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) too. My OCD seems to be collecting three-letter mental health acronyms!
“Where there is much light the shade is deepest.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The low moods are so deep that you feel your world is going to crush you like suffocating under a mountainous avalanche of rocks and soil or at the depths of the ocean as the air runs out and the pressure crushes your lungs.
“The sunrise and sunset shows us that in life there are ups and downs. There is light and darkness.” – Debasish Mridha
Whilst many of these seriously affect my wellbeing I also regard them as part of the range and spectrum of personality and psychology. So whether one has the clinical diagnosis or not (I do), one is not one’s label, or doomed by it, since we all experience anxiety, low mood, and the seasons, to varying degrees. The difference is the degree to which we suffer and are immobilised in one’s ability to function in life, hold down a job, pay bills, or maintain a healthy functioning loving relationship.
“Light isn’t always buoyant and shadows aren’t always despair; yet both, I believe, are limitless in lessons that they share.” – Carolyn Riker
Housed but feeling temporarily not at home
The last quarter has been one of my worst in some six years. Brought low by overexertion and exhaustion, insomnia, arthritis, whiplash, chronic anxiety and panic attacks over benefits renewals and appraisals, and a near six-month long house rewire that upended my comfort nest, I became uprooted, homeless within my own home.
“The most precious light is the one that visits you in your darkest hour!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan
Yet, I appreciate that I have a roof over my head, just enough flexible work to meet the difference between housing benefit and rent, enough security from family on months I’m short, to avoid a past history of extensive rent arrears and three eviction notices and an unsecured debt-pile equivalent to a middle-class mortgage without any house to show for it.
Others, in worse situations, have seen a doubling of people living rough since 2010, alongside a 50% cut in homelessness funding, a rise in food bank use, people losing their DLA/PIP assessments, being stuck on six-week Universal Credit delays, and seeing mental health services in crisis and special measures as they fail to match ‘service user’ needs. Austerity has worsened our wellbeing and failed in its fiscal justification.
Suicide Safety Net
My own darkness arrived at a time of maximum therapeutic support. I’d just managed to get a second package of 6 therapy sessions within a few years. The first took 3 years of asking and the second, around 6 months. But even with weekly therapy (extended to fortnightly for a longer period), bi-monthly care team support, regular mental health team check-in calls, a loving longterm partner, and a veritable army of support cats – I still suffered 4 days in 3 months where I was suicidal.
“Always surround yourself with friends that have plenty of light in them. That way, you will always have candles around you when days are dark.” – Suzy Kassem
Getting through the immediate seemingly life-threatening panic or manic anger or the aching raw bawling sadness has taken every ounce of my energy, and drawn on the understanding of my lovely partner in ways that I never wanted to. I nearly broke my girlfriend! She is, however, heroic in her ability to separate my needs (without being needy) from any responsibility to solve or salve, only to be a supportive companion and a candle in my darkness.
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” –Anne Frank
Fortunately, due to my most serious past suicide attempt five-and-a-half years ago, I’d ensured that my house was empty of the means to take my life (via pills at least). It didn’t stop me from feeling my fragility and emotional rawness of having the same suicidal ideation but a better safety net in place. Driving is dangerous when one feels the power to take one’s own life beneath the foot pedal on an angry with the world day.
Not so Superman/girl
My superpowers have more than once met their psychosocial Kryptonite. I say psychosocial because I’m well aware that it is my psychological wiring and emotional responses to social and financial situations that trigger my darkness, anger, and powerlessness.
Surviving rather than thriving is a temporary reward and respite. Living to face the terrors and panic attacks of another day. That is why dying feels like such a tempting relief, the only way to take a day off.
“And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” – Mad World
I have good days too, and in-between average days, that are nonetheless relief days. Being bipolar I’m never far from depression, nor elation. So I respect both. I can swing from scarily suicidal to aesthetic appreciation of art, beauty, food and kittens in just hours. Sadly, my rapid cycling rollercoaster can look fine, be engaged, and yet hours before or later be considering suicide or lying in the bath wondering what it would be like to drown in nihilistic comfort before the warm welcoming water got cold.
“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.” – Anthon St. Maarten
Life is full of light and dark, morning and night, summer and winter. Contrasts that make the extremes, well, more extreme. The highs are ecstatic and the lows are the end of the world.
“Life isn’t just about darkness or light, rather it’s about finding light within the darkness.” – Landon Parham
Yes, company, compassion, communication, the comfort of friends, are a solace though not a solution during those lonely days, weeks, months, and sadly, years. I’ve been anxious for 45 years, depressed for 15, bipolar (officially, at least) for 5. But, I’ve been alive for 50 years, continually by the thin thread of tenuous determination to live another day – despite several attempts, and many more close calls to end it.
“Why not dare yourself to become a shining positive light where darkness is the only thing known?” – Edmond Mbiaka
Getting through the night
Closing the curtains in winter at 4pm and waking at 4-5am some 3-4 hours before sunrise, leads to hours of wakeful darkness, and how to endure it. BBC iPlayer Radio plays are often an answer or cricket match commentary from Australian timezones.
The constant onslaught of dark days and anxious early mornings is like being pelted with a slinger’s stones or archer’s arrows from an infinite quiver where each would won’t kill you but like a death by a thousand cuts will make you weaker and even less likely to get up and face the next day.
Those 50 years, which feel like 500 at times, have taught me a healthy respect for mental wellbeing and to take pleasure in the little things like the fact that I woke up well today, and that it wasn’t raining. The longest night is past and longer days are around the corner, the light is returning, spring is coming.
I guess getting through the night is my daily version of other people’s getting through the winter. My rapid cycling mood means I experience the seasons on a quotidian basis. But I also learn from nature, that as sure as spring follows winter and morning follows night, so too will my mood lift or circumstance change.
“I restore my book to the bracing and buoyant equilibrium of concrete outdoor Nature, the only permanent reliance for sanity of book or human life.” – Walt Whitman
Today, I walked among the trees, chatted with my partner, ate simple but tasty food, and stroked cats – lots of cats. I’ve survived another day.
Inalienable, intersectional, international human rights. Do we ALL have them yet? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. This year, Human Rights Day begins a year-long campaign to mark its 70th anniversary.
We’ve come a long way, but we’ve a way to go yet as injustices on individual, group, and national, scales persist.
“Many leading nations treat it as a pick-n-mix document, usually ignoring the principles against torture or discrimination on grounds of sex or sexuality.” IHRD 2015
70 years – three score and ten (Psalm 90:10), was the life expectancy of some in 1948, six years fewer if you were black. As we approach 2018 many don’t reach 70 in areas stricken by poverty, famine, war, terror, femicide, homicide, mental and physical health issues, and countless other societal obstacles to living out free, equal, healthy lives.
Categorisation, Class & Checkbox
Instead of celebrating equality and diversity we are still categorising and stereotyping each other by those age-old categories of sex, class, colour, race, religion, sexuality and more. Despite the proclamation of the UDHR:
“…inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being — regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” – United Nations
Our focus, to this day, remains bitterly embroiled in judging and discriminating based upon whether a person is male or female (not to mention intersex or trans), white or black, rich or poor, Rohingya or Buddhist (yes there’s such as thing as “ultra-nationalist Buddhists”), Jew or Muslim, Catholic or Protestant, Tory or Labour, gay or straight, Celtic or Rangers, City or United…and so on.
Instead of seeing the human being before us with their unique experiences, journey, and personality, we immediately box people up and reduce them to a category, a caste, a label, a limiter.
Whilst JFK said that “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one are threatened”, Audre Lorde, echoed with something similar:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde
No two men or women live identical lives, again Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
They are called Human Rights because they are based upon our common humanity, not because of our sex, class, race etc but irrespective of them. Respect is due our humanity – that which unites us, not that which divides us.
Any movement that claims to be a movement of justice and liberation and yet commits oppression of, for example, Rohingya, Palestinians, Yazidi, Kurds, young women and girls, trans and many other minority or disadvantaged groups needs to think about its actions and motivations.
In 2012, Aamna Mohdin of Queen Mary’s College London, Feminist Society described “Transphobia [as] the great shame of modern feminism”. She went on:
“We cannot—as a progressive community—rally around notions of “progression” and, yet, be complicit in the very homophobia, racism and sexism that violently terrorises the lives of so many others. We need to create a movement where interconnectedness and unity is our priority. Intersectionality is not an option…You must commit to being intersectional in your thinking, your actions, all the time.” – Aamna Mohdin
We are not free and equal, until we all are. Doing nothing is not an option either, it allows oppression to persist. Wherever injustice is happening, to whomever it is being done, that is where we must be, if not in person, then on social media, in correspondence to embassies, and in protests and rallies of solidarity.
“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.” – Elie Wiesel
Intersectionality is not optional, it is essential.
Inaction is not an option. We must act for all.
Every 27 hours a trans person is murdered, over 2,600 the last 10 years – that we know about. A number that is rising annually and particularly affects those in the Americas but also in nearly 70 other countries around the world.
Whilst nobody in the UK was knowingly killed this year, nonetheless, Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall described Britain today as “at an absolute crisis point in how it treats trans people”, in no small part down to media attention.
“Britain is no longer considered a safe part of the world for trans people to live in…It should be considered a national embarrassment that this is where we now are as a nation.” – Ruth Hunt, Stonewall
Trans women of colour are the most likely to be killed of all transgender people. Instead of horrific headlines of transphobic killings it would be great to see more like this one, celebrating the political victory of poet, activist and social historian, Andrea Jenkin, winning a seat on Minneapolis City Council:
Andrea Jenkins makes history as first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in US – The Independent
But today, trans people are in the news for the shocking recurrence of their frequent murders. It seems recently, however, that they’ve been in the news every day. Frequently, there are 2-3 trans questioning or outright transphobic articles in The Times alone, not to mention other papers daily, and continuous TV and Radio programmes to boot.
Trans people’s lives are already under a microscope as part of their transition pathway, but to be so in the media spotlight too puts their private and social lives up for involuntary discussion and invasive dissection.
Lucy Meadows took her own life in 2013 in strong part due to “the toll the press was taking on her mental health”, says her former partner. “The media later claimed, [that] by putting out an “official” letter, the school [where she taught] had “officially” placed Lucy’s transition in the domain of public interest.”
A Day of Statistics, Sadness & Solidarity
Instead of the prurient public interest being in trans ‘sex changes’, former lives, and scaremongering fears of ‘sex pest perverts’, the media should be concerned about the levels of abuse, bullying, murder and suicide that so blight trans lives.
Last year, saw 295 trans and gender-diverse persons added to the list of those killed for being trans. This year that number is 325, up 10%. It went up 9% in 2015-2016 too. Improved news monitoring could account for it but hate and visibility are also on the rise.
“These figures only show the tip of the iceberg of homicides of trans and gender-diverse people on a worldwide scale.”
The majority of the murders occurred in Brazil (171 up 48 or 40% from the previous year), Mexico (56 up from 52), and the United States (25 up from 23), adding up to a total of 2,609 reported cases in 71 countries worldwide between 1st of January 2008 and 30th of September 2017.
5 trans people were killed in Europe (down 50%)
25 in the USA (11x more likely than in Europe)
53 in Mexico (50x more likely)
171 in Brazil (120x more likely)
You are 25x more at risk in the US than in India but 7.5x more at risk in Pakistan than India. For all its talk of being the “land of the free” you are just as likely to be killed (in the street, or your home, etc) for being trans in America as in Saudi Arabia! (More data)
Hate crimes against trans people in America were up 44% in 2016, according to FBI data.
“Since the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, there has been a notable increase in the vitriol and anti-transgender rhetoric — from the top levels of government down through the rest of American society.” – HRC Report
The majority of murders were of trans women (80% in the US)
62% were sex workers (4% were hairdressers & 2% artists)
69% of the reported murder victims in W.Europe were migrants
86% of the victims in the US were people of colour and/or Native American
In many countries, trans and gender non-conforming people live riskier lives, not by choice, but usually as a last resort due to the oppression, rejection and lack of rights within their cultures and societies. Many struggle to find work to survive, let alone to transition, and resort to sex work and/or flee their countries as migrants. Either or both of these paths putting them into the line of fire of greater exploitation and risk.
These numbers do not include suicides, the countless thousands who take their own lives – around 40% try, twice as many consider it. Sometimes it is the result of an attack:
Today I think about my smart, beautiful, open hearted friend Sarah. She was a courageous woman who fought every day for a more equal kind world. After a brutal attack ripped her of her dignity she took her own life, today we light candles but everyday we must love harder #TDOR
These numbers barely scratch the surface of the actual violence trans people experience, as much goes unrecorded, or cause/status unknown. Many countries don’t mention trans status in reports of violent death or in their internal statistics – particularly in anti-LGBT regimes and regions. Again, many may be killed in their acquired gender but the death not be because of it, of their pre-transition life simply not known about.
In addition to violent deaths, 1-in-2 trans people experience domestic abuse and/or sexual violence (DASV). Trans men and women alike often suffer in silence and fear that shelters and services won’t be there for them.
81% of trans people have suffered physical and/or verbal abuse.
Are they not women if people and society perceive them as such and treat them equally badly?
Yes, their social and biological experience when growing up is not that of natal women but many in medicine now recognise a biological rather than purely psychological basis for the origins of gender dysphoria.
“Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.” – The Endocrine Society
How then can some in society – conservative religions, some feminists, right-wing journalists, think that being trans male or female is something that we can fight against?
The personal is political and it’s hard to avoid the political, for murder is as personal as it gets. The irony that this was a rallying cry of late 1960s/70s Second Wave Feminism and yet is also the lived and embodied risk of being trans is not lost on me. Women regularly experience sexism and discrimination because of their sex. Black women even more so, adding racism to the crimes against their person.
The majority of feminists recognise the intersections between sex, sexuality and colour, not to mention class. Again, most modern and particularly young student feminists recognise the further intersection with gender identity. A few do not, and instead regard trans women as a threat to gendered spaces and trans men as traitors erasing butch lesbianism.
The conflation of sex with gender and/or sexuality is an issue needing better education to better understand people’s authentic ‘born this way’ identities.
Don’t scapegoat us as perverts and rapists. Don’t harm us and kill us. Instead, be allies, support us to be ourselves, and let’s bring these murder, abuse, and suicide rates down next year!
What can we do?
We need to:
end discrimination at work, in training and employment opportunities
provide decent healthcare
create healthy environments at school to explore identity and expression
recognise that Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence happen to trans women and men too, at the hands of cisgendered men and women
ensure prejudice is rooted out of criminal justice and police systems
provide legal protections against online and offline hate
end the language of violence* and exclusion between TERFs, as well as other vociferous transphobes, and Trans
develop positive dialogues rather than debate our right to exist
foster greater unity with allies of the wider LGBT+ and feminist communities
[*I denounce all #punchaFemiNazi, #punchaTERF, #punchaTranny memes and tweets, because no form of violence, real or humorous should be being encouraged.]
TDOR remembrance meetups were held around the UK including London, Liverpool, Brighton, and Norwich, as well as around the world including Paris and New York and dozens of other locations.
Norwich, my adopted home city held two TDOR events, one at the UEA attended by over 80 people (Concrete Online report), and another outside the Forum, with 40-50 people including the Lord Mayor and representatives of the CofE clergy. Speakers included me (Katy Jon Went) using the text above, Evie Thomas of UEA, and poetry read by Sarah Corke and Poppy Rose.
I was most impressed by the number of allies that attended, showing that society and Norwich in particularly is openminded and accepting in the main, and supports the rights, lives and wellbeing of trans and gender non-conforming people, despite media articles to the contrary.
This month saw World Mental Health Day. For the other 364 days of the year, we are forgotten. Austerity Britain has affected mental health services more than most. Despite promises to ringfence the NHS and bring parity between physical and mental health, this has not happened. Instead, beds have been cut, jobs have not kept pace with population growth, and my own trust, NSFT, has been placed back into special measures again, after being the first mental health trust in the country to be sanctioned in this way by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in February 2015.
Mental health awareness and NHS service provision improvements are sorely needed as referrals have risen 20% in Norfolk and Suffolk, but staffing and beds have been cut. Complaints, locally, have risen from 430 to 592, 2013-16. The latest CQC report criticised inadequate staff and bed levels but praised staff the caring attitudes of staff as ‘good’.
2010-20 will be the most austere decade in NHS history
2010-17 UK population rose 5%, mental health staff up 0.87%
2011-14 33% rise in Police cases with mental health component
2010-13 56% rise in self-harm and suicide
Mental health at work costs UK economy up to £99bn
Entitlement to be seen <18 weeks applies to mental health too
A week ago, BBC Radio Norfolk ran a mental health week focus with Stephen Bumfrey featuring it each afternoon, and coming together with Nick Conrad, Sue Tebble and myself, on Friday 20th, for an hour-long special. (iPlayer episode – 2hr 32m in)
“overall if you look across the country there is a good record of actually being able to move trusts out of special measures” – Theresa May
This makes the failure to resolve the local NSFT crisis all the poorer. Patients, or the politically correct – ‘service users’, have complimented the staff but criticised the system, waits, and other failures. Patient deaths and out of hospital suicides have increased whilst beds and budgets have been cut. Hundreds of patients were sent out of county owing to the lack of beds, up to 225 miles away!
In 2012/13 the trust reported 53 unexpected deaths, 105 in 2013/14 and 14/15, 139 deaths, rising again in 15/16 to 158, and 140 in just 9 months of 16/17. When standardised for age it is above the average for England. The figures have risen across all regions during NHS austerity under this government, from 47 per 1,000 to 59 in England – up 25%, but from 44 to 66, a rise of 50% in Norfolk & Suffolk.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has boasted that provision for mental health has “got better” and that he has increased staffing by 30,000 posts. The reality of the lie, and statistics do indeed damn him, is that 4,100 mental health nurses, 4,596 mental health trust beds, have been cut, and just 692 extra staff employed – an increase of just 0.87% over seven years, despite population growth of 5% during that time – so, in other words, a cut!
“Although NHS funding is rising in real terms, current plans mean that 2009/10 to 2020/21 will be the most austere decade in NHS history. Total spending on the NHS in England increased by an average of 1.2% a year under the 2010-15 coalition government (0.9% for the UK), and is set to increase at the same rate under the current Conservative government. Between 2009/10 and 2015/16, spending increased from £109.1bn to £119.0bn and is planned to rise to £123.2bn in 2020/21. This growth rate of around 1% is below the historical average for the UK of 3.7% per year.” – The Health Foundation
Norfolk has a pioneering mental health within Police HQ service, but nationally, there has been a 33% increase in cases with a mental health component 2011-14. As much as 40% of Police time is spent dealing with mental health-related issues.
Eighteen Weeks, as if!
Under the NHS constitutional pledge, patients have a right to be treated within 18 weeks of referral, including mental health.
“the new waiting time standards will be as follows: 75% of people referred for talking therapies for treatment of common mental health problems like depression and anxiety will start their treatment within 6 weeks and 95% will start within 18 weeks.” Pledge of 2014 to be delivered by April 2016.
Yet, the wait for some treatments can be more like 18 months. Just try requesting something more complex than CBT or other less time-limited ‘quick-fix’ therapies. IAPT referrals seen within 6 weeks were apparently 93-96% in Norfolk and Suffolk.
My personal experience, and that of several friends, has been of much longer waits. Calling the acute care line at weekends can result in complete ignorance or lack of access to your medical records. Support lines have historically been cut. People fall between the cracks, and I know too many people no longer with us due to mental health funding and systemic failures.
Discovery or Recovery
Discharge centred mental health, is solution based, with as much an an economic imperative as a wellbeing focus.
“securing a minimum of 50 per cent recovery rate from treatment” – NHS
Mental health in Norfolk has a Recovery College, a course-based approach to improving wellbeing. I prefer to see it as a discovery-centric way of improving self-management with community support. Some mental health issues do not just resolve, yet the NHS insists on “developing a recovery culture” (p13) in mental health which fails those with long term or lifetime conditions.
74% of NSFT patients represented with mental illness symptoms within 6 months, compared to a national figure of 63% (2015 data).
IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) approaches such as CBT serve best those with mild to moderate conditions, whereas moderate to severe need additional and more specialised help, as e.g., with OCD.
Between 2010-13, there was a 56% rise in self-harm and suicide across 52 NHS mental health trusts. It has been suggested that the over-capacity of up to 138% and staffing cuts has increased the risk of incidents.
I find the language, even if it has a clinical meaning, and the reality of response to people at risk of suicide, horrifying. The provision of “low level psychiatric support” was referenced in a Norfolk and Suffolk response it its higher than average suicide rate:
“There is a gap between the Wellbeing Service, the counsellors employed by GP practices and what is on offer via the mainstream mental health services. Suicide rate in Norfolk & Suffolk is high. GP referrals to MH are only accepted 20% of the time. GPs are left to manage risk the rest of the time.” – NSFT, pp11-12
The apparent aim is a “reduction in referrals to mainstream mental
health services by offering more low level psychiatric support in primary care.”
Care not Cuts
What worries me, is the low level of funding, of staff, of beds, and the cure rather than care attitude of the system. In contrast, the caring attitude of the staff is to be praised, and they need additional in-work support themselves to be able to deliver services under such tight austerity conditions.
Peter Barrow (actor & backer) and Stash Kirkbride (artistic director) together make up the PBSK partnership that puts on the annual Hostry Festival in Norwich. This year their main play is the L’Aigle à deux têtes by Jean Cocteau, written in 1943 and first performed in Brussels, Lyon and Paris in 1946. The French play both became a film and was ‘adapted’ by Ronald Duncan for English productions as “The Eagle Has Two Heads”. Whilst Cocteau once unfairly derided his translation as “preposterous”, the performance, staging and script, on the opening night (continues till 29/10), were superb.
Melodrama Revival or Tragicomedy?
“It’s a revival of a long lost French melodrama, a romantic play not seen in Norfolk since 1947 when it was performed at the Maddermarket Theatre.” – Stash Kirkbride
Although, Cocteau himself, would rather see it as comic tragedy uniting a “human play” and “great rôles” in “intellectual theatre” with “violent action”. Take the sarcastic bite of these lines, for example:
The Queen: “I have not shown my face to a living soul, except to my reader, Edith. It is questionable whether she has a soul. It is still more questionable whether she is alive.”
Cocteau has sections of Hamlet read during the seemingly multiple plays within a play and references a resurgent theatre in suggesting that the King was killed for building theatres and the Queen criticised for her love of the arts and actors in the family.
The Queen: “…they all wanted to become actors. that was impossible, so what could they do but turn their lives into a play, each living his own comedy. But I dreamed of making mine into a tragedy.”
There were times when I wasn’t sure whether laughter was appropriate in this tragedy, for there were great comic moments and fantastic verbal put-downs by the two leading female roles, and to a lesser extent by the resurgent Stanislas when not in cowardly assassin or fawning lover mode, as for example when he calls the Queen on her conceited notion that suicide was insufficiently dramatic a death.
“All love is a little death, and great love is suicide.”
For those with a knowledge of French, back-translating the dialogue led to some great double entendres, including le petit mort above, perhaps unintentional, but it added to the depth of the typically French philosophical and somewhat sexy melodrama – or tragic farce, at times.
Historic Setting & Political Commentary
“On a wild Autumn night circa 1910, a reclusive Queen dines alone in one of her many castles mourning the loss of her late husband. An assassin appears – he has come to kill the Queen but instead he falls hopelessly in love with her. For a brief moment in time their love blossoms, but it is not long before the corridors of power begin to echo with disapproval. And so, it must all end even before it has begun… but how?…” – Synopsis, Hostry Festival
Indeed, the play has echoes of Romeo and Juliet‘s tragic romance. This 20th-century play, set in the late 19th – loosely based on the “strange death of Louis II of Bavaria” – is, in addition, interlaced with questions of anarchy, the poetic temperament, philosophy of ideas, court intrigues, and even class commentary.
The latter almost creates a play within a play as the supporting actors Lucy Monaghan (Edith de Berg) and Christopher Neal (Duke of Willenstein) carry on their own drama of love, jealousy, position and power among lower order nobility.
The Queen: “Those who are born slaves are free. Compared to us who are imprisoned in this tyranny [love, or indeed royalty].”
Meanwhile, enter the anarchic poet peasant with royalist leanings, with his uncanny resemblance to the dead king, on the anniversary of his death. The hermit Queen, not seen in public for years, has her own anarchic and heroic leanings, owning a copy of the poet’s seemingly anti-monarchy poem. She both dispenses with and asserts class and court etiquette in dialogue with Stanislas – a fact which he gains courage to take advantage of, to both the Queen’s dismay and pleasure for she hates cowardice. He, nonetheless, recognises that it is all within the Queen’s gift and that she is “the axis around which all men must move”.
“You are in the presence of your Queen. Don’t forget it.”
But then comes the distinction, is he, or indeed she, against the office of the Queen, rather than the person? For it is the crown that wields the power, not the wearer alone. Who is to be assassinated, the idea or the individual? Typically French revolutionary political ideas mixed with high philosophy.
Stanislas: “I am not hating my Queen. I fell in love with a cause and let a cold idea ravish me. So that when I broke into your room I was nothing but a mad idea.”
As with the incognito Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s assassination in 1898, the assassin was attacking the system:
“I am an anarchist by conviction…I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social position; it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.” – De Burgh (1899). Elizabeth, empress of Austria: a memoir, pp326–327
Staging & Acting
The fast-paced three-act play opens with an opulent open stage, set in the round – well a square (squircle?), with raised seating on all four sides. The backdrop is a large piece of double-headed eagle art by local Russian artist Gennadiy Ivanov.
A live cellist, the excellent Ivan McCready, sits at one corner of the stage adding real musical backing overlays and that resonant wooden tone that only a cello provides.
I was sat on one of the four front rows, next to the cellist and to a card table that the Queen and leading actress sat at during the play, giving the audience a rare intimacy and experience of the action. And, action it was at times, with erotic embraces, intense thumping dialogue, and not a few near and acted deaths taking place at the audience’s feet.
The actors threw everything into their craft, faces were stretched, contorted, angry, impassioned, spitting, “acting without restraint” like a Jean Marais (Cocteau’s lover) in Les Parents Terribles. This was something Cocteau wanted to restore to modern theatre, including a reading of Hamlet within the play, “with as much violence as [Stanislas] put into [his] last insult.”
“The appearance of a comedian-tragedian is the great novelty of the theatre today. By exaggerating the comic lines he manages, without seeming ridiculous, to put on the sublime grimaces of which the screen deprives us.” – Jean Cocteau
Even the deaf and mute role of Queen’s servant was acted with strength, poise and dignity by Tawa Groombridge, despite the scripted abuse by another role.
The calmer role of courtly Baron, yet no less conniving, Chief of Police, was played by actor and executive producer, Peter Barrow, presenting a foil to the rollercoaster love and hate, life and death, of the other interplaying roles.
To be honest, the Queen (Tracey Catchpole) rightly steals the show as both actor and author of some of the best lines, including lengthy monologues, that are far from monotonous because of her range of presentation, and constant movement to ensure that all four sides of the audience can be played to. Tracey describes the role as a “gift of a part”.
In fact, the gifted part was meant to be that of Stanislas, since:
“The Eagle Has Two Heads was written…in part as a favor for Cocteau’s lover and favorite leading man, Jean Marais. Marais asked for a part in which he did not speak in Act One, shed tears of joy in Act Two and fell backwards down stairs in Act Three.” – The Harvard Crimson
The Harvard article goes on to compare Cocteau to David Lynch and The Eagle Has Two Heads, to Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks. Elsewhere, it has been compared to an inverted Beauty and the Beast!
Adam Edwards, does play Marais’ part well, but the stage presence and gravity of role mostly lie with the Queen’s lines. The to and fro of their interaction, the ebbing strength and weakness, love and morbidity, truly make the play stand up.
The Hostry play runs from the 23rd – 29th October – tickets here or via 01603 598676 (Theatre Royal box office).
The shift from pathologising terms like mental illness, disorder, nervous breakdown, has been gradual, and we are seeing more reference to mental health and wellbeing, differences, spectrum diversity etc. This has been a long time coming, since from 1-in-4 to 1-in-3 of us will experience a mental health condition or episode in our lives, if not more of us.
What keeps us from giving up?
The very tools of survival that I’ve learned to use to attempt to thrive rather than just die or dive back under the duvet covers actually aid all of us. They’re very basic, and not pharmaceutical, though some are chemical – or at least release the endorphins (endolphins as I like to call them) and oxytocin type chemistry that aids wellbeing.
When speaking at an event in London last weekend, I was asked how, “how do you keep going, how do you remain strong?” The answer, for me at least, is that I’m stubborn! Practically speaking, though, I talk and walk, and when it’s going well, I walk the talk.
Caring Talk Saves Lives
I talk to people, I talk to myself, to my thoughts – giving them voice and an opinion (but no power) at the table in my head, and I talk to my diary. Well, I write, I reflect, I repeat – yes, I realise that circumstances, feelings, moods, anxieties, they come round in repeating circles, and I begin to recognise that I survive, that I’m still here, despite my best efforts to end that.
I also walk, I get outside as often as I can. Although, that’s not often enough as insomnia and mood disorders often keep me in bed half the day. Inertia destroys all my best intentions. Last weekend, though, I managed something rare, to swim twice and walk 5 miles in a day, taking in my environment and the beauty of the world around me. Fresh air and exercise help, if only we can kick the black dog off long enough to get outside.
Being bipolar, my mood can shift drastically and quickly in the same day. I’ve learnt to be kind to myself, and to forgive, be in the moment, and treat or reward myself for getting stuff done that would otherwise pile up and compound my anxiety.
Laughter is good medicine
I’ve also learned to both respect my mental health conditions, and to healthily take the piss out of them – not others, not the suffering, not the issues, but to occasionally make light of them so that they have less of a hold over me.
Speaking of laughter – Stephen Fry has said of suicide:
“There is no ‘why’, it’s not the right question. There’s no reason. If there were a reason for it, you could reason someone out of it, and you could tell them why they shouldn’t take their own life”
He is spot on. Although every story is different, mine nearly ended 5 years ago, but I am happy to be here now.
Seeking help early before one is neither in the mood or position to seek help is important. Sadly, waiting lists are such that it can be a year or more wait for short dose CBT and that is often such a sticking plaster rather than a long-term improvement to wellbeing or coping.
I’m back in therapy for the second time in ten years, and it feels incredibly healthy. It’s not a sign of failure but of active involvement in one’s own health management.
MAD, BAD, GAD, and quite possibly SAD
I seem to collect three-letter-acronym conditions, so that I’ve been diagnosed with multiple Affective and Anxiety Disorders. Their intensity varies and sometimes I’m the boss, sometimes they try to be. Again, a diary helps me see that I do bounce (well hobble) back eventually, and they never, any longer, keep me down permanently.
Again, a diary helps me see that I do bounce (well hobble) back eventually, and they never, any longer – I hope, keep me down permanently.
A year on from the EU Referendum and Brexit Britain remains as divided as ever – inflation is up, nurses are down, hate crime is up, wages remain down, banks like HSBC, Barclays, Nomura are moving staff to Dublin and Frankfurt. With 2 years, at least, to go of this 3-10 year once-in-a-half-century change, one consensus is emerging – Britain, on the whole, is against “Hard Brexit“. Where is Theresa May steering Britannia, towards exactly that! What is Jeremy Corbyn doing? In words, he is against a hard Brexit, but in action, he is facilitating it, as more Shadow Cabinet MPs take a stand against Brexit, in favour of their Remain constituencies. Indeed, a new political party is needed, and is forming, to block Brexit or campaign for early re-entry, for it is clear that in a few years, if not now, the majority will swing once more in favour of EU membership, as a majority of people under 45, businesses, and Londoners – the engine of economic Britain’s prosperity, already desire.
Latest Polling Statistics
85% of youth want to remain in EU
80% of Londoners want to maintain the same rights
66% think “No Deal” would be a “Bad Deal”
60% of Britons now want to stay EU citizens
58% are against leaving the EU without a deal
55% are in favour of a “soft” Brexit
55% think a coalition of parties should negotiate with EU
51% would now vote remain, against 49% for leave
48% are in favour and 43% against a referendum on EU deal
45% think Leaving is wrong decision, 44% the right decision
44% more people think we should fight to Remain in EU than 2 weeks ago (36% v 25%)
37% have confidence in the PM’s ability to negotiate Brexit
31% expect a poor deal, 26% a good EU deal & 15% no deal
22% think that the government is doing a good job on Brexit
37% of the UK (those who voted Leave) have made this BrexitShambles happen, but perhaps the fault lies with 100% of the Tory decision makers who created the situation and the naively simple “Yes/No” referendum when it is clear that people had more complex questions they wanted answering, i.e., immigration, sovereignty, trade, justice, education, arts/science/cultural exchange, reciprocal EU rights etc.
Rights of EU Citizens living in the UK
“73% of voters would like either to protect or extend the rights that current citizens from other EU countries have to vote in the UK; 48% wanted to see the right to vote extended from local elections to general elections, while 25% wished to keep the status quo. Only 10% supported the government’s position of withdrawing EU citizens’ right to vote in local elections.” – The Guardian
The Brexit Gamble
Brexit remains a gamble, and one we are losing. We are bargaining with our citizens, youth, businesses, and EU workers. The tide is turning towards remaining or at least avoiding Hard Brexit. If not now, then in 5-10 years, the increasing youth vote and decreasing elderly vote would ensure a majority want EU membership. A short term decision last year to avoid Tory votes being lost to UKIP will have lasting repercussions on people at the beginnings of their educational, cultural, and economic working lives. We need to think about the future, not the past.