Genetic basis of gender found. Again.

There is a social stigma that transsexualism is simply a lifestyle choice; however, our findings support a biological basis of how gender identity develops.
(Dr. V. Harley, Prince Henry Inst. of Medical Research, Melbourne)

Again researchers claim to have found the cause of male to female transsexualism. As usual it would be a genetic deviation. But even this is presupposing too few androgens makes you female (or gay!). But how realistic is this discovery? Does it really provide the answer to where trans* comes from?

Dr. Vincent Harley of Melbourne’s Prince Henry Institute states that male-to-female transsexualism is caused by chromosomal under-masculinisation because of a defective AR gene. He analysed the DNA analysis of 112 transsexuals, and came to the above mentioned conclusion.

Picture of the Androgen Recpetor gene NR3C4

Even if Dr. Harley can convince the sceptics, there are a couple of problems with his idea. His statement “There is a biological basis for gender” needs clarification. Does he then say trans* is a form of gender in its own right, and not an “error” that needs to be fixed? Does he mean with “gender” the difference between men and women? But what difference then? We already know that genes and hormones play a role with gendered development.

Would he mean difference in abilities and behaviours then? That would be a trickier statement. Quite some scientists from different branches of science  (neuroscientists,  psychologists, biologists already have disproved the significance of these differences.

The fundamental differences between men and women, and between male and female bodies are hardly big enough to say that differences are absolute. Slowly we come to recognise there is virtually no absolute difference between men and women, males and females. Recent research shows many many differences between men and women  are bigger within the respective groups than between the groups. Further what makes a man, a woman? Are there non-transsexual males with serious lack of testosterone in the womb? Do they all identify as women then? But to most medical, biological or genetic scientists this has not yet trickled down. They still think the holy grail of gender lies in the genes, or in the brain. *Bzzzt*. *Wrong*. There is no Holy Grail. Even the church recognizes more than one grail, so ….

Since Dr. Harley talks not just about trans*, but also about gender, it is perfectly justified to talk about more than trans*, about the suspected base of transgender.

What does science talk about when it talks about sex (if we take that as the next barrier to take in order to analyse what makes men and women, thus also trans* people – in common parlance). Sex thus. But which element of it? Chromosomes? Gonads? Genitals? Hormones? As prof. dr. Annemarie Mol says “science doesn’t know what it is talking about when it talks about sex”.

Of course Dr. Harley isn’t that bold in his scientific findings, and more research must be done to find out the full consequence of the finding. But in his media appearances he is more adamant. And then I am under the  impression he doesn’t know the difference between sex and gender.

Cover of the book Brain Storm

And with Brain Storm by Rebecca Jordan-Young who debunks a lot of brain sex science, we have enough reason to doubt the quality of thís research.

Mensenrechtenrapportage 2013

Er is weer een jaar voorbij en het College voor de rechten van de Mens in Nederland vraagt  weer om input voor de jaarlijkse rapportage. Hier is de onze.

Geacht College,

Evenals vorig jaar willen wij u deelgenoot maken van onze zorgen op het gebied van de naleving van mensenrechten in Nederland. Continue reading

Allemaal angst

Ik hoor het huidige zorgmodel voor transmensen nogal eens verdedigd worden met het argument dat men de patiënt wil beschermen. Behoeden voor fouten. En ook dat een arts zeker wil kunnen zijn dat de persoon in kwestie het meent en niet in een opwelling besluit. Nou is die angst begrijpelijk, maar de oplossing is dat niet.

Eigenlijk komt een groot deel van de zorgen van de medici voor autonome transen voort uit angst en onbegrip. Angst voor verlies aan werk en autoriteit ook. En zeker ook angst voor mensen die besluiten nemen waar ze later op terug komen en waarvoor ze dan vervolgens de arts voor de tuchtraad slepen. Dat is traumatisch voor de arts, wanneer deze zhaar best heeft gedaan goed werk te leveren op expliciet verzoek.
En onbegrip omdat men transmensen niet begrijpt. Men heeft er niets over geleerd tijdens de studie pyschologie/psychiatrie/geneeskunde. En meestal is dat wat men eventueel leert erg achterhaald: pas dit jaar is het denken officieel wat opgeschoven met de nieuwe DSM.

 

056Een trans* patiënt hoeft niet beter beschermd te worden dan een niet-trans* patiënt. Zoals een Franse patiënt niet beter beschermd hoeft te worden dan een Nederlandse. Wanneer een arts zorgen heeft omtrent de geestelijke gezondheid van de patiënt omdat deze niet stabiel overkomt, is die geestelijke stabiliteit het probleem. NIet dat die persoon trans* is. En dan dient men zich af te vragen: als ik een zwaar bezorgde patiënt voor een blindedarm ingreep, of een kankeroperatie binnenkrijg, zou ik daarbij ook eerst van een psycholoog een verklaring omtrent zhaar welzijn willen? Dat iets cultureel beladen is, is nog geen reden om extra controle te vragen.

Verder heeft iedereen het recht op fouten. Hoe cynisch dat ook moge klinken. Maar het is goed mogelijk dat de trans* persoon die uit de kast komt niet zeker is. Identiteit ontwikkelt zich ook. Holebi’s zijn ook vaak helemaal niet zeker als ze uit de kast komen, en doen dat vaak pas als ze een vriend/in/g krijgen, terwijl ze hun anders-zijn al veel langer voelen. ZIj hoeven niet langs de psycholoog, zijn niet meer ‘ziek’. En van niet uit de kast komen, niet waarachtig leven, kun je ook spijt krijgen. Zoals van trouwen, of juist niet trouwen. Van kinderen krijgen, of juist niet aan kinderen beginnen. Wie zal zeggen dat het altijd goed gaat? Ik zou bijna zeggen: ook transen hebben recht op ongelukkig zijn, op fouten maken. En het is zeker niet aan de staat of de medische wereld ons daar per definitie voor te proberen te behoeden. Of moeten mensen die kinderen willen ook eerst langs de psycholoog of de seksuoloog? Wie gaat trouwen langs iemand die hun liefde test?

Wat betreft die angst voor zelf besluiten, voor vervolging omdat men ‘de verkeerde’ heeft geholpen: daar zitten een paar rare dingen aan. Ten eerste, is  informed consent dringend gewenst, een voorwaarde zelfs. met of zonder psycholoog, als degene om wie het gaat niet snapt waar zhe mee bezig is, houdt het verhaal überhaupt op. En ten tweede, voor ingrijpende medische behandelingen wordt een patiënt wel vaker langs een medisch psycholoog gestuurd.

Wanneer de samenleving ophoudt spastisch te doen over trans*mensen zal het lijden ook sterk afnemen. Tenslotte wordt het lijden voor een groot deel veroorzaakt door hoe de wereld tegen ons aankijkt. En wij als deel van die wereld hebben opgepikt dat het niet goed is om zo te zijn. Stopt met spastisch doen en join the revolution. Wij zijn hooguit een bedreiging voor je mentale status quo. Zut alors.

Hierarchy in Human Rights?

On Friday january 25 I attended the 25 year anniversary of the Dutch Helsinki Committee (NHC). Several important people held speeches, and they were interesting. But it also confronted me with a question.

The anniversary was celebrated with a one day conference themed “The future of human rights in Europe” with several eminent speakers and or workshop leaders. Council of Europe Commissioner Nils Mužinieks held a keynote speech full of “doom and gloom” but also with a bit hopeful conclusions. strategic consultant Dirk Steen (ex global planning Amnesty) gave some very interesting possible scenarios for the year 2020; One where the bankers finally have been arrested, production is localized thanks to 3D printing and energy is solar, or aeolic. Or a doom scenario: The Greek crisis continues in the rest of Europe, dictatorships on the rise, unemployment on the rise everywhere, censorship and surveillance on Internet business of the day … A global sociopolitical economic SWOT. The future might lie with “Occupy 2.0”, the Young Angry Women. An organized and coordinated fight with the powers that be. Interesting to see the reactions in the audience on the different scenarios.

Much was spoken on the collapse of the (western) economies, the barbaric contemporary capitalism, the rising racism in Greece and Hungary, the dangers for the constitutional state … Very important.

There were workshops on EU human rights strategy, on the situation of the Roma people, transitional justice, the problems of migration politics in Europe (what we did not learn). Masterclasses on the European court and on anti terrorism and human rights. And there was one workshop on sex work and trafficking, plus a lecture on LGBT human rights work in Europe.

25 yrs Dutch Helsinki Committee

That brings me to my observation: there was very little attention for sexual and reproductive rights. Nor for gender related issues. The sex work workshop was good, considerably more positive for sex workers rights than I had imagined beforehand. But it was only about women in sex work, so a limited perspective. I brought the trans perspective in (many many trans people are doing sex work for some time in their life). A perspective of gender and power was not clearly present. But I think the many attendants found it a useful or informative workshop. The lecture on LBGT human rights as human rights was a useful summing up of the recently created human rights ‘jurisprudence” and soft law, statements by high-placed functionaries. But hardly a thing more than this enumeration.

This makes me wonder: is it so difficult to bring women’s rights, LBGTIQ human rights, sexual and reproductive health issues into the mainstream human rights discourse? Why do issues about sex, gender and sexuality always stand apart? Only when mass rape is used as a weapon of mass terrorization in a war, sex and sexuality enter mainstream discourse. Is this because of judicial or political unease?

Of course there is the recent CoE convention combating and preventing Violence against Women. Very young still, not much signatories yet (Turkey, being the host country, ironically the first state to ratify it). Mužinieks thinks it has a great future. Further practically it is best to use the entry way of combating and preventing hate speech and hate crime. And to get ombudsmen cooperating. They are many times very silent. The European approach is to take measures close to home, whereas the UN system is more of global and regular, regulated control instances. But still, to me that does not explain why sex, gender and sexuality issues stay outside mainstream human rights discourse, that does take racism as an issue.

Consultatie Mensenrechteninstituut

College rechten vd mensAfgelopen weekend heb ik de internetconsultatie van het College voor de rechten van de mens ingevuld met de volgende bijdrage over systematische, structurele en ernstige mensenrechtenschendingen in Nederland:

Ik wou graag uw aandacht richten op twee punten van ernstige en structurele punten van mensenrechtenschending in Nederland die voor velen helaas niet vanzelfsprekend zijn en nog steeds maatschappelijke weerstand oproepen (de groepen wier rechten geschonden worden, niet de schendingen).

Als eerste groep wijs ik u op de Roma en Sinti in Nederland. Een aanzienlijke groep van hen leeft als statenloos en heeft dus geen goede toegang tot de maatschappij. Door hen niet te erkennen wordt hun recht op onderwijs, goede gezondheidszorg, een veilige woonplaats, vrijheid van discriminatie, onthouden. Ze behoren – in heel Europa – tot de meest gediscrimineerde, slechtst opgeleide en meest verwaarloosde, gecriminaliseerde groepen. Evenals de tweede groep die ik ga noemen, worden zij om hun zo-zijn, hun etniciteit i.c., gediscrimineerd.

De tweede groep waar ik aandacht voor vraag, om gelijke ernstige en structurele mensenrechtenschending is de groep mensen die zich niet thuis voelt in de hen toegewezen genderrol en identiteit. Zij zijn bekend onder de naam transgenders. Arbeidsdiscriminatie is groot 40% van de gemeten populatie zit zonder werk (WW,Wajong, WIA). Het percentage tentamen suicide is extreem hoog, en om officieel in de ‘juiste’ geslachtsrol te kunnen leven moet men een tijdrovend en kostbaar medisch en juridisch proces doorlopen. Deels wordt aan verandering gewerkt, deel niet. Het volgende grote probleem hierbij is de verplichte man/vrouw indeling, waar niet iedereen in past omdat niet iedereen man of vrouw is.

Transgenderzorg biedt geen ‘maatwerk’, sluit niet aan bij behoeften en gaat uit van pathologiserende ideeën. Niet uit vergoedingsoverwegingen, maar uit geloof daarin. Het verantwoordelijk ministerie VWS is niet van zins om daar verandering in aan te brengen. Het recht op goede zorg wordt met voeten getreden, zonder dat daar fatsoenlijke redenen voor worden aangedragen.

Ook worden transgenders hun huis of wijk uit gepest waarmee hun recht op wonen geschonden wordt. Discriminatie om wie ze zijn is veelvuldig aanwezig.

 

Als bronnen draag ik de volgende rapporten aan:

1. Tussen wal en schip. Staatloze Roma in Nederland. Justitia et pax 2012

2. Worden wie je bent. Het leven van transgenders in Nederland. SCP 2012

3. Trans and intersex people. Discrimination on the grounds of sex. gender identity and gender expression. EC, 2012

Busy first year for Vreerwerk

Looking back at 2012 I can say: we have been busy! We have started some important advocacy, wrote about essential problems  and initiated quite some discussions. The activities consisted mostly of writing, discussing, lecturing, training. Continue reading

Bestellen Vreerwerk materialen

De eenvoudigste manier om de brochure “Transgender: wat is daar nou ziek aan” of anders een gender changer te bestellen, is via dit formulier. Geef aan hoeveel exemplaren je wilt (van wat) en vul je adres in.

gender changer (with leather lace)(€10+porto)

Brochure (€7,50+porto)

 

 

 

 

 

 

De brochure valt ook gratis te downloaden via deze link

Speech at Remembrance Day 2012 in Amsterdam

Good evening everyone

For who does not know me, I am Vreer. I am a long time trans genderqueer community organizer here in Amsterdam and I am also speaking as a Steering Committee member for Transgender Europe.

Today is November 20, 2012. The fourteenth time that Transgender Remembrance Day is held. The seventh time in the Netherlands. Here it was started by then Queer Collective “The Noodles”, later on taken over by Transgender Network Netherlands. This is the first local edition, done by United Trans Activists for Change. Coming Saturday a national ceremony will be held in Groningen.

Since five years the number of victims of transphobic murders worldwide is counted. This is the work of the Transgender Europe project called “Transrespect versus Transphobia”. From the start of the counting we know of 1085 murders in countries all over the world. We also know this number of 1085, of whom 265 have been killed this year, is only the tip of the iceberg.

 There is no country in thee world that really, concretely respects trans people as the human beings we are. In the Netherlands we only had two killings – that we know of: In July 2005 Irene Thumassangh got murdered at home in Amsterdam, by her ex-colleague who got convicted. April 2007 Harry/Henriëtte Wiersinga got attacked on Spui in The Hague and dies in the hospital of his/her injuries. The attacker got acquitted.

(c) Irene Hemelaar

Many trans people live precarious lives, with high risks and dangers, like Irene. Others ware in the wrong time on the wrong place, like Harry/Henriette. Some die just because the “true sex” of their sex partner/lover that they panicked and beat them up with a fire extinguisher. As happened Angie Zapata from Greeley Colorado. We won’t forget you Angie. As happened to Brandon Teena, from Humboldt Nebraska, who is one of the few trans men among the victims. We don’t forget you either Brandon. Others here may have reminiscence of different victims.

Many times the most cruel and atrocious killings befall us. Us as gender variant people, because this is not only about trans* and in that sense it is very fitting to be at the Homomonument.

We see it in South Africa where lesbians are killed in very personal ways, where they are submitted to “corrective rape” as the perpetrators call it.

We saw it in 2009 with Jorge Steven Lopez in Cayey, Puerto Rico. Only 19 years old, his killers decapitated him, dismembered him, and set his remains on fire.

We see it in Turkey where most have to do sex work to survive and if they are lucky only get fined for walking in the street. If they are unlucky they get stabbed or shot.

We see it here, where you get scolded or beaten up if you are too feminine for a man or too masculine for a woman. Where trans people still get ridiculed and have to pass through a mental health diagnosis to get recognition – and not as trans* but as wrongly embodied man or woman.

The recent report by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research shows it is a long way to go before we reach equality with the mainstream population. Now trans people commit ten times as often suicide attempts as the non LGBT population; have four times less a job, are more often poor and with a high education at the same time.

If you happen to be a person of color or have a disability and you are trans*, life often is even worse. Trans people find themselves between thee same rock and a hard place as many other non- standard people and that has little to do with the crisis. It has far more to do with this patriarchal and capitalist society that is actively constructed to exclude Others, who do not belong to the idealised gay or straight but mostly white ‘majority’.

Transgender Remembrance Day began with the murder of Rita Hester on November 28, 1998, and the pickets around the death of Chanelle Picket 20th of November 1995 that sparked a series of actions. The first murders that led to actions were black American trans women. Still it is the case that as a poor African American trans woman engaged in sex work – living among the outcasts – you run a very high risk of getting killed. Or beaten up for that matter. Native American and Alaskan natives in the US run an even higher risk as members of an ethnic minority. In other countries the indigenous population is also overly represented among the victims of transphobia. Extreme transphobia works together with racism.

 In some countries it gets better. The Netherlands will get better legislation for trans people. Most probably not good enough, but still way better. More countries are getting legislation at all for gender recognition. With Ireland stalling and stalling .. almost all recently joined countries in the EU have some form of gender recognition, but Ireland has none and is not willing to have decent legislation. But the best example comes from Argentina where you practically can walk up to the civil registry and announce your gender wish to getit granted (as long as it is male or female). And your right to trans specific health care is guaranteed. We hope and fight that soon the world will be a better place for all of us “deviant” people. After all:

 All the freaky people make the beauty of the world.

Intersex Awareness Day

November 8 is international Intersex Awareness Day. The objective is to attract attention for the rights of intersex people and the torture they have to undergo in many cases. Intersex people are people with rights. Rights that are being trodden as soon as your status is discovered. Intersex is the theatre of very strong medico-moral interventions. Since last century the debate fluctuates between acknowledging the intersex person’s feelings or the medical opinion, fixing sex in the direction the doctor thinks best or listening to the patient. Continue reading

Horror over gender confusion

Transgender Netwerk Nederland quotes the recent results of RutgersWPF’s ongoing resarch into sexual health in the Netherlands and mentions the facts that:

  • 57,3% of the respondents abhor gender confusion when confronted with someone: people should be clearly recognisable as male or female.
  • 20% of the respondents prefers not to have contact with transgender people
  • for 9% it would be a reason to disconnect, to break friendship
These are alarming statistics. Also probably only valid for the best known sub category of “transsexuals”. The statistics quite well indicate how gender variant persons feel on the streets. Even more they indicate the enormity of ignorance and the importance of the cisgender norm, one has to present clearly as male or female. Also straight is still  preferred over other preferences of sexuality and gender expression. This is a undesirable situation.
It is also a known fact that 90% of Dutch population is supportive of homosexuality as such, has no problems with the concept and people being homosexual. However as soon as it comes close, when it refers to e.g. two men kissing, acceptance drops to a mere 60%. Non straight behaviour is not automatically accepted.
The reasons for this lie in the behaviour of the mass media, the education system, the parents, government, all judging non-normative gender experessions (among which I largely count homosexuality also) negatively. Look at the effort it takes to get good gender and sexuality education in the schools. Recently the minister of Education in the Netherlands warned it would be a year later that homosexuality and transgender would be part of regular sex ed curriculum in secondary education. Immediate pressure from civil society and parliament changed this delay to a minimum (three months probably, so still in the coming school year). After years of struggle to get this accepted as an educational “core value” anyway. Then still it is not guaranteed all pupils will learn that all sex and gender expressions value equally, cis as much as trans, gay lesbian and bisexual as much as straight.

Years ago already the Netherlands has signed up to the obligation to work on this issue. When in 1991 ratifying the UN Women’s Treaty (11 years after signing!) the obligation to battle gender stereotypes entered into force. With the latest periodic review of CEDAW the shadow report also was reason for the Committee to comment the Netherlands on this issue. But still Dutch government is not willing to disaggregate discrimination data and change policy to pay more attention to gender roles and inequality. Thus the Netherlands has a positive obligation to immediately create policy on this issue, and not only through educating school going youth but precisely by funding gender emancipation.

It would be commendable if Dutch gender organisations like Transgender Network, Transvisie and COC next to fulfilling their educational role would really work to end this cisgender straight normativity. They have an obligation to work explicitly for gender diversity. Which is more than explain gender variance exists and people may have different gender expressions and identities (which in some circles already is revolutionary). It means actively engage in de(con)structing existing norms.

Trans people wanting to stay in the closet or move from one authorized closet to the other one is all but strange in such a climate. Perceivable difference may be risky. Half of the population questions your life. Which isn’t exactly good for your mental health. At the same time visible gender diversity is of utmost importance to a healthy society. Pushing away waht is undesirable leads to violence, discrimination and stress with the victims. Such we saw clearly with homosexuality. Probably the SCP (Dutch Bureau for Social Research) report coming up later this year on state of of transgender in the Netherlands will show the same for trans people. A report by the Dutch Bureau for Statistics already did so on the issue of trans and work.

In my opinion there also is a moral or political obligation for trans people and gender variant people not hide. Otherwise there is no way to live freely, you waive quite some rights and the bullies get still their way.

For companies and other organisations this means they must take gender diversity seriously. Just like ethnic and racial diversity. A ‘colourful’ work population is good for creativity and only with a certain presence of Others the climate on the job changes. Which shouldn’t be that difficult.