Bodily autonomy: confessions of a transsexual sex worker

From The Independent UK:

By Paris Lees
Monday, 18 June 2012

When Channel 4 screened Ria: Diary of a Teen Transsexual last Tuesday I was prepared for ignorant comments. I didn’t predict though that criticism towards 17 year old Ria would focus so heavily on her sex work. I was invited to meet her as part of the documentary, to show her that there’s light at the end of the transsexual tunnel. When I learned she was turning tricks I rolled my eyes and said “Ooh you little scamp!”. I identified with her (infer away) and hoped she was safe, naturally, but it wasn’t really any of my, well… business.

I was unimpressed with a flurry of comments I saw on Facebook which condemned Ria’s massage parlour job as “morally wrong”. The commenters were otherwise supportive of her transition; a bizarre case of “We don’t mind you letting a doctor reshape your genitals, but you’re not allowed to rent them”. Some defended her with the rather sweet, but utterly condescending I-was-no-angel-at-her-age-we-all-do-stupid-things argument. What about students who fund their university education through sex work? Are they stupid? And why can’t we be angels and promiscuous? And who, precisely, are these perfect people passing judgement on others? It makes me feel like going out on the beat, just so I can report back how deliciously unashamed I am.

We’re all judgemental at times. I once had a friend who enjoyed sticking hooks in his back and hanging from the ceiling; apparently this induces euphoria. I think it’s repulsive. That is not, however, the same as believing it to be wrong, which I don’t. And what exactly does “wrong” mean anyway? It’s a suspiciously slippery concept. All we really have are the consequences of our actions – in my friend’s case, stretched back-skin. That’s no skin off my nose though.

In addition to “wrong” I’m also wary of “why”. Many trans people have low self-esteem from living in a culture that repeatedly tells us we are unattractive, that we are inferior, that we are worth less. Combined with an ambivalent relationship towards one’s body, horrendous employment discrimination and a youthful libido, it’s easy to see why many young trans women turn to prostitution.

It’s true that Ria is only 17, and I don’t dismiss that there are often many down sides to working in the sex industry. However, in cases where it is both consensual and free from abuse, we shouldn’t judge people who have sex for money any more than we should judge those who have gay sex, group sex or phone sex. It’s just human behaviour. I’m far more interested in why people wish to condemn it.

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You Say You’re a Woman? That Should Be Enough

From The New York Times:

Published: June 17, 2012

The International Olympic Committee’s new policy governing sex verification is expected to ban women with naturally high testosterone levels, a condition known as hyperandrogenism, from women’s competitions, claiming they have an unfair advantage. I.O.C. officials portray this as a reasonable compromise in a difficult situation, arguing that the rules may be imperfect, but that sports are rule-based — and that the rules should be clear.

We agree that sports need clear rules, but we also believe that the rules should be fair and as rational as possible. The new policy, if it is based on testosterone levels, is neither.

So what is a better solution?

First, at the very least, female athletes should be allowed to compete throughout any investigation. Suspending them from competition once questions are raised violates their confidentiality and imposes sanctions before relevant information has been gathered.

Second, when it comes to sex, sports authorities should acknowledge that while science can offer evidence, it cannot dictate what evidence we should use. Scientifically, there is no clear or objective way to draw a bright line between male and female.

Testosterone is one of the most slippery markers that sports authorities have come up with yet. Yes, average testosterone levels are markedly different for men and women. But levels vary widely depending on time of day, time of life, social status and — crucially — one’s history of athletic training. Moreover, cellular responses range so widely that testosterone level alone is meaningless.

Testosterone is not the master molecule of athleticism. One glaring clue is that women whose tissues do not respond to testosterone at all are actually overrepresented among elite athletes.

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N.C. Democrats choose first transgender in diverse DNC delegation

From WCNC News:

by Carmen Cusido
June 17, 2012

RALEIGH N.C. —  Democrats on Saturday selected the remainder of the party’s 158-member delegation to September’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. And they did it with an emphasis on diversity.

Among those picked Saturday: Janice Covington of Charlotte, the first openly transgender person to serve as a Democratic delegate from the state.“It’s important to my community – to the whole LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community” – to be a part of the convention, Covington, 64, said. “We’ve always been left off the bus. Transgenders have always been the redheaded stepchildren.”

Ninety-three N.C. delegates were chosen at district-wide conventions in May. They’ll be among 6,000 delegates at the convention in Charlotte, including alternates.

The delegation also emphasizes youth, party officials said.

“As soon as we knew that the convention was going to be in Charlotte, we really, really wanted to give young people an opportunity to be involved,” said Sam Spencer, 27, president of the state Young Democrats. “The people in leadership wanted this to be the most youth-friendly convention in Democratic history.”

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Preparing for the Trans Baby Boom

From RH Reality Check:

by Miriam Pérez,
June 18, 2012

Two weeks ago I attended the 11th annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, a gathering of individuals, advocates and health providers focused on health topics for trans and gender non-conforming people. At the same conference two years ago, I was the sole doula on a panel about parenting while trans and gender non-conforming — and the only person at the conference talking specifically about pregnancy and birth. This year, we had an entire panel dedicated to the topic, with four trans and genderqueer-identified birth workers — two midwives and two doulas.

This shift in attention toward the issues facing trans and gender non-conforming pregnancy is indicative of a bigger shift overall — more and more trans and gender non-conforming people are giving birth. As Pati Garcia, a Los Angeles doula and midwife-in-training put it during our panel: “We’re on the cusp on a trans baby boom.”

Trans health as an overall field is still in its nascency. Our understanding of hormone therapies, gender reassignment surgeries, and much more is still being developed, so it’s no surprise that the field of pregnancy and parenting for trans people is also new and developing. Only in November of last year did the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) issue a statement regarding treatment of trans patients. It says:

To address the significant health care disparities of transgender individuals and to improve their access to care, ob-gyns should prepare to provide routine treatment and screening or refer them to other physicians, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College). In a Committee Opinion published today, The College also states its opposition to gender identity discrimination and supports both public and private health insurance coverage for gender identity disorder treatment.

It was heartening to see the governing body of this field of medicine acknowledge the needs of the trans community in regards to gynecological and obstetric care, but also indicates the bigger problem beneath that call to arms: very few providers are equipped to provide care to the trans community. If their association has to implore them to simply treat trans patients fairly, their members aren’t likely receiving training on the needs of trans people specifically. While there is a growing body of providers who specialize in care for the trans community, they remain a tiny minority. Those who do provide such care might specialize in hormone therapies, or gender reassignment surgeries, but not necessarily care like pap smears and pregnancy.

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If We Rooted Out Misogyny in Our Society, Could We Finally End Bullying?

From Huffington Post:


I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio in a “Brady Bunch” 1960/1970s suburban atmosphere and attended the same Catholic school from grade 1 through 12. I remember knowing very early on, even before I had a word for it, that I was gay. In order to thrive and survive I also knew early on that I had to keep some of myself hidden from public view for fear of being beaten up and ridiculed. I was aware that boys who were effeminate were considered “less than,” and that I would need to assimilate until I was able to leave Ohio for the big city.

As a boy, I was certainly “different” and struggled with being called names. I think, though, that I was mostly spared what many gay kids experience, because I knew deep down that I needed to “act straight” in order to fit in. I even courted the bullies in my school as a way to protect myself from being pointed out as a “fag.” It seems in retrospect that I was pretending to be someone else for most of my childhood and adolescence.

It wasn’t until I was 16 or so that I began to express myself and experiment a bit under the guise of the New Wave music movement (Adam Ant eyeliner and punky hair). I came out quite young for my generation. I told my folks that I was gay right before graduating from high school, which was kept a secret from the rest of the family until I left to attend Harvard University in the fall of 1981.

In my day, as they say, it was understood that boys were not to express themselves, and that if you weren’t made of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, then you were somehow not normal and not to be included. Instead of today’s gay-straight alliance, my Catholic boys’ school had boxing and wrestling as part of our gym program, and very little in the way of arts or creative encouragement.

In today’s culture, the opportunities for young people to express themselves are infinite. Diversity is celebrated, and the issues are openly discussed. There are incredible organizations, like the Trevor Project, that are available to young LGBTQ kids to provide a safety net and social network. One would think that it’s safer to grow up gay today than in the 1970s.

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Millions of working families one push from penury, Guardian research finds

From The Guardian UK:

Findings that 2.2m children live in households on economic cliff-edge challenge coalition claim people are better off in work, Monday 18 June

Almost 7 million working-age adults are living in extreme financial stress, one small push from penury, despite being in employment and largely independent of state support, according to the most comprehensive study yet of the finances of employed households, commissioned by the Guardian.

Unlike the “squeezed middle”, these 3.6m British households have little or no savings, nor equity in their homes, and struggle at the end of each month to feed themselves and their children adequately. They say they are unable to cope on their current incomes and have no assets to fall back on, leaving them vulnerable to something as simple as an unexpectedly large fuel bill.

The findings challenge the argument made by the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, who said last week that parents should get a job to ensure their children are not brought up in poverty.

“These figures are a mega-indictment on the mantra of both political parties, that work is the route out of poverty,” said Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead and former welfare minister who is now the coalition’s poverty tsar. “What’s shocking about this is that these are people who want to work and are working but who, despite putting their faith in the politicians’ mantra, find themselves in another cul-de-sac. Recent welfare cuts and policy changes make it difficult to advise these people where they should turn to get out of it: it really is genuinely shocking.”

This group are “traditionally proud, self-reliant, working people”, said Bruno Rost, head of Experian Public Sector, who used more than 400 variables from Experian’s database and government research to identify those belonging to At-Risk Britain. After removing from the research households in the “most deprived” categories, Rost’s team focused on those working but are nevertheless suffering high levels of financial stress.

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Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment

From Common Dreams:

by John Atcheson
Published on Monday, June 18, 2012 by Common Dreams

We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world.  We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.

Much of what has made the modern world in general, and the United States in particular, a free and prosperous society comes directly from insights that arose during the Enlightenment.

Too bad we’re chucking it all out and returning to the Dark Ages.


Two main things distinguished the post Enlightenment world from the pre Enlightenment Dark Ages.

First, Francis Bacon’s Novo Organum Scientiarum (The New Instrument of Science) introduced a new way of understanding the world, in which empiricism, facts and … well … reality … defined what was real. It essentially outlined the scientific method:  observation and data collection, formulation of hypotheses, experiments designed to test hypotheses and elevation of these hypotheses to theories when data consistently supported them.  It was and is a system based on skepticism, and a relentless and methodical search for truth.

It brought us advances and untold wealth and health.  From one-horse carts to automobiles to airplanes. From leaches and phrenology to penicillin and monoclonal antibodies.

Until recently.

Now, we seek to operate by revealed truths, not reality.  Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists, self-interested corporations, and greedy fat cats – are offered up as reality by rightwing politicians.

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