Hey, Shakers, I’m back after being MIA these two weeks from Shakesville. I’ve missed everyone!
So much has been happening in Dublin, I’ve been running myself ragged in my “free time” and haven’t had a chance to stay fully caught up on things around Shakesville, much less the news.
It all started to get busy after the decision by the Irish State to re-issue the Leaving Cert of an unnamed Irish transsexual in her new female name.
“Leaving Certs” are more or less the Irish equivalent of high school diplomas, only much harder to obtain as they require a battery of gruelling oral and written tests at the end of the last year of secondary school. A person’s Leaving Cert” scores determine not only which college, university or trade school they can attend, but which subject they are allowed to study.
Courses such as Medicine and Law (both of which can be entered at undergraduate level in Ireland), Physiotherapy, Veterinary science, and Architecture all require points in the high 500s, for example Medicine in University College Cork requires 580 [out of a possible total 600] points (a score of equivalent to over 2300 in the SATs or 3 As in the A levels. [From Wikipedia. Emphasis mine.]
In short, leaving certs are very important in Ireland and the decision to allow this unknown trannie to change hers was a big deal. Hopefully, the legal precedent will pressure Irish universities to follow suit, as they currently have a mixed record when it comes to correcting degrees for transsexuals. Also, may it further the effort to change the law regarding birth certificates–Ireland is the only country where trannies can’t change them.
It would have been too much to ask, I suppose, for such a significant decision to go by without some response from the Right. The form it took, however, caught me by surprise: an opinion piece by a regular columnist in the widely read “Weekend Review,” section of the Irish Times, published two weeks ago on June 2nd.
The Times is Ireland’s “paper of record,” and as such, has a reputation for being open-minded. Not as open-minded as it used to be before current editor-in-chief, Geraldine Kennedy, took over in 2002. Still, it’s a far cry from being a sleazy, sensationalist tabloid. Which is why I was surprised by the tone of the column.
Written by Ann Marie Hourihane—whom I’d never read or noticed before—the piece was politely worded but dripping with snide analogies and smug insinuations. In fact, precisely because it was in such a respected paper, didn’t sound like it was written by a raving-lunatic like Ian Paisley Jr, and was sort of “hip” in tone, I consider it all the more damaging. I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry when writing something as I was when I wrote a response to it.
Hourihane’s piece begins:
Last week, a middle-aged woman tried to change her past. Not the first middle-aged woman to try it – my friends have been hiding their wedding photos, and a whole lot of other things, for years – but one of the few in this country to have succeeded.
This woman – we do not know her name, her age or whether she is currently living in Ireland – was born male. It was as a male that she sat her Intermediate, Group and Leaving Cert examinations. Time passed, and she became one of what the World Health Organisation (Who) calls “people with gender identity disorders”.
In other words, the boy wanted to become a woman. To this end, he changed his name by deed poll and underwent treatment to change his sex.
“Time passed and she became”….like, what, lightening struck without warning from above? Or was it after striving and working for years to gain the proper qualifications, she could then call herself a transsexual? Or perhaps it was like being stricken with an grave, increasingly debilitating illness?
The one thing it wasn’t like was a person struggling through confusion, pain, self-hatred and extreme discomfort with her body and gender-role in society until finally, she figured out what her condition was called and discovered hope that it could be treated and resolved.
Then you have that whole “the boy wanted to become a woman.” How condescending and misleading can a person bloody well be?! And do it with a smile!
I stayed up until 3 a.m. that first night composing a response, which I wrote as a column of roughly equal length, confident that Ireland’s paper of record would offer space to the spokesperson of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) to balance such biased and misleading coverage. (My work with TENI is purely voluntary and has recently, especially in the past two weeks, assumed the proportions of a second, part-time job.)
I spent the first week engaged in frustrating, time-consuming emails and telephone calls trying to get the Times to publish the piece—all carefully accomplished off work time. I coordinated my efforts with TENI’s chairperson and my friend, Victoria Mullen—who on the same day I submitted my piece, sent a Letter to the Editor that was published in shortened (“butchered” to quote Victoria) form in the Wednesday June 6th edition of the Times.
One week ago on Sunday the 10th, I gave up on the idea that we’d be offered column-space—short of registering a formal complaint against the paper, which I wasn’t prepared to do. I decided to accept the Time’s offer of further space on the Letters to the Editor page, and to that end, rewrote my piece, cutting its length by half. I resubmitted it and the Times published it on the 12th, respecting my request to not cut it any further for length.
In the interests of fairness, I will quote the rest of Hourihane’s column here (continuing from above) in its entirety, before pasting my response, as the IT site is password protected and quite expensive to subscribe. All emphasis and comments in brackets are mine:
However, daily life continues and livings must be earned by both sexes. In her search for a job, this woman had to present her qualifications, which had been issued to a male student who, for all practical purposes, had ceased to exist. The embarrassment caused to the poor job-seeker can be imagined. It is tough enough looking for a job at the best of times, and nothing brightens a dull day in the office more effectively than a quick snigger over somebody else’s application form.
So, in due course, the woman brought a case against the State Examinations Commission and the Department of Education and Science. No surprise there. The surprising thing is that she won. In this, the European Year of Equal Opportunity for All (no, I didn’t know either), the State Examinations Commission and the Department of Education and Science agreed to issue the relevant examination certificates in her new name. [TENI has just been given a 10,000 Euro grant through the Equality Authority and the “EU Year of Equal Opportunity for All”—the first grant application I ever wrote, I might add.]
On the one hand, we must all be delighted. For those of us who have always existed within the blurred boundaries of normality, it is difficult to imagine the scorching humiliation of submitting documentation that is regarded as a bit peculiar.
There are many people living today who can still remember bringing their birth certificates into school, prior to making their First Holy Communion, and being shocked to discover that their birth certificates looked radically different to those presented by the other children.
These were the children who had been adopted shortly after birth. Their birth certificates did not contain any of the usual information about their birth parents, and so were much smaller than the usual ones. You didn’t have to be a particularly observant six-year-old to see that their birth certificates were a different size and colour to everyone else’s. You don’t have to be a particularly sensitive adult, either, to remember the deep discomfort, even shame, this discrepancy caused.
And so the birth certificates of adopted children were changed and a minor but needlessly painful childhood experience was thus avoided. No argument there. But with this woman, and her altered examination certificates, there is an argument. Everyone is entitled to re-make themselves as they see fit, but history is not purely a personal matter. It’s the retrospective aspect of this case that is unsettling. The woman that she is now did not sit her Inter and her Leaving Cert all those years ago – in one sense, at the time of the examinations, that woman was waiting to be born. And the boy who sat the examinations did exist – he had a name and a family and a home town and it is wrong to wipe him from official memory.
Five years ago, Dr Lydia Foy tried to have her birth certificate altered to accurately represent her new gender. There were strong objections to this, not least from the two children of Dr Foy’s marriage, entered into when she was living as a male. Last month in the High Court, Mr Justice Liam McKechnie reserved judgment on her subsequent bid to be given a new birth certificate describing her as female, rather than altering her original birth certificate. [This is a bitterly fought case, involving members of a family divided. Much like the case of an Irish MtF, formerly of TENI, who to my distress and political disagreement, sought to have her marriage annulled on grounds that she was always a woman and same-sex marriage is illegal in Ireland. She resigned under a cloud from TENI, for reasons unrelated to the annulment—which I just heard, was granted.]
There are many people who would like to re-make their past, often for reasons a lot more terrible than having been born in the wrong body. And most people would like to re-draw some lesser aspect of their personal history, whether it is their choice of wedding dress or, indeed, their choice of marriage partner. But there is a communal aspect to history, and to officialdom too.
Niall Crowley, CEO of the Equality Authority, has said that the decision in this case to re-issue the examination certificates is “not wiping out the past, it’s achieving a coherence with the past”. But this coherence is something that everyone achieves, every day. It is the continued existence of the person, across the strangest sets of circumstances, that gives the past coherence with the present.
It is right that people with gender identity disorders – an ugly phrase, but the one favoured above all others by the WHO – should be helped to move forward in their lives, and to negotiate the obstacles they face in creating a new future for themselves. But no one is born straight into adulthood, and there are limits to what a healthy society is willing to conceal.
In this country, we have had enough children wiped from the history books without starting to erase them now, through modern embarrassment.
And here is my published response, as a letter to the editor, Geraldine Kennedy:
Madam, – Ann Marie Hourihane’s column of June 2nd, though politely worded, expressed such pointed untruths that, had its topic been a more understood and less stigmatised minority, it would have never seen the light of day in Ireland’s paper of record.
Referring to an Irish transsexual who made history when the State agreed to reissue her Group Intermediate and Leaving certificates, Ms Hourihane compared the situation to unnamed friends who “have been hiding their wedding photos, and a whole lot of other things for years”, implying the intent was to erase history and past mistakes.
Hardly. The transsexual – let’s call her “Ms T”, for she remains unidentified – is simply trying to move forward with her life. As Ms Victoria Mullen previously stated in these pages, force Ms T to function in society as a woman with male documentation and you effectively remove that possibility.
Ms Hourihane clearly knows little about transsexuality, or she would have never trivialised Ms T’s condition by summarising: “The boy wanted to become a woman. To this end, he changed his name by deed poll and underwent treatment to change his sex.” Would that it were so easy! No years of misery and confusion, praying daily for deliverance from the interminable imprisonment of one’s own mismatched body.
No initial, stumbling disclosures, probably first to the family GP, who – if you are lucky – won’t respond with disgust and a curt refusal of treatment. No months of therapy, numerous painful surgeries, and staggering medical bills. No rage from loved ones, be they partner, parents, siblings, or children, accompanied often by abandonment and a ban against setting foot again in the family home.
In Ms Hourihane’s fantasy, it seems, simply a wish and it all comes true. As for her concern for history’s continuity, can we first admit no such solid certainty exists as “history”? Rather, we have an ever-changing tapestry of people’s lives documented by artifacts that begin with a birth certificate. That California allowed me to change my name on everything, from my birth certificate to my master’s degree simply ensures the historical record adheres as closely as possible to the truth of my life.
Moreover, my original birth certificate remains sealed, not “wiped from official memory”, as implied by Ms Hourihane. It sits available to anyone with legitimate cause during my lifetime, and to everyone else after my death.
Ignorance and prejudice of the sort expressed by Ms Hourihane sadly hold sway over too much of Irish society. I thank Ms T, Mr Niall Crowley, the Equality Authority, and others who are fighting to change this and bring about equal opportunity for all in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
BRYNN CRAFFEY, Spokesperson, Transgender Equality Network Ireland, South Circular Road, Dublin.
Knowing the letter was going to be published, I came out to my supervisor at work. It went quite well, she said all the right things, respectfully asked if she could tell HR, to which I said, “Of course.” The HR supervisor later met with me. I sensed that she was really wishing such a situation hadn’t dropped into her lap, but she also said all the right things.
One can’t exaggerate the importance of having national (in this case, EU inspired) legislation that outlaws discrimination against transsexuals and protects our employment. No matter what people at work may personally think—although I think my supervisor is genuinely supportive—they know they can’t make their discomfort or opposition an issue at work. That is such an enormous protection!
Both women respectfully said they would not out me to anyone else at work. So far, I sense that at least one somewhat reactionary co-worker read my letter. He started to ask me something in front of his frat-boy like work buddies the other day, then stopped short when my supervisor suddenly appeared. He later denied he’d been on the verge of asking me anything, despite the fact he’d clearly said to me, “Oh, I’ll ask ye later.”
I suspect the news will spread slowly at work, and that some people will treat me differently. Although for the most part, I expect the differences to be subtle. For which I’m eternally grateful.
On top of all this drama, I’ve been stuffing envelopes for a friend who’s a Green candidate for the Senate here. (We have a Green coalition in government in Ireland for the first time in history! More on this in a later post.) And getting ready for Pride. In a week, TENI will be–as far as I can ascertain–the first Out & Proud contingent of transsexuals to ever march–or in our case, ride in one of these:
in the Dublin Pride Parade! We have t-shirts that read on the front, “I’ve been diagnosed with Gender Euphoria!” And on the back, have our logo.