Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Let’s Laugh at the Trans “Guy”

A couple of stories in the news today strike me about the position of the trans community in contemporary British society. Specifically those who identify as MTF. First off, a seemingly innocuous story about Mikki Nicholson, described as ‘a 33-year-old transsexual from Carlisle’. The story then goes on to repeatedly refer to ‘he’ and the Independent (of which you expect better) gives the impression of a journalist laughing through their hands.

So what? Well it contributes to the position those who define themselves as trans have within the psyche of the nation. Our collective consciousness casts our fellow citizens as figures of fun. Transsexual/transvestite/drag are all merged into an entertaining whole.

So when another story comes along such as MTF Nina Kanagasingham being remanded to a male prison, our reaction is one of comedy. The judge Timothy Pontius was told she was in the process of transitioning from male to female and wished to be addressed as Nina. He went on to send her to the male only prison, Wandsworth.

Activist and journalist Jane Fae has swung into action regarding the comments of the judge in the case. Fae has lodged a formal complaint with the City of London Police this morning, and the matter has now been passed to the Office of Judicial Complaints for investigation.

Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, it is a criminal offence, other than in certain well-defined circumstances, for a public official to disclose information about an individual’s status in applying for a gender recognition certificate.

“It is not clear whether Ms Kanagasingham is covered specifically by that part of the law: but it seems unlikely – given that he had to ask the question he did – whether the Judge actually knew, or cared, whether she was covered.”

Jane continued: “In addition, recent changes to the law under the Equality Act 2010 mean that a transgendered individual gains legal protection against discrimination from the moment that they commence treatment for their condition.

“Irrespective of whether the Judge breached the Gender Recognition Act, it is very likely that he has broken both the spirit and the letter of Equality laws.”

I agree that Fae has a point and the judge could it seems, have handled his interactions in the court-room a little better. However, unlike Fae I also have some sympathy with the judge who is faced with a binary prison system. It’s a penal system that continues (like the Gender Recognition Act itself) to view human beings as being either male or female. As far as the law is concerned, you must fall into one box or the other and the judge could not have sent Kanagasinghamto a women’s prison. The case reminds us of the flaws in our gender divide and the complex challenges for our penal system in ow it segregates its inmates.

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