Genderqueer: Neither male nor female

Imagine feeling that you are neither male nor female. You don’t feel like a man or a woman, you don’t want to become a man or a woman and the binary construct of life means that you are excluded in everything, from toilet doors to tax forms.

For Vic*, who is genderqueer, this is a reality. “I don’t feel comfortable in thinking of myself as a girl, but then I don’t feel like I want to be a guy either. It’s kind of a sense of knowing it doesn’t ‘fit’, and feeling like I’m something different.”

Genderqueer people are neither male nor female and can feel that they belong to a ‘third’ gender, swing between genders or feel that they belong to none at all. LGBT charities estimate that one in 11,500 people experience some degree of gender variance in their lives, but genderqueerism is under-diagnosed.

Q for ‘queer’ or ‘questioning’ is a relatively new addition to the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transsexual banner, and even in LGBT support groups across the country, genderqueer people are a minority. If transsexuals are today what homosexuals were a decade ago – and still fighting for equality and recognition – then genderqueer people really are in uncharted territory, and fighting daily battles.

“You do experience hostility”, says Vic. “If people are confused about how you’re presenting yourself, that can often make them quite bizarrely angry. I do occasionally have people come up to me and say ‘What are you?’, but I tend not to get in a debate with them as I read it as quite a threatening situation”.

CN Lester, co-founder of the Queer Youth Network and founder of Britain’s first Gay/Straight Alliance, identifies as genderqueer and has also experienced aggression. “It comes very much from people who get angry because they can’t tell which side of the

Image: Genderqueer.tumblr.com

Image: Genderqueer.tumblr.com

fence you fall on, and they don’t want to feel that you’re confusing them and how they see the world. I’ve had quite a lot of street harassment, sexual harassment and some fairly nasty discrimination.”

Lester describes growing up as “feeling that something is up, that you often don’t feel right in your body or that you don’t understand your gender in the way that it’s presented to you by the world around you. It’s really hard when you don’t have the language surrounding that.”

For genderqueer people and the wider LGBT community, language is crucial in determining identity. Other terms for genderqueer include  ‘non-binary gender’, ‘gender-fluid’ and ‘third-gender’, but what unites them all is that there is no definite catch-all term, and for many, no way of describing how they feel.

The use of pronouns is a sensitive issue. While it may seem pedantic to many, being described as a gender you feel worlds away from is distressing. Many genderqueer and androgynous people prefer the singular-plural pronouns of ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘themself’, and in the burgeoning online genderqueer community, PGPs (‘preferred gender pronouns’) are paramount. One Google Chrome app, Jailbreak the Binary, even functions as a gender-neutral browser, replacing all gendered words and pronouns with gender-neutral ones.

Gender dysphoria is a medically recognised condition, and Bernard Rees, trustee of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society, says: “We use the term ‘gender variance’ which is discordance between the identity of the body and brain, and can be experienced at any time from the age of two. Nature is much more varied than one thing or the other -people can have a firm identity as a man or woman, or not quite as certain.”

Science has proven that there’s more to life than XX and XY chromosomes, literally, and although it’s important to differentiate between gender, the identity of a person, and sex, their genitals and physical make-up, genderqueerism and intersexuality often overlap.

Rees says: “There are about 20 or 30 different intersex conditions, and the neurobiological

Image: Genderqueer.tumblr.com

Image: Genderqueer.tumblr.com

variance in people shows there may also be biological factors at work in people’s gender identity.”

In the UK, the idea of a third gender is anathema to most people, and legal recognition of a third gender is virtually non-existent. In many other countries around the world, however, a third gender is recognised – both socially and legally – and even celebrated.

In India, hijra people are the most widely recognised third gender in the world, with up to six million in existence, three genderoptions on passport applications and third gender options on voter identity cards. In Pakistan, a 2009 census survey estimated up to 30,000 hijras in the country, and the Supreme Court ordered that a third gender be implemented on national identity cards, allowing them to apply for jobs.

Australia and New Zealand introduced an ‘X’ gender option for passports in 2011 and 2012 respectively, Argentina’s GenderIdentity Law of 2012 gave people the right to change their gender on documentation to the one they identified with, and as far back as 2007, Nepal’s Supreme Court added a third gender option to its census surveys and citizenship documents.

Indonesia, Polynesia and the Philippines have a long and accepting culture of a third gender, but England rugby player Manu Tuilagi’s Samoan third-gender fa’afafine sibling has been imputed in the British media as his “cross-dresser brother”. Compared to its global counterparts, Britain seems stuck in a binary-gendered bind.

Image: Genderqueer.tumblr.com

Image: Genderqueer.tumblr.com

Although some organisations such as the Department for Work and Pensions and the UK Deed Poll Service are all prepared to address a recipient using ‘Mx’ or ‘Misc’, they are yet to issue documents which legally confirm  a third gender.

I definitely don’t feel represented by the government when you only have two options to tick”, says Lester. “It would be a real step forward if there was Male, Female or Other. It’s interesting to consider whether we need to put Male or Female on passports at all. If we have a photograph, a date of birth, a name and increasingly, biometric data, it seems somewhat redundant to put an ‘M’ or an ‘F’ on there.”

Genderqueer groups in the UK have fought for third gender options on forms and documents, and many criticised the government for its lack of a third gender option on the 2011 census, despite a decade of campaigning. If third-gender people can’t even be counted in the census, then they will never be counted and identified as equal members of society.

“A charge so often levelled at people who are genderqueer is that we’re trying to make everybody like us, and I would hate that”, says Lester. “I’d hate to have a world full of people just like me, or just like everybody else, it would be boring as hell. But just accepting who we are, that would be really nice.”

 *Vic did not want to reveal their surname

I did naked yoga. So should you.

Naked Yoga Image: Wearetherealdeal.com

Naked Yoga
Image: Wearetherealdeal.com

As I settled into my stretch, both hands over my right foot, I extended my leg further and inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled. Calm, composed, collected. I turned to repeat on my left hand side – and caught full sight of a penis.

As Marks & Spencer’s would say, this isn’t just a yoga class, this is a naked yoga class. An hour and a half of yoga wearing nothing at all, in a room with ten strangers. It’s a mode of exercise which is relatively new to London, but if naturists have their way, is soon to take off.

It’s not as gimmicky as it sounds: if you think about it, naturism and yoga go hand in naked hand. Apart from feeling great and being healthy for the body, yoga is, in essence, about a deep acceptance of who you are – so naked yoga furthers this by encouraging acceptance of your naked body.

Nickles, the class instructor, has been a practising naturist for 22 years, and says: ‘From the time that I was a child I was aware basically that people’s bits come in two models, and once you’ve seen both models I really can’t see what the issue is’.

Like many young women who are fed airbrushed images of perfection like geese for the foie gras factory, I’m insecure about my body. The idea of experiencing something which encouraged body acceptance was therefore very appealing to me.

‘Part of what yoga encourages is accepting yourself’, Nickles says. ‘That means accepting you don’t have the kind of body that will get you on to the front page of a fashion magazine. It means accepting who you are and embracing and celebrating who you are both physically and mentally’.

As I stood at the beginning of the class about to take my clothes off, this ‘acceptance’ of my body was about to be put to the test, and my heart was in my mouth. Was I really about to take all my clothes off and spend an hour and a half contorting my body into unflattering stretches? Could I really go through with this?

As the rest of the class stripped off and settled in, I went for it, and for the first ten minutes or so I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. But as the class went on and I focused on the yoga, I almost forgot I was naked.

It’s the most liberating, invigorating and yes, natural, feeling in the entire world. The feeling of being simultaneously vulnerable and empowered, and of moving your body in the open air is something I’d recommend to anyone – especially those with body confidence issues.

Admittedly, the zen of being at one with my body and mind was somewhat distracted by the overweight Asian gentleman to my right gasping, farting and spluttering his way through the class, but I focused my attention on the poses and stretches.

Although the class was advertised as ‘mixed’, it largely consisted of homosexual men and Nickles is desperate to attract more women and straight men. But, before you ask, despite the potentially homo-erotic scenario of soft lighting, full-frontal nudity and intimate space, no one got ‘excited’ – it really was a completely non-sexual experience. At one point I looked around the room of naked men meditating with their eyes closed and nearly burst out laughing at how bizarre the situation was.

While the hot room was at first a godsend, I soon found myself a bit, er, sweaty, and this is where clothes would have come in handy. Without them, there was a lot of slipping and sliding about on the mat and it did feel slightly unhygienic.

The class consisted mainly of the more relaxed Hatha form of yoga, including key yoga postures, breathing techniques and meditation. Thankfully, the class is set out with two columns of mats facing inwards instead of one behind the other, so there’s little chance of a winking sphincter or any dangling goolies to distract you from your Downward Dog.

We also did a series of ‘partner’ poses, involving balancing and contact postures, and this was the only point I felt slightly out of my depth. While checking afterwards with Nickles that I hadn’t accidently stumbled across the secret foreplay to a subsequent gay orgy, he explained that the partner poses ‘can help you to develop your own sense of balance and trust in your own body, and you see your own body mirrored in theirs’.

Ultimately, naked yoga felt liberating. While it would have been better to experience it with other women – and to experience my lumps and bumps with other women’s in a non-judgemental setting – being free and naked in a non-sexual situation with other human beings was an extraordinary experience.

When I asked Nickles how he became a naturist, he replied: ‘I was working as a feature writer on my local newspaper and spotted a naked swim, which I wrote up as a new experience. I’ve never looked back’.

This post was originally published on Independent.co.uk on 21st February 2013.

The BBC Car Crash Rolls on: Entwistle’s Resignation Must Have the Rest of the Media Cackling

George Entwistle delivering his resignation with BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten   ©Sky News/screengrab

So, BBC Director General George Entwistle has resigned after a record low of 54 days in the job. I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for him; he’s had one shit-storm after the other, and it must be nauseating to kiss goodbye to your £450,000 a year salary before you’ve even upgraded your mobile phone contract. His appearance just before his resignation on Radio 4’s Today programme, however, in which John Humphrys interviewed him in the manner of a cruel schoolboy stabbing a writhing fish in a bucket, was uncomfortable to say the least: “Did you see the film the night it was broadcast?” “No, I was out”. “Did you read Guardian’s front page yesterday?” “No, I was giving a speech”. Amidst the stuttering and spluttering, Humphrys pinned down Entwistle to such a degree that –rightly or wrongly- he came across as absent and incompetent.

I have a growing sense that the rest of the media are mirthlessly rubbing their hands together while watching the omnibenevolent BBC stumble and fall, get up, shoot itself in the foot, and then fall over again. The BBC are always the impeccable good guys, the license-fee kingpins who perennially toe the line and hold everyone else to account, and those who were live-streamed on the BBC website squirming in their Leveson chairs are probably relishing even slightly the thought of Newsnight et al getting a dose of castigating headlines and glaring scrutiny.

Incidentally it’s been quite interesting, if not bizarre, to see the BBC adamantly play out its accountability virtue in a kind of twisted labyrinthine pseudo-parodying meta-journalism. There were Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuses at the BBC, which the BBC reported on from outside the BBC, with archive footage obtained from the BBC, and questions over whether the BBC was right to allow such practices at the BBC. Then BBC’s Newsnight programme was outed for not airing an investigation into Jimmy Savile’s abuses at the BBC because the BBC was airing a tribute programme to him at the time. BBC Newsnight reporters criticised their BBC Newsnight editor Peter Rippon who then stepped down, before BBC veteran John Simpson waded in to say the BBC was facing its ‘worst crisis’ in fifty years. BBC’s Panorama then investigated BBC’s Newsnight, and then BBC’s Newsnight jumped the gun and decided they’d better broadcast something, so they put out a programme which falsely implicated Tory peer Lord McAlpine in child sexual abuse. The victim of the abuse then appeared on BBC news to say he’d got it wrong, so BBC Newsnight was back in the slaughterhouse. BBC Director General George Entwhistle then gave that fist-eating interview on BBC’s Today before announcing his resignation from the BBC on the BBC news channel.

What next for the great British Broadcasting Corporation? I predict that this car crash will play out, more heads will roll and the internal and external torrent of frenzied accusations will inevitably dry to a trickle. But I think it’s important to remember that the BBC has produced excellent journalism, and in the scheme of things, a couple of (albeit very) bad decisions on Newsnight don’t constitute the abolishment of the programme or of the BBC’s entire ninety-year old reputation. Compared with the nebulous virtue of print media, Newsnight made journalistic and editorial errors while newspapers involved with the hacking scandal made moral ones.

Savile must be turning in his grave, but only to light up a cigar and have a chuckle at it all…

Quotes of the Week

Quote

 

© Mirror.co.uk

  • “It is a political conviction that I can define perfectly well as incredible and intolerable”
    -Former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi in a phone call to his Italia 1 private network, as reported in the Independent, after being sentenced to a year in jail for tax fraud – 26th October 2012
  •  “The good news is going to keep coming”
    -PM David Cameron on the fact that the UK is out of recession, which was headline news in its own right. Cameron stole the show, however, as he was accused of ‘jumping the gun’ in the Guardian by leaking highly sensitive market data on the improving economy in order to score a political point in Prime Minister’s Questions – 25th October 2012

 

  • “Since the decision was taken to shelve our story, I’ve not been happy with the public statements made by the BBC. I think they’re very misleading.”
    -Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean in the i, on her story on Jimmy Savile’s sexual allegations which was shelved by Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, investigated by BBC’s Panorama – 22nd October 2012

 

  • “The future of the country’s energy supply, and the balance between protecting the consumer and helping the environment, has been the subject of a prolonged Whitehall stand-off…No political person at No 10 understands energy policy.”
    -Rachel Sylvester in a Times opinion piece, on last week’s energy policy debacle and how government policy and media scrutiny priorities are wrong- 23rd October 2012

 

 

Louder, better, faster, stronger: Women already posses the power to tip the gender imbalance in the media

This week, the Guardian published a report into underrepresentation of women in the media, and I have to say I was shocked but not surprised to learn that male journalists wrote 78% of all front-page articles examined and men accounted for 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces.

I’ve written about sexism before, arguing that there is an emerging form of women-on-men sexism, so I consider myself a reasonably lateral thinker in the sexism and gender inequality debate, but I found myself scoffing at the BBC director general George Entwhistle’s  lame response to the fact that 84% of reporters and guests on Radio Four’s Today programme are men. “The Today programme struggles because we are dealing with… the world as it is, and that’s a very male place. What the BBC often reflects is the way the world is.” Er, newsflash George: the world is only a “male place” if you treat it so.

Days later I was discussing the BBC’s Today programme with one of my colleagues, and I confessed that if I ever did make it as a successful national journalist and were asked to appear on the programme, I’d feel a bit like I’d been fed to the lions. “I’m not sure I’d agree to appear”, I said. His immediate response: “I would”.

Enter the Guardian’s Suzanne Moore, who appeared this week on Today, debating abortion with Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan. While she fully admits in an article after the catastrophic debate that it was not her “finest hour” (she and Hassan talked over each other frequently and she seemed shrill), and while I disagree with her when she states that Today’s debate structure “is tired and goes nowhere”, I can’t help but empathise with her in that I too would have felt like “I should have…gone to a training camp where they teach you how to debate”. The Today programme is Oxbridge debate club, it is male-dominated and it is intimidating. And I wonder just how respected I would have felt at being introduced into the debate with a patronising “What was your reaction dear?”, which was John Humphrys’ first utterance to Moore.

The same week I saw a Newsnight discussion on Jimmy Savile chaired by a man, with three male contributors and Vanessa Feltz as the only female contributor. The debate raged fiercely back and forth between two of the male contributors, and the third male who was a senior at a child abuse support charity was given frequent air time. The editors gave Feltz about a minute on screen, and I’d never witnessed such a blatant quota-filling. If they didn’t value Feltz’s opinion, why didn’t they chose a different commentator? And if they needed a child abuse charity spokesperson, was the only one they could find a man?

On work experience placements I’ve observed senior-level boardroom conferences at The Times, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. At each of them the male:female ratio averaged at about 11:2. In the boardrooms themselves the men were far more forthright in discussions and women spoke – and were heard – less. Women are clearly under-represented in the media and in journalism. The question is why. Why do less women get bylines, less women appear in broadcasts and less women make it to boardroom level only to be heard less once they reach it?

I argue that this isn’t down to some deep-seated intrinsic misogyny but more a case of psychology, and how men and women subconsciously interact with each other. During my first week on my Journalism M.A. at City University, I noticed that despite the women being equally as intimidating on paper as the men, the blokes seemed a lot more confident about speaking up in our class of fifty, answering questions and giving their opinions, and although the male:female ratio is slightly more balanced at around 30:20, I couldn’t help comparing it to the boardroom scenes I’d witnessed so many times.

In a discussion with some of the guys on my course I put it to them that maybe the men speak up more in the classroom (and therefore the workplace and boardroom) more than women because they think differently. Men generally have a tendency to act first and think second, whereas with women it’s the opposite, or, as we put it in the pub, “Men care less about looking like a tw*t for a few seconds than women do”.  The nanoseconds it takes to make a decision on whether to say your piece in a discussion is crucial before the topic rolls on, so men would perhaps say a point or speak their mind in a boardroom or in a class of fifty without worrying if they’d look stupid, where in the seconds-difference in speaking up, women may subconsciously consider their point as well as what the reception of it would be and what the implications of making it are.

In addition to men and women thinking differently, there is the obvious impact of the fairer sex generally being fairer voiced. Humans naturally hear- and listen- to a voice that is deep, loud, low and slow, so in a fast-paced debate it’s easy to see how a higher-pitched, softer, quieter and faster-speaking voice could be drowned out or ignored. I also think there’s something in the psychology of appearance and work-wear. The man’s suit, subconsciously, is a power symbol, both to himself when he puts it on to enter the work-place arena and to those around him. Even visually, the symmetry and defined lines of a man’s suit, shirt and tie create a powerful image. Women’s work-wear is wishy-washy to the point of insignificance, comprising of a collection of cardigans, blouses, skirts and tights, with no clear definition between work-wear and other-wear, which creates a degree of uncertainty both visually and in the mind.

So what’s the solution? Slip on a man’s suit and start boorishly shouting your opinions every few seconds? Not exactly, but I would advocate a variation on that, by psychologically squaring up to the men. Women should take a chance on speaking out more, as well as slowing down the pace of speech and lowering the tone of voice. High heels don’t just make legs look amazing, they also give an added few inches and men hate it when women are taller than them, let alone when they have to literally look up to them.

I told my male colleagues early on in the course that my intention was to speak up in discussions as much as them, as terrifying as it is, because my motto is “fake it ‘til you make it”. I hope that after a year of discussions in front of fifty people, I’ll become more articulate and will learn to present my opinions cogently and forcefully, so that if I ever make it to boardroom level at a newspaper, men – and women – will sit up and listen to what I have to say.

It’s in women’s hands to shift their unfair underrepresentation in the media. Deliver that pitch. Have your say. Argue your case. Get that byline. Speak your mind. Louder, better, faster, taller, stronger. Projecting an air of confidence which we may not feel is half the battle won.

Quotes of the Week

©Alexander Millar

  • “This is the right decision for Scotland but it’s also right for the United Kingdom that there is going to be one single simple straightforward question about whether Scotland wants to stay in the United Kingdom or separate itself”
    -PM David Cameron in a Telegraph video on the day of the signing of the agreement which will allow Edinburgh to hold a referendum on Scotland’s independence – 15th October 2012

 

  • “With men in the media reporting on men in Parliament, there is a double whammy”
    -Labour’s Harriet Harman as quoted in the Guardian in a report on the under-representation of women in the media – 15th October 2012

 

  • “Justice has been done and this shows that the US does not control the UK justice system. We have had great support, including from the media, and this decision has saved my son’s life”
    -Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon, the Asperger’s sufferer who was spared extradition to the US for hacking into Pentagon computers ten years ago, as reported in the Evening Standard – 16th October 2012

 

  • “Now she is amongst us, our thoughts are even more with her and her family after this criminal attack”
    -Farooq Murad of the Muslim Council of Britain on the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban and is now being treated in a hospital in Birmingham, as reported in the i paper – 17th October 2012

 

 

Telegraph Executive Editor on the Future of Journalism

On only our second day of the City Newspaper/Interactive course, after a morning’s workshop with eminent journalists and editors Paul Bolding andMaurice Chittenden, we were treated to a discussion session with the executive editor of The Telegraph Media GroupMark Skipworth.

Intimidating title aside, Skipworth struck an amiable figure. Stood in the far left corner of the room in a dark blazer and striped shirt, with a notable absence of Powerpoint presentation and lecture notes, occasionally sipping his carton of coffee or unassumingly shifting the chair in front of him, he spoke frankly and earnestly on his views on the changing industry and how to break into it.

He told of publications’ collective angst over when to “flick the switch” from predominantly print to online content, and noted that whereas previously correspondents felt that writing pieces for print was higher up the pecking order than writing for online, this notion has faded.

Online content most certainly has advantages over print, from greater engagement with readers to the speed of rolling news online, and from SEO and story promotion to the lack of space restrictions for copy length. Skipworth bemoaned, however, that online content loses the “serendipity of print”, the purchasing of a newspaper as a whole and turning each page with surprise and delight.

I must admit my elation at the opportunity of being face  to face with a national newspaper editor to ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask a national newspaper editor: What’s the future of your paper and of journalism when you charge for print content but give away online content for free? Skipworth’s answer revealed a far less nihilistic future of print than I’d always imagined it to be.  The Telegraph’s tablet and smartphone app subscribers – 350k, and counting – reveal a trend that readers actually want an online version of a printed newspaper instead of merely a website,but Skipworth does admit that it’s not as cut-and-dry as Tablet Triumphs Website: “The website is the thornier issue…[But] I’m not sure if a pay wall in the long run [will work].” What does work, however, is advertising, and with Telegraph.co.uk drawing in around 50 million unique website hits per month, of which two thirds are international readers, advertising on the site will remain lucrative.

The journalism industry is certainly undergoing a radical change, causing disquiet among established hacks as well as amateurs, but Skipworth was encouraging in his advice for adapting online and technological skills. Yes, the industry “are looking for digitally-savvy, creative people”, and yes, social media and video/audio skills are lauded, but  people make different contributions to different areas of digital media, so it’s best to go with what you personally feel comfortable with, whether you’re a blogger or a tweeter.

One message resonated loudest and clearest throughout the print vs. online debate: good journalism should never be compromised on, regardless of the form it takes: “[The Telegraph] has to dedicate time and resources to quality journalism. That has not changed. If we were not involved in quality journalism we would be out of business.” Conventional ways of moving up in the media industry may have disappeared, but no matter how forwards, backwards or sideways it moves, without good quality journalism, “both you and the industry will fall down”.