Theres no place like home…

An anonymous Recovering A Future member talks about their experiences of being vulnerably housed and the relationship between housing and trans health.

Content notes: transphobia, ableism, bullying, harassment, homelessness, mention of emotional abuse

I’m running out of money to pay my rent.

Last year, I was homeless and/or in emergency accommodations for six months. I had to leave my shared house following a campaign of transphobic and ableist harassment from one of my housemates. When my emergency accommodations ran out, I was back on peoples’ sofas. There came a point when having a stable place to live for more than a few weeks became more important than my bank balance, so I forked out for a private rent. I still think this was the best thing I could do at the time, as my time on sofas had tested some of my relationships past breaking point and there was no sign that any of the house sharing arrangements I’d tried to make were going to come through at any time soon. (And I wasn’t comfortable moving in with people I didn’t know and trust bearing in mind the events that had made me homeless.) However, six months later, my fixed term contract has ended. I don’t have to leave as it automatically converts to a rolling contract, but I can’t afford to stay. (To be honest, I was lucky to have the money to pay for those first months – for many people in my situation that wouldn’t have been an option.)

So, over a year after I became homeless, the fallout still keeps coming.

Why is this relevant to trans health?

Shelter and safety are some of our most basic needs. If these needs are not met, the resultant stressors make it harder for us to fulfil other needs or tasks – crucially here, to take care of ourselves. A certain level of safety and protection from the elements cannot be separated from this self-care and maintenance of health. Beyond this, the stability of a home puts us in a better position to do things that not only maintain basic health but enhance our wellbeing, whatever that means for us. So for me, I find my mental health is better when I can fulfil my creative impulses, by crafting or playing instruments – but these require safe spaces to store materials and equipment.

Trans people are at higher risk of becoming homeless or vulnerably housed. This can be due to being driven out of shared homes by housemates or family, or by transphobic discrimination whilst looking for accommodation.

Furthermore, we can encounter the same discrimination when trying to access the very services that are meant to support us in these situations, be these shelters, day centres, jobcentres… you name it. Also, some of these services will not help those who they describe as “intentionally homeless” – people like me who chose to leave houses. No matter if it would have been unsafe for you to stay, apparently this makes you undeserving of help. These sorts of situations, escaping abusive environments which I cannot call homes, are frequently the reasons that we trans people become homeless or vulnerably housed.

And, as I said previously, the fallout keeps coming.

Needing to move somewhere cheaper for me means moving into a houseshare again. I am still very anxious about who I will live with. Having a more stable home has put me in a position to put energy into my friendships again, and I feel a sense of community and family. With the right people, I hope to have the feeling of support also in a home situation. But until then, I am really worried. Will I find somewhere suitable to live, with people who can be “at home” together? Will I find these people and place before my money runs out? Will I be back on peoples’ sofas again? Should I resort to asking for loans from emotionally abusive family members who are some of the people I wish to escape in the first place…?

If you are affected by similar issues, you might find our list of resources for vulnerably housed or homeless trans people useful.

Action: help us improve rape and sexual assault crisis centres

People often don’t think about rape and sexual assault crisis centres until they need them. But when you need them, you really need them. Whilst trans people face higher rates of rape and sexual assault than their cis counterparts, we often face significant barriers to accessing services designed to help survivors, making us all the more vulnerable.

Help us to collate a list of trans inclusive rape and sexual assault crisis centres by ringing up your local service and asking them about their policies and protocols and filling in this short form about what they say. When the services look like they are in need of trans training, we will get in touch and offer it to them. It would be good to have a look at the questions on the form before ringing. Thanks! <3

On being a trans student, and why the NUS should have a full time trans officer

Over the next couple of days, the National Union of Students’ National Conference will decide whether or not to allocate funds for a full time paid officer to work on trans issues. Jess Bradley talks about her experiences as a trans student and her involvement in the NUS, making the argument for the NUS to support trans students by voting yes to a full-time trans officer.

Content notes for: sex work, transphobia, sexual assault, outing, TERFs, vague reference to suicide

When I was 18 I started having sex with men for money. I started because, despite my having a part time job at the time, I found myself having to make the choice between eating and paying the bus fare to university. Like many trans students, I had a sometimes strained and sometimes non-existent relationship with my parents, and couldn’t ask them for help. At the time I was newly out as trans, and taking an engineering course at Bradford University. Nobody on my course would talk to me or want to work with me in group projects because I was trans. When they did, people asked me why I would do “a man’s subject like engineering if I wanted to be a woman”. Eventually, like too many trans students, I dropped out of my course.

This was a rough time for me. Fortunately for me, one of the sabbatical officers self-defined as trans and I came to them for support. We quickly became friends; if it wasn’t for them I’m not sure I would be alive today to be honest. I ended up switching over to a new course at Manchester University where I could get a bursary. I fast found a vibrant queer community there, but still struggled, almost failing and dropping out of this course after I was sexually assaulted on campus one too many times.

Still, I scraped through my undergrad and managed to get onto a masters course. In the first week of term, Julie Bindel was scheduled to turn up for an event on campus. I wrote a facebook status about it, which the university newspaper stole it as a quote; outing me as both trans and a sex worker to 80,000 students across Manchester at 3 different institutions without my consent. Now I am a PhD student at the same institution, and occasionally teach undergraduates. I wonder how many of them had read that newspaper article, and how many have connected their teacher with the sensationalist things that were written about me.

I consider myself pretty privileged; my experiences as a trans student are in no way unique nor are they uncommon, and many of my trans peers haven’t got into further or higher education because of the transphobia they face. During my time as a student I have been an active member of the NUS LGBT Campaign, because I want to use the privilege I have to open the doors for more trans people to get into education.

The NUS LGBT Campaign does some fantastic work for trans students, but I still feel like an outsider within the campaign sometimes. I’ve seen a lot of transphobia within the campaign in my time, and there a still a lot of barrier for trans people who want to get involved. Each year it feels like it’s a gamble as to whether the campaign will take trans issues seriously, or be able to understand our issues properly, as there is no guaranteed full time officer representing trans students.

I’m not suggesting that what happened to me would not have happened if there was a full time trans officer, simply that trans students on our campuses and in our communities need more support. And that support needs to come from someone who is trans, someone who understands our issues, and has the resources and support to focus on our issues all year round. So, if you are at the NUS National Conference this year, please act in solidarity with trans students and vote for a full time trans students officer. Thankyou.

 

Trans Health Rants

From 17th to 19th March Recovering A Future attended the National Union of Students annual LGBT campaign conference. On the second day of conference we organised a fringe for delegates to share their experiences of trying to access healthcare as a trans person – the Trans Health Rants fringe. The fringe proved popular and successful, and we agreed to meet again on the third day to continue sharing, Francis Myerscough writes:

(Content-note: erasure of trans experience, cissexist healthcare experiences (including but not limited to medical transition) - no details, more writing about talking about healthcare.)

This was organised to provide a trans-only space to share with each other our stories of accessing healthcare, be it transition-related or no. We thought this might be useful for multiple reasons.

Firstly, it can be very validating to share these experiences with a room and to not have them questioned; there was no (hopefully-)well-meaning-but-ignorant cis person in the corner to pipe up “but what if these are all secondary symptoms of your transness”. In sharing our stories and listening to those of others we form the bonds of solidarity that we are so often denied by cissexist society, both by the medical professions and the lay population.

And knowing there is that belief makes it easier to tell the stories. When we’ve stayed quiet about our experiences for so long, to be able to share them is a cathartic experience. So there’s also this therapeutic potential.

Finally, these acts of sharing have the potential to serve as a record of the routine health injustices faced by trans people. While the fringes were not minuted, we agreed as a group that ATH would start a Trans Health Rants blog which trans folk could submit our stories to. These would then be published anonymously online. In this way, we can continue to share our experiences in a space maintained and moderated by other trans folk so hopefully that sense of validation and catharsis will still be there. As a bonus this also means we have a record of the injustices we face that we can direct others to for use in organising campaigns.

You can find the Trans Health Rants blog here. Submissions are anonymous; they just require a title, any content warnings, the rant itself, and any tags. Rant away!

Trans people in immigration detention centres

Recovering A Future recently put in a series of Freedom of Information requests to the Home Office regarding trans people currently detained in immigration detention centres, Jess Bradley writes. According to the Home Office, as of 27th March there were 5 inmates in detention centres who the Home Office recognised as being trans. Over the last 3 years, there has been 21 inmates recorded as being trans. Given the relatively narrow definition of trans used by the Home Office in their record keeping, it is likely that this number will be higher. We had a look over the protocols governing the “care” of trans inmates in detention centres and compared them to the equivalent protocol for UK prisoners. Here is what we found:

content notes for: incarceration, searches, misgendering

Accommodation

As with UK prisoners, a detainee with a Gender Recognition Certificate (or equivalent) is required to be housed with other prisoners of the same gender. Should a trans detainee not have a GRC (which will probably be most of them) a “multi-disciplinary risk assessment” will be completed to decide where the detainee will be housed. Should the detainee’s request to be housed with people of their actual gender (as opposed to their legal one) be accepted, they will have their own private room.

Searches

Both UK prisoners and detainees who have a GRC will be searched by staff of the same gender. If a person has not undergone any medical interventions, then they will be searched by staff of the same sex that they were assigned at birth. If a person has started medical interventions but doesn’t have a GRC, the institution will make a judgement call as to what is the most appropriate course of action (reading between the lines, this will probably be based on what a person’s genitalia is assumed to look like). It is not allowed to conduct a search in order to ascertain a person’s sex / gender.

Access to packers, binders, breast forms, etc.

The protocol allows trans people in detention centres to wear wigs, packers, binders, and breast-forms. Unlike the protocol for UK prisoners, these do not have to be provided by the institution, so it is likely that many trans detainees will be forced to make do with makeshift equipment/prosthetics.

Health care

Worryingly the immigration detention centre protocols do not explicitly mandate access to hormones and other transition related healthcare. Instead, they say that healthcare treatment is a “clinical matter for the healthcare team at the centre in which the detainee is located”. The fact that the protocol does not explicitly mandate detentions centres to provide access to transition related healthcare when the equivalent UK prisoners protocol does implies that at best access to healthcare is inconsistent across different detention centres. We have sent follow-up Freedom of Information requests asking for more details regarding what access trans detainees have to transition related healthcare.

A note on non-binary

As the UK doesn’t officially recognise non-binary as a gender, there are no provisions for non-binary people incarcerated at detention centres or UK prisons.

Transgender staff

We also completed a freedom of information request for the number of trans staff working at immigration detention centres. The Home Office said they did not keep that information.

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It is worth noting that the above describes what should happen in theory, rather than in practice. Immigration detention centres are known to be rife with human rights abuses, so it is likely that trans inmates will face significant hardship. We are going to take further steps to find out more information about the trans detainees and to act in solidarity with them.

At Recovering A Future, we do not consider the environment within the detention centres (or in prisons) conducive to adequate, timely, or empowering trans health care, and adopt a broadly abolitionist approach to their use. We believe that organising for a liberating trans healthcare system necessarily involves getting involved in issues many people feel are not strictly “trans issues”. After all, trans people are not just trans people: we are also disabled, black, women, homeless, sex workers, and asylum seekers. Trans people have a stake in all progressive movements. On that note, please consider signing this petition to keep lesbian asylum seeker Aderonke Apata from being deported.

 

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