Pesky fly on the wall account of a MermaidsTM « training session » _ introducing the « Genderbread Person »

Michael Conroy is a UK profeminist activist who has an outfit called « Men At Work ». Someone from this group surreptiously attended a training session given to students and teachers by someone from the transactivist MERMAIDS lobby and recorded the proceedings, trying to challenge the b-s now and then. Women from the awesome MUMSNET network provided this transcription.

Mermaids – Trainer

MAW – A member of Men At Work

A – Audience member(s)

(Michael Conroy’s comments appear as italicized subtitles throughout the transcription.)

Headings & time stamps:

  • (00:00) Babies, parties & gender
  • (03:24) ‘I am not an expert on electricity…Colours…or even what a spectrum is…’
  • (05:00) Jelly babies = Gender identity. ‘Don’t think about it too hard…Trust me!’
  • (06:58) Introducing GI Joe… ‘Seriously! Stop thinking!’
  • (10:24) The saga of the Genderbread man – Brains, hearts, sex, science & style…never the twain shall meet…
  • (15:23) Choose your stereotype…err, I mean Jelly Babies!
  • (19:16) Intersex Navaho clownfish = Trans
  • (24:45) Tomboys & male femininity
  • (27:33) The problem with ‘Cis’…
  • (32:26) ‘Transexuals, you’re outdated!’ Introducing the more fashionable choice of: Non-Binary, Gender-fluid & Gender-queer (Piers doesn’t know what they mean…hell, no one does, not even me!)
  • (37:21) Sexuality. Trans rights are just like gay rights
  • (46:23) Pronouns: from courtesy to hate crime

(Start of recording)

Babies, parties & gender…

Mermaids: … the expectant mum can be just halfway through her pregnancy at 20 weeks and she can have a scan and find out if it’s going to be a boy or a girl, so we now have the gender reveal parties.[laughter] Has anyone been to one? No? These are the next big thing after the baby shower. I went to my first one a couple of weeks ago and the parents didn’t even know. So what they’d done is they’d gone for their scan, they’d got the … what’s the person who does the scan? Radiographer is it? … to write it on the picture, put it in a sealed envelope, they then gave that envelope to their party planner, so they found out at the same time as we did. It was quite bizarre. It’s all about building the anticipation and there’s all guessing games and that leading up to it. But I sat there, and, I mean it was lovely, it was a lovely day, but … my first thought was, this party cost a fortune, you’d have been better off putting money in the bank for the child. But then my second thought was, when they do the reveal, you’re not going to go ‘I didn’t want that’ are you? D’you know what I mean? You’ve got to be like, whoo! [laughter] So it was a little bit bizarre.

I’ve never heard of these gender reveal parties before. I’d heard of baby showers, but not an actual gender reveal, so I had a little google, and these are some examples of what I found, how people have announced the biological sex of their unborn child. So this one, the family filled a balloon with pink paint and the proud father shot it with an arrow, in a very phallic symbol of how the child got there in the first place, really. You can get cakes that are filled with either pink or blue sweets, so when you cut the cake open the sweets will cascade out. But that’s my favourite one – the Harry Potter gender reveal. Any hufflepuffs? Yay! There’s not many of us, there’s not many. So depending on what you put into your cauldron, and obviously the spell, out will come either pink or blue smoke. Brilliant.

So what happens when we find out if it’s a boy or a girl? Well the first thing, and it’s instantaneous, we don’t even realise we’re doing it, the baby gets given its pronoun. So it stops being it, or baby, or bump, and gets he/she, his/hers. Straight away, we all do it. We probably will bin half of the names list, and even if we’re going to choose a gender neutral name, often they’re different spellings. We stop buying things in white, cream, lemon, mint green and we will get inundated with either pink or blue. We might even buy styles of clothing, so if it’s going to be a baby girl, it’s usually frills and them stupid headband things. If it’s a boy, you’ll often get tiny denim or tiny sports things, or them little romper suits with a slogan on, usually with the word dude somewhere. Our family and friends will start to talk about that child’s future – ‘when he’s older we’re going to go there, when she’s bigger, we’re going to do this.’ There’s plenty of families who will choose the school that the child will be educated at based on whether it is a boy or a girl. And for most kids that’s fine because most kids will fit loosely somewhere within those boy and girl boxes, but lots of children don’t.

‘I am not an expert on electricity…Colours…or even what a spectrum is…’

Mermaids: Now I’m going to state the obvious here but work with me because I do have a point. Now we’ve got two light bulbs here and one is on and one is off, do we agree?

A: yeah

Mermaids: Now, I am not an expert on electricity by any stretch of the imagination, but I know if I go into a dark room, I look for the switch and I will flick the switch and the lights will come on. If I flick it again the lights will go off. I know that much, yeah? So we’ve got boy/girl, on/off, yeah? Who can tell me what this is?

A: a dimmer switch

Mermaids: It’s a dimmer switch, and how does a dimmer switch work? I don’t mean like transformers and circuits, just very basically, how does a dimmer switch work?

A: You turn it and the more you turn it up the brighter it is.

Mermaids: Exactly. So it’ll start at off, and it will get gradually brighter and brighter and brighter and brighter until the light is completely on, because light is on a … ?

A: Spectrum.

Mermaids: Spectrum, absolutely. Lots of things in nature are on a spectrum. Colours, for example, are on a spectrum. So, maybe the colour blue, you could look around this room, you will pick up lots of different blues. They’re all blue but they all have their own unique place on that colour spectrum. Because colours start at almost white and get gradually darker until they’re almost black. Lots of things about us are on a spectrum. We are part of nature. Are we all the same height? Are we all the same shoe size? Are we all the same skin colour? So there’s just three spectrums that are part of us as humans.

Jelly babies = Gender identity. ‘Don’t think about it too hard…Trust me!’

jelly babies

Mermaids: So we’re going to look at it in a bit more detail. I want you to have a bit of fun with this but there is a serious point leading up to it. So this is my jelly baby spectrum and we’re going to start with jelly baby number 1 – Princess Barbie. Most people have a Princess Barbie in their lives somewhere, whether it’s a friend, a sister … I’ll send you these through by the way so you don’t have to …

MAW: Sorry … yep

Mermaids: … whether it’s a friend, a sister, a partner or whatever. The one who takes like six hours to get ready to go out. They look amazing but they take a really long time, you know, lots of pampering and stuff like that. So when you think of a Princess Barbie, what colours pop into your head first of all?

A: Pink

Mermaids: Pink, yep. Anything else?

A: Maybe sparkles

Mermaids: Yeah? Describe her hair.

A: Blonde.

Mermaids: Blonde, yeah. Long. (whispers – I need you to join in)

MAW: It’s totally unrealistic and it induces …

Mermaids: Don’t get into that yet.


MAW: Oh but it is though …


MAW: Yeah, I just think – I’m worried that …

Mermaids: I would not insult your intelligence, trust me.

MAW: Good, good, because …

Mermaids: So, Barbie’s hair …

MAW: … the pictures are insulting.

Mermaids: … long, blonde, yeah? Face …

A: Make up.

Mermaids: Make up, yeah, a bit of eyelashes. Hands and nails?

A: All done.

Mermaids: Manicured. What d’you think her voice sounds like?

A: High pitched.

Mermaids: High pitched, yeah. I did this in a primary school and some kid went, ‘miss, she would be a scouser.’


Mermaids: Clothing?

A: Frilly dresses.

Mermaids: Frilly dresses. Footwear?

A: Heels.

Mermaids: Heels. What d’you think she likes to do?

A: Go to the salon.

Mermaids: Go to the salon, lots of pampering, yeah? Ok, so we’ve got jelly baby number 1, Princess Barbie…

Gender spectrum illustration

Introducing GI Joe… ‘Seriously! Stop thinking!’

Mermaids: We’re now going to go right to the other end to jelly baby number 12, GI Joe. So what colours do you think of?

MAW: Well he’s in camo, isn’t he, ‘cos he’s in military, which is presented as the male …

Mermaids: Yes, so you’re thinking greens … you’re going too clever too quick. You need to take a step back.

MAW: OK, he’s in green, he’s in camo.

Mermaids: So it’s what colours you think of when you think of a GI Joe kind of character.

A: Earth tones.

Mermaids: Yes, earth tones. That’s a good one. Yes, so greens, browns, OK. Describe his hair?

A: Bald.

A:  Bald? He’s got brown hair.

A: He ain’t got time to worry about the hair.


MAW: Crew cut.

Mermaids: Face?

A: Strong jaw … stubble.

Mermaids: Strong jaw, stubble – chiselled, yeah? Hands and nails?

A: Dirty … crusty


Mermaids: Voice?


Mermaids: Deep, yeah, you have to say DEEP. Yeah? Clothing?

A: Don’t worry about it.

Mermaids: Don’t worry about it, just functional, practical, yeah. Footwear?

A: Boots.

Mermaids: Boots. What do you think he likes to do?

MAW: Kill people.

A: Kill stuff.


Mermaids: Yeah, probably keeping fit …

A: Go gym.

Mermaids: … pumping iron, yeah, all that. So we’ve got a good description of jelly baby number 12, GI Joe. And yes, we are being extremely stereotypical. There’s lots of reasons I use this, the first one is, if I look on there, and certainly when I was growing up, I knew I wasn’t GI Joe and I was fine with that but I also knew I was not Princess Barbie. And all the girls in my class who were Princess Barbies, we had nothing in common at all. I liked football and I liked planes, still do. So if I look on there and I think, well where’s my jelly baby? Particularly when I was little, I think I’m number 5, that’s where I feel that I fit. If I’m going to a wedding, I’ll make an effort and be a 4, but really I’m a 5. Yeah? So what I’d like you to do is to just take a minute, and based on those two extremes, and then your gut feeling, find your jelly baby.

A: Are jelly babies Jesus?


A: … cos I don’t mind getting stuck in, but I’m quite a like – I like to dress up as well.

Mermaids: It’s interesting you say that because it is true, we’re not [inaudible]

[jumbled discussion]

MAW: Is it just based on appearance and clothing?

Mermaids: This is just your gut reaction.

MAW: My gut reaction is none, because …

Mermaids: OK, that’s fine.

MAW: … it doesn’t talk about …

Mermaids: That’s fine. I know …

MAW: … equal pay, or …

Mermaids: … ohhh, you are …

MAW: … looking after the kids, or – does it?

Mermaids: D’you know what?

A: Wooaah

Mermaids: You need to really, really …

MAW: Switch off?

Mermaids: … just take a step down academically, yeah?

MAW: I don’t think I’m being academic, I’m just saying the truth, my gut feeling is that that doesn’t respond – I don’t respond to that at all.

Mermaids: OK, that’s absolutely fine. Not a problem. OK. Now, when we do this usually, yeah? I do normally hear people saying well, I think I’m that, but when I’m doing this I’m more like that, and sometimes I feel like this and when I was younger I was like that, but now I’m more like this, and that is true. Yeah? So we’re going to go into a little bit more detail.

The saga of the Genderbread man – Brains, hearts, sex, science & style…never the twain shall meet…

The Genderbread person.jpg

Mermaids: So this is Stevie, my genderbread friend. So we’re going to start with our brain. OK now if you think of that unborn baby, our brain is controlling functions a long time before we are born, you know, so in the womb our hearts are beating, we can move, we can blink, we can hear, we can suck our thumbs … lots of things are happening. And then we are born and we take our first breath, and our lungs begin to work. We have our first feed and our digestive system begins to work. We don’t then need to keep reminding ourselves to do those things, our brain takes care of that. And then we learn language, we learn to walk, we learn to talk, we go to school, you know, and we have the capacity to keep learning, most of us, until we die. That’s our brains. And we know that our sense of self and our gender identity is formed between the ages of about 18 months to 3 1/2. And we know who we are. So that comes from your brain.

So then there’s your heart, so who you are attracted to, who you see as a partner, who you may fall in love with. So hands up who’s ever fallen for a complete idiot.

A: [laughter]

Mermaids: It’s a rite of passage isn’t it growing up, really? You know, you’ll fall for someone and your family might try and tell you they’re not the best for you, or your friends might try and drop the hint, and that little voice in the back of your head that you never listen to. And you’ll go in and get your heart broken. Or, have you ever fancied someone but you won’t tell your friends you fancy them because you know they’ll take the mickey out of you? Yeah? There’s a couple of them.

A: [laughter] yeah

Mermaids: And it’s not something that we can control, you know, we are – it’s just a part of who we are, who we are attracted to. And it’s not something that we can sort of schedule. You can’t get your diary out and say, I’m free next Wednesday, so I’ll put a wash on, I’ll do a big shop and then in the afternoon I’ll fall in love – pencil that in. That’s not how it works, you know, someone will come into your life, often quite by chance, strange things happen that science still can’t completely explain, and then you’re in love, and your life’s over. [inaudible]

A: [laughter]

Mermaids: And then there’s your biological sex, so your physical body alone. Now, when I went to school a long time ago, we were taught that men have these chromosomes and women have these chromosomes and that was it. And most people still think that way, but what we now know, through advancements in science, is the human race can have a combination of up to 42 different sets of chromosomes. But still, in 2018, one person will look at the genitals of a newborn baby and say this baby is a boy, or this baby is a girl, and within six weeks that child has to be legally registered as that sex, and that is how they will be raised. And we do raise boys and girls differently. Occasionally a baby is born and it’s not clear by looking at the genitals whether they’re male or female, or it could be a combination of the both, and we will look at that in detail in a minute.

But even now as adults, in those boxes – those physical male and female boxes – there are spectrums. So those of us in the room with breasts, are we all the same bra size? You only have to go Marks & Spencers and see the vast spectrum, yeah? I won’t embarrass those in the room with a lower appendage, I’m sure you’re all 12s.

And then there’s your expression. So that is your style, your mannerisms, likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, all that kind of thing is part of your expression. And as grown ups we like to think that we have complete control over that, but do we? I can go shopping with my mum, who is still secretly hoping for the Princess Barbie, and she will pick something up and she’ll go, ‘oh that will look lovely on you’ and I’ll go, ‘it’s hideous, put it back.’ I have two criteria when I go shopping – will it need ironing and will it be comfortable. That’s my starting point, I go from there. I could play a piece of music, half the room would love it, half the room would say, ‘turn that noise off.’ But if I then said OK, do a 1500 word essay on why – where would you even start? And our mannerisms, if you think of your walk, your walk actually says quite a lot about you. We can recognise people at a distance from their walk, yet we never really think about how we walk, and if we do, we start to, like, style it out and try and make ourselves cool.

A: [laughter]

Mermaids: So that’s all part of your expression.

Choose your stereotype…err, I mean Jelly Babies! (15:23)

Mermaids: So, you’ve got your first jelly baby, which is just looking at those two really stereotypical extremes, and then me telling you where I feel I fit, so just like a gut reaction. I now want you to choose a jelly baby for your brain, so how you identify, a jelly baby for your heart, so which jelly baby are you most likely to be attracted to? A jelly baby for your sex – so your physical body alone – how manly or womanly are you? And then a jelly baby for your expression, so your style, mannerisms, hobbies, that kind of thing. So you’ll end up with five jelly babies. So you’ve got your first one, which was those two extra – based on the two extremes and then me telling you where I fit. Yeah? One for your brain, so how you identify, or your gender identity. One for your heart, so which jelly baby are you most likely to be attracted to … then one for your sex, so your physical body alone. How manly or womanly are you? And then your expression, so that’s your style, your hobbies, that kind of thing.

A: You’re so Barbie.

A: Me?

[general discussion]

Mermaids: Now, I will send this through, so you can do them on your own with a bottle of wine if you want to, yeah? But there’s lots of reasons I do this exercise. The first one, yeah, is that, you know, as humans, we’re just lots and lots and lots and lots of different jelly babies, layered together to make us all completely unique. There’s only one of you. But also, as a population, there’s not many people whose jelly babies are all number 12 and they’re only attracted to 1. Or all number 1 and they’re only attracted to 12s. Most of us are a bit more of a mixture of that. Would you agree? Yeah? Yet, if you think of things like story books, movies, songs, magazine campaigns, TV adverts … sort of the subtext, if you like, of our culture, is sort of geared towards Princess Barbie finding her GI Joe, falling in love, living happy ever after, making baby boys and girls who are going to be Barbies and Joes, on that ever perpetual cycle, and it’s not really a mirror image of us. And that’s before we even begin to factor in things such as ethnicity, disability, age, body shape … yeah? It is slowly changing, yeah? But very slowly, and we’re certainly not seeing ourselves 100% of the time in what we view, what we read, what we hear, yeah? So it kind of gets you thinking about where we are at the moment, and where we maybe need to be, and what we can do about that.

Intersex Navaho clownfish = Trans (19:16)

Mermaids: But that is just our culture at the moment. There’s lots of other cultures who think and feel very differently to us. And the Navajo tribe, a Native American tribe, are one of many cultures around the world who see, as humans, that we are not just Barbies and Joes, there’s much more to us than that. They actually recognise up to 5 genders. They’re known as two-spirit people because they have two spirits, not just one. So regardless of the announcement when they’re born children are raised kind of pretty gender neutral really, and everyone is just allowed to find their own place within the tribe. So some of – a baby could be born and the announcement may be it’s a boy, but as that child is growing up, if they recognise that some of their jelly babies are further down towards Barbie, they may take on a female name, wear more female clothing and live and work as a female within that tribe, and it’s a completely natural part of their culture. If you’re familiar with the LGBT calendar, or if you saw the Pride flag flying in May and you weren’t sure why, it comes from IDAHOBIT, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, and it goes right the way back to … the Navajo tribe.

So I mentioned about sometimes a child’s born and it’s not always clear by looking at the genitals whether they are male or female, it can be a combination of both, and that means the child is intersex. Now a person can be intersex in one of three ways or any combination. So the first is the appearance of the genitals, it can be unclear or it can be a combination. The second is chromosomes and the third is ovaries and testes not being where they should be or how they should be. And it can be discovered at any point. So if it’s the appearance of the genitals it will be discovered at birth. It can be discovered through a medical procedure. So, for example, there was a young child, appeared to be female so was assigned female at birth, raised as a girl, needed her appendix out when she was 9 and that was when they discovered that, instead of a uterus and ovaries, she had internal testicles. So that’s how they discovered that she was intersex. It can be when puberty begins and maybe you don’t get what you were expecting, it can be through exploratory things in adulthood, so maybe if someone’s trying for a family and they’re not successful, they may have exploratory tests and it’s discovered then, and there’s plenty of cases where it’s been found post mortem. Because it’s not had any impact on that person’s life, you know, it’s never been an issue. 1 in 2000 babies are born intersex so it’s really, really not unusual. They say that there are as many intersex people in the UK as there are redheads.

Now, I’ve told you as much as I know about intersex, I’m not an expert on it. The reason I do this, there’s 2 reasons. First of all, this is the I in the LGBTQAI. So the intersex population put themselves under the rainbow because they suffer a lot of the same things that the trans population do with regards to lack of education, discrimination, people assuming that it’s a negative, yeah? And also there are some similarities in certain parts of the treatment pathway. But also there’s lots of scientific data that’s been coming out that seems to be bringing the trans population and the intersex population closer together. We don’t know where that’s going to end up but it’s really getting very interesting, and we will look at that a bit later on.

MAW: Sorry, can I just say, I’ve got some intersex friends and they’re not at all happy about being included in trans, cos they say it’s not about identity, it’s a medical condition. So that’s worth saying, you know, it’s not a given that there is total common cause, they’re really quite vocally unhappy about it.

Mermaids: Well, there are trans people who don’t want to be under the rainbow, there are gay people …

MAW: Yeah, yeah …

Mermaids: … who [don’t want trans people ?] under the rainbow, that’s just …

MAW: … yeah, yeah …

Mermaids: … yeah, that’s just part of it. And actually trans is – is – there’s scientific data to say that it is part of the human race, it’s not a choice, but we’ll get onto that a bit later on. So, we all know Nemo and we know Nemo is a clownfish, and if we’re really honest, we only know he’s a clownfish since Nemo, before then he was just a fish. All clownfish are born male, so the only announcement that they have is ‘it’s a boy!’ What happens at breeding season, the dominant males, so all the GI Joe Nemos, will physically change biological sex and become female. Then they will mate. When that female dies, the next dominant male will come forward and take her place. It’s known as sequential hermaphroditism. There’s lots of examples in the animal kingdom where a species will make either part or whole changes, physically, or they will display characteristics of the opposite sex for either defence or mating purposes. So it is very much part of the natural order.

Tomboys & male femininity (24:45)

Mermaids: So, tomboys. I was a tomboy growing up and it was never a problem. I never got bullied, I never got laughed at if I went out in my football kit, I never got gently coerced to play with other things, or other people. And even as I grew up and became a teenager, it was just not an issue at all. These are just typical google images of what you would expect a tomboy to be, and that is the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: A tomboy is a girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities, traditionally associated with boys. But what about the other way round? Well we don’t have a word. In the English language we don’t have a word that just describes a boy who enjoys activities traditionally associated with girls. The nearest two which are still in the dictionary are sissy and pansy. The top google search I found was ‘Men – do you like girly girls or tomboys?’ – I thought that was just creepy, and there were no google images that I could share professionally – there were a couple I kept for myself, but there were none …


Mermaids: And the only reason that’s there, is because I was in my parents’ house when I was doing this and my mum said ‘oh use that picture ’cause it’s nice, and she might be [inaudible] lesbian [inaudible]’ and I said ‘yeah, she might be, but it’s not really what I was looking for.’ I think naively I thought I was going to find like, a little boy in a Disney princess dress, or a teenage lad with really cool, funky makeup. That’s what I thought I would get, but I didn’t. And it kind of really drove home to me that it is really still a big no-no, you know, for a boy to like girl stuff, whatever that is, or a man to like woman stuff, whatever that is. And I go into a lot of schools and usually in a primary school, I’ll get the teacher, reception, year 1, and they’ll say ‘Oh no, we’ve got a little boy who comes in and he goes through the dressing up box. It’s not a problem, not a problem.’ And I’ll say ‘OK, well let’s have this conversation again when he’s in year 6 and he’s still doing it,’ because then it will become a problem, maybe not for him, but the adults around him will begin to get worried and they’ll begin to get fearful, because they want him to be safe, they don’t want him to be picked on or bullied. Well we need to start turning around and dealing with the bullies properly. We need to start calling people out. We need to let them know that it really doesn’t matter. It absolutely really doesn’t matter. But again, it gets you thinking.

The problem with ‘Cis’…(27:33)

So this is just a little bit of basic terminology. If you really want to improve your terminology, Stonewall website is the best place to do that. And the thing about language is it’s constantly changing, so I learn something new every single day. So when it comes to gender identity, you’re either cisgender or transgender – cis or trans. So, very basically, you are cisgender if your brain jelly baby and your biology jelly baby are in alignment, so if it says male on your birth certificate and you feel as though you are a man you are cisgendered. If it says female on your birth certificate and you feel as though you are a woman you are cisgender. Trans or transgender is an umbrella term and it just means that the brain jelly baby and the biology jelly baby are not in alignment to varying degrees.

MAW: Does that mean you’re not dysphoric? Is that how you know that you’re cisgender? Because you’ve not got a dysphoria?

Mermaids: Not all trans people have a dysphoria.

MAW: I’m just thinking, if I know I’m a man, what am I measuring that against? What’s the gold standard that I know I’m a man? You know, you know what I mean? Where is it? What is it I’m supposed to be comparing myself to?

Mermaids: It can be culturally, it can be a sense of self …

MAW: So different – in every different culture, cis would mean something different?

Mermaids: I don’t know what cis is in other languages.

MAW: No, what I mean – what you’re saying is if – if you don’t feel that your body’s wrong … you know what I mean? What are you judging yourself against? Is there a gold standard of being a man, that I would know that I’m a man? Do you know – is that … ?

A: Yeah, I know what you’re saying. And I think it’s binding to the binaries isn’t it, that – you know, your logic brain goes, we know they don’t exist – but actually they do. And the messages are – the gold standard is GI Joe.

MAW: It’s culturally created isn’t it, it’s not real.

A: Absolutely, but it becomes real when millions and millions and millions of people buy into it.

MAW: Oh yeah, for sure.

A: So it’s that [inaudible]

MAW: I was just thinking if a woman who – 20 or 30 years ago, a woman who wanted to work and not be at home … she wasn’t cis was she? I don’t suppose, according to that, cos she’s saying … what you’re presenting …

Mermaids: Yes because it’s about gender identity, she would have known she was a woman.

MAW: … because she’s not dysphoric?

Mermaids: Because her brain jelly baby and her biology jelly baby are in alignment.

MAW: Yeah, I don’t really buy the jelly baby. I can’t – I honestly, I’m not just trying to be awkward, I just don’t get it, and I really want to get it because I work with lots of young people. If cisgender is used commonly, and Stonewall, you know, I’ve done their training and stuff, is every one of us in this room thinks – I think I’m a man because everything I’ve ever been exposed to by being a man is that – and this chap, and this chap – we’ll all be different. We’ve got a different store of what it means to be a man, so I don’t know how we can commonly say that we all agree we are at peace, or in harmony with, that description cos I don’t understand what we’re supposed to compare ourselves against.

A: I suppose it means what it means to you, you know. What does being a man mean to you? And if you feel that way then that means that’s how you identify, you’re a man.

MAW: Totally individual?

A: Yeah. Then it – you can’t – I don’t think you can compare – that’s part of the issue in terms of schools as well …

MAW: Yeah, yeah …

A: … You can’t, people compare with other people too much, so in terms of …

MAW: Oh yeah, for sure …

A: … totally, to you … Are you talking about social media and stuff like that?

MAW: Yeah, yeah …

A: If someone – if I say I’m looking at that – what am I to me, in my head? Am I saying I’m cis? I’m a cisgendered – to me I’m going to say I’m cis, that’s just cos I think that’s what I think to me. That doesn’t mean …

MAW: Yeah, yeah …

A: … your cis is any different. If I’m concentrating on myself then it doesn’t matter, do you know what I mean? It’s in terms of having confidence in what – who you are and who you are as a person. At the end of the day that might mean to you, that that doesn’t mean anything to you, you know yourself as a person …

MAW: yeah …

A: … it means your self esteem is high, regardless. I guess that’s the common goal that we’re trying to gain in terms of being [inaudible] I wouldn’t stress on that too much.

MAW: In terms of value I totally get you. It’s just that one is encouraged to use the term cis, like, for example, a feminist woman rejects lots of … nonsense, don’t they? You know, you don’t have to stay at home looking after kids, you don’t have to do the cleaning, you don’t have to do x, y and z, you don’t have to give sex on demand. For some people they’re not real women and that is one of the criticisms against feminism isn’t it? You’re not doing this right. And if they’re not doing it right, they’re not cis. I’m not – I’m tr – I’m not …

Mermaids: I know, I know …

MAW: Anyway sorry … move on … my fault.

Mermaids: OK, so this is just, as I say basic terminology, so cisgender and transgender. We try to avoid using terms like transgendered because it can have an implication that something has happened to someone to make them trans. Transgenderism – we avoid that because it’s not a movement, the transgenders, I’ve had that one put to me and I just replied with ‘well, they’re not a band …[laughter] … yet.’

‘Transexuals, you’re outdated!’ Introducing the more fashionable choice of: Non-Binary, Gender-fluid & Gender-queer (Piers Morgan doesn’t know what they mean…hell, no one does, not even me!)

Mermaids: The word transsexual is considered to be outdated and certainly the younger generation really don’t like it. They say that they feel as though it medicalises them. There are some members of the older trans population who are kind of owning it as a sense of empowerment. I would never use that, the press use it a lot because they know that it sort of antagonises people but just remains just under the law. Just about. But I would never use that unless someone said to me, ‘I identify as transsexual and that’s how I want to be known and referred to.’ Otherwise I would just stick to trans because it’ll cover everything and offend no-one.

So non-binary, it’s what makes Piers Morgan’s head explode for some reason. Non-binary people make him very angry, I’m not sure. There’s lots of different ways of explaining non-binary but if you’re well outside of the LGBT bubble the easiest way to describe it really is that somebody’s brain jelly baby is just right in the middle so they obviously don’t feel a draw or an identification with either of the binaries. So it can be either no binary at all or a combination, an equal combination of both. But I think most non-binary people will sort of explain for themselves what it is to them.

So gender-fluid or gender-queer, so again, the term queer is a self-identifying term. It doesn’t bother me getting called queer, I sometimes refer to myself as queer, but yeah, I’ve got friends my age who absolutely hate it and they think I should be offended by it, but I’m not. So if someone is gender-fluid the easiest way to describe it really is that their brain jelly baby is [inaudible]. So, most people, your brain jelly baby is fixed by the time you’re 4. Some people will remain fluid and it’s quite common in children, it’s quite common in teens, and some of those will settle in their birth gender and some of them won’t. And then there’s a small number who are gender-fluid for life, so their brain jelly baby will never ever fix. So the most famous person you may know is Eddie Izzard, so Eddie Izzard now identifies as trans, and gender fluid. And you can tell where his brain jelly baby is by what his expression jelly baby is doing, yeah? So some days you’ll see him and he presents as what we will perceive as masculine, other times he presents as feminine. He keeps his male name and his male pronoun, he doesn’t feel the need to change that.

So, social transition, medical transition – does what it says on the tin really, so a social transition is where someone will change their name, their pronoun and often their appearance, to align with the gender with which they identify, so who they are. A medical transition is when someone will seek medical help to make physiological changes to their body, again to align with the gender with which they identify. Someone’s transition begins and ends when they tell you. So, for example, if I was part of your team and I’d come in today and said, you know, OK, I recognise I’m trans, I’m a trans man, I’d like to be known as Paul and for you to use he and him pronouns. That is all you ever need to know. The next time I see you, you don’t have to ask if I’m on hormones, or if I’ve had the op, you don’t have to point to it, we know where it is, yeah? You know, I didn’t start today by saying, ‘Good morning everyone, how are your genitals?’

A: Fine, thank you, how are yours?


Mermaids: We just – you know, we just don’t do that. But quite often when someone is transitioning people seem to think it’s OK to just ask these very personal questions and it’s really not. If someone wants to share they will happily, but please don’t ask them. There’s lots of reasons for this, you know, but one of the main ones really is that they may not know where their ending is. They may not have got there yet, so that it’s – when they feel as though they are who they are that is enough for them. So some trans people will – a social transition is enough for them. Others will go down the medical pathway and there are lots and lots of things on that medical pathway, and it’s different for everyone.

So these are just some abbreviations that you probably won’t need to use, but you may see it on documentation if you are looking after a trans person. So it just indicates which way the transition is going. So FtM is female to male, MtF is male to female, you may see FtNB, so female to non-binary, MtGF – male to gender-fluid, so it’s just so you’re aware of what they mean.

Sexuality. Trans rights are just like gay rights (37:21)

Mermaids: Now, I say this quite a lot because I do a lot of work well outside of the LGBT bubble. I go into lots of conferences and seminars, and when you are sort of networking professionally, you know, you introduce yourself and say, you know, where you are from? So I’ll say hi, I’m [name redacted] from Mermaids – Oh, what do Mermaids do? – so I’ll tell them and then they’ll tell me about someone they know who is gay, or a drag queen, and if that person who they know who is gay is from Liverpool then they’ll assume I know them. So, they’re both under the rainbow, so gender identity and sexuality are both under the rainbow but they’re at completely different ends. The easiest way to remember it is, your sexuality is who you go to bed with, your gender identity is who you go to bed as. So your sexuality is who you are attracted to, who you see as a partner, who you want to have sex with. Your gender identity – it’s your sense of self, it’s your mindset, your thought processes, your perceptions, it’s, you know, it’s who you are. It has nothing to do with sex at all. And I think that’s why people often struggle to understand transgender children, particularly little ones, because we sometimes make it a big, grown up sexual thing when it’s really not.

So just as you can be cisgender and you can be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, so you can be trans and you can be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual. Because they’re two completely different jelly babies. So if you are assigned female at birth but you identify as male and you are attracted to women, then you would be straight. You would be trans but you would be straight. Do you want me to say that again? So if you’re assigned female at birth but you identify as male and you’re attracted to women, you are straight. You’re trans but you’re straight. But there’s lots of people who are just busting all these boxes apart, yeah? So I think this next generation are embracing the spectrums and the fluidity a lot more, yeah? Rather than saying I am this, I fit in this box or that box.

It’s quite common as well for, particularly with teens, if they’re that busy coping with being trans, if they’re struggling with it, their sexuality can get put on the back burner, and they’ll deal with that another time. It’s also quite common for them to be exploring both at the same time and they kind of feel it’s a kind of overlap, but they do remain separate things.

So what is it like to grow up LGBT+? So there used to be a programme on,I don’t think anyone in here is old enough to remember, it was called The New Avengers and they had characters in like Purdey and Steed, has anyone ever heard of it? … you have, yeah. So Purdey was this amazing, like, woman superhero and I thought she was absolutely fabulous and I had my hair cut – the Purdey cut, do you remember the Purdey cut anyone?

MAW: Yeah yeah, Joanna Lumley, wasn’t it?

Mermaids: Yeah, it was, I only found that out a couple of years ago. Well I had the Purdey haircut, I used to practice my Purdey kicks, usually on my brother. And I was only about 7 and I just said out loud, I want to marry Purdey when I grow up. Well, you do when you’re 7. My parents weren’t bothered but my older brother was 9 and he was quite protective and he kind of took me to one side and he went, ‘you can’t, it’s not allowed. And don’t tell anyone or you will get beat up.’ Now, for the time, he was absolutely right. It was the early 70’s, we didn’t have same sex marriage and it was incredibly homophobic. I would have got beat up, that’s a fact. But at 7, to be told that something that just felt so natural and so lovely was not only wrong, it could put me in danger – what do you do with that when you’re 7? Yeah? You push it down and you get your knot. I call it my Purdey moment, and I think most LGBT+ adults can tell you the exact moment in their life when they got their knot. And some people will learn to live with it, some people will turn it into a positive and become activists, but for a lot of people, it can consume them and they can go down a really, really dark path. Now, if you are cisgender and heterosexual you won’t get that knot. You might get other knots, cos that’s life, but not that particular one. And even now, I mean there’s hardly a week that goes by where I don’t hear something, or see something, or something on social media that reminds me of that. That reminds me that there are countries in the world I cannot go. Yeah? That there are places where I would be in danger, that there are people – yeah? – and it could be someone in this room, who … who hates me because of who I am. So that is like a constant sort of undercurrent.

So we asked some of our teens to either create or find an image that answered that question for them, about growing up trans. And these are some of the things they’ve come up with. So one of our young people put this together and said, ‘Imagine those words are rocks and the darker the colour, the bigger and heavier the rock. I had that in my backpack all the time, that weight. Before I put in my books or my sports kit, or anything else. I had that constant weight all the time.’ Another one of our teens said, ‘That was me in the school corridor. That’s how I felt, I had this constant fear that I was going to be outed, or verbally or physically abused, and that my world was just going to go whoomph from under me.’ And he said when he got onto firm ground was when he came out the first person as being trans, and that person was his mum. And his mum did not take it well. He said what happened then, he had to go back to the beginning and cross it again, carrying his mum. That’s how he described it, because he was then reassuring her, supporting her, educating her. It was like a complete role reversal. And that is a real common thread, particularly with our teens, that when they come out as being trans, they are then expected to be the font of all knowledge for all of the adults around them. And quite often they don’t have that knowledge, they certainly don’t have the confidence, most of them.

This really, really struck a chord with me, because when you are LGBT you don’t just come out once in your lifetime, you will come out a thousand times and more. And you always have to make that split second judgment call. Is this going to be OK? Am I going to be accepted? Am I going to be discriminated against? And in some cases, am I going to be safe? Yeah? I have delivered training and when I’ve got back to my car, my car has been keyed, and I know why. Yeah? People assume that homophobia doesn’t really exist. It really really does. Yeah? It’s a lot better, don’t get me wrong, it is improving, but we still have such a long way to go.

Now, I’ve met you all today for the first time and we may never meet again, yeah? But it could be that there’s a conference on in a couple of months time and we might both attend, and we might recognise each other and go ‘Oh, you were [inaudible] how are you?’ bla bla bla – might have a cup of tea. And then we might discover we’re going to be at another event, so we might swap numbers, arrange to meet up, have a bit of lunch, then we might poke each other on facebook, yeah, and it could go on and on and on and on and on, yeah? At what point in that relationship is it going to be absolutely essential for you to know my gender identity and my sexuality?

[long pause]

A: Never

Mermaids: It would only be if we were going to get intimate that you would need that information. Yeah? So why are LGBT kids still having to come out? And still having a really hard time doing it? I’ve never met anyone who’s had to come out as straight.

[long pause]

Mermaids: Yeah? Again, it’s getting better. Still an awful long way to go, and I know it’s different with trans kids because they will make those changes for everyone to see, and they need a bit of support in doing that, but I long for the day when kids can just go ‘This is who I am,’ – brill, what do you want for your tea? That’s where I [would rather ?] us all to be, it’s just not an issue any more.

Pronouns: from courtesy to hate crime (46:23)

Mermaids: So, pronouns. So we talked before about as soon as we find out if it’s a boy or a girl, the pronouns are just given automatically. Most of us don’t really think of our pronouns very often, and we will give someone a pronoun, automatically, based on what our subconscious tells us we are seeing in front of us, because that’s what we are conditioned to do. And for most people that’s fine, because for most people we get it right. But not for everyone. Now, you may have noticed when I introduced myself, I said ‘I’m [name redacted], I use she and her pronouns’, yeah? I’ve got two missions in my life, that is my first one, that that just becomes the norm, yeah? When we introduce ourselves, ‘Hi, [name redacted], she/her.’ Yeah? And I want – by September I want to have every teacher in the country, on your first day of term, when you meet your new class, you say your name and your pronoun.

Now, I did not do that for my benefit. It has no impact on me at all if you misgender me. I don’t have gender dysphoria, so it doesn’t have any effect on me at all, but my friend who is a transwoman said that every time she is misgendered, it is like mental sandpaper – that is how she described it. Now if you’re working with a young person, say they’re 15, yeah? They’ve had 15 years of mental sandpaper. They then pluck up the courage to say, ‘This is who I am,’ – please never underestimate how much courage that takes – ‘I want you to use this pronoun,’ and everyone around them goes, ‘Oh well I don’t know if I’m gonna remember.’ Yeah? If you take nothing else away, the importance of this, it is so, so important. I’ve got the best job in the world, I get to see over and over and over again, when a child or teenager gets the right pronoun for them. You physically witness their self-esteem [get higher?] you actually physically see it before your eyes.

Now, we know he/him, she/her, cos we use them every day. A lot of non-binary people will like to use they and them as a personal pronoun. And it’s only really been about a hundred years or so that we stopped – stopped using they and them, we used to use it all the time. If anyone is a Jane Austen buff, like me, if you go back and read her work again, you’ll see that she uses it constantly, because they did then. And then Zie. Some of our gender-fluid teens have started using zie as a pronoun. I don’t know that it will catch on, but I’m just making you aware of it, that you may meet someone and they may give you a completely different pronoun that you’ve never heard of before. Now, it’s OK to make a mistake, you know, we’re only human. If you make a mistake, correct, apologise and move on. That’s fine, but obviously what is not fine is just not respecting someone’s pronoun, yeah? At best it’s just rude. At worst it can end up becoming a hate crime.

Transcript: Mermaids Training – Part 2

Audio link:

Mermaids – Trainer

MAW – Man At Work

A – Audience member(s)

Headings & time stamps:

  • (00:00) Navaho + intersex + Spectrum = Trans people
  • (01:57) Lesbian role models & Trans role models
  • (04:01) It’s all about the brains!
  • (05:17) History of Mermaids and ‘good practice’
  • (07:55) Equality Act has led to more children self identifying as trans… Bigots and the ‘right’ information
  • (11:31) Don’t dispute the dodgy stats!
  • (15:42) Mermaids supports the medical  transition of children. If we don’t, these children will suffer and fertility can be preserved…much like jam
  • (21:17) Don’t question our inconsistencies! You’re bloody lucky to be sitting here and listening to me share my wisdom
  • (25:03) No safeguarding issues to see here. None. Nada.
  • (25:50) Drugs are good (don’t worry about the symptoms) The earlier the better!
  • (28:50) Help kids to socially or even legally change their name. You don’t need to tell the parents. In fact, feel free to ignore their authority!
  • (31:00) The Equality Act
  • (34:25) Never disclose a child’s trans status
  • (37:43) You know when I said that all rights are equal?…just forget about that!

Navaho + intersex + Spectrum = Trans people (00:00)

Mermaids: So, gender dysphoria which is what you are told you have if you are trans and wanting to transition – not everyone. It’s not a mental health issue – the World Health Organisation began removing it in 2016 and it was completed just earlier this year. It now comes under a new category of gender incongruence. Yeah? Now, that is very similar to where they put the intersex. Yeah? So, what I’m saying before, organisations and things seem to be bringing them closer together and we’re not sure where they’re going to end up but it’s interesting. Now there are lots and lots of reasons for this, it’s been going on a long time. Two of the main ones really was the research that’s been coming out from different research projects. Some have been like 40 years long, from all around the world sort of all been coming together.

Both in the Lancet last year and in endocrine guidelines, they said that everything is pointing to a biological underpinning. Yeah? So, the easiest way to think of it really, we’re all made the same way, sperm meets egg, bubble bubble bubble, we’re all female, bubble bubble bubble, and out we go onto this spectrum. And some people go more towards Joe, some more towards Barbie, Yeah? You know, there’s plenty of men who are you know, petite and plenty of women who are big and broad. It’s just about the human race on that spectrum and where we are divided. You know, we’ve got the intersex population, and what they’re saying is that the 1% of the trans population are just part of that and we’re looking now at lots of evidence to support that. And when we think of cultures such as the Navajo who’s just always accepted that for thousands of years.

Lesbian role models & Trans role models (01:57)

Mermaids: Culturally we are changing, yeah? We’re no longer mum, dad, 2.4 children. Families are very different now much more blended, much more diverse, so children growing up now have a very different norm to what I had growing up. And we now have positive role models. Now when I had my Purdey moment, for a long time I thought I was the only one because there were no lesbian or bisexual women anywhere, they were not on tv, they were not in films, they were not in books I didn’t know anyone else who felt the same as I did and I used to think that I was the only one. Until one day I was in our local shop and there was two ladies talking, they were talking about Martina Navratilova, who was a tennis player. And you know when grown ups have that conversation thing where they ‘talk like that’  and they think kids can’t hear but kids hear everything, it was one of those that was going on. But I could tell by what they were saying about her and I still remember it as clear as anything this feeling of  ‘[gasp] there’s another one’ and then I watched a lot of tennis. Not because I was into tennis but just because there was another one. Yeah? That feeling of isolation.

Now our young people have got amazing role models growing up, you know. Nicola Adams, Tom Daley, Paris Lees, incredible people doing amazing things, they just happen to be part of the LGBT population but it’s not the first and most important thing about them. A lot of young people as well are going online and finding vloggers and bloggers. We’ve had transgender children on children’s TV for 10 years. (Whispers) The grown ups don’t know that they’re watching.

So again, there’s a lot of self-identification going on, where.. know ‘What that person’s saying is exactly how I feel’ and that then has given them the knowledge and vocabulary to then be able to explain it to somebody else. We’re seeing a lot of that.

It’s all about the brains! (04:01)

Mermaids: And there’s some medical research going on. So this was covered on Horizon a couple of years ago. I don’t know if you can still get it online, you might be able to, where they’re looking at brains basically. So they’ve been looking at brains for a long time when it comes to sexuality, so now they’re looking at it in regards to gender identity. So there was a study done in Holland where … science already knows that when children perform certain tasks with their hands, that there’s a different part of the brain stimulated in a natally born male than in a natally born female. So, they got some kids in a room, some transgender and some cisgender and they just got them to do these tasks while they measured what was going on. And what it showed was that the children who were assigned male at birth and identified as boys, and those assigned female at birth and identified as boys, that the brain activity was the same; and the same the other way round. Scientifically, it is in its infancy but again, it’s interesting and it’s interesting enough for them to get a lot of funding to continue with that. But obviously when we put all this together, you know, it’s safe to say that 1% of the human race are trans, always have been, always will be and there’s a lot more stuff on that as well.

History of Mermaids and ‘good practice’ (05:17)

Mermaids: So Mermaids. We were founded in 1995 so we’ve been around a long time! And this was our first mission statement for want of a better word of what we wanted to do, what we wanted to achieve. Now talking about language changing, our wording has changed so much. So this bit here where it says ‘Children and teenagers dealing with gender identity issues’ – at one of our residentials some of our teens came up to us and said ‘Erm, we don’t have an issue, we know who we are. It’s other people who have an issue with us. So, could you take that word off us.’ So we did and we now word things slightly differently.

We wanted to reduce isolation and stigma and unfortunately, we’re still working on that. Inform family of rights and in 1995 there were not many, thankfully now it’s a lot. We wanted to provide peer support and friendship, both online and face to face, that was really, really important because these kids need to know they’re not the only one. They may be the only one at this school, in their church, or in their you know, hobby group or in their community, but there’s thousands of children like them all over the UK, all over the world, and they need to meet and become friends and share their experiences. Online was quite new then but we needed to make the most of it. And we did.

So over the years we’ve done a lot of work with NSPCC, Childline and particularly, the past like 3-5 years, online has become even more valuable because 40% of the young people who we support online cannot be ‘out’ at home…for various reasons, so, you know, and sometimes school may be the only place they can be themselves. So something you may be aware is that school may be supporting the child and they may be known as a pronoun in school and the parents don’t know about it because they can’t be ‘out’ at home. If the parents find out, it can become a safeguarding issue, so you need to be very careful about when you are talking about your cases.

Collaboration with the 3rd sector. So back then, we were trying to educate schools, educate emergency services, educate, you know, people such as yourselves. We didn’t really get listened to. Now we’re just playing a huge game of catch up, where we’re trying desperately to get all that information out there and then to promote good practice. ‘Cos you know, I mean being trans is not a bad thing, it’s just a thing Yeah? So it’s about how we handle it, our perceptions and what we do and how we can change things.

Equality Act has led to more children self identifying as trans… Bigots and the ‘right’ information (07:55)

Mermaids: So our demand has gone up 500% in 3 years. We don’t shy away from it, we don’t pretend it’s not happening, but we did try and warn everyone. It began with the introduction of the 2010 Equality Act which we’ll look at in a minute because that was a huge game changer. That put laws in place that meant that trans people could stay in work, because there were laws to protect them, it meant that trans children could stay in school because there were laws to protect them. So, visibility went up, and with visibility comes self-identification.Yeah? We also saw things being put on television, you know, most of it not very good, yeah? but it was still there, it was beginning to be spoke about, it was in the press and again this whirlwind began to happen we were like ‘Guys, this is happening, we need to do something’ and we’re at a point now where there’s kids popping out everywhere saying ‘This is me, this is me, this is me’ and everyone now is like ‘what do we do, what do we do?’ and while this is happening, kids are suffering. We are doing our best and what I often say is, make sure you talk to other people and share your knowledge with them.

So, the daily challenges, these are really, really common with a lot of our families. Isolation is a really, really big one and I always say, When someone is LGBT, don’t assume that they want to be LGBT, they may not. They may have real, real internal conflict. If they’ve got a very strong faith, a strong culture, strong belief, they may not want it and that internal conflict alone can cause severe isolation. It could be that they’ve come out to their family and their family are not supportive, it could be that you’ve got parents supporting a young person or a child, but extended family, grandparents, aunts and uncles, that kind of thing. You know. They could lose a lot.They could lose friends, you know, so isolation is a big one and we see that a lot, particularly with little ones, they will stop getting invited to birthday parties and that kind of thing. So that isolation can be a slow process but nonetheless it can be there.

So, discrimination and prejudice. We’re always going to have bigots unfortunately. So my way of thinking is, well, 100% we know that 10% of the population comes under the LGBT+ umbrella, say 10% are bigots, you’re never gonna change that unfortunately. But then there’s this 80% and that 80% I think, with the right information, the right knowledge, the right level of understanding could become real allies and supporters. The problem we have is that 95% of what is out there, particularly in the media, is rubbish or it’s inaccurate. So, we just want to try to get the right information out there so that you can make your own informed choice.

So, bullying is not just peer to peer, it can come from lots of places; we’ve had cases where it’s been a teacher, a social worker, a GP. So it can come from anywhere. It can come from within the family. So, if the family are very fearful, coercion can spill over into bullying. And parents, carers and siblings can suffer the same prejudices but it’s important to know that when we look at the laws that the laws will protect them, and they also protect you if you are caring for someone who is trans.

Don’t dispute the dodgy stats! (11:31)

Mermaids: So this is the Stonewall report that was published last year, it was published in the Guardian. If you don’t have a copy of this, I would suggest that you can download it for free from the Stonewall website, and this is just a snippet. So 45% of young trans people have attempted suicide –  that’s hospital admission attempts. 1 in 9 have received death threats; 84% have self- harmed, and 75% are actively self-harming, and  51% are bullied in school and that is reported bullying only. This has got to change. Yeah? And we’re all responsible for that. It’s not just down to schools, it’s not just down to LGBT organisations, it’s everyone Yeah?

MAW: Sorry [name redacted], about the suicide figure, I was just…I’ve read quite a bit, you know, trying to get up to speed with this. There’s quite a lot of people disputing that figure, because it’s self – self referred online from a group of 27 people. Or something…

Mermaids: No, that’s not right

MAW: Is it not? Is that not the case?

Mermaids: This report now, there was 1,000’s of  kids involved.

MAW: Really?

Mermaids: And before this, there was one done by PACE mental health..

MAW: uh huh..

Mermaids: …and the figures were pretty much the same. That was done in 2014.

MAW: So when it says ‘young trans people’.. given that you say that we don’t know who a lot of them are, cause like not everybody’s out or self identifying, it’s kind of difficult to know what that size of .. you know, what’s the cohort? Because we have to deal a lot with statistics.

Mermaids: I can’t remember the exact numbers, but that I think it was 4,000 kids between maybe 11-19. Can’t remember off the top of my head.

MAW: I tried to…

Mermaids: You can get the whole report…

MAW: Yeah, I will. I’ve read quite a few fairly respectable type people, academics and researchers who’ve really taken issue with that because there’s a problem of promoting suicide in culture. Suicide promotion is a difficult one and it’s a difficult lever to use with parents. As you say, like you’ve got schools might be treating a young person one way and then parents not being in that loop and that’s a really interesting safeguarding one. I’m sure we’re gonna come on to that. But if schools are being told that the children who present to them as trans have got almost a one in two chance of trying to kill themselves, that’s an unusual pressure to put on any educational establishment to respond to and I think it is incumbent on all of us to have absolutely crystal…

I’ve lost lots of friends to suicide, actually. By the time I was 40 I’d lost four friends and I lost another one two years ago, so I’m very, very careful about suicide and about its use. I also suffer from depression. And, you know, I’m totally… You know, I’ve had suicidal ideation myself, but I think we need to be really, really careful about throwing out a huge stat like that, because when we go away, we’re all busy, we’re all gonna have other things to do and we’re gonna think, 45% of young trans people attempted suicide’ so we need to know if that’s actually true. So I’m just saying that…

Mermaids: (soundly increasingly tetchy) Yeh, I mean if you want to contact Stonewall that’s…

MAW: Yeah, I know what they say, yeh, but there are other views on that and I think it’s incumbent on us all as human beings to be certain of what we say.

Mermaids: I would say though please don’t assume that because someone is intelligent and in academia they don’t also have the ability to also be transphobic, because I see that a lot.

MAW: Absolutely. Anybody can be anything, but I think suicide statistics… the Samaritans are very clear in their guidance that it mustn’t be used willy nilly, so I would just say as a human being you know, I’ve got kids, I’ve been in education for 20 years – we really need to interrogate the actual real truth behind that and be satisfied ourselves in all authenticity whether it is the case and that’s all I’m saying, because it is a very, very important thing. Suicide is not something to skip over in a Powerpoint.

Mermaids supports the medical  transition of children. If we don’t these children will suffer and fertility can be preserved…much like jam (15:42)

Mermaids: So we know, from lots and lots of research, that when a child or teen is fully supported to make a child-led social transition, that their mental health is exactly the same as the rest of their peers. Poor mental health is not inevitable in trans children,  it’s extremely common. And from the feedback we get from them, the two main causes really is number one, how they are treated and then secondly the problems with the treatment pathway which we will look at in a minute.

So this is what Mermaids offers today, so we have come a long way since 1995. Our website, our helpline and our information email service are available to everyone. Because life is unpredictable, you may get various scenarios as you go along, please feel free to ring our helpline or drop us an email and we can help with that specific issue. If you are a parent or sole carer of a trans young person before their 20th birthday, you can apply to become part of the Mermaids family. Because we do have to have a very strict verification process because we get people trying to join us who are not who they say they are.

So we do have family groups all over the UK, there is one in Birmingham, we have residential weekends and we think it’s really important for the families to get together. We always have someone from the gender identity clinic, we always have someone from the police or Stop Hate and we have our Mermaids peer mentors. These are people who were little mermaids who are now big mermaids. That’s really important for our families to see ‘cos a lot of the time when someone comes out as trans, people assume that things like marriage and babies and brilliant careers are off the table and that’s not the case at all and it’s important for our families to see that. We have two private forums – one for parents and carers and one for teens because we recognise that teens talk with their thumbs. So they can go on that from 12+ and it’s moderated and safeguarded so it’s a nice safe space for them to share, ask questions. We attend Prides all over the UK, deliver training everywhere and then we try to raise awareness and positivity.

So the treatment pathway. There’s been lots of misinformation put out in the press over the past few years. This is the NHS treatment pathway for children and adolescents. It’s provided by the Tavistock and Portman clinic – otherwise known as the Tavi – or it’s also known as GIDS – the Gender and Identity Development Service. So if a young person has socially transitioned, has got good physical and mental health, has gone through a series of assessments with the experts at the gender identity clinic then they may – and it’s a huge may – be offered puberty blocker medication at age 12 or Tanner stage 2 of puberty. That’s the stage of puberty where you can’t really see anything on the outside. Now puberty blocker medication, or blockers are they are known, they don’t make any changes, so they’re completely reversible. What it does is put a pause button on the pituitary gland and it just freezes puberty where it is. Not growth, just puberty. Take the blockers away and biological puberty will recommence. It’s been used globally for over 40 years in a condition called precocious puberty – that’s when you get a child of say 5 or 6 and puberty begins. So, they give them this medication, ‘til they get to about 12, take the medication away, and within 3 – 6 months the biological puberty will recommence. And we know that these people have gone on to have healthy adult lives, have children, so we know that it is safe to use. And until you’re 16, that’s the only thing available. But it does provide immense relief from the dysphoria, it also prevents the secondary sex characteristics, meaning there’s less physical intervention in later life if they decide to go down that path.

When you are 16, if you’ve gone through all of this process, you’ve continued with both your physical and mental assessments at the GIC, you’ve thoroughly explored your fertility preservation options and preserved your fertility if that is your wish and you’ve been on blockers for at least a year to give you thinking time then you may – and it’s a huge may – be offered a very low dose of cross-sex hormone. Full strength hormones and surgery is adult services only – it is not available to young people. Now this clinic has been running since about the 70s, they’ve been around a long time, so they know what they’re doing. So this is where we will often see mental health deteriorate, particularly in pubertal teens. So assuming parents or carer is both supportive and proactive, and a lot of them are not, your first port of call will be your GP. We still have GP’s who are saying ‘ There’s nothing that can be done until you’re 18’. You’re just confused.’ Or if they do do anything they’ll do a referral to CAMHS. I’m not going to knock CAMHS, they’re wonderful at what they do but the main issues there are – number one, they are not gender identity experts, by their own admission and secondly, the waiting times. It’s 6 weeks to 2 years depending on where you live. Yeah? And so during that waiting time, that’s where we’ll often see the mental health deteriorate. So they have negative thoughts, self-harming and eating disorders can become really, really common because they try to stop their body from developing… by you know, by starving. Trans boys know that if they can get the weight low enough, that their periods will stop. Yeah, ‘cos what teenage boy wants to have periods? So it depends on the level of dysphoria and how they cope with that.

Don’t question our inconsistencies! You’re bloody lucky to be sitting here and listening to me share my wisdom (21:17)

MAW: But not all trans kids have got dysphoria, have they, as you were saying?

Mermaids: Not all but most.

MAW: Oh, most? Alright. Because you said that 45% of trans kids have tried to kill themselves…

Mermaids: (cross now) I didn’t say that!

MAW: No, it’s on the slide there.

Mermaids: I just showed a snippet from the Stonewall report and suggested that you might want to get it and read it.

MAW: Yeah. I would exercise caution..

Mermaids: Please don’t put words in my mouth.

MAW: No, I’m not, I’m putting words from your powerpoint. I’m just very, very cautious about that because we’re now in a moment when we’re thinking that trans kids have all got dysphoria, but you said very casually earlier that no they don’t, not all trans people have dysphoria – that’s brilliant. But we need to know what we’re talking about ’cause If you don’t, and if many trans young people don’t, then they don’t relate to that statistic – that statistic is about young people who might have all kinds of comorbidities and be….

Mermaids: (really, really cross) I have been asked to come here for an hour…

MAW: Yeah, sorry

Mermaids: …and share some knowledge and there is absolutely NO WAY that I can share a huge level of knowledge in an hour. I can give you an overview… I can give you some signposting …

MAW: Gotcha’…

Mermaids: … and I can give you some basic information. And that is all that I can do.

MAW: I understand that and appreciate your time, and thank you very much. But I think it’s very, very important that we’re clear what we’re talking about.

Mermaids: Yeh, but the whole idea of me being here is to give you an overview and some signposting and then hopefully you will then continue, you know, to educate yourself but you will do it from the right organisations.

MAW: I agree.

[long, looooooong pause for us all to reflect on whether it’s wise to challenge Mermaids woman further. Clearly no one else is prepared to take her on]

Mermaids: Once the referral’s been done to the Tavistock, at the moment there’s a 14-18 month wait for your first appointment. You have to get your psychological support during that time locally which again, there’s a lot of problems doing that. Now the clinicians at the Tavistock are as frustrated as we are. They want to see these young people and really want to help them, so they’ve introduced 2 pilot schemes. Under 10s – the Tavistock take children from 4 years old, so what they’re doing is that they’re seeing under 10’s in family group settings because obviously there’s no intervention at that age, and it’s just about support, the right information and maybe liaising with schools and things like that. And seeing anyone who is referred after their 16th birthday, they’re seeing them in group settings ‘cos they’re going to be in adult services before any intervention is done ‘cos it a long time between the first appointment and any medical intervention, because there has to be that level of certainty.

There’s only 2 clinics –  So there’s one in Leeds, one in London. So if you live South of Birmingham, you go to London, if you’re in the North of Birmingham, you go to Leeds, so access to treatment is another problem. Now they will discuss referrals from health workers, social services, teachers, police officers, LGBT youth workers and mermaids, so if you were supporting a family, if the parents were on board, you could actually do the referral and bypass any of that. So if the young person has got really good mental and physical health, they just want help with their gender identity, then you can either download the form from the Tavistock website or from the Mermaids website and you can do the referral. If the Tavi feel as though more help is needed or they feel as if CAMHS have a place or any other agencies, then they will arrange that. And also we don’t have the right to say whether that child is trans or not, that has to be done by the experts, so the quicker that assessment can be done, the better. If it is something else, again, the Tavistock will refer on and the process will be slightly quicker.

No safeguarding issues to see here. None. Nada. (25:03)

A: So if I have a student at college who is trans…so you’re saying that I could access the help for them but would I go through my safeguarding officer?

Mermaids: No. Ofsted are very clear that being LGBT is not a safeguarding issue. If they’re under 16, you need parental consent; if they’re over 16, you can do the referral. They probably might be seen once maybe by the Tavistock ‘cos they’ll go on to adult services, but whatever time that they’re waiting for the Tavistock, that will be cut off adult services ‘cos they’ll go straight over, so it’s always worth doing the referral.

Drugs are good (don’t worry about the symptoms) The earlier the better! (25:50)

Mermaids: So, things you can expect – time out is a big one if they’re attending clinic appointments because it’s a whole day off school and it’s a whole day off work for whoever’s taking them. Obviously they can suffer with moods, some of them. Sometimes we will see, they might go to an appointment and it might go really well for them, so they’ll come out on a high, and then things don’t happen quick enough, so they’ll go back on a low and it can quite…you know might be a bit more of a deeper low. If they are on blockers alone, sometimes they can suffer from a lack of energy and some of our teens have had slight menopausal symptoms at first, but they tend to settle down. If they’re on cross sex hormones, they will go through a second puberty, but it’s done in very, very slow doses and increments. Moving on to adult services, it can be stressful if the referral’s done after 18 ‘cos the waiting time is longer for adult services. So that’s why if they’re under 18 – if you can get the referral in before, it can knock a little time off.

So, how can you show support for a young person? So, there are lots of things you can do. For some people coming out can be terrifying. We’ve got lots of young teens now, particularly LGB, who are not always coming out as such as people in my day did, they’re just sort of being themselves and everyone else is catching on. But obviously, it’s different from trans people because of all those changes. You can advocate for them, particularly if they’ve not got much confidence, you may need to be their voice sometimes. And please continue to educate yourselves. The best place to get information are places like Stonewall, our website, the Proud Trust are really really good, the Tavistock website has a lot of information that you can get as well. Also online LGBT newspapers, so things like GayStarNews, PinkNews, things like that, they have a lot of information and they will share that.

Challenge stereotypes, challenge professionals who misgender and use the wrong terminology, and obviously challenge with a small c, yeah? Whenever possible. It’s always best to have that professional dialogue. Don’t be frightened to say, ‘I’ve had some training on that recently, and I’ve found this out and, since then, I’ve done this and found this out’. Have literature readily available. So do you know where all your local LGBT youth groups are and what age do they start from? A lot start from 11. Can you make those connections, introduce yourself, get those links going so you can get support for these young people? Be involved in all those groups and also Pride. So as an organisation, do you attend Pride? That may be something that you can do, no reason why not, yeah? And then be a Mermaid, obviously.

Help kids to socially or even legally change their name. You don’t need to tell the parents. In fact, feel free to ignore their authority! (28:50)

Mermaids: So names changes – there can sometimes be a little bit of discrepancies going on with name changes and people not really having the knowledge, really, about what you are entitled to do and not entitled to do. Any adult can change their name at any time, you don’t need a lawyer, you don’t need to pay, you just download a deed poll form, fill it in, two independent witnesses of over 18, sign it and then that is your legal name. And you can use that deed poll for banking, passport and driving licence. Anyone with parental responsibility can do the same for a child, again, an ordinary deed poll is no less legal than any other way of doing it. If you go on the government website, it says you can blah blah blah, and register blah blah blah, you can but you don’t have to.

Now, and this is the bit you all need to know – if you’re 16 or approaching your 16th birthday, you can do your own deed poll and you do not need parental consent. Now think back to when you were 15, how far could you stretch that word ‘approaching’, yeah?Nothing definitive in the legal document that says what that approaching means, so we’ve had schools contact us saying ‘this kid’s come in got this deed poll and the family are saying “absolutely not,” so what do we do?’ Well, how old’s the child? 15 years and 9 months. Well, I’m really sorry but that’s their legal name, you have to use it. And if they’ve got a deed poll, you have to use it. Batman Jones it is! So just be aware of that.

They can be ‘known as’ without a deed poll in school, just not on anything … so things like being entered for GCSEs, they have to be entered in their legal name, but if they’ve got a deed poll that can be done. If they get their deed poll done after they’ve done any examinations, all the examining bodies will change them free of charge with a copy of the deed poll and a covering letter. So if they try and charge you, please challenge it because they’re a protected characteristic, it’s not the same as if the dog ate them.

The Equality Act (31:00)

Mermaids: So I mentioned before about the 2010 Equality Act and I think most of us have some awareness of this. So we certainly know about some of the anti-discrimination policies and that type of thing that has come from this. And we may know most of this list: we know we can’t discriminate sex, race, disability, religion, we may know sexual orientation is in there, we know pregnancy is in there, but did you know that gender reassignment is in there? Do you know what that means, who it applies to and at what point? Yeah? I didn’t, before I started really looking into it. This list here, protected characteristics, in the eyes of the law, they’re all the same. It’s an Equality Act yeah? so no one is more important that the other. It’s also illegal to ‘out’ a protected characteristic so if you find out that someone is LGBT+ and then you tell someone without their permission, then you’ve breached the Discrimination Act. If that outing leads to a hate crime being committed, then you would [inaudible] for prosecution. The only time this is not enforced is if it’s on a professional need to know basis. [inaudible] so professional to professional, need to know. So that’s where you’ve got to be thinking, moving forward. Don’t have general discussions. That is very much a need to know.

So this little paragraph here in the Equality Act that makes your understanding a bit more clearer: “Gender reassignment is defined in the Equality Act as applying to anyone who is undergoing, has undergone or is proposing to undergo a process, or part of a process, of reassigning their sex by changing physiological or other attributes.” This definition means that in order to be protected under the Act, a pupil will not necessarily have to be undertaking a medical procedure to change their sex, but must be taking steps to live in the opposite gender or proposing to do so. So they don’t have to have actually done anything, other than make a declaration to someone. So, ‘Sir, I think I am’ or ‘Miss, I feel like this’ or ‘I am …, I would rather be known as …’ Any kind of declaration like that, whether they are two or 102, that law will kick in and will protect them.

When it comes to, particularly with schools, they know that they have to obey the Equality Act, but just that most of them don’t know about that gender reassignment bit. And again, a positive duty for anti-bullying and anti-discrimination. Now what we’re trying to do with the project we’re doing with the Department for Education is to actually just change the ethos of schools from the bottom up. So we don’t have to be heavy-handed from the top down, we’re trying to do it much more positively and I’ll show you some of the things we can do. Also the Human Rights Act bans degrading treatment, so if anyone is being discriminated against and they feel as though they need to do something about that, they can use both the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act if they feel that is needed. And personal, religious or cultural beliefs cannot be used to discriminate. You can have them of course – we live in a free country – but it can not be used to discriminate and that’s across all of those groups.

Never disclose a child’s trans status (34:25)

Mermaids: Disclosures. To whom, by whom, how and when? So, unless specifically stated by the child and their family, it should be on a strict need to know basis only. And never coerce anyone to disclose more than they’re comfortable with. Now I know this sounds really odd because when a child transitions it’s clear for everyone to see but for some reason, and we’re not really sure why, but when we’ve worked with social services, they said it’s a similar thing to a closed adoption. The fewer people who are involved in the meetings and plannings, the quicker the young person blends in and the less chance there is of them being accidentally outed in years to come which is really important.

Normally we say within school, it should just be Head, pastoral support, class teacher, for example. And maybe the one person from your organisation who’s working with them. Try and keep it as small and contained as possible. If you go onto our website, under our patrons, one of our patrons is a captain in the British Army, there’s a video of when she was on the One Show a couple of years’ ago, talking about her transition within the armed forces.  They interviewed her superior officer and he said, ‘We just told the squadron that Captain Winterbourne will be Sir on Friday and Ma’am on Monday and that was it’. And I often say, well if it was good enough for the British Army, it’s good enough for the rest of us, yeah?  The best thing to do is to say, ‘the person that you knew up until this day as this name and this pronoun, from this day, will be this name and this pronoun’ and that’s it. And if everyone did that, you wouldn’t get situations where [unintelligible] it would just be a nonentity.Yeah? It’s a bit like when you get married and you change your name, ‘Well I’m Mrs So-and-so now’ …‘Ok great, lets get it all sorted’ no one bats an eyelid. That’s where we’d love to get to. If someone has transitioned socially before they come into your care, they don’t legally need to tell you and that’s the same for employees as well.

Any documentation if its got their old name and gender marker on it, please put it in sealed envelopes, ‘only to be opened by …’ and have that small team If it’s IT, you can lock it down with a password and again, those few named people having access to that password. You don’t want an accidental outing. Which is what happens. Yeah? And the sad thing is, it’s always the receptionists that are doing it because even if the school gets training, it’s the teachers that are getting trained and the TA’s, but it’s not going on to other staff. So things like admin or domestic staff, or visitors to the school, tutors who are coming in to do music or sport, they’re missing out on the training. So now when I go into schools, I say ‘Will you please invite everyone?’ Yeah? You know, to come and take part. And any award or certificate that they have achieved, if you could reissue them in their new name? Because they’ve earned them. They’ve got a right to show them off, that would be a really lovely thing to do.

You know when I said that all rights are equal?…just forget about that! (37:43)

Mermaids: So toilets, changing rooms, sports, residential, the Equality Act is unambiguous, it’s crystal clear. Unisex and gender neutral facilities are absolutely fine but that is not a disabled toilet with a sticker on, Yeah? But you can’t prevent anyone from using the facilities of the gender with which they identify and are living as. If someone complains, you provide an alternative for the person complaining. OK, that is the law. If you get a ‘What if?’ which you will, yeah, just replace one protected characteristic with another and ask yourself the question again. So what would happen if you said, ‘You can’t use those toilets because you’re Jewish.’ Yeah? So usually if you’ve got a what if, just do that and it will quite often just give you the answer and then you can go ‘OK, I can deal with this, it’ll be fine.’

Are your policies and procedures in line with the law? Do you need to update any? Again, we can help you with that, we can send you sample policies that you can literally just make your own. Is gender variance represented in an open way in your forms? If you think, as adults, both ourselves filling in forms, or asking people to fill in forms, it’s something we do all the time. Now I did one last week and I had to pick Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms. And I was buying theatre tickets, I couldn’t move on in the online process unless I did that. That’s just basic gender inequality isn’t it? That’s got nothing to do with whether you’re trans or not. So we’re trying to get people again, to think about what information are we giving away about ourselves? But also what information do we actually need? And maybe have a little look and see if you can make any changes. And then do you have a process in place to log and deal with transphobic incidents? That’s the same for all of those protected characteristics, so a racial incident, you know, faith, anything at all should really be logged. If you don’t know how to do that, Stop Hate UK – they’re a charity that go between the public and the police and they’re really, really good at helping you to log and do it properly because a series of incidents, yeah? Can be put together and given to the CPS as a hate crime. ‘Cos it’s harassment. So whether it’s racial harassment or homophobic harassment …[End] (40:18)


Transcription by Mumsnet, Men At Work and TRADFEM

« Here are the links to the AUDIO transcripts thanks to a wonderful mumsnet collaboration. Share as you will… »


photo MConroyMAW logo
Michael Conroy is on Twitter when he isn’t being banned. His current handle
He founded Men At Work in 2018.

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