Monthly Archives: April 2012

Thoughts on the Ben Cohen Foundation.

After attending NUS LGBT conference 2012, at which former England Rugby Union player, Ben Cohen gave a speech regarding his anti-homophobic bullying foundation “The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation” I went away feeling less than impressed. Some criticisms of his speech can be found here: however, I actually want to speak about the work which his foundation carries out.

Within his speech, he talked of how the foundation; which is designed to fight homophobic bullying, has drawn up a t-shirt contract with Nike in order to raise funds, now this immediately raised flags in my mind: why use a company which has a record of using sweatshop conditions and child labour in order to fight homophobia? Personally, I do not want any cause I support to be associated with such practices, of course I am against homophobic bullying, but I cannot support the Ben Cohen Foundation. You cannot claim to be working to make kids lives better, if within that you are raising the money by making the lives of children worse elsewhere in the world.

Now, the next question here, will of course be “well, where is the evidence that Nike is still using sweatshop labour, after all, the media uproar surrounding Nike happened back in the 90’s. To find the answer to that, you only have to go online and see the same story repeated over and over again with information being leaked to the public at periodic intervals. For example this article here (apologies for referencing the Daily Mail) is the most recent article I’ve found (13th July 2011) , and this was when just taking a cursory glance over internet search results. On top of all this, the t-shirts which Nike are producing for the foundation don’t even mention homophobic bullying, or issues relating to LGBT people on them; now, perhaps that is intentional in order to make them safer to wear on the streets. But its not as if the range even gives the purchaser the option as to if they want to have an anti-homophobia statement on their shirt; but with Nike, you do have the option of having Ben Cohen’s signature on your shirt: Yay, Ben!

Now, just to round off the issue, here’s a quick video detailing Nike’s use of child labour in Pakistan:

Furthermore, there is the issue of where the money actually goes. Now, I cannot speak on all the organisations listed on his site for I do not have an in depth knowledge of all their work, but a list of organisations which the foundation donates to, (and a picture of Mr Cohen shaking David Cameron’s hand) can be found here. Now, the Foundation claims that the fund support their own original work, as well as funding to other organisations; but to be honest, I can’t actually tell what their own work is; maybe someone else can shed some light here. The list of organisations on their funding page also contains projects which are already highly funded, and at times problematic, with the two UK organisations being “bully free zone” to which the weblink on the foundation’s site is broken, and Stonewall UK. Of those which I am familiar with, the US organisations are also very mainstream. Now, I could go on here with trans related criticisms of Stonewall e.g. their nomination of a transphobic journalist for “journalist of the year”, the fact that when they mention trans issues they invariably misrepresent what trans actually is, and in this sense, go beyond “not having the T” to be actively damaging towards the trans community here in the UK.

But I feel it would be wrong to pick out one organisation, so instead I am going to talk about the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex”, INCITE! Women of Colour Against Violence have done some great work on this, and have published a book which gives a through analysis of the problem. Over the years, the use of funding foundations has created a model wherein non-profit organisations have to tailor their work to the demands of funders in order to carry out their work. The result is charities run on business models with CEOs, and a politics which has lost its critical edge. We now see a number of large, well funded Lesbian and Gay rights organisations, who work on short term goals in order to fulfil a tick box list of achievements, rather than working towards long terms goal. This is placed under the cloak of “pragmatism” wherein activism is divided into “achievable aims” and “impossible aims”, creating in of itself a self fulfilling prophecy. Furthermore, through holding the budget strings, foundations can actively limit the work of an organisation through withdrawing funding from groups whose work does not align with their own interests; whilst this might not happen with all foundations, it has been known to happen. The result? A small number of highly funded, and yet ineffective organisations dominate the agenda, and no matter how well intentioned they may be, they fail to reach the root of the problem. We need to have a politics which can be critical of capitalism, rather than one which relies on it if we are ever to achieve liberation, and in doing so we must be self aware of how we carry out our work; for what is the point of trying to do “good work” in one place, if we simply cause harm elsewhere? As trans people, we must also learn from this, with the T in LGBT all too often standing for “tokenism” we have directly experienced the impact of groups who claim to work for us, but in fact pay only lip service (at least in the case of Stonewall we know where we stand). Sure, we can attempt to get trans issues further up the agenda in these organisations, or we can seek to replicate their work in a trans specific context, but in doing so we will only replicate the flaws creating yet another movement dominated by an elite.

I realise that I may have gone off topic from the original context of this blog, but it all comes back around to the same core issue: no matter how well intentioned the work of a particular group may be, we must be careful not to replicate the conditions which create our own marginalisation when carrying out our work. Through making use of a company which uses child and sweatshop labour, the Ben Cohen Foundation is simply replicating these conditions unto another group, and for what? To fund a set of organisations who already receive huge budgets, with which they do relatively little. For those of you who wish to give money to fight homophobia and transphobia, perhaps instead of buying a t-shirt, you should find a local organisation which say, works with homeless LGBT  people, or works specifically with the trans community, or provides outreach work, a place which really could do good things with your money.

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Feminism, language, and moving on.

The issue of transphobia within feminism is well known amongst the trans community; and yet, this is in spite of many feminists being trans friendly, and many trans people being feminists themselves. The question here then, is why we place such great focus on those who discriminate against us within feminism, as opposed to working with feminists who support trans liberation, and as opposed to developing our own understanding of feminism as a whole?

There are many amongst us who do the latter, with there being a significant transfeminist community online; and yet when speaking of transphobia within feminism, many of us fall down by using sweeping generalisations. Let’s be clear here: when we speak of transphobes in feminism, let us not tar feminism as a whole with this brush, and let us not conflate transphobic feminists with second wave thought, for there are multiple ideological positions even within the second wave. Finally, when speaking of transphobia within feminism; it would be wrong to assume that it is unique to radical feminism, but also it would be wrong to assume that all radical feminists are transphobes. Through making such generalisations, all we do is demonstrate our ignorance as to what the word “feminism” means, and of the great variety of positions within feminism itself. Secondly, through focusing our efforts purely into fighting these transphobes, we fail to address other issues which impact on our lives as trans people, just as feminists who focus their efforts into arguing against our existence waste valuable time which could be put into fighting for women’s liberation. So, let’s stop providing transphobic feminists with a platform, and let’s put our efforts into fighting for liberation. This is not to say that we should ignore the existence of such people, just as we should not ignore any other group which specifically targets trans people in this manner. This is not to say that we should do nothing on this issue, we should of course be weary of those who do pose a danger i.e. individuals who actively seek to out trans people, or those who are in positions of influence who will seek to strip away access to healthcare, or other services essential to our wellbeing. But for the most part, a lot of our time and energy would be better spent proactively working towards liberation as opposed to mud-slinging and resorting to false generalisations.

As a feminist, and as a trans person, I see no contradiction between the core tenets of feminism and my gender identity.  It is my belief that trans people are an example of the beauty of gender diversity, for our existence demonstrates the fact that you cannot define someone purely on the basis of their embodiment. The existence of genderqueer, and other non-binary identified trans people demonstrates that we should not be limited to viewing the world simply in terms of male and female, and that it is possible to live outside of societal gender roles. Equally, anti-trans discrimination, and institutionalised transphobia tell us of the gendered organisation of society. The message we receive is clear:  through failing to fit the gender model set out before us, we are placed at the fringes of society.

The fact of the matter is that the very conditions which perpetuate misogyny are those which perpetuate transphobia, and we cannot hope to achieve trans liberation without first being feminists. Transphobes within feminism may argue that we are incompatible with a world in which women’s liberation is achieved, and my answer to them is that we will not stop existing just because you try to argue us away; that feminists who seek to out trans people are simply inciting violence against another human being on the basis of their gender. Let’s face the facts here, singling out another human being in this manner is not very feminist at all, no matter how much you attempt to dress it up in the language of women’s liberation; transphobia liberates no one. Let this blog mark a line in the sand, as a community, we as trans people have the responsibility to distinguish between those who misuse the tenets of feminism to preach hatred against a group which experiences gendered violence, versus those feminists who dedicate their time to achieving women’s liberation, and to those who will stand by our sides as we fight for trans liberation. Together, these struggles represent the fight for gender liberation, to the benefit of us all.

Now let us use our time constructively.

Welcome :-)

Hello everyone, and welcome to my newly created blog;  I thought I would start by introducing myself, and what I intend to write about here.

In creating this blog, I aim to add my voice to that of the wider trans community online, and to cover issues effecting trans people here in the UK. In doing so, I hope to create dialogue surrounding the future of the trans liberation movement through a transfeminist lens from the perspective of a young trans guy living in England. The name “cisginger, transgender” is a reference to myself, and at times the narrative will feature my own expereinces as a trans person, at others, it will focus wholly on wider issues.

It is my belief that we as a community need to develop a stronger, more cohesive liberation movement which is reflexive and engaged with the wider political context; and most importantly, this movement must come from the grass-roots. This, of course, is only a blog, and represents nothing more than one perspective within the trans community; I do not hold any grandiose notions as to what the writing here will achieve, my aim as a blogger is simply to contribute what I can through engaging with the existing community.

Thankyou for visiting my blog,

I hope that people reading the posts here will find it informative; and failing that, to create posts which are at least interesting.