A complaint letter

My local bus company – Stagecoach – runs a monopoly public transport bus service in Basingstoke and they’ve recently decided that they’re going to cancel their services in large areas of Basingstoke because they’re not – allegedly -profitable. I was sufficiently outraged that I wrote a complaint letter.

Hi,

As a customer service department of a bus company whose service is often referred to with the alliterative phrase, “Pretty piss poor”, you must get a lot of complaints, and scant praise. I would to take this opportunity, therefore, to offer some praise. I use the Number 7 bus service in Basingstoke between the bus station and Cranbourne Lane. To say that this service has been patchy and unreliable at best would be something of an understatement, so I’d like to thank the management team at Basingstoke for offering a novel solution to solve this unreliable service with your “New and Improved bus service” notice, by scrapping it entirely. Providing me with no bus service rather than a patchy one will certainly be a massive inconvenience to me, but I’m sure it will at least cut down on the number of complaints you receive; and the management team is to be commended for putting the needs of the customer complaints department – sorry, customer services – ahead of those people who normally pay for their service.

Of course, it would be churlish of me to offer praise without putting forward some constructive criticism. First of all I must wonder whether the management team are aware that people who don’t have a bus service, generally cease to give bus companies money. Secondly, and I know this is going to be a minor point to management team that, in all likelihood, don’t rely on the good running of the bus company, people who don’t have a bus service don’t, as a general rule, have a bus service. I understand that large number of people not having a bus service when a bus company has been given a monopoly to run the public transport system within a town may be a minor point, but to those of us seriously affected by this change, it’s a bit of a sore point.

It has been argued this morning around the soon-to-be-defunct bus stop on Cranbourne Lane, that the Basingstoke management team couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery. I think this is unfair. I think the Basingstoke management team have – in all likelihood – run a singularly successful piss up in a brewery and came up with this new and improved bus service whilst three sheets to wind after the second case of Tennents super-strength and Jager bombs did the rounds.

On a final point, and I hasten to mention that I am not normally a stickler for correct spelling, punctuation or grammar in general, but like many people I have noticed a tendency for marketing agencies and management teams to use the English language in new and interesting ways (some may say, “strangled to within an inch of it’s life”, but I digress). Stakeholder, for example, originally meant “a person who holds the stake in a bet”, and thus originally had the implication of “someone with no direct interest in the outcome of an event”, which over time became to mean instead, “people with an interest in the outcome of an event”. However whilst, “New” in “New and improved timetable” is accurate in that new changes have been made, and whilst “improved” could be argued to be accurate in that I won’t be able to complain about your service anymore, I must protest that the use of the term “timetable” is wholly misleading when a non-existent bus service does not have a timetable.

Yours,

PS: I do understand that the number 7 will be replaced with an hourly number 12 service. Whilst this is technically “a bus service”, since it doesn’t start until 7:26 in the morning, and I take the 7:30 LINK bus onwards to Newbury, unless Stagecoach have invented a new form of bus that treats the laws of physics with the same disdain the management team of Stagecoach in Basingstoke apparently treat their customers, it’s not going to be of much use to me.

I am waiting for a response. I am not, however, holding my breath.

Just being.

I’m in an extraordinary lodge in the Bluestone resort in Pembrokeshire in Wales; the Sun is setting and a beautiful evening is drawing in. I have had an incredible day walking around the Park, walking around a nature trail and trying – and miserably failing – to get photos of the many birds that can be enticed to entertain us at the front of the lodge for no more than the price of some left-over bread.

What has made this day all the more special for me, however, is not just the beautiful location, but the fact I got to spend the day expressing myself as Claire with complete confidence. No doubts, and no fears, just being me.

“What do you care what other people think”

This hasn’t been the first time I’ve got out with complete confidence; that special occasion was a shopping trip into Basingstoke on Sunday where I spent two hours shopping – or, more acurately, failing to shop as I only bought a small book – around the town center.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time, you may know that I have generally been nervous when out expressing as Claire, and it’s difficult to put my finger on what exactly has changed recently to suddenly increase my confidence but I think it comes down to a couple of conversations with some friends that helped.

The first conversation was with my friend Tina. She’d come round to show us the Bentley she was going to take to Reading Pride for the trans* picnic. It was one of those fortuitous occasions. My wife had won us tickets to the South Coast proms, and I was going as Claire. This was well outside my comfort zone at the time and, as much as I wanted to go, I was – if you’ll excuse the colloquial – bricking it. I was so nervous I was sweating and couldn’t get my makeup on. Tina happened to turn up at a point when I was on the verge of panic and one of the things she said stuck with me: “The best place to hide a tranny is in a crowd”. (nb: we often use the term ‘tranny’ in a self-deprecating sense. If you’re not trans*, please don’t use it).

She was right. How often do people really look at the world around them? How often have you walked through a shopping center, for example, and wondered to yourself, “why don’t people look where they’re going!!”.

The second was with my friend Chelle. I was trying to fix her computer which was running slowly (to put it mildly) so while we were waiting for things to finish we were chatting. At one point in the conversation, she asked me, “But what is it you’re afraid of? That someone might see you as a bloke in a frock? So what?”.

She was also right. I’m a big fan of the late physicist Richard Feynman, and one of his autobiographical books is titled, “What do you care what other people think?” (It’s a great book, by the way) and I remembered that book title and thought, “What do I care what other people think?”

I care, of course, about what people I care about think: not just what they think about me, but also what they might think about my wife based upon what they think of me; but do I really – or, indeed, should I really – care about what people otherwise think of me? The simple fact is that for the last year and a bit I’ve been wearing nail varnish even in “Bob mode”. I’ve been wearing my favorite ladies watches, bracelets, rings and so forth even in “Bob mode”. For a long time I haven’t, quite simply, cared what other people think about me, apart from people whose opinion I care about.

My Secret to Confidence

It’s a simple truth that being publicly trans* is difficult and there are a lot of demons that need banishing, and a lot of confidence issues to overcome. For me, the psychological barrier I had to overcome was caring that other people thought of me as “a bloke in a dress”. Once I got over the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, what someone thought I was or was not – so long as it doesn’t turn violent – it really doesn’t matter. I am who I am. If someone has a problem with that, why should I care?

At the moment I am in a beautiful lodge, the Sun has set, and I am feeling comfortable and completely relaxed and I have had a wonderful day. Dinner is simmering and is nearly going to be served, and if someone somewhere on this resort is gossiping and saying, “OMG, did you see that tranny in the village today?!!”, that – to quote Thomas Jefferson – neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. I am happy just being.

#Geekout: Kilobytes, Megabytes and Gigabytes

Geekout time.

A question that has cropped up a few times for me recently is what’s the difference between a kilobyte, a megabyte and a gigabyte. Just how much bigger is a gigabyte to a kilobyte?

Numbers can be hard to visualize when written down, so I could offer the following explanation: it’s accurate and it correctly answers the question:

  • A byte is a single unit of data* on most computers. A byte can hold a value between 0 and 255, or a single letter of the alphabet.
  • A kilobyte by modern convention** is 1,000 bytes.
  • A megabyte is 1,000 kilobytes, so it’s 1,000,000 bytes.
  • A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes so it’s 1,000,000,000 bytes

But it’s an answer that is unsatisfying. There’s something very clinically Wikipedia about it in that it doesn’t convey the sense of the difference in scale in the amount of information that can be stored in 1 kilobyte, and the amount of information that can be stored in 1 gigabyte.

So, when I was first asked this question I did some number crunching and came up with this, which I hope conveys the difference:

If a 2 bytes is 2 meters – about the height of a tall man – then 2 kilobytes would be 2 kilometers, which is just over a mile.

If 2 kilobytes were 2 kilometers, then 2 gigabytes would roughly be the distance between the Earth and Neptune.

What’s fun is when you consider that we now have terabyte hard drives – that’s hard drives with 1,000 gigabytes – becoming cheap comodity items in many homes; I know my house has about 8 terabytes of storage just in (relatively) cheap USB hard drives. Here’s were the computer geek in me, and the astronomy geek in me had fun:

If 2 kilobytes were 2 kilometers: then 2 terabytes would not get you out of the Milky Way. If you traveled that far you would find yourself in a blank part of space near no stars. You wouldn’t even be close to our nearest star (excluding the Sun), Proxima Centuri!

I like this analogy because it plays to both the computer geek in me, and the astronomy geek in me. It show both how much the capability of computers has exploded over the years, but it also, when you expand it further – to terabytes and exabytes – shows just how big space is.

</geekout>

2013 – A year in review

It’s traditional around this time of the year to take a look back on the year before. Although I’m not really one for traditions as a general rule, I quite like this one and, as I haven’t done as much blogging as I’d like recently, I thought I’d do just that.

2013 was – probably unsurprisingly – a big year for me; it involved a lot of ‘coming out’ and a lot of going out. It was a year where I went outside my comfort zone, and went to non-trans*-specific places openly ‘as Claire’, and where I started changing my ‘male’ image to a gradually more feminine and more gender-queer appearance - to the extent that I don’t think ‘part-time‘ really applies any more. It was a year where I finally decided to get an appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic. It was also a year – and this may sound like a strange highlight – where I started to dance. But, most importantly I think, it has been a year of making friends, and I have made so many friends over the last year.

Coming out and going out.

The video above is an truly inspirational speech by Ash Beckham; if you haven’t yet seen it, it’s about 10 minutes long and it will be worth every minute spent. It talks about closets and describes a closet as “a hard conversation”. She points out that we all have closets. We all have things in our lives that are hard to talk about. She also points out that the “hard” in that conversation is not relative: hard is hard. Last year I’ve had that hard conversation a number of times, so it’s no longer a secret that I identify as transgender, and it turned out – for me – that those hard conversations were relatively easy.

One of those hard conversations I had last year was with my parents. For various personal reasons I found myself in a position where I felt that my parents were going to find out one way or another, and I much preferred that they heard from directly, rather than from the rumor mill. I got a reply back, “It changes nothing, we still love you”. They were without a doubt the most beautiful words I have read this year.

There is a difference, however, between coming out and going out, and last year I went out – properly out – for the first time ‘as Claire’ to events and places that were not specifically LGBT+ friendly. Much like having a hard conversation is hard because you dread the outcome, going out was – and still is – difficult for me because I dreaded how people might react to me.  So I think one of my highlights of the year was when my wife and I took a trip into Manchester in July during Sparkle, and my wife was offered the chance to have her hair cut by a Tonni & Guy trainee for free. We walked from the Arndale center in Manchester to the Tonni and Guy academy, and the whole time on the walk there, the paranoia set in: “She’s clocked me. She knows.”. As it turned out, the trainee was clearly an observant woman – she’d clocked both of our wedding rings – but, talking to my wife while she cut her hair, she’d said, “Is that your best friend? It must be so nice for you both to get away from your husbands”. I won’t deny it, that was a big confidence – not to mention ego – boost for me!

Three Prides

Me at London PrideAnother big first for me last year was actually taking part in London Pride for the first time. Whilst a lot of 2013 had been taken up with working with Reading Pride as the transgender liaison, and later the web developer, I cannot deny that actually taking part in London Pride for the first time was a very special event. Fran and I have been to this every year for a long time, and I had never dreamed I would have to confidence to take part.

I have long held the view that the parade – the march, the protest – is the most important part of an LGBT Pride, and having taken part in Oxford Pride and London Pride, and having taken part in and helped organise Reading Pride, I still hold that view. There is something very special about the atmosphere in a Pride parade, and this is especially so in the country’s capital.

Until I took part in London Pride, I had never really appreciated just how huge the crowds are for the parade, or – for that matter – how long the parade is! It took over an hour and a half to walk the route, and the crowds rarely thinned.

If I had to pick my favourite moment of the LGBT Pride’s I took part in this year, however, there is unquestionably one moment that stands head and shoulders above the rest: The Mayflower Society’s trans* picnic at Reading Pride:

Mayflower Society Trans* Picnic

Mayflower Society Trans* Picnic

I do not know for certain, but I strongly suspect that the Mayflower Society Trans* Picnic was a first for an LGBT+ Pride, and it was more than I expected to achieve when I joined the committee in late 2012 as the Reading Pride transgender liaison. As much as I’d like to take credit for it, however, I really have to thank Tina from the Mayflower Society, and my wife for doing most of the work in making it happen. And, of course, all the ladies from the Mayflower Society for coming to Reading Pride. This was truly one of the highlights of 2013 for me. Which brings me onto:

Friendships

2013 for me has been a year of making new friends. In 2012, I went to Sparkle for the first time, and I really didn’t know anyone at all. Sparkle 2013 couldn’t have been more different! We went up with solid plans to meet up with people we had come to know, and we partied! I’ve also now been going to the Mayflower Society Totton Disco, and to the regular Overton meetup for just over a year now, and have made so many new friends.

I can’t really leave 2013 behind without my final highlight of the year: Christmas Day at home with friends. Happy New Year everyone.

Christmas Day 2013

Christmas Day 2013

 

 

Asexuality

The following was written by Kerry Goodman; Reading Pride’s asexual liason, and memeber of AVEN. It first appeared in the Beaumont Society’s quarterly magazine, and I am delighted that she has given me permission to re-post it here.

Asexuality

Kerry Goodman

Being a 22 year old in today’s society can be difficult with so many tempting offers out there – sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Being a teetotal asexual 22 year old in today’s society may sound boring but that’s my life and I wouldn’t wish to be any different.

My name is Kerry and I am asexual.

Being asexual means I don’t experience sexual attraction. That’s it. I don’t procreate, I’m not a clone and I am certainly not a plant.

I identify as being a biromantic asexual – meaning I am romantically attracted to both male and females but just not sexually.

I discovered AVEN (Asexual Visibility & Education Network) which is an online forum with currently over 50,000 members worldwide.

I first realised my sexuality following my three year relationship with my boyfriend. He never pressured me to do anything I didn’t want to. It wasn’t because I didn’t love him because I saw him as my one true love; I just never loved him sexually. In turn, January 2011 saw his sexual awakening and the end of our relationship. It wasn’t until the following spring that I realised I was asexual and not crazy.

Discovering I was asexual was amazing, I felt complete and normal (whatever normal is!) It felt amazing knowing there was a name to how I felt and that there were others out there like me.

Coming out as asexual to friends and family was received with interest – mostly regarding what it is and what it meant for my future. Like many asexuals, I have had some pretty ignorant comments, such as ‘you just haven’t met the right person yet’, ‘have you had your hormones checked’, and even ‘you haven’t f****d me yet’.

I work with Reading Pride as asexual liaison and have done for almost two years. At the main event, other members of the asexual community and I walk through Reading town in the parade and we also have a market stall on site which we hand out leaflets and answer any questions anyone has on the subject.

I am very proud to call myself asexual and I am proud of everyone else in the community. Dealing with sexuality issues are hard but I think dealing with asexuality can be more of a struggle as we work to educate people on our little known orientation.

I do think people see asexual people as people that want to be alone forever. Trust me; romantic asexuals want that love and affection as much as the next person.

I just want people to understand asexuality and for asexuals to realise it’s perfectly fine not to experience sexual attraction.

Twitter Hide Media – a Firefox add-on

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you will no doubt know by now that I write software for a living, and that I often get annoyed at unwanted drive-by porn on Twitter. Until recently the drive-by porn hasn’t been a huge problem – it was a background annoyance and nothing more. Recently, however, Twitter has changed the way a person’s timeline is shown to automatically show a preview of images loaded to certain sites, so this issue has become more than just a nuisance for me, especially since I use Twitter at work.

I came up with a solution to this problem by writing a very simple add-on for Firefox (my browser of choice), which you can download here.

What is it?

In the simplest terms, the add-on is a type of add-on known as a “page-mod” which simply means that it modifies certain types of pages. In the case of my add-on, it will modify pages under the “twitter.com” domain, which is basically what you see in your browser when looking at Twitter. What it does is, when a Twitter page is loaded it looks for media previews and removes them, and when the page changes (Twitter loads more tweets from your feed) it has another look for more media previews and removes them too.

If you want to see the media that has been removed, incidentally, simply click on the link like the old days.

How do I install it?

I haven’t yet looked into how to get a website to install an add-on automatically (i.e as you would if you went through Firefox’s add-on page) so the process is short, but manual:

  1. Download the add-on from here or any of the download links on this page. When prompted, ask to save the file. You might find it easiest to save the file to the desktop.
  2. With Firefox open, simply drag the file “twitter-hide-media.xpi” from your desktop into any open Firefox window. You will be asked if you want to install it.
  3. That’s it. You might need to restart Firefox, Firefox will tell you if this is the case.

Known issues.

There is one really weird known issue: if you go off of your timeline and click the Home navigation button on Twitter, it doesn’t remove the media previews. There are almost certainly hundreds of use cases where it fails – I’ve not done extensive testing: it’s possibly the world’s simplest add-on for Firefox (seriously: it has more lines of code that are comments than actual code!) – but it does enough for my uses for now.

Will this be actively developed?

Yes.

Probably.

I have no idea.

I’m already planning on putting in whitelists and blacklists for people who you know will never post anything dodgy and people you know can’t be trusted with their image uploads. I’ll probably even add things like “default to whitelist” or “default to blacklist”. But at the end of the day I wrote this to solve a problem that I had and for the time being it solves it adequately. When it comes to supporting software, even software that’s only 11 lines of actual code long, I don’t like to make assumptions!

Coming Out Day

Today is apparently “Coming Out Day” – at least that’s what Twitter and Facebook keep telling me, so it must be true. I’m not entirely certain what coming out day is supposed to be. Is it a day to share stories on “coming out” as LGBT, or is it a day to encourage people to come out? If it’s the former, I think it’s a nice idea; if it’s the latter I think it’s a dreadful idea: people should not feel pressured into doing something they don’t want to do, or when they don’t want to do it, and being open about who you are can be very difficult, and it can be painful.

In recognition of “Coming Out Day” – regardless of its intended purpose – I would like to discuss something that has been bugging me for a while: coming out as transgender.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that “transgender” is not a synonym for “transsexual“, but can refer to either the broad trans* umbrella, or a specific identity. Nevertheless, when the press report that someone “has come out as transgender” – Chelsea Manning springs to mind as a recent example – there is almost always a note that the person is or will be having hormones and/or will have gender surgery.

Overlooking the fact that someone’s medical situation is no-one’s business but there own, I think this is problematic. It reinforces the idea in the public mind that transgender means transsexual, and it instills a sense in the press that transsexual is okay (with sufferance), but other transgender identities are not. By reinforcing this misunderstanding of transgender, it makes it harder for people who do not want to transition – or for whatever reason cannot – to “come out” and be happy and open about their life.

Transition with the aid of hormone replacement therapy is a big thing. It’s a medical process and, like all medical processes it is not something that everyone who is transgender can do. Furthermore, in the UK, the transgender person gets no say in whether they can get HRT or not; it is generally down to the opinion of a Gender Identity Clinic (they are sometimes referred to as “gatekeepers” for this very reason).

When I first came out to most of the people I know via Facebook I did not have a strong view one way or the other whether I would like to undergo HRT or not. I wasn’t even certain whether going full-time was something I wanted to do. To be honest, I wasn’t even comfortable leaving the house expressing as female! But I was tired with having to hide a huge part of my life.

“Coming out” for me was hugely important, and has had a huge effect on my confidence, but I did get a sense that people assumed that “trangender” meant “transsexual” – because that’s the only exposure to the trans* community the media generally offers – which meant I occasionally had to deal with some unfortunate misunderstandings. As it happens, I am now exploring the possibility of going “full-time” but transgender identities are just as valid whether someone is full-time or not. A person doesn’t cease to be transgender if they – for whatever reason – are not able to express themselves full-time, and people who are not full time shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about still leading open lives.

Letters from Palestine, a repost part 1

Many years ago I had a friend who went to Palestine to work with aid agencies there. Sadly, I have since lost touch with him. I recently came across the letters and news feeds he sent to me while he was out there nearly 10 years ago when I used to run a site “armchairdissident.com” from my living room. I cam across them recently on web.archive.org, For the sake of posterity, I’m going to host them here. Everything that follows is from a letter from Palestine:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;…..this includes freedom to manifest religion or belief through teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Article 18 – Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The most celebrated season for Muslims has passed. For me, the holiday is Ramadan-a whole month of hunger and thirst in a quest for God’s grace and gifts. While memory and joy and love resound for all those who follow Abrahamic religious traditions, it is awe of God that most characterizes our celebration.

Like those of any religion who find delight or meaning in a holy time of year, we Palestinians await the month of Ramadan with eager anticipation. When the moon’s crescent awakens us to the longed-for time of observance, we do not dance around an evergreen, cut and anchored in our living rooms, nor do we celebrate around candles that represent our past. Make no mistake, though, our holiday is not an austere time for us. Ramadan’s celebrations provide plenty of joy in rites similar to Jewish menorah lighting and family meals and Christians’ Christmas carols followed by hot chocolate or oyster stew. Here in the Middle East, our markets are filled with shoppers looking for special Ramadan treats. Families come together. Above all, we Muslims focus for a whole month on the goal of bolstering our year-long personal holy struggle. Using restraint as a means to an end, we wage a “Jihad” within ourselves to shun unworthy thinking and to widen a door of our souls so we can walk out into the world with a greater sense of inner grace, peace and happiness.

Our feasts come after sundown, following each day of fasting. For an entire month, those of us in good health neither eat nor drink from sun up to sun down. Ramadan is first and foremost a celebration of patience. We are asked to feel hunger and thirst like those less fortunate. Our sacrificial fast allows us the experience we need to possess God’s gift of empathy. Experience teaches us and renews for us a sense of mercy. When our fast is broken each sundown, then we share the joy of gratitude. We eat together in honour of the one God who is our provider. By coming together, we recognize God’s wisdom in gathering us into families and surrounding us with friends.

When we reach the end of our month of sacrifice-the Eid Al-Fitr-we feast grandly as we begin the rest of the year with a renewed sense of compassion and generosity toward others. To those of other Abrahamic religions, the purpose of our rites should sound familiar. Giving up daily bread so we can better understand what God would have us do, concentrating on giving to those more needy than we and bowing in prayer are the essentials, reinforcing childhood’s moral lessons we human beings seem to need regardless of which holiday we celebrate.

As a child, I experienced Ramadan first, but later was introduced to the meaning behind Hanukkah and Christmas. I thought we were all living in a nearly perfect world. I thought it was great that people were free to celebrate as they chose. It did not dawn on me that there were religious people living very near to me who did not want us around because we did not celebrate or live in the same way as they did.

Although I was unaware that people had or would put thoughts like mine into words, I imagined that we were all recipients of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the near-perfect world of childhood, the
meaning of the holidays simply seemed to connect us.

Unfortunately, we Palestinians do not enjoy the freedom of practicing our religion anymore than the other basics rights of human life. Since the occupation of Palestine in 1948, the Zionists and their supporters have rejected a philosophy of universal human rights, for Palestinians, in favour of might-makes-right power politics. This year, perhaps, more vividly than any in my memory, I felt an awareness of power politics and how this blemished the meaning of Ramadan and the following holiday, Eid Al-Fitr. On television, I saw men dancing and celebrating amid hundreds of dead bodies in Kabul. I was shocked, but I shouldn’t have been. After all, before the end of our holy month, there were plenty of dead bodies to walk among right here in Palestine. I feel weighed down by thoughts of those now imprisoned without trial here in my own country, by thinking of friends who had their homes destroyed all over the West Bank while the world watched the military action that lead to the decline and defeat of the Taliban. I wondered about the Christian story of a manger offered in a gesture of charity as shelter. Would anyone offer my people a manger for homes lost in Israel’s latest rash of home demolitions? Would anyone in America speak out against the terror we faced this last December?

Ramadan is now over and few Palestinians could go to worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the beautiful Dome of the Rock. I am a Jerusalemite, and I have the proper papers for crossing the tight closure and for worshipping at our Islamic shrines. But, Palestinians a few blocks from me don’t have this “luxury”. They do not have the Israeli-required credentials to go to Jerusalem-worship and God aside. Billions around the world are moved with passion when Jerusalem is mentioned during the holidays or at any time, but Israel has closed the door to Muslims who wish to make the trek to a place valued third among Islam’s holy shrines. The door slams shut even for Muslims who live less than a quarter of a mile outside Israel’s definition of Jerusalem, let alone five miles away or ten-so much for Article l8.

Eid Al-Fitr holiday that celebrates our accomplishment during the month of Ramadan is very special among other Islamic holidays. We mark our holidays by reaching out to family and friends, getting together with our neighbours, visiting the cemeteries, the injured and the families who lost their dear ones. But, the security excuses of Israel demands the tearing apart of the Palestinian community during our most joyful times. My sister and her family in Bethlehem, just a few miles from Jerusalem, were not allowed to join the Eid dinner at my parents’ house. And in Bitunia, a suburb of Ramallah, my aunt spent the Eid holiday alone in her apartment, thanks to the tanks situated at her doorstep.

While our words may be prescribed by ritual, our ways of praying are as varied as the torments we suffer. To those who exhort Palestinians to practice passive resistance, I suggest they take note of our insistent praying. Come and see our people at prayer. When some of our people try to reach their mosques but are detained, they bow and pray at checkpoints, along muddy, wasted roads, in shells of ruined homes in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Tulkarem. Our prayers reflect our dream of peace. If the world could see us at prayer, surely the peace ingrained in having awe of God would be visible.

I think of the walling-in and crushing of our people that Vladimir Jabotinsky said was necessary in order for a Jewish State to exist. I think of the price we have paid for his philosophy and for the establishment of the Jewish State whose intellectuals claim it to be “the only democracy in the region” and “the moon in the night of the Middle East.” Have the Jewish intellectuals gone far enough in their quest to outdo other human evils to finally begin to comprehend what human rights really mean?

Pondering on the international silence regarding the violation of our religious freedom in Palestine, I suspect that those who have set the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights failed to consider us “customers in their market.” They don’t see the worthiness of a belief in God that does not match theirs exactly. I wonder if this reflects our humanity? Do we seem to have a need to bring everyone into one fold, to do things one way, to find sanctity in sameness, even if it means killing each other to do it? How I wish we could celebrate our differences, nurturing each other through recognition that the sacred is manifest in as many ways as God is perceived and that such variety is part of God’s Greatness.

When they hear our complaints, the clergy in the West look the other way or support Israelis because they remain embarrassed by the Christian and Jewish traditions in which prejudice, hatred and power politics supercede love. History presents many examples in which God’s justice mattered much less than human power. Are the Western clergy still chagrined because they turned away from Jewish suffering until even an ocean could not separate them from the stench of death? Do they not realize that they are allowing hatred to replace love again by turning away from us and allowing injustice to reign supreme in their beloved Holy Land now? I marvel that history seems to be repeating itself faster and faster. The oppressed become the oppressors. Those who are afraid to acknowledge their willingness to be remiss once more, pull inside themselves, still unable to act on the message of love their liturgy teaches. The secular governments of the world may be unable to broker peace because to do so may lead to their end. Could the moral establishment help them do better? Could the religious estate turn the keys of peace to open the door of justice for us, the Palestinians? This can only happen if the clergy and teachers in all our religions dare to face the truth about themselves. If they let go of the regrets of the past, I feel they have a forum from which they could lead the world to peace.

* Samah Jabr is a physician and a life-long resident of Jerusalem. This piece was written with the assistance of Betsy Mayfield, Ames, Iowa.

Objective Reality vs. The Law

There is an important philosophy in English criminal law which is that a person accused of a crime is entitled to be presumed innocent unless convicted by a court of law. As a general rule (although this is not true for all crimes), in order to secure a conviction the prosecution must prove their case “Beyond reasonable doubt”. There are criminal offences where the accused must prove their innocence, but these are rare and, as a general rule, outrageous.

It is an important philosophy because a person convicted of a crime will have a criminal record and – depending upon the severity of the crime they are accused of – may be deprived of their liberty.

There is a tendency for people to look at this legal philosophy and presume that if a person accused of a crime is found “not guilty”, then that person “did not do” what they were accused of and, similarly, if a person is found “guilty” then that person “did it”. In other words, there is a tendency for people to start thinking that the law deals in objective facts and objective reality.

Objective

It’s very important to distinguish between objective reality and what can be proven in a court of law. To give a silly example, let’s say I make the statement “There is a cup of tea on my desk”. In making this statement I am merely asserting that something is true: that there is a cup of tea on my desk. As I am on my own at the moment, there are no witnesses to back up my claim that there is a cup of tea currently sitting on my desk – I have no way of proving, beyond reasonable doubt, that this cup of tea exists. My ability to prove whether or not there is a cup of tea on my desk does not, however, change the objective reality: there is either a cup of tea or there isn’t (it just so happens the statement is true, but once again I can only assert this, I cannot prove it).

Flawed evidence

The distinction between objective reality and the decision of a court based on the evidence presented before it is an important one. We are all familiar with cases such as the Birmingham Six where the evidence presented before the court was flawed and a conviction secured through flawed evidence. Most people are now also aware that evidence such as eyewitness accounts – which were once considered solid evidence – is frequently significantly less reliable than previously thought. We know then, that courts often make decisions of “guilty” or “not guilty” based on a fiction.

In short, we know that a court declaring a person “guilty” or “not guilty” of an offense is not establishing a fact – ie. it is not determining objective reality – it is simply expressing an opinion based upon likelihood.

“False accusation”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently after the BBC reporting on Michael Le Vell being found “not guilty” by the court of various  charges of rape and sexual abuse. I am, obviously, not going to comment on this particular case, only on the reporting. In particular, the BBC is using phrases such as:

Others wrongly accused of serious sex offences say the experience has devastated the rest of their lives.

The statement “wrongly accused” is, to me, deeply troubling. It is a phrase that is used throughout the article discussing people accused of serious sexual crimes. It is troubling because the courts have only established an opinion as to whether a case has been proven beyond reasonable doubt: it has not established a fact. Most importantly, the courts have not asked whether a person was wrongly accused which is itself a separate statement of fact.

There are two conflicting ideals here. It is absolutely right and proper that a person should not be deprived of their liberty unless the case against them can be proven beyond reasonable doubt – it’s not a perfect system, but it’s not a bad one either. It does not, however, follow that if a person is found not guilty of a crime, that they were falsely accused. These are two completely independent statements, and it damages victims of serious crimes to effectively accuse them of lying because a court fails to convict, when a court simply has not – and more importantly cannot – establish this.

If a person commits a crime, there is an objective reality: the person committed a crime. If the courts fail to convict that person, then the law must continue to presume their innocence. This does not however change the objective reality, and most importantly it does not follow that the victim of the crime was lying.

Justice or Vengeance

There’s a story from Liverpool that’s doing the rounds at the moment about a man hurling abuse at a trans woman following a neighbourhood dispute. The guy sounds thoroughly unpleasant, and looking at what has been reported it sounds like it must have been a truly terrifying experience for the woman.

A Merseyside dad who launched a tirade of hate through his transsexual neighbour’s letterbox, calling her a “freak” and threatening to “punch her lights out”

[...]

The court heard that Elston had screamed hate-filled abuse and threatened to defecate and urinate through Miss Gaynor’s letterbox following a row over cleaning up after his dog.

[...]

Ms Collins said Elston had called her, among other things, a “****ing tranny” and told her she was “not really a woman” and a “freak”.

The man admitted guilt  for an offence – precisely which offense has not been made clear by the Liverpool Echo but I strongly suspect it was common assault – and was sentenced to six weeks in prison suspended for 12 months; he is subject to an indefinite restraining order prohibiting him from entering the victim’s road or contacting the victim, ordered to pay £150 in compensation, an £80 victim surcharge and £85 in costs.

“Avoided prison”

I think it must be every trans* persons’ nightmare to have a transphobic neighbour: I know it’s a big concern of mine. Whether that neighbour lives in the neighbourhood or, as in this case, only visits occasionally, they have the potential to make your life a living hell. With that in mind, I think it is perfectly understandable that many people in the trans* community have reacted badly to the headline “Merseyside man avoids jail following tirade of abuse at transsexual neighbour”.

“The police need to be firmer with scum like this”

“The courts have failed”

“The police are failing women and the LGBT community”

And so on and so forth. There has been a general outrage that Elston had not been sentenced to prison, and this was because the police, the courts, and presumably anyone else tangentially related to the criminal justice system, had failed women and had failed the LGBT community and the trans* community in general for not imposing an immediate custodial sentence.

There’s just one problem with this narrative.

The court was instructed it had to increase the severity of the sentence due to the aggravating feature of the transphobic abuse.

Chair of the bench Catherine Newman said Elston would have received a high-level community order but the transgender hate element meant it crossed the custody threshold.

Overlooking the fact that, outside the world of Judge Dredd, it is the courts and not the police who hand down sentences to people convicted of  an offence, it is a simple fact that – barring the aggravating factor of the transgender abuse – Elston would not have received any form of custodial sentence.

This is not a case of the courts or the police failing anyone: this is progress! Elston is now facing a significantly more severe punishment for his assault than he would have faced only last year.

There is currently no such thing as aggravated assault on the basis of transgender identity or expression, there is only a change in sentencing where the victim is transgender or is presumed to be transgender. This is an important difference: aggravated assault carries a higher maximum sentence, and a higher minimum sentence than assault, however the prosecution must prove – or the defendant must admit – that the assault was committed because the victim was, or was perceived to be, transgender. What we are seeing here is not the courts or police failing the trans* community, what we are seeing is the courts protecting a trans woman and doing its best to make her safer.

This should be celebrated, not condemned.