Sunday, 26 October 2014

South Park, 'The Cissy' and Trans Issues

Cartman pretends to be trans to use the girls toilets.
So, it’s taken me a while to get around to writing this piece, partly due to a crazy work schedule but also because it took me a while to figure out exactly what I thought about the South Park episode ‘The Cissy’.

Now, I was a little behind on South Park when the episode aired and first heard about it when a friend of mine at work brought up the subject.  He knew I was a fan of the show and wanted to know my opinion on the episode.  I have to be honest, I was worried when he told me what the episode was about.  I mean, I like the show, I find it very funny but it’s not exactly a show that could handle Trans issues with a great deal of sensibility.

For those who haven’t seen the episode it essentially starts out following Eric Cartman at the start of his school day, with his inner monologue stating that people are starting to push him too far and that they’re going to finally make him use what he has in his pocket.  Now, if you went into the episode not knowing what it was about you’d probably at this point think the episode was going to be about violence in schools, particularly gun crime.  Just when you think Cartman is going to produce a gun from his pocket and shoot the place up he pulls out a pink bow, places it on his hat and claims that he is ‘transginger’ and now gets to use the girls bathroom.

Not only that, but the B plot of the episode found Randy Marsh revealing that he is the singer Lorde, and that she is a side of himself that he has been keeping secret for a long time.  This thrusts Trans issues into both the A and B plots, making this an episode focused on nothing else.

Randy as the singer Lorde faces prejudice at work.
With a show like South Park focusing its attention so squarely on the trans community it would be easy to believe that this could be the worst episode of the show, that they would proceed to make us the butt of every single joke.

I, however, found that not to be the case.  The episode tackled a very sensitive issue, the rights of Trans people to use the correct bathrooms, in a very level headed and fair issue.  Yes, the school principal doesn’t want to let Cartman use the girls bathroom, but not because he’s Trans, but because he’s Eric Cartman.  A sentiment the principal makes very clear to other members of the school staff.

During the course of the episode you see that Cartman has clearly done some research on the topic, knowing about Cis and Trans (despite pronouncing the gender as ginger) and even had Mr Garrison explain what those terms are in the correct way.  Garrison even corrects school counsellor Mr Mackie when he says that cis is just ‘normal people’ by jumping in and tells him that ‘Saying 'normal' is extremely offensive to people who aren't in that group.’

Whilst Cartman is clearly using the Trans issue as a way of getting better toilet conditions for himself, and himself only, the episodes B plot shows Randy/Lorde going through a similar situation and being forced to use a separate transgender bathroom.  This scene in particular is great as it doesn’t have any joke at the end, it draws itself out and makes the audience uncomfortable as you have to see the emotional damage the situation does on Randy.

The episode doesn't shy away from showing real emotion.
During all of this Stan finds himself questioning gender identity is.  ‘Two people close to me are having gender identity issues,’ he explains to the principal, ‘and I'm ... I'm confused,’ he says.  When Stan goes to his father for guidance, the question he asks is: ‘Dad, is it possible for someone to be one way on the outside, but totally different on the inside? I mean, can somebody identify as one sex, but be something else, but still have it be nothing about sex?’

For a show like South Park to get something like that so right, to phrase a question like that in such a way, to show that they understand what it’s all about is amazing.  They show the audience that whilst having Trans people and Trans issues around children will make them question gender, make them try to understand it more, it will not make that child transgender.

Stan begins to question what gender actually means.
This episode doesn’t aim its jokes at the Trans community, it aims them at those who oppose trans people.  It paints the trans community in a very real light, it shows those who might never know trans people and understand what we go through that we’re not ‘freaks’ or ‘weirdo’s’ but normal people.  It shows that we get treated with mistrust and misconceptions all the time, that we’re made to feel different and in some cases ashamed by ‘normal’ people.

‘The Cissy’ show the audience that those who oppose trans people are the ones in the wrong, that they’re the ones you should be making fun of because they’re the ones in the wrong.  Those people are the ones your anger and distrust should be put towards.

I was expecting ‘The Cissy’ to make me feel very uncomfortable.  And you know what?  It did, but not for the reasons I was expecting.  I wasn’t uncomfortable because it was yet another example of mainstream entertainment making fun of Trans people, for vilifying us or using us as a target.  The episode made me uncomfortable because of how well it portrayed some of the issues I face in life.  It put a spotlight on just a small part of the pain and suffering that I and other Trans people go through.

But as well as that, I also loved the episode.  It made me laugh, it made me want to cry, but never once did it make me want to turn it off.

I never thought that I’d not only be praising South Park for handling Trans issues well but wanting to encourage others to watch it too.  I personally think that this episode is an amazing moment for the series, and goes to show just how far the Trans community is coming and how the tables might be turning.  Maybe we won’t always be the punchline or the villains anymore.  Maybe people who would never even take the time to think of the Trans community will see just a little bit of what we have to go through.

To the creators of South Park, and everyone who worked on this episode I want to say thank you.  Thank you for handling this as well as you did.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Gay Ugandan Mleuben Maccarthy Speaks Out In Human Rights Campaign Speech

Many of us are aware of the terrible situation being faced by members of the LGBT community in Uganda, and if you are not aware of it then it’s very important that you try to find out.  The country, under leadership of President Yoweri Museveni, have introduced sweeping medieval laws that make Uganda one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be LGBT.

Despite these massive personal dangers, where imprisonment, physical violence and even death are very real possibilities, there are a number of truly amazing individuals that openly protest these laws.

One of these individuals is Mleuben Maccarthy, whom Planet Transgender has written about in the past.

Despite having already faced violence at the hands of the police and facing possible future dangers Mleuben has chosen to continue to speak out about his countries frankly despicable laws.  Mleuben delivered the following speech at a recent Human Rights Campaign.

Mleuben Maccarthy
‘I grew up in a village setting in Kiruhura district with my family.  My family had a very concrete religious foundation that never tolerated anything against the normal African family setting. My mum(the late Naomi) was a very loving and caring mum who taught us a lot of things as we were growing up. I grew up with a feeling for fellow boys which was contrary to what they expected since all other boys used to play with girls but me I would instead enjoy to be around boys most of the times. This personality/character inside of me grew along with as I developed into a mature man which has failed to go off despite the hate and troubling life I pass through among my friends and family since I later came out to be gay.

‘My house was a very religious one with a good foundation of Christianity in our neighbourhood with loving parents and having a friendly neighbouring environment.

‘My friends were fellow boys and they are the ones I enjoyed playing with up to now when I grew up. I have never enjoyed the company of girls though I respect most of them as my sisters. I enjoyed having fun with men.

‘I was bright during my school years and I used to be in the Christian union since I liked serving God bearing the fact that my family and I grew up was so religious. I am a teacher by profession with a certificate in education. I can all say education did not deny me much though I couldn’t make it up to the university level after branching off to do a certificate in education. Since my passion as a child, I wanted to teach children who didn’t have enough parental support or the needy children and I thank God who has fulfilled my dream since now I fundraise and take care of my orphans in my district with a school. Through my online pool of friends across the world I am able to fundraise and get material support to fund and accelerate their education.

‘I can describe myself as a gay man who likes fellow men.  I am a compassionate person who likes helping the needy children and the elderly. I like dressing like a queer with skinny jeans and designer t-shirts but sometimes I like to be professional as a gentleman.  My favorite music is gospel music and I like to hang out on beaches.  My favorite stars are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo, Jean Claude Van dame and Bruce Willis and lastly my best authors are Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wathiongo, Charles Dickens who wrote Oliver Twist and Joyce Meyer.

‘I first came out in 2004, I received harsh and rude reactions from people which have led me to losing most of my straight friends and some family members plus hate from many people in my area.
I was so terrified when I first heard of the antigay bill because of knowing that any time I will be beheaded since the death penalty scared our Ugandan LGBTI movement and that pushed many members back to the closet though some of us were resilient to lobby with international allies to make this measure is withdrawn from parliament. I didn’t protest but wrote many petitions to our Ugandan and other international leaders.  I believed the death penalty was a serious issue which needed to be fought with a very strong force as it was encroaching on the rights of Ugandan LGBTI people.

‘As a teacher, I run an orphanage school in Kamwenge district.  I am a church minister with affirming Pentecostal churches and I am a passionate LGBTI activist. I like taking care of the needy children or the orphans since it was my dream as a child and I thank God who made my dream come true. I love my job and I thank my international allies in Europe and USA who help me in fundraising and providing scholastic materials as well as school fees for these children.

‘I trust my sister and a few friends. Above all, I used to trust more my mum but she died last year. She will forever remain the greatest mum and may God rest her soul in eternal peace.
Yes I chose to partake in this strategy to tell people about my life knowing that the reactions would be cruel knowing that Uganda is so homophobic.

‘Ever since I came out of the closet, I developed much love to serve fellow community members with all my passion, I decided to dedicate my life to activism which has exposed me to many great friends both locally and globally. I was not forced to come out, I was willing to come out but I was still waiting for that right time. After coming out some of my gay friends and I came up together since we had much love in serving God and to offer spiritual rehabilitation to the stigmatized LGBTI members with our vision to form St. Paul’s Voice Centre (SPAVOC).

‘On a local level, the press or the media in Uganda is biased towards issues and all of the outing especially after signing of the law that were meant to instigate violent attacks on LGBTI individuals. This leaves the community members to live in fear since most of our faces, names and other details were published in the “Hello” and “Red Pepper” tabloids leading to many evictions and families disowning many of LGBT individuals. The majority of the Ugandan media to a greater extent is homophobic with a very small number of sympathizers in the media fraternity.

‘No I don’t have a partner but I have a couple of friends I have protected since the bill was signed. I have helped many to relocate to safe places, get them food, counsel them at church and even helped some to move to European countries like Netherlands for asylum and for their safety.
Since the bill was passed mine and the life of some of my close friends have always lived in fear due to the harsh environment.  We fear being arrested and attacked by the homophobic public members that could lead to murdering individuals because of the hatred of having non-heterosexual orientation. More so the situation has changed a lot and many friends have gone back to the closet due to the rampant media outings which caused problems for many of my fellow members and making them feel like criminals and prisoners in their own homes.

Mleuben Maccarthy
‘Things have changed a lot in relation to my activism since February, there are no safe places to conduct meetings and socialize, no more workshops for learning and education, and there are some diplomatic missions with individuals who are distancing themselves from us by denying some members visas fearing they won’t return back. All I can say life for post February has been very demoralizing for me and my fellow members of the LGBT.

‘As a person, I dream about one day living in a country with total respect, dignity, liberty, equality and freedom to all its citizens despite their religious, cultural and sexual orientation differences that is built on tolerance for those to express their individuality.  I would like to have re-united strong LGBTI movement before the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in February of 2014.
I dream of having equality, justice, and freedom for a liberated Uganda by embracing rights of all citizens and not discriminating LGBT individuals that is my vision for the future of Uganda.
I dream to have a peaceful, stable, united and strong LGBTI movement in Uganda thus meaning I wish to see LGBTI people happy and free enjoying their country like other citizens.

‘My happiest memory is when I won Makwan award and when I was confirmed as reverend under APCI.

‘My biggest fear is being arrested, sentenced to prison for life or being killed as I have so much to offer in educating individuals regarding LGBT movement that we are not criminals nor do we “recruit” children to become gay.  We are people who wish to live in peace and have the freedom and dignity to be ourselves without being harassed, arrested without cause, and shunned from the public.

‘I would send my message to Pope Francis and Queen of England by making a call to them in advising Uganda to repeal the Anti-Homosexuality Act.’

Despite speaking at such a recognised event as the Human Rights Campaign and being featured in news reports across the world Mleuben Mccarthy is by no means out of danger.  He faces serious harm each and every day simply for being himself.

The laws in Uganda are wrong.  No two ways about it.  We cannot ignore what is going on in Uganda simply because it’s ‘not in our country’.  Fellow human beings are suffering simply for being who they are.  We need you all to please, please share Mleubens story and to raise awareness of this issue.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Fulfiling Your Destiny

I didn’t listen to a lot of the hype in the build up to the release of Destiny.  During its development period it was being teased and talked about as the next big thing, but none of it interested me at all.  You see, even though I enjoyed the Halo games I began to get bored of them towards the end, so another shooter made by Bungie didn’t exactly set my world on fire.

Then the Beta came out on Xbox Live and I thought, what the hell?  It’s free I might as well have a go at it.  I fired it up and chose Hunter as my initial class and began playing.  Next thing I know hours have gone by and I’m at the maximum level the Beta will allow.  Damn, I was hooked.

Destiny is a MMORPG, something that I’ve no experience of playing, so this review will be written more from the point of view of an average console gamer and someone that enjoys both RPG’s and FPS’s (boy that’s a lot of abbreviations).

When the game loads up you get presented with the character creation screen.  You get to pick your class, which consist of Titan, Hunter and Warlock, Destiny’s sci-fi equivalent of the classic Warrior, Rogue and Wizard choice.  You then get to choose your species, Human, Awoken (alien, elf like beings) and Exo (robot people), but the game gives you no explanation as to what each choice is.  Something that continues on throughout the rest of the game.

You see, Destiny clearly has a story and a well-crafted world that the game designers put a lot of time and effort into, but it’s rarely given to the player.  You’re presented with races and technology that’s crazy and magical and exotic but never told anything about them.

I know Destiny is building into a huge world that will keep going for a long time and that Bungie can build on with various DLC, but surely they could give us some information on exactly what’s going on.  Instead we’re sent off on what feels like loosely connected missions to fight races such as ‘The Fallen’, ‘The Hive’ and ‘The Cabal’ all of whom are fighting on behalf of ‘The Darkness’.

The massive Cabal rule the deserts of Mars.
If you’re slightly confused by that sentence and don’t really know what’s going on, then welcome to the world of Destiny.  Even once I’d finished the main story line I was a little confused as to what exactly the story was.

There’s even a point where one of the main NPC’s ‘The Speaker’ tells you that he can tell you the history of the world, the story of the Darkness and the Guardians who fight against it but goes on to explain exactly nothing.  Which is a shame as he was voiced by Bill Nighy and it would have been lovely to hear him narrate some more for us.

Lack of in game information aside let’s talk about the actual gameplay itself.

The game looks stunning.  That’s just a fact.  Every level and location is beautiful and breath taking to play in, with each of the planets having its own unique look to it that makes it instantly recognisable.  Whilst some people have complained that these locations are not massive open worlds, but each planet is vast enough to spend hours on patrol missions, fighting enemies and completing objectives.

Enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting, with four enemy races to go up against, and come complete with an array of abilities and vehicles to make the combat frenetic and varied.  The firefights range from long distance sniper fights, to blade wielding enemies attack you in close, to hordes of machines marching mercilessly towards you like an army.

Both wonders and horrors await on every planet you visit.
Being a MMORPG the combat is all about numbers, how much damage you weapons inflict on the enemy, how high your armour class is and how much experience you receive.  The more experience you gain the higher the characters level grows and the more skills unique to your class you gain.

With the levelling up though comes yet another problem with Destiny not telling you everything as once you reach level 20 you stop gaining experience from defeating enemies and completing objectives.  Instead, as I have learnt from friends and the internet, as the game doesn’t seem to want to tell you, you have to find weapons and equipment with ‘light’ points.  These points act like experience and increase your level past 20, but finding said items is not as easy and common as you would want, potentially halting your characters growth as other players keep on getting stronger around you.

Team up with your friends to take down massive enemies.
Speaking of other players, with Destiny being a MMORPG the game world is populated by other players, whom you can either engage with in PVP multiplayer or team up with in the main game.  Being a somewhat unsociable person I was glad that apart from a handful of Strike missions I was never forced to play alongside anyone else, and was able to walk away from other players and continue on my own path as I wished.  Plus for a game that boasts thousands and thousands of player it’s nice that the game world isn’t swarming with other people.

Because I’m not much of a social player I’ve not engaged in Destiny’s multiplayer arena much, but from what I have experience it’s a well-built PVP mode that’s different enough from the main game to be engaging, plus beneficial as the points you earn build towards items and gear in the main game.

Whilst Destiny may have unset a few people who expected something more than it turned out to be, and are upset with the lack of in game information if you want a well-made shooter that will last you more than a few hours and will keep you hooked for the long run you can do a lot worse.


Amy Walker Twitter

Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Hope For Trans Women?

News has been breaking today that may be one of major importance to the transgender community.  Today saw the birth of a child that was grown in a transplanted womb.  The 37 year old Swedish woman received the womb from a close family friend last year and today gave birth to her first son.

A pioneering procedure that so far has used donated wombs from living people, some are looking at the possibility of including the womb on donor registration from women who have died.  Despite being able to help thousands of women around the world who don’t have the ability to carry their own child, some are worried that the surgery may be too expensive and potentially dangerous, with no guarantee of a successful pregnancy.

Now, there is no news yet about whether or not this surgery will become something common, or just which women will benefit from it, but I’m sure that every trans women who is reading this now has the same feelings about it that I do.  Hope.  Well, hope mixed with sadness.

I know that I’m never going to be able to have a child, that I can never be a mother to my own flesh and blood.  Yes, there are other options out there available to me, and I’m not saying that I’m not open to them, but the possibility that one day transgender women might be able to carry their own children is phenomenal.

I don’t want to get my hopes up, or any of my readers either, but I hope so much that one day it could happen.


Facebook Apologises to Drag and LGBT Community

If you’ve read my blog before or been listening to the news recently you’ll be aware of the recent problems being faced by the LGBT and Drag community on Facebook.  A controversial real name policy, a policy that has always been in place but rarely enforced in the past, has been used to delete a number of profiles of people that are believed to have been ‘using fake names’.

Facebook have since said that he problem occurred when a single user reported hundreds of accounts belonging to drag queens and transgender people last month.  The company said that it did not realise that these groups were being targeted as they were amongst several thousand fake name reports that are processed every week.

Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox acknowledged that the experience had been "painful" for those involved.

‘I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbours, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks,’ he said.

Facebook have expanded upon their real name policy and have changed their stance from people needing to use their legal name to the name that they use most in everyday life.  Meaning that for drag performers, transgender people, actors, writer, victims of abuse or bullying then they can continue to use the names on the accounts that were just a week ago under risk of being deleted.

Drag performer Sister Roma was one of the people that met
with Facebook to protest their policy.
As someone who had their last profile deleted I’m glad that the chance of it happening again has, hopefully, gone.  I’m also glad that other people won’t have to go through it either, whether trans or not.  I’ve been debating about the subject with a few people and it’s been surprising just how many people supported this policy, who wanted people deleted for not using their ‘real’ name.

I’ve seen arguments ranging from ‘lying about your name shows lack of integrity’, to ‘you don’t pay to use Facebook, if they want to delete you they should be able to’ to some extremely transphobic comments that I’m not going to share here.

The bottom line is the policy that they were trying to enforce was wrong.  It was unfair and potentially dangerous to those they were targeting.

I don’t know if Facebook have reversed their decision on this policy because they came to their sense and realised that the policy was unfair or if it’s simply because of the amount of backlash and negative attention they are getting.  I hope it’s the former, but even if it’s not I’m not going to complain because I’m just happy that they have changed their mind.

At least now I and others can continue to use Facebook without the fear of our accounts suddenly being deleted.