Beaumont Society in Confidence Breach: Equally Blessed and Cursed
Oh, the Beaumont Society; that oldest of UK trans ‘support’ organisations. In the minds of some a wonderful network of potential friends, support, and a font of knowledge, and in the minds of others a dangerous relic and bastion of old ideas, poor understanding, an overly inflated sense of importance and a certain air of self-aggrandisement. Simultaneously understated and overstated, many would be forgiven for wondering who they are, but the Beaumont society is never the less quite pervasive, and often in a rather unhelpful way.
The society has recently come into the spotlight following a rash of stories in the UK on the subject of what the press are referring to as the UK’s first male pregnancy. While it makes a definite change to see that the UK media are finally showing some manner of acknowledgement of a person’s gender identity, the story is never the less a sensation. Just like the whole Thomas Beattie affair, this story of a trans man using his body in a way he sees fit has provoked quite a stir; a stir which has also resulted in an equal and opposite reaction from those who don’t see the world through quite the same absolute-binary-tinted-glasses common to much of society.
The fact is, wider society is not ready for this yet, in that such an event stirs the passions of many people with no to little understanding of the issues concerned, who simply respond to a gut reaction resulting from an internalised assumption and belief that men don’t give birth… ever; never mind, of course, that a trans man may retain all the biological machinery required to do so. Clearly, such a man should refrain from giving birth to avoid causing offence to the sensibilities of others!.. or so it would appear to be believed.
This has, as mentioned, all happened before. There is surely no trans person who would be unaware of this fact. Likewise, there would be no trans person who would be unaware of what would happen if the tabloid media were to get just a sniff of it. Apparently though, this was not the case for the Beaumont society, who through either bravado, publicity seeking, stupidity or incompetence, have recently disrupted the life of a person who came to them for advice and support.
The first rule, for trans organisations, for dealing with journalists is simple; it’s “Don’t feed the media!”. The Beaumont Society, on the other hand, have a different approach, as discovered by the journalist Jane Fae in her attempt to get to the bottom of all this. In speaking to the Beaumont Society, she recieved this little nugget:
As their spokeswoman put it, if other organisations want to be in the press, its up to them to get back and respond. She told me: “if they want a response, we’ll give response: if the rest of the trans community doesn’t respond, then that’s their problem.”
They didn’t name any names – nobody could be quite that incompetent. What they did was to confirm that the story existed, which gave the press all they needed to go wild with the statement that there was a trans man in the UK with a pregnancy. The gutter press need at least some basis for a story, after all, even if it’s just an interview where they take the basic facts, distort them, and make up all the rest… and the most basic fact required in this story was that simple fact of the existence of a trans man with child in the UK. In the words of the Beaumont Society, again from Jane Fae’s blog:
“We were contacted last year through our information line number asking for details on this issue. As an information line, we were unable to help with this query and so referred the matter onto GIRES. Some period of time later we received a thankyou for being there and the info we provided.”
This simple fact is what allowed the story to run. Nothing more, and nothing less. All of the other information was out there to be easily gleaned from other sources. What was not out there, however, was the name of the man concerned, which leads on to the true gravity of what the Beaumont Society have actually done through their actions here.
Tabloid newspapers (perhaps most notably, The Sun), now have a bounty, through public request, on the name and location of the man concerned. That man, and his family, are having their privacy invaded and under threat of invasion, and must now live out their time in fear that everyone they encounter in their lives could be the person that’s about to sell them down the river for a quick buck, allowing the UK press to make their lives even more hellish.
Perhaps this, frankly, idiotic stance on the part of the Beaumont Society is a reflection of it’s attitudes and origins. It is these same attitudes and origins that create the somewhat dualistic perceptions of the 45 year old organisation which still clings to an old “TS/TG/IS” paradigm that’s long outdated. However, things weren’t always this way, as when the TS/TG/IS paradigm was in vogue, the BS was still clinging to an outmoded concept of Transsexualism and Transvestitism being essentially different expressions of the same thing.
Formed originally under a different name in 1966 and now named after a moneyed and privileged 18th century crossdressing spy, the aims of the society, which they themselves note to be strikingly similar to it’s current aims, were:
1. To provide information and education to the general public, the medical and legal professions on transvestism and to encourage research aimed at fuller understanding.
2. To provide TV’s with an opportunity for a social life together.
It is perhaps also telling that the section of the society devoted to the partners of trans people is somewhat inappropriately named “Women of the Beaumont society”, which not only ignores the existence of transsexual men, but implies that transsexual women are not really women also. The implication, of course, is that the organisation primarily serves the interests of cross dressing men… an implication which would suggest that it is ill advised and ill equipped to speak on behalf of transsexual women; a fact so clearly demonstrated by this whole current media debacle.
It’s reputation within the trans community relates to exactly that. What’s perhaps more disturbing, on the other hand, is that it appears that many of the current generation of activists may not realise just how prominent this organisation is, believing that the organisation is only recently becoming a “first port of call” for media comment on issues concerning trans people in particular. The Beaumont Society is still prominently listed as a support organisation appropriate for transsexual people by doctor’s, psychiatrists, counsellors, Local Authorities, and information packs from a variety of organisations, including the NHS.
On many occasions, it is the one and only recommendation given by professionals in respect of support for a transsexual person in their care. This is not only inappropriate, borderline offensive and potentially dangerous, but also sends out an entirely outmoded message about who transsexual people are to the public at large, while demonstrating to vulnerable trans people that those to whom their care is entrusted know and understand precious little of who they are or the community of which they are a part.
It is high time that the Beaumont Society either entirely rethinks it’s nature, or desists from speaking on behalf of those it should not be speaking for. It is likewise time that professionals desist from approaching them over issues for which they are the least appropriate source of information. For many years, transsexual people as an overall community have largely ignored the negative influence of the Beaumont Society in the media, healthcare, and in social understanding. While we at No More Lost would never claim that artificial hostile divisions should be maintained between cross dressers and transsexual people, this is premised upon each group resisting the urge to speak for or to denigrate the other. In this case, however, actual harm is demonstrably resulting.
Trans people need to redouble an effort to ensure that resources intended to support and speak for them are in fact resources suitable and appropriate to support and speak for them. This includes a challenge to the Beaumont Society to either change it’s ways or surrender the field in respect of transsexual people before it causes even greater damage to people’s lives… because that damage can not be allowed to continue. Far more appropriate venues and vectors of contact include Trans Media Watch, Gendered Intelligence, GIRES, Mermaids, the Gender Trust, Press for Change, etc.
While the Beaumont society argues that they are “authorised to speak on trans issues because they have ts members on their committee”, I too am by the same logic authorised to speak on behalf of black people, because some of my friends, forming a significant part of my social structure, are black. The British National Party can speak for ethnic and religious minorities, because they have (or have had) a Jewish Councillor elected to Epping Forest district council. The logic simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
With the greatest of respect to the Beaumont Society, neither it’s logic nor it’s interventions with regards to trans matters are particularly helpful or useful.