Transparenting Workshop: a summary of some key ideas, #ILGA2016BKK


This afternoon, I had my workshop on transparenting at the ILGA world conference. The workshop did not go according to plan due to a number of practical and logistical reasons, and in all honesty, my take is that it was challenging to communicate some of the key concepts that inspire me and guide me in my work not only on transparenting, but also on trans and queer activism as a whole.

The workshop took place in the middle of several other parallel sessions, which meant that the presence was low, and it was a small group. The positive side of that was that every participant was extremely interested in the topic. Some logistical difficulties prevented me from using the projector, and ‘displaying’ the key concepts and ideas that are crucial to my book project.

In the following, I will be engaging in an effort to rectify these flaws, by discussing, albeit briefly, some of the key elements and concepts that guide me in my day-to-day life as a transparent, and also in writing my book.

Absence/obliteration

A basic google search would suffice to note that work on trans identities and parenting does exist. In many cases, these narratives come from the global North, and are often written by middle and upper-middle class white people. In comparison, there is very little emphasis on trans and queer people of colour and parenting. In the case of Turtle Island, for instance, the same applies to indigenous Trans, queer and gender-plural people.  Most often, the approach is what I call an ‘oh my god’ approach – one in which people present transparents as a specific group that is ‘different’ if not the ‘not so normal’ case in family life, moving on to elucidate the challenges they face. I seek to challenge, if not distance myself from this type of narrative. My approach is based on a logic of self-affirmation and normalising.

Trans people, just like cis people, exist.

Trans people, just like cis people, can choose to be parents.

Trans people can be good, if not excellent parents.

Trans/queer identities are in no way an impediment to good parenting.

It is normal to be trans and a parent.

The world does not need to lose it and get heart attacks seeing a trans/queer person who is also a parent.

If anybody disagrees, they better check their privileges, prejudices and perceptions of gender and family life. Check your narrow cisheteronormative understanding of gender roles. UNLEARN.

TWoC perspective  

My book, developed from the perspective of a trans woman of colour living in Western Europe, and grappling with multiple forms of marginalisation, is intended at developing an inherently non-cis-heteronormative and transfeminist perspective on being a trans person (and very especially a trans woman) and a parent. This non-cis-het and transfeminist perspective cannot be consistently built if it is not grounded in an appraisal of (and a discourse of) decolonizing.

Challenging Cis-heteronormativities

Being a trans parent, and having the strength and courage to navigate through structures that are cis-normative, heteronormative, and in many cases racially discriminatory and abjectly misogynist, is all about creating understandings, meanings, and support networks that challenge cis-heteronormativities, socio-cultural and racial hierarchies, and indeed parenting and family life-related cis-centric perceptions.

Transparenting as a core component of Reproductive Justice

When discussing transparenting, it is crucial to focus on – as a workshop participant rightly affirmed earlier today – the concept of ‘choice’. As a trans woman and transfeminist activist living in the island of Ireland, the term ‘choice’ carries multiple connotations to me. To begin with, trans people should have the fundamental and inalienable right to choose whether they wish to become parents. It is a life choice that should not be governed by cis-heteronormative discriminatory practices and prejudices.

The term ‘choice’ also connects to reproductive justice. Trans women’s reproductive rights have been subjected to severe curtailment in many Western countries. It was only in the last two to three years that some of the Nordic countries abrogated their laws on compulsory sterilisation for trans people, especially for trans women. In some Nordic and Western European states, compulsory sterilisation continues to be standard practice. This is a case in point in which the state and legislators interfere in trans women’s bodily autonomy, and seek to violently control our bodies. This connects to existing restrictions in some jurisdictions on a birth giver’s right to access a termination when they so require. Campaigns for the right for a safe and legal termination (one of securing bodily autonomy) can and need to be intertwined and interconnected with trans women’s struggles for reproductive justice (also an issue of bodily autonomy).

Indeed, reproductive justice is an issue around which – as opposed to what many people blindly assume – strong cooperative solidarities can and should be built between cis and trans women.

Day-to-day challenges

A key element of my book is an effort to document and discuss the day-to-day experiences, challenges and inspiring moments that involve being a trans woman of colour and a parent in a Western European context. In discussing these issues and very specially strategies of dealing with them, it is very important to focus on the limits inherent to such a discussion. The tremendous diversity of trans and queer communities is such that I can share my experience and explain the strategies I deploy, but cannot provide a template. The lived experiences, personal circumstances and challenges people face can vary to tremendous levels.

In my case, my primary focus as a transparent is on taking an incremental approach, and managing the pace of my interactions with a cis-heteronormative world. Parenting involves constant dialogues and interactions with cis-heteronormative spheres, from antenatal care to primary school and beyond. This, in turn, involves having to deal with people who do not (and in some cases are unwilling to) sufficiently understand trans and queer issues, lifestyles, and queer liberation discourses.

What this implies is

  1. Taking a stand – I am a trans woman, and a parent, and as opposed to what cis-het society likes to assume, my gender identity is in no way an impediment to parenting (It is, on the contrary) an asset to good, if not excellent parenting.
  1. Engaging in conversations: given the above-mentioned problem of visibility, it is very important that I engage in conversations, within my personal spaces, in trans/queer activist lobbies and indeed with cis-het people and establishments I deal with on a daily basis, on the fact that transparents do exist, and that trans parents are as good as, and if not better than, cis parents. Such conversations can take multiple forms, and can take varying levels of intensity. They can be friendly chats that explain day-to-day realities or more intense discussions/debates. Experience has taught me that having confrontational conversations with cis-het people is unadvisable. This is because
    1. My confrontational attitude implies that I take cis-het perspectives on parenting seriously
    2. It can be harder to make a point and explain its validity and worth when articulated in confrontational undertones
    3. It strains my own emotional, and indeed physical well-being. The last thing one needs as a parent is added and avoidable stress.
  1. A refusal, of a categorical nature, to not to play by the cisheteronormative book. Transparenting, if it is to be grounded on queer liberation, needs to challenge and unsettle cis-heteropatriarcal perspectives on parenting.

Transparenting should therefore not focus on a trans woman being a good mother or a trans man being a good father (if a trans woman or a man wants to be so, that is indeed their choice). Instead, transparenting is best conceived as a healing, dynamic and unique approach to parenting, which fundamentally challenges cis-heteronormativities associated with parenting and family life. This is where the concept of a #chosenfamily becomes relevant and crucial. It is a concept that is close to the hearts of many trans people, especially trans women of colour across the world. In the First Nations communities of Turtle Island, chosen family is a concept that has enabled many people who have faced major challenges in their lives (due to genocidal government policies) to find love and affection, create safe spaces, develop strategies for self-care and healing, and to create safe and affection-filled intimate-family spaces for their children to grow up in. When #chosenfamily is applied to transparenting, we are left with a few key ideas:

Transparenting does not need to be about ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ tags (this does not, let’s be clear, imply that children cannot call their parents mum or dad (or mum and mum, dad and dad, mum,or dad). What this means is that in transparenting (and once again, irrespective of how your children address you) does not need to be limited to, defined or constrained by cisnormative perspectives of parenting. To follow this logic, whether a child calls their trans woman parent ‘dad’ or ‘mum’ is trivial. What matters is that the transparent approaches parenting and childcare in a transfeminist perspective (focused on creating a loving, affectionate and safe space for child to thrive in, a space that strongly recognises gender as a spectrum and that all points of that spectrum are equally valid), and engages in childcare with a strong emphasis on anti-bullying, consent and self-care. >>> This is an aspect I develop extensively in my book, based on my conversations with my five-year-old daughter. I have made it a point to encourage her, using age-appropriate language, that more than ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ she is a child, (as in,>>

My daughter: ‘I’m not sure if I can have this toy, because it is for boys’ and,

Me: No love, that’s not true. All toys are for all children. You’re a child, and you can definitely have it’).

I also strongly encourage my daughter to not to let anyone touch her without asking first (this was, primarily, based on an experience we lived through when my daughter and I travelled abroad for a short trip in Easter 2016. Seeing a child of colour, a lot of people would, with no qualms whatsoever, seek to touch her, and caress her, leading to me telling people off in no uncertain terms.

My objective is to ensure that the child is given the understanding that her body is hers, and hers alone, and that others can only get close if she agrees. As time flies through, this perspective can be developed into a strong discourse on consent. All our children, whether they grow up in cisparent or transparent households, need to be taught consent as of the nursery (if not earlier).

In a world in which black and brown bodies are prone to face hatred and violence (and indeed high levels of sexism), I strongly prioritise consent and the emphasis on gender as a spectrum in my day-to-day conversations with my child, and in my overall approach to parenting. #ThisiswhatTransfeministTransparentingLooksLike).

  1. To expand a bit further, subscribing to cisheteronorms is something I discourage. Take, for instance, a trans woman upholding the view that she intends to be a great mum, with all the ‘qualities’ and ‘traits’ that [cis-het-patriarchal society ascribe to] a cis woman who is a mother. Take the case of a trans man who seeks to be a ‘good father’ in the way a cis-het-patriarchal society expects a cis father to be. Such an approach only results in transparents serving the patriarchy and consciously or unconsciously, sustaining patriarchal imperatives.

This, simply, is not necessary and is futile. The term your child uses to call you is not so important. What matters is your approach to parenting, how you give and nurture love and care, and encourage your child to become a human being who sees gender as a spectrum (thereby standing against any bullies against other cis-or trans children in their circles, and also feeling free to live their own [cis, trans, non-binary or any other] gender identities), who has a strong understanding of consent and respect, and in sum, creating a constructive, safe and loving space for your child to develop and thrive, and face life’s challenges with strength.

The relevance of transfeminist theory

One of the elements I tried to include in my workshop presentation was the importance and relevance of transfeminist thought to transparenting. I see transfeminism as a current of feminist thought strongly inspired by Afrofeminism/s, global south feminism/s, and indigenous feminist perspectives. When discussing the idea of taking parenting beyond cis-heteronormativity’ transfeminist perspectives are extremely useful. A transfeminist perspective is one of solidarity, especially when it comes to transnational and collective engagement. It is perfectly in line with transfeminist thought for cis and trans women, for instance, to work together to consolidate their reproductive rights.

Transfeminism’s emphasis on bodily autonomy, and drawing inspiration from non-western epistemologies provides concepts that are extremely useful for transparenting. This is especially the case when one discusses parenting by trans people of colour, especially trans women of colour. The transfeminist critique of equal marriage and hierarchies within the LGBTQI communities (as well as of neo-colonial cycles of oppression in many sectors, including some aspects of global LGBTQI activism) provides inspiration to take a critical perspective on ‘appropriating’ (inherently oppressive) cis-het elements into trans lives (e.g. the inclination among some trans people to model their family lives and affections along cis-het demarcators, perceptions, cis-norms and symbols).

Once again, this is only an überblick, and I discuss the relevance of transfeminist thought to transparenting extensively in the second chapter of my book.

***

These were some of the key ideas that I intended to share in the transparenting workshop. In the cis-heteronormative world we live in, and given the tremendous diversity in trans circles, it is considerably challenging to find spaces, words and strategies to effectively communicate these concepts and thoughts. Indeed, this was one of the core challenges I faced in my very first workshop on transparenting. My book will by no means be an end in itself, but only the beginning of a long conversation.

PS: There was an emphasis, from a lovely sister, on reproductive and sexual health issues that specifically concern trans women. This is an issue that does receive attention in my book, but (as it stands now, at least…) I do not believe that the space I provide to discuss trans women’s reproductive health-related issues in this project is adequate. To sum up a few key points, the key challenge is that of fighting stigma associated with trans womanhood and parenting. Secondly, it is important to encourage medical practitioners and all professionals associated with reproductive health, childbirth and childcare of a trans woman’s inalienable right to become a parent. More research and attention is required to reproductive health issues of trans women from pre-op issues to vaginal health – going beyond cis-het stigma. It is also crucial to discourage making cis-hetero-norms the key benchmark when discussing trans women’s health issues, and their right to choose to become parents. It is a multi-faceted and multi-stake-holder dialogue, involving medical practitioners, trans people and indeed, trans rights and justice activists who do not approach trans issues through cis prisms. Encouraging trans people to enter the medical professions is also a key long-term element in this process. [and that’s only a very few thoughts on an extremely complex issue, which is also marked by quite a few ‘unchartered territories’ that need more work.

***

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Sibéal conference 2016: Roundtable on social transformation


Below is a transcript of my short presentation at a panel on social transformation, a highlight event that took place at the 2016 annual conference of Sibéal, the Irish Feminist and Gender Studies Network, held at the National University of Ireland in Galway on 18-19 November 2016. Watch my presentation here.

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My name is chamindra weerawardhana. I am a trans woman of colour, living in Ulster, or as I prefer to say, the unceded territories of traditional Ulster. I come from a Franco-British academic and professional background with some ten years of regular university teaching experience, including stints with United Nations bodies. Currently i have a research title at Queen’s University Belfast, an extremely neoliberal institution, where headcount and form-filling matters more than real people. Since affirming and moving forwards with my own personal path to gender self-determination, I find myself being shunned by some “high-profile” research centres at Queen’s, people who visibly have a problem with my trans identity, or to be more precise, my trans femininity.

How come it is that in academia, except in small and close-knit queer studies/transgender studies circles, cisgender bodies are considered as an [unwritten] imperative for success? Why am i told that being my true self, and assuming my  trans womanhood reduces my chances of a successful academic career in politics and international relations?

In my country of citizenship, Sri Lanka, yet another island, some people often remind me that options i used to have in pursuing a career in diplomacy or in active electoral politics are now shattered by my trans womanhood. How do you explain the fact that non-cisnormativity, if not non-cis-heteronirmativity represent such a barrier for one’s progress in a chosen field, leaving, little space, to borrow from Mark Twain, to say Jack Robinson?

i am also a trans woman who is a parent of two lovely children, one aged five and the other aged one and half. From antenatal care to primary school, my experience in parenting has been marked by a resolve from many quarters of society to give me ‘the look’, the cisgender gaze – as if to imply, what the hell are u doing here?

in cisheteronormative eyes, my trans womanhood is often seen as an impediment for parenting, let alone good parenting. The attack, at its core, is on my reproductive rights.

This cis heteronormativity is inherently linked to a patriarcal, [cisandtrans]misogynist resolve in society to exercise control upon bodies. what a cis woman, a trans woman, a non-binary person or any other gender plural person decides to do with their bodies and lives becomes the affair of society. This is where i link, in my everyday life and struggles for gender, racial and social justice, the transmisogyny i endure  – – –  and  – – – the foremost challenge for gender justice in present-day ireland – the denial of reproductive justice to cis women, trans men and all other gender-plural peoples.

In my categoric refusal to accept any restrictions that a cisheteronromative society seeks desperately to impose upon me, i follow the wise advice of Audre Lorde, who i sincerely wonder, if she were ever tired and exhausted of being always right. Lorde once said, “i am not free while any woman is unfree even when her shackles are very different from my own”. I am often reminded of this statement when thinking of systemic and underlying political and structural causes of discrimination, especially in the Irish context. the equal marriage law in Ireland was a great feat, yes. the gender recognition act of 2015 was tremendous. however, where is the commitment of concerned parties when it comes to reproductive justice?

This question, to a large extent, sums up the core of the problems inherent in terms of gender justice in present-day ireland. Equal marriage, i believe, was pushed through in a society in which, increasingly, there are powerful cis gay men of influence and wealth. It suits them and their personal agendas.

Reproductive justice and to be precise, the existing restrictions on obtaining a safe and legal termination when a birth giver so requires, is linked to an essentially misogynist class bias. It is not an issue that adversely affects those of the wealthy and influential political class.   

Instead, it is the less economically empowered who suffer, systematically, at the hands of a system that does not want to see them.

For trans and queer people, as Ireland increasingly becomes a welcoming place in terms of legislative provision, and also, increasingly, attitudinal changes, it is very important to constantly remember that trans and queer liberation is never wholesomely realised, in any meaningful way, in the absence of tackling serious issues of misogyny and class bias, and stigma surrounding fulsome reproductive justice to all.

***

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Transgender policy at QUB: half-baked cake


Queen’s University Belfast has launched a trans equality policy. The press release on the launch quotes three cis-white men, two from senior management and one from the full-time staff of the Students Union, commenting on the policy. One staggering absence is that not a single comment from a trans staff member or student is included in the press release. What are the opinions of trans staff and students about this policy? Were they sufficiently consulted when the policy was drawn?

This writer, the first trans woman to occupy a research title at the School of Politics (and perhaps in the rest of the university) was most definitely not approached. It is this writer’s fervent hope that other trans/queer staff and students were approached, and engaged with satisfactorily when the policy was drafted.

What is indeed commendable is the commitment of the Student’s Union to trans issues at Queen’s. However, it appears that paid employees in the university who are in charge of equality and diversity issues have chosen to release this policy NOT with the welfare of trans students and staff in mind, but as with Athena Swan in mind, to score some cheap points in internal and external evaluations, for form-filling purposes, and perhaps to include in the next Athena Swan evaluation.

As a trans woman who is on a research title, who has been a PhD student at Queen’s and also a Teaching Assistant in the past (and also worked in several universities elsewhere, in France and The Netherlands)  this writer’s take is that this trans equality policy is a very linear, normative one, put together by people with a low understanding of trans issues, trans equality policies launched by other trans-friendly higher educational institutions elsewhere, and by people who wanted a basic guideline for the sake of having it. Just as with Athena Swan, they can then adumbrate ‘sure look how inclusive we are!!!’.

We don’t give a damn! 

To narrate a little anecdote, this writer heard about the Student’s Union’s interest in trans issues and approached the Equality Office, as an additional staff card holder. Having experience in trans equality activism, being familiar with trans identity-related challenges from her own personal lived experience, and most of all, having built excellent networks and solidarities with people involved in launching trans and queer friendly/inclusive policy guidelines in other universities (especially in Canada), this writer proposed her services to the Equality Office, expressing an interest in contributing in any possible way for a future trans equality initiative.

There was no reply for a good while. This writer was not surprised, knowing from her lived experience that Queen’s University does not take international students and staff seriously, unless it involved collecting money, a photo opportunity or a similar tokenising venture. Then, there was a reply. In a message written by a staff member of the Equality Office, the sender of the reply implied either A) they do not understand English, or B) they did not read this writers’ message, or c) they do understand English and read this writer’s message but don’t give a damn about what was said in it.

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This message did not respond, in any clear way, to this writer’s query, if not offer, to contribute in any way to a trans equality policy. Instead, what does this one-sentence email really imply? How can one deduce the message that this sentence carries, and the mentality of people who come up with such responses?

It is simply that this individual, or their office, does not wish to see this writer, or acknowledge her presence in the university structure. It is a clear indicator that they do not consider this writer, a trans woman who is a post-PhD academic with a pan-European education and professional experience, is suitable to contribute to the university’s trans equality policy. Whether the response to the same message would have been the same had this writer been a white local trans woman with the same profile and credentials is an open question.

Trans equality policy with holes in the bottom 

The policy guideline totally lacks a much-needed intersectional focus. It is as if its drafters expected that a group of cis people drafting a policy guideline with ’local’ consultations (read trans support groups based in Northern Ireland) and using politically correct language would suffice. This is simply not true, and is grossly inadequate.

No trans/queer international students!

What the drafters of this trans policy especially forget is the fact that QUB is a Russell Group university. Whether some people who work for QUB like it or not, it is a place with an international staff and very especially student population. Not once does it state a single word about international students and staff, a category that includes highly qualified people who face routine discriminatory and racist and sexist attitudes from border officers, customs officers and even gatekeepers from the local Department of Agriculture  (especially at Belfast airports), and indeed (when it comes to students from countries classified as ‘high immigration ‘risk’ places) from the QUB international office.

When you are trans/ queer and non-white, non-EU and have a passport from the global South, your options can get strictly limited, and in the UK, (and very especially in Northern Ireland) you are bound to face specific challenges. Gender self-determination, or to use [cis]parlance,  ’transition’ can then become an everyday struggle of a specific sort, from being stigmatised even when flying domestically to numerous other everyday challenges and complications. If Queen’s were serious and sincere about having a workable and viable trans equality policy, it would recognise and address the genuine concerns of international staff and students. This trans equality guideline does not make a single reference to intersectionalities of discrimination, especially to protections that the university can make available to ‘protect’ trans/queer international students of colour if they are faced with multiple intersectional challenges – for example, when transphobia (coming from academic and ministrative and/or peer hierarchies) is couched with racial biases. This trans equality policy does not make a single reference to the specific issues of being trans/queer and a person of colour (and an international student/staff member) in the local context of Queen’s and Northern Ireland, and what the university is prepared to do to assist international students and staff, who make a tremendous contribution to the university’s global profile and financial strength.

Insufficient Evocation of Trans Health Issues and Related Challenges in Northern Ireland

The Trans Equality Policy also does not include any guidelines about trans health, which cannot be separated from reproductive health, and indeed, the existing restrictions on reproductive justice in Northern Ireland. Many cis, trans, nonbinary and other gender-plural students coming to Northern Ireland from outside Northern Ireland (including from other constituent parts of the UK) are insufficiently familiar with Northern Ireland’s draconian reproductive health policies, and it is important to include clear guidelines on such issues in a trans equality policy, especially when it targets the student community.

A trans/queer student going through their process of gender self-determination, and especially an international student going through these processes, do not get the information they need to know when reading this Policy Document. It does not sufficiently explain to them how their specific issues and concerns will be diligently addressed and covered by the university’s Trans Equality Policy. Instead, a student reading the recently released document is most likely to feel like eating bland and tasteless food.

Most importantly, this trans equality policy guideline does not provide a single indication of what mechanisms are in place, or will be put in place, to promote trans awareness in the university, and to enhance trans visibility and acceptance (this excludes the ongoing commendable work of the Student’s Union. This writer is referring to the HR Office, Equality & Diversity Office, International Office and other official divisions of the university).

It is not rocket science that a place with its fair share of prejudices and systemic discriminatory dynamics won’t wake up to trans issues out of the blue. It is crucial to link trans equality and justice in the professional and academic spheres with related challenges of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, [dis]ability, accent-related stereotyping, discrimination and microaggressions. It is extremely important to make the trans equality policy relevant to the specific challenges that are faced by international students and staff in the local context of Northern Ireland.

This trans equality policy, as we are talking about a high-profile (and apparently cosmopolitan and world-leading!!!) Russell Group university, is not worth the paper it is printed on. It is, however, great as a propaganda and form-filling venture.

 

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Keynote Speakers & Roundtable


Keynote Speakers Our first keynote speaker will be Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington (pictured below). Micheline is the granddaughter of the renowned Irish suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. In 20…

Source: Keynote Speakers & Roundtable

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Meeting Anne Dickson MP CBE: The quintessential ‘grand lady’ of the politics of Northern Ireland


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Above: Chamindra Weerawardhana meeting Anne Dickson MP CBE, Carrick, Northern Ireland, June 2016 (©C.Weerawardhana)

In June 2016, I had the good fortune of meeting Anne Laetitia Dickson MP CBE, the first woman to lead a political party in Northern Ireland (and the second in the island of Ireland). Starting her career in active politics as the chair of the Carrick Party Executive of the Unionist Party, Anne was elected to the Newtownabbey Urban District Council in 1965, and to Stormont at the infamous 1969 Crossroads election, polling 9,529 preferential votes. Anne was the only woman to be elected to the last Stormont parliament before Direct Rule was declared in 1972 (from 1969 to 1972). At the Carrick Executive of the UUP (Anne’s home constituency), she would strongly articulate a discourse of inclusion, often critical of the discriminatory policies of the government run by her own party. Being female and a no-nonsense critical voice, Anne was popular among party members, and her positions were indeed a breath of fresh air to a party with an unmistakably patriarchal and conservative stamp. Despite being appreciated by party members, Anne’s presence in the political scene was anathema to many cis male politicians in the Unionist Party, especially those who upheld a hardline brand of unionism.

Read More here.

#AnneDickson #WomenInPolitics #NorthernIreland #UlsterUnionism #UlsterUnionistParty #UPNI

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