Locked out

I’ve been locked out of my Twitter account for a terrible, terrible crime.

No, not being a big old Nazi. Messing with the year of birth in my profile page. This, apparently, is a really bad thing and I can’t currently read anything on Twitter or see other people’s messages to me.

It’s been brilliant.

Being unable to access Twitter has made it clear that my relationship with social media is completely out of whack. I’m following too many people and indulging too many more, and the result is a firehose of fury with precious little of the funny cat pictures and dad jokes I signed up for. It’s become a massive time thief and a drain on my mental health.

I’m not quite ready to bin Twitter altogether, although I’m close, but assuming Twitter decides to let me back in again I’m going to massively reduce the number of people I follow – not because they’re bad people, because I don’t follow bad people, but because I’ve let myself fall into a situation where there are just too many people talking at once. I can’t hear myself think above the din.

“The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal.”

I’ve been meaning to share this for aaaaaaages.

Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

I read Harrison Bergeron when I was a mere slip of a lad, about 20 years after it was first published. It’s short and funny and beautiful and terribly sad, and I can’t think about the ending without crying.

It’s stayed with me ever since I first read it. It was the gateway drug that gave me a lifetime love of Vonnegut’s work (and his writing style, which I’ve shamelessly nicked), and like much of Vonnegut it’s eerily prescient: the things happening to the characters (I don’t want to spoil any of it) are like today’s social media distractions.

The story was published in one of those sci-fi anthologies, and it must have been a particular good one: it also featured the utterly terrifying Descending by Thomas M Disch, which I think about every time I descend into the Subway.

Face off

One of the many joys of being a late transitioning trans woman is that you have a choice: you can be a bearded lady, you can get used to shaving two or three times a day, or you can have facial electrolysis to remove your stubble. If you’re younger or darker-haired there’s another option, laser hair removal, but it doesn’t work on grey, blonde or ginger hair so that rules me out.

As much as I’m in favour of breaking gender norms the Conchita Wurst beard-blue-eyeshadow-and-blusher combination doesn’t work for me, and I hate bloody shaving. So electrolysis it is.

Electrolysis is a process where a highly skilled technician uses a tiny probe to remove all the money from your bank account.

I’m not kidding. I’ve been approved for 15 hours of NHS-funded treatment. Unfortunately the typical born-male face has around 30,000 follicles, each of which has to be treated individually, and the process takes between 100 and 200 hours over a year or two. For some trans women who have thicker or darker hair than me that number can be as high as 400 hours.

Once you’ve used up your NHS funding you then have to pay for the rest yourself. The clinic recommended by the NHS in Glasgow charges £72 per hour, although there’s a 10% discount if you block-book ten sessions. That brings the price down to £64.80 per hour.

Let’s assume I’ll need 150 hours. Less my 15 hours of NHS funding that’s just 135 more hours: 130 at £64.80 per hour and the remaining 5 at £72 per hour.

That’s 130 x 64.80, which works out as £8,424, plus 5 x 72, which is a further £360.

As a conservative estimate, then, this is going to cost me £8,784.

I’m sure it’ll be worth it in the long run, because stubble is the ticking clock in my Cinderella story: if I’m going to be out for more than a few hours I need to decide what I’m going to do about shaving. I currently shave twice a day, sometimes three times if it’s going to be a late night. But in the medium term it’s awful.

It’s awful for several reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that it’s bloody sore.

Lying on a table for two hours as individual follicles are electrocuted and heated before the hair is yanked out with tweezers isn’t a great deal of fun. It’s particularly awful on bits where there isn’t much fat, such as close to the jawline, and when it’s done anywhere that bit of my face doesn’t calm down for about two days afterwards. For the first 24 hours I look like I’ve been stung by angry wasps.

The literature tells you that most patients find electrolysis mildly uncomfortable rather than sore, but those patients are women and their hair is easier and less painful to remove. Whenever you see electrolysis illustrated it’s always a shot of a serene-looking young woman with porcelain skin, not a middle-aged trans woman shouting JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I FELT THAT IN MY TEETH.

The main reason it’s awful, though, is that in order to remove stubble there needs to be some stubble to remove. And while I’m glad I don’t have the kind of Desperate Dan chin that gives a five o’clock shadow fifteen minutes after shaving, it means I can’t shave for the days running up to each electrolysis appointment – or immediately after the appointment, when the skin is angry.

What that means is that to keep a weekly schedule, I have to spend most of my week presenting male: if I’m getting stubble yanked out of my face on Thursday, I can’t shave after Monday morning and can’t shave again until Saturday. If I do a really good job on Monday morning I can get away with being me into Monday evening, but Tuesday through Friday means presenting male. That’s four days a week of people double-taking at my name, four days a week of trying not to see my own reflection, four days a week that feel like the biggest backwards step imaginable.

I’m sure it’ll get easier once the most obvious bits of stubble are gone and I no longer need to shave them. But for now the prospect of doing this for another year and a half isn’t exactly filling my soul with joy.


“It is never too late to live your life”

Jenny Boylan, novelist, columnist and author of the excellent memoir She’s Not There, posted a really worthwhile thread on Twitter today. I’ll give you a flavour:

People often ask late-transitioners, Why now? After all this time? What kind of woman do you think you can be, after missing your girlhood and your adolescence? But those aren’t the questions.

The question is, How did you manage to go so long? What enabled you to keep carrying your burden in secret, walking around with a shard of glass in your foot, for all those years?

The Times: transphobia is bad (except when we do it)

The Times has carried out an investigation into Twitter.

References to child sex abuse, taunting of rape victims, disturbing messages from stalkers, homophobia and transphobia all stayed on the site after Twitter reviewed the content and decided that none of it breached its terms.

Examples of the hate speech include attempts to link LGBT people with paedophilia and the deliberate abuse of trans women.

This, from a newspaper whose UK edition repeatedly runs articles claiming that trans people are ‘sacrificing our children”, that trans women are predatory men, that the LGBT “lobby” is abusing children.

Maybe the Irish edition didn’t get the memo: abusing minorities sells newspapers.

What does it profit Scotland if it gains the whole world but loses its soul?

There’s an interesting piece in Bella Caledonia by Mike Small about how “overtourism” is doing to Edinburgh what it’s done to so many other places in the world.

It’s not just Edinburgh. The “North Coast 500” road route, an invention to draw in tourists, destroyed the road surface and caused chaos on rural roads thanks to sports car drivers. The isle of Skye is reaching saturation point in the summertime.

But Edinburgh is facing a perfect storm. Airbnb rentals focusing on the Festival are doing serious damage to the housing market (the numbers are up from 2,000 a decade ago to 10,000 now), damage that has seen its use severely restricted in other parts of the world. The use of public spaces for more and more boarded-off events is ruining the public sphere. Boneheaded planning decisions have turned the city into a perpetual building site. The basic infrastructure of the city is struggling to cope.

Some of the same trends are happening in my own beloved Glasgow, but we don’t have Harry Potter tourism, the Festival or much of an Old Town to worry about. Edinburgh’s a very different place from Glasgow and its problems are on a much greater scale.

Mike Small:

Unless there is widespread and urgent opposition the trajectory of the city is clear: a city designed for and shaped around the rich and designed to exclude and exploit residents. The people who profit from the city are a tight network and the lack of transparency about ownership and decision-making is a well practised art form.

I’ve nothing against tourism, or the Festival, or gigs in public parks. But a city isn’t just a tourist destination or a playground for the very rich. It’s a place where tens of thousands of people live, love and work. It’s their city too.

Twitter’s cowardice is all about one man

No, not its boss, Jack Dorsey. This guy.

Twitter doesn’t want to move against hatemongers such as Alex Jones because if they do, it begs the question: why not Trump?

The short answer is: $2 billion.

That’s how much the Trump account is believed to be worth to Twitter, which is why it hasn’t blocked him despite him frequently posting abusive and threatening tweets and occasionally making nuclear threats to world leaders. That’s all fine, because Trump is “newsworthy”.

Dorsey mouths platitudes about freedom of speech, but his only concern is Twitter’s freedom to make money.

Cultural vandalism

Fortress Britain doesn’t want foreign musicians.

The musician Peter Gabriel has expressed “alarm” over UK foreign policy after a number of international artists were unable to perform at Womad world music festival after visa issues.

Or authors.

A dozen authors who were planning to attend this year’s Edinburgh international book festival have had their visas refused, according to the director, Nick Barley, who warned that the “humiliating” application process would deter artists from visiting the UK.

Visa problems have been an issue for festivals for some years now (and have been an issue for UK musicians travelling to the US, whose visas are hilariously expensive and make some small tours uneconomic), but the Conservatives’ “hostile environment” is making things much worse. And it doesn’t just affect the artists who lose income and still incur huge costs when their visas are rejected at the last minute: it affects the future viability of the festivals that book them too.

Elsewhere, Private Eye reports that the custom of touring musicians, especially classical ones, performing in Dublin before travelling effortlessly into the UK has been stymied by Home Office pedants who fear terrorists hidden in tubas. And UK musicians are worried about the very real impact the end of EU free movement will have on their ability to tour, which is a crucial component of any modern musician’s career.

What a bleak, insular, joyless country we’re becoming.