It’s getting harder to be average

When I was at school, I was excellent. I didn’t find anything particularly difficult, and I breezed through exams without having to study for them. I assumed that when I left school, the world of work would be much the same and I would be hugely rewarded for doing sod-all.

Spoiler: nope.

One of the things about growing up – unless you’re lucky enough to benefit from inherited wealth and/or nepotism – is that you soon learn that you are not the genius you thought you were. It turns out that the world is full of people who are not just as clever or as talented as you, but who also work much harder than you do.

That leaves you with two options. One, find ways to compete. Or two, have an almighty shit-fit about how it’s soooooo unfair that others are allowed into your treehouse. Previously the highly privileged railed against “PC gone maaaaaaad”; now it’s about “wokeness”. But it’s always a toddler tantrum.

Laura Waddell in the Scotsman, itself no stranger to publishing such tantrums, writes about two kinds of contrarians: the career ones who manufacture controversy cynically to pay their bills, and the people who mistake loss of privilege for conspiracy.

The second camp is rooted in insecurity about one’s own position in the professional world, and a sense of being left behind as it changes. This can be seen in the desire to suck up to a stale model of power, the white male change-maker who held court when the controversialist’s career was on the up. Mocking others is an ingratiation attempt, showing they’re in the same camp, fighting newcomers who dare think they deserve a place at the table. But it is always easier to trick oneself into believing advancement of others has resulted in one’s personal persecution, than come to terms with being average among the competition.

White people aren’t necessarily better writers than people of colour. Men are not necessarily better musicians than women. Straight people are not necessarily better CEOs than gay people. But for a very long time, mediocre people have had better opportunities than others purely because of their skin colour. their gender or their sexual orientation because they and people like them promoted the people who were exactly like them – and limited the opportunities for people who were not.

Waddell:

The problem is not the existence of others – it’s just not being good enough. The world is just a little less likely to reward them for it.

“The violence of white women’s tears”

There’s a blistering editorial in the New York Times about Amy Cooper, the white woman who was asked by a black birdwatcher to put her dog on a lead in the park. She responded by threatening to call the police and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her life – a potentially lethal lie in a country where so many black men and boys have been murdered by the police.

She may believe these statements to be true. But even here she betrays her sense of white superiority; even if she didn’t intend to physically hurt him, she certainly was letting him know she had the power to do so and was attempting to corner him into submission.

…Ms. Cooper is not an exceptional example of racism but the latest in a long line of damsels who leverage racial power by dominating people of color only to pivot to the role of the helpless victim.

In America, Black women have a term for this: Karen. A Karen is a white woman who uses her whiteness and the privilege that comes with it to cause trouble for black people; she demands to call the manager in the hope of getting a key worker fired, or calls the police pretending a black man is threatening her.

Here in the UK, we like to think that we’re better than the Americans. And it’s true that while we have our own problems with racism – right now black people are more likely to be stopped for suspicion of breaking lockdown rules, for example; there are no end of examples of people of colour suffering abuse of authority – Amy Cooper’s threat wouldn’t have been quite so frightening if she were a Glaswegian rather than a New Yorker, because our police officers are less likely to be heavily armed racists who shoot first and think later.

But the threat would still be effective, because there would still be a presumption on the part of the authorities that she was telling the truth: as a white, cisgender, well-spoken, well-educated middle-class woman with a respectable job many people in authority will respond to her in a different way than to people who don’t tick some or all of those boxes. And some people try to use that power differential to their advantage: the Karens of the world, who are not exclusive to the US.

Something I found interesting about the online reaction to the Amy Cooper story here in the UK was people’s surprise that Cooper isn’t right-wing. But this  isn’t about which side of the political spectrum you sit on. It’s about power, power that enables you to protect your personal position even if it means harming others; power that enables you to call on the police or other authorities to deal with anyone who challenges, inconveniences or criticises you. It’s about the privilege you have in society and your willingness to use it as a weapon against those less powerful than you.

Trans kids matter

A sad but sadly unsurprising study is yet more evidence that not only are LGBT+ young people more at risk of depression and suicide than straight kids, but that the risk is even higher for trans youth.

PinkNews:

compared to their cisgender LGB+ peers in the Trevor Project survey, young people who identify as trans and non-binary are still more than twice as likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide – adjusting for age, family income and ethnicity.

…Trans males are the the highest-at risk group, with 35 per cent having attempted suicide in the past 12 months – but trans females and non-binary youth were also significantly more likely than cisgender LGB+ youth to report seriously considering suicide

One of the key factors in LGBT+ suicides is bullying. A separate study by the Yale School of Public Health found that bullying is much more likely to be a precursor to suicide among LGBT+ youth than among their peers.

Death records from LGBTQ youths were about five times more likely to mention bullying than non-LGBTQ youths’ death records, the study found. Among 10- to 13-year-olds, over two-thirds of LGBTQ youths’ death records mentioned that they had been bullied.

There are lots of these studies, and the anti-trans mob’s reaction is always the same: DARVO. It’s a term used to describe a key tactic of abusers: deny, attack, reverse the victim and offender. So whenever a study shows more avoidable deaths, the response is to say that the figures are false, that trans teens are drama queens and that trans activists use the threat of suicide to silence legitimate criticism.

DARVO is necessary for some because otherwise they’d have to admit that they are abusers. And many anti-trans activists are. They might not be doing the abusing directly (although some do online), but they may contribute to it by the attitudes they express to others or by the causes they crowdfund or support in other ways – such as legal action to make trans kids more vulnerable in schools.

In the US and UK, evangelical-backed individuals and organisations are targeting cash-strapped councils and school districts with legal action to try and force the withdrawal of inclusive anti-bullying materials and policies.

While parents mourn their children, others are trying to rip up what little support currently exists for other vulnerable children like them.

Under the banner of “protect the children”, they want to remove protection for the most vulnerable children of all. They try not to say it, but the meaning is clear: better to have dead kids than trans ones.

Offensively ignorant

The LGB Alliance, on the actual anniversary of Section 28:

“We never demanded society change its laws” isn’t just shockingly ignorant, although of course it is. It’s also a grossly offensive insult to the thousands of gay, bisexual and lesbian people (and of course trans people, but the LGBA doesn’t even pretend to care about them) whose lives were ruined by anti-gay legislation over hundreds of years. Very little of that legislation was changed by LGBT+ people asking nicely.

It’s also a raised middle finger to the very many brave gay, bi and lesbian activists (and of course trans activists, but the LGBA etc etc etc) who fought so hard and in many cases lost so much to gain the most basic human rights for LGBT+ people.

Wedge issues to unite the right

Laura Bassett, writing for GQ.com, explains how the US Christian Right moved from being largely pro-abortion (in some cases because they were racist and believed abortion would limit the number of black children) to becoming militantly against it.

The short version: strategists used abortion as a wedge issue to rally the faithful and grow the Republican Party.

[Republican activist] Weyrich tried to make pornography the wedge issue, he tried prayer in schools, he tried the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution which would have guaranteed equal legal rights to women, and none of those issues really rallied his troops. “I was trying to get people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” he later admitted at a conference in 1990. Then, six years after Roe v. Wade in 1973, Weyrich and Falwell noticed that conservatives were starting to get uncomfortable with the spike in legal abortions after the landmark case and with the sexual, social and economic freedom that reproductive rights had brought to women. So they went all in on making abortion a wedge issue that could marry the Christian right and the GOP.

Most people are in favour of a woman’s right to choose, but the Christian Right claims to speak for the majority. It funnels money into pressure groups and grass-roots groups, demonises the powerless, misrepresents facts, spreads blatant falsehoods – as the piece notes, that includes claiming that pro-choice people are murdering children after they’ve been born – and incites violence.

It’s so horrific, and so horrifically familiar.

“Capitalism needs women to work for free”

There’s an interesting interview in PinkNews with Alison Phipps, author of Me Not You: The Trouble With Mainstream Feminism. The book is very critical of the often very privileged white women whose feminism excludes women of colour, poor women, incarcerated women, sex workers, trans women and disabled women.

This bit is short and to the point:

“Although not everybody identifies with the [gender] binary, it basically sorts people into one of two categories.,” Alison says.

“One category is about productive, useful, honourable, well-rewarded labour… and the other category is about all the shit stuff.”

Phipps has been vilified by many of the people she criticises because of her unequivocal support of trans rights. She argues that the politicians who go after trans women’s rights inevitably go after all women next.

You can see it in these right-wing movements worldwide. So, for example, Orbán in Hungary – he cracked down on trans rights first, and now he’s cracking down on laws against domestic violence. It’s all part of the same package. Preserving the gender binary. Preserving the nuclear family.

Phipps’ book is really interesting and definitely worth checking out.

Battling homophobia?

David Paisley took a look at the Twitter feed for the LGB Alliance on the international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (#IDAHOBIT); you’d expect a group that says it’s standing up for lesbian, gay and bisexual people to have something to say about ignorance and bigotry.

He made this image. On the left, all the posts the LGB Alliance made about homophobia and biphobia on #IDAHOBIT. On the right, the posts they made on the same day attacking trans people, criticising LGBT+ organisations, attacking inclusive education and attacking LGBT+ people for supporting trans people.

As Paisley points out, the single post to mark #IDAHOBIT was “just a hashtag and a link to an article two years out of date.”

Paisley:

Let’s look at the response of their followers.

For their #IDAHOBIT tweet:
Retweets: 1
Likes: 11

For their anti trans tweets:
Retweets: 467
Likes: 4126

The organisation went on to attack the Council of Europe for publishing guidance designed to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination and to attack Amnesty International for saying trans rights are human rights.

Paisley:

The majority of their posts are about trans exclusion, not “LGB” supportive issues… despite the abusive language of their followers they are careful not to be abusive themselves.

Sometimes, though, the mask of respectability slips. The other week, the group and its followers went after SNP MP John Nicolson with often blatantly homophobic abuse; when presented with evidence of it, two crowdfunding websites ejected the LGB Alliance from their platforms.

That was an expensive mistake that they’ll no doubt try not to repeat, but I suspect the mask will slip again soon enough: after all, this is an organisation whose co-founder suggested that gay teachers are predators.

“We do not need protecting from trans people.”

Many [press reports say “thousands” of] cisgender women have signed an open letter to women and equalities minister Liz Truss expressing their concern at her apparent plans for the gender recognition act.

Trans equality was not widely seen as an issue until the Transgender Equality Inquiry of 2015 triggered a concerted campaign in the media to depict trans rights as a new threat to cisgender women like ourselves.

We reject this assessment. As cisgender women, we are angry that these groups claim to speak for us, and try to justify their bigotry against a vulnerable minority in our name. It is disturbing to hear an equalities minister repeat their talking points almost word for word while outlining plans to reform trans rights.

The fact that you chose to make this a priority during the biggest crisis the world has faced in decades is even more disturbing.

I don’t know how effective such letters are; we’ve seen the current government press on with all kinds of terrible measures in the face of facts, best practice and common sense. But it can’t do any harm.

A shameful anniversary

It’s 32 years since the Conservatives introduced Section 28. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.

That was Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

The newspapers were full of stories of a sinister “gay agenda” pushed by an equally sinister “homosexual lobby” determined to turn all your children gay. Politicians said they weren’t concerned with “responsible homosexuals”; they were concerned about the “sick” ones who had “an urge to persuade other people that their way of life was a good one.”

This video, shared by Ben McGowan, makes me wonder how much has really changed.

The video includes quotes from politicians, including one who decried “Labour’s appalling agenda encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools” in a piece in the Spectator in 2000, compared equal marriage to bestiality and wrote about “tank-topped bum-boys” in a column about the politician Peter Mandelson.

He’s the Prime Minister now.