The cruelty is the point

This week, SNP MP Joan McAlpine is hosting the Canadian anti-trans activist Meghan Murphy. Murphy, who has been given a lifetime ban from Twitter for the targeted harassment of trans people, says she is not transphobic; she just wants to “ensure the safety of women in places like female prisons, women’s refuges, and changing rooms”. [BBC]

McAlpine says she’s an important voice in the gender recognition debate, even though the so-called debate is over a specific piece of legislation, the Gender Recognition Act, which has nothing to do with the issues McAlpine and her anti-trans pals claim to be concerned about.

As I’ve written endlessly, the Gender Recognition Act is not about access to anything. It’s about paperwork, what the taxman calls us, whether we can get married in our correct gender and whether we get buried with dignity.

Claiming it affects the definition of male and female or who can access what is untrue: both the UK and Scottish governments have said so flatly, but the howling mob refuses to listen.

The legislation that covers “prisons, women’s refuges and changing rooms” is the Equality Act 2010. That act is not under review. It enables same-sex services to exclude trans people if such exclusion is proportionate and necessary; that is not under review either.

McAlpine’s move is a deliberate act of trolling, a move to inject more anger and intolerance into an already overheated and one-sided “debate” that features far too much fiction and far too few facts and which has led to a marked increase in anti-trans sentiment and anti-trans hate crimes across the UK.

Meanwhile in America, the Trump administration plans to introduce exactly the kind of change Murphy and McAlpine want by rolling back an Obama-era protection for trans people.

The Trump administration announced plans Wednesday to let shelters and other recipients of federal housing money discriminate against transgender people by turning them away or placing them alongside others of their birth sex — refusing to let them share facilities with people of the same gender identity.

Critics warn the proposal, which guts protections created during the Obama administration, could put transgender people at a higher risk for homelessness and abuse. The rule would allow shelters to reject transgender applicants entirely or require trans women to share bathing and sleeping facilities with men.

Why does the US need this legislation? Has there been a rash of trans women attacking women since equality legislation was introduced? No. Have men been pretending to be women to attack women in shelters? No.

Are trans kids more likely to be made homeless by family rejection than cisgender kids? Yes. Are trans adults more likely to be made homeless by being fired than cisgender adults? Yes. Does the proposed legislation mean more trans people will be attacked or left to fend for themselves on the streets? Yes.

The people behind the legislation are well aware of this, and they don’t care. The cruelty is the point.

Here’s writer Ashlee Marie Preston.

At 19 I was fired from my job for being trans & became homeless. Women’s shelters rejected me because of my assigned gender at birth. Men’s shelters denied me for reading female. I ended up on the streets & encountered several near death experiences.

This is why the Obama administration introduced protection for trans people. Homelessness is humiliating and dangerous. It’s even more so for trans people.

Preston again:

Trump knows what he’s doing.

He does. This legislation is not the solution to a problem. Or rather, it’s not the solution to anything it purports to be a solution to. It’s designed to address something very different: the protection of transgender people and LGBT people generally.

The Obama administration introduced legislation that made it much more difficult for religious zealots to discriminate against and endanger LGBT people. The Trump administration wants to roll that back, to make America hate again.

This legislation isn’t cruel by accident. The cruelty is the point.

Bad-faith theatre

Image by Jude Valentin, YouTube.

Yesterday I linked to a piece about women of colour being overwhelmed with requests to educate people. Not all of those requests are made in good faith, and even the ones that are can be exhausting.

This morning. Afua Hirsch writes about her experience on Sky News. Hirsch was asked to explain why an image was racist.

here was an instantly recognisable trope, familiar to generations of black people, shared on the birth of a baby whose family includes an African American grandmother, by someone paid by the BBC. That there was widespread condemnation of its racist nature – including from the man who posted it – is one of many reasons I was exasperated at having to debate it.

Hirsch’s appearance went viral when she decided she’d had enough of this particular game.

I realised, on air, that I had had enough – not just of having to deal with the content of an idea that compares people like me to another species, but of then being expected to persuade people why that’s bad.

Because this emotional labour is not distributed equally, broadcasters – by placing one black person in a hostile space and then requiring them to explain the injustice of racism – become complicit in that injustice.

The idea that everything is a debate, and that terrible bigotries can be defeated by it, is a bad idea.

Laurie Penny:

There’s a term for this sort of bad-faith argument: it’s called the justification-suppression model. The theory is that bigots refrain from directly defending their own bigotry but get hugely riled up justifying the abstract right to express bigotry. So instead of saying, for example, “I don’t like foreigners,” they’ll fight hard for someone else’s right to get up on stage and yell that foreigners are coming to convert your children and seduce your household pets.

You can’t defeat bad faith with good words, because the other side isn’t debating. They’re performing.

Remember the U.S. presidential debates of 2016? Remember how the entire liberal establishment thought Hillary Clinton had won, mainly because she made actual points, rather than shambling around the stage shouting about Muslims? What’s the one line from those debates that everyone remembers now? It’s “Nasty Woman.” What’s the visual? It’s Trump literally skulking around Hillary, dominating her with his body. It’s theatre. And right now the bad actors are winning.

Libertarians like to talk about “the marketplace of ideas”, but as Penny rightly points out, marketplaces are full of conmen and counterfeiters and criminals. “As always,” she says, “when the whole thing comes crashing down, it’s ordinary marks who lose everything.”

Public debate — at least the way I was taught to do it at my posh school — is not about the free exchange of ideas at all. You only listen to the other guy so you can work out how to beat him, and ideally, humiliate him.

…trying to bring someone over to your side by publicly demonstrating that their ideas are bad and that they should feel bad is like trying to teach a goat how to dance: the goat will not learn to dance, and you will make him angry.

Debate doesn’t stop bigots or fascists. We’ve been exposing far-right ideologies to sunlight for several years now, and the far right is stronger than ever. Since the UK began debating hard-right Brexiteers, racist incidents and discrimination have soared.

We’ve been debating LGBT rights for decades, and the bigots continue to argue against science and basic humanity. Since the UK began debating equal rights for LGBT people and trans people in particular, hate crimes against LGBT people and trans people in particular have soared.

Since the US religious right began an aggressive campaign demanding  we debate women’s reproductive freedom, legislation has been passed to remove that freedom altogether. The goal is to have similar legislation nationwide.

The “debates” over whether it’s okay to compare people of colour to monkeys, whether parents are right to stop their kids being taught about the existence of LGBT people, whether women should have bodily autonomy, whether trans people should have basic human rights… these aren’t debates. The debates were settled a long time ago.

What we have now is bad-faith theatre. The cruel, the career contrarians and the clueless punch down using “free speech” and “reasonable concerns” to disguise what they’re doing, dog whistling to their supporters and demonising their targets. Off-camera they and their supporters let the mask slip. On-camera they stay strictly on message and on brand. Debating these people is merely handing them a megaphone.

Fascists weren’t defeated by debate in the 20th century; they were defeated by bullets. People of colour didn’t get civil rights by asking nicely. The road to equal rights for LGBT rights began with riots.

As Michael J Dolan wrote on Twitter yesterday:

When you argue that fascists should be defeated through debate, what you’re actually suggesting is that vulnerable minorities should have to endlessly argue for their right to exist and that at no point should the debate be considered over and won.

Aggressive questioning

Guilaine Kinouani writes at Race Reflections. In “education requests, exploitation & oppression” she discusses the issue of emotional labour, where complete strangers (usually members of the majority) ask someone (usually a member of a minority group), to educate them on things they could easily Google – or often, things they have already Googled and choose not to believe.

Recurrently and increasingly, I am asked to provide the emotional or intellectual labour of educating privileged folks on oppression, racism and (although much, much less frequently) sexism via requests for of ‘debate’, elaboration or information. These demands for education occur on and off social media. Publicly and privately. They reach me almost daily. Simply reading them recurrently leaves me exhausted. Often frustrated. Sometimes angry that so many would expect such a laborious service, from me, for free. Always, I am left feeling heavy.

Often, questions are phrased not as questions but demands – and refusing those demands leads to vicious abuse. How dare you refuse to stop what you’re doing and do my bidding! Debate me now, coward!

But even when the questioners are not aggressive, there can be aggression.

Each time we are asked to educate mindlessly, not only must we re-experience oppression and racism, we must often carry the weight of the privileged’s inability to tolerate their own responses, distress, discomfort and, the disturbance caused to their benevolent sense of self or worldview, which often gets passed on to us via projection.

There’s an attitude I’ve seen a lot of online and in print by people who have enormous privilege: the way things have been is the way things should be.

If you suggest otherwise, the problem is clearly with you.

It is not unusual for example, for those who challenge racism to be called racist, bully or some other persecutory term.

Even when the questions are questions rather than demands, they can be problematic. What may be intellectual curiosity for the questioner is someone else’s lived experience.

All oppressive experiences are traumatic. It hurts. It makes you tired. Sometimes it makes you want to cry. The cumulative effect of subtle and everyday or micro experiences of othering and discrimination is grinding. It is draining. And again, every single time it is hard. But more than that, it wears our health and mental health down. It renders us vulnerable to psychological distress and make us feel unsafe in the world, the very definition of insidious trauma.

Given this impact, the expectation that we should as a matter of course and at the drop of a hat, subject our bodies to such effects is frankly gross in its lack of compassion and consideration.

What should a trans woman sound like?

I’ve just done a radio interview, with a preamble I’m used to:

Me (on phone): Hello!
Researcher: Hi! Can I speak to Carrie Marshall, please?
Me: Speaking!
Researcher: [pause]

Then professionalism kicks in and the researcher tells me what they’re calling about.

It’s not a big deal; just one of those things you get used to. But it’s one of the reasons people like me do voice therapy to try and get more feminine voices. What causes a little pause for a radio researcher or a frustrating conversation with a car insurance provider can be a lot more serious in public; I can go about my business without being noticed a lot of the time, and then someone hears my voice and suddenly I’m the centre of their attention. I haven’t encountered any trouble as a result of this, but I can’t help adding a word to the end of that statement: I haven’t encountered any trouble yet.

In some parts of the world, attracting other people’s attention can be fatal. Today is yet another day when my news feed brings me a story of a young trans woman who’s been murdered and multiple cases of trans women being abused or assaulted because someone took exception to their existence (trans men face many dangers too, of course).

For some trans women, a more feminine voice can mean safety.

The Guardian quotes Christie Block, a speech pathologist:

“Vocal training can help trans women deal with situations where they’re in danger,” Block said. “I work with clients to show them how they can use their voices and what they can say in dangerous situations as an actual vocal task to practice.”

For trans men, hormone treatment deepens their voice naturally. It doesn’t work the other way, sadly: testosterone’s effects on your vocal cords are pretty much irreversible unless you go for surgery – which as a singer, I wouldn’t risk even if I could afford it.

For trans women, changing your voice means battling a combination of physiology, embedded habits and socialisation. Men and women talk differently for a mix of reasons, and you need to address all of them if you want a more feminine voice.

As I understand it there are three key differences between male and female speech. The most obvious but least important is pitch, which is how high or low your voice is: some of my female friends’ voices are almost as deep as mine, but they are still unmistakably female.

That’s because of reasons two and three: resonance and variety. The former is about where your voice comes from, with men generally speaking from their chest and women from higher up; the latter is about the variety in tone when you speak. That’s entirely socialised: there’s no biological reason why men should talk in near-monotones when women don’t. It’s just that we’re conditioned to take strong, monotonous voices more seriously than more interesting, varied expression. The former is supposedly authoritative, the latter frivolous.

Serena Daniari in The Guardian:

Throughout my own transition, I’ve often wondered whether my voice, which is deeper than that of the typical cisgender woman, diminished my value as a woman. Hormones and surgical alterations had feminized my exterior, however, my voice had not changed and was a persistent source of frustration and angst for me. At times, I wished for nothing more than a voice that was considered “pretty” and “passable,” wanting to change every aspect of my identity in order to live up to what society expects women to be: submissive, subdued, sensual, and feminine.

Over time, I’ve realized that there is no one way for a woman to sound.

I hate voice therapy and wish I didn’t have to do it, but while I don’t want to have a stereotypically female voice I’ve become really unhappy with the old-me voice, as lovely as it was. So my therapist is helping me work towards a more androgynous voice: not high-pitched, but slightly higher and a lot more interesting.

Maintaining it is hard, and I don’t use it in public yet – although when I do phone-in radio interviews or use the phone for work I do make a conscious effort to maintain the right pitch and resonance. I can’t quite bring myself to use it around my friends, though. For some reason I find that horribly embarrassing and much more difficult than in a work situation. A big part of it, I’m sure, is years of seeing trans people portrayed on screen as men with squeaky, unconvincing voices and being scared that’s how I’m coming across to people I want to like or love me.

I have an odd relationship with my voice now, because it’s part of my wider identity as a trans woman: I’m not trying to get a woman’s voice; I’m trying to find my voice.

Daniari:

Like me, Primrose has veered away from the the goal of “passing” as a cisgender woman. Instead, she is working towards achieving a voice that is personally fulfilling. “I want to be the person that I’m comfortable being,” Primrose said. “I don’t necessarily want to have a high voice because it makes you approximate cis women. I don’t care about that. I feel no shame about being trans. It’s who I am. It’s my life’s journey. It’s my identity.”

I can really relate to that. I’m not a cisgender woman and I’ll never sound like one, but that’s okay, most of the time.

My natural voice is different already – I speak much more softly and slightly higher than I did before I started being me full time – but maintaining a more feminine voice is very tiring and takes tons of practice. Because I sing a lot my voice gets a lot of abuse, which works against the feminisation by dragging the pitch of my voice down considerably, and because I have children I constantly get the cold, which does the same. But despite the difficulties, the feeling stupid and the frustration when my voice flatly refuses to play along, I’ll persevere.

It’s the trans experience in microcosm: a lot of work over a very long time so I can feel a little more accepted, a little more comfortable, a little less scared.

PS: As I went to hit publish on this post, my phone went.

Me: Hello!
Researcher: Hi! Can I speak to Carrie Marshall, please?
Me: Speaking!
Researcher: [pause]

A black tie event

I went with a friend to see Grace Petrie last night. If you’re not familiar with her work, she’s a protest singer with a big voice and an even bigger heart. She described this song, Black Tie, as “the closest thing I’ve had to a hit.” It was spellbinding last night, Petrie solo with just an acoustic guitar.

This was the only one of her songs my friend and I had heard before last night. We were there as much for political reasons as musical: Petrie has been a vocal friend to trans people, and as a result she’s been subject to appalling online abuse. I figured if someone’s willing to put up with that shit on our behalf, the least we can do is go to one of her shows.

I’m glad I did. Petrie is a born storyteller, but while her between-song chat is hilarious her songs have real emotional heft. This song had me (and the young woman in front of me) in floods of tears.

As is often the case with Petrie, the intro is as long as the song. But it’s worth keeping your finger off the fast-forward button because it adds some extra colour to an already beautiful piece of music.

Last night’s show was a real revelation, and my pal and I are now big fans with official merchandise to prove it. If you go to smaller gigs and you can afford it, please buy something from the merch stall: musicians at this level are barely getting by and a few T-shirt sales can make a big difference to whether or not they can afford to pay the rent.

Petrie’s tour is over now, but she’s back soon as support for The Guilty Feminist tour in a couple of weeks time. I think tickets are still available, and she’s worth turning up early for.

It’s almost as if they aren’t really serious

When Theresa May allied with the notoriously anti-LGBT DUP, the government promised significant investment in promoting LGBT rights in Northern Ireland. Channel 4 News has investigated and discovered exactly how much has been spent to promote equality in a country of 1.871 million people.

£318.

You may be wondering: what amazing things was this incredible amount of money spent on?

The answer: rainbow-coloured lanyards.

Trans patients left in limbo

My former doctor has been suspended by the General Medical Council. Dr Mike Webberley, who took over the care of trans patients when his wife Helen was censured over an administrative issue, is no longer able to treat patients in the UK.

I don’t know the ins and outs of this one, but I do know what Dr Webberley was like as a GP and I also know that trans-affirming private practitioners have been subject to ongoing campaigns demanding their suspension for some years now. As far as I’m aware the suspension is another administrative one, based on Dr Webberley having not completed a professional course or being on a recognised register of practitioners.

I doubt it’s a coincidence that the Webberleys have become hate figures among the anti-trans activist crowd, who accuse them of sinister behaviour and that old favourite, child abuse.

Webberley’s online practice, GenderGP, is a lifeline for many trans people. It enabled me to stop potentially dangerous self-medication and undertake supervised and conservative treatment instead, treatment that required extensive psychological assessment and various medical tests over a period of several months before it was prescribed and ongoing testing as it continued.

The idea of Dr Webberley as some kind of crazed zealot handing out HRT like sweets simply doesn’t match the reality I experienced. He’s a GP, not a mad scientist, and in my experience he’s a thoughtful and patient professional.

The decision leaves some 1,600 patients in limbo. That number is a devastating indictment of the current system: these are people who’ve been forced to go private because the NHS simply can’t cope.

In my own experience, the road from initial referral to an NHS diagnosis took 23 months; from referral to my first NHS counselling appointment was 29 months.

By UK standards, that’s incredibly fast. As The Guardian reports, trans and non-binary people in the UK face incredibly long waiting lists. The best figures available to me show that in England, waiting lists for a first appointment are now as long as two years followed by another two year wait to meet with a doctor. That’s a four-year wait for people who may very well be in crisis.

The usual newspapers like to run scare stories about the growing number of people being referred to gender clinics, but that increase was predicted more than a decade ago: in formal submissions to the UK government, the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) predicted that increasing visibility and understanding of trans and non-binary people would mean more people wanting to access NHS services.

As GIRES put it in 2009: “Policy makers and [NHS] service providers at national and local level are largely flying blind in… meeting the healthcare and other needs of trans people.” In 2009, the NHS gender clinics were already struggling to cope; with referrals growing 15% year on year, GIRES predicted a massive capacity crisis. Which is exactly what we have now.

Chances are, you haven’t attended a gender clinic. My one, by all accounts, is one of the better ones, less overloaded than the English ones. But it can’t afford to have reception staff full time, and the delay between a doctor dictating a letter and having it typed is two months. Like all mental health services (being trans isn’t a mental illness but it’s still treated under the auspices of mental health provision), gender clinics are desperately underfunded and very close to breaking point. Some of the English ones appear to be broken.

As GIRES also noted in 2009, “The NHS facilities are sometimes overloaded… the private health sector plays an important role. It takes pressure off the NHS facilities and thereby improves the overall level of care for people seeking treatment for gender dysphoria.”

To shut down private providers without also expanding NHS provision is just another cruelty towards trans people. And it’s dangerous, because it’ll mean more of us self-medicating without medical supervision. As Tara Hewitt wrote on Twitter:

[NHS] Trans services are failing but have a monopoly on care. Whenever private practitioners try to fill the gap they are targeted in an attempt to close them down. Shame on #gmcuk.

I agree with the GMC on one thing: clinics like GenderGP shouldn’t exist. But not because they’re wicked. Because the NHS is failing thousands of trans people.

The GMC seems very concerned about Dr Webberley’s paperwork. What about his patients?

How can you edit a paper if you don’t read it?

James Doleman’s Twitter account is providing an unintentionally hilarious account of Katherine O’Donnell’s employment tribunal.

Today, Times editor John Witherow is giving evidence. A pattern appears to be emerging.

Counsel for the complainant presents to the court another Times article, a “self-identification,” of gender. This refers to the Soham Murderer, Ian Huntley, and suggests he was transitioning his gender. This, the lawyer said was false, “I didn’t know that,” Witherow replies

Asked about an article that suggested the gender question was to be removed from the census, Witherow replied he didn’t know the article. So couldn’t comment on its accuracy

Next Times headline Refer to pregnant people not women government suggests to UN.” Counsel points out the government said this was not true, “it was a suggestion” Witherow replies.

The lawyer from the complainant asked the witness about a joke about Transgender people in the Times, “these things had been written about a black person you would have sent it back,” she says “It probably shouldn’t have went in,” Witherow replies.

Next piece referred to was: “Trans women using the swimming pond in Hampstead heath were driving women away.” Counsel suggested that this was not accurate, “thats your assertion, I don’t know if its right or wrong,” the witness replied.

The court was then shown another article: “Transgender row over sleeper train cabins.” The source was a post on Mumsnet, “from someone who hasn’t used the sleeper,” counsel says.
Witherow: ““I don’t think this is the finest piece of journalism The Times has published, if I had seen it I would have spiked it.”

You’d think the editor might be aware of the content of some of the paper’s more prominent exclusives. He’s also quick to defend columnists’ lurid allegations, such as trans people “sacrificing children”, as opinion rather than deliberate scaremongering.

But for me, one particular exchange sums up the problem with trans reporting at The Times and Sunday Times: it’s relentlessly one-sided. It rushes to publish even the flimsiest allegation about trans people and doesn’t care when the allegations are proven to be fictitious and/or malicious.

Counsel then notes The Times did report a case where a researcher on trans issues had his thesis rejected and went to the High Court for judicial review. “His case was dismissed without merit, did you know that?” Counsel asked.

“We reported it,” Witherow replies.

“You didn’t report the result,” counsel retorted.

Fun with filters

The chat app SnapChat is back in the headlines after its new gender-swapping filter went viral. The filter makes boys look like girls and vice-versa, and as you can see above the results are pretty funny – although I seem to have the dubious honour of being the only person who looks older when the feminising filter is switched on. Boo!

I think it’s just a bit of daft fun, albeit horribly stereotypical in its idea of gendered appearance, but on trans forums I’ve seen a range of reactions from trans people: some like me just want to see what it does and how daft the results are, but others see what they might look like after transition – or more poignantly, what they might have looked like had they transitioned. Not everybody is in a place where they can be themselves.

Like anything else on the internet, some people have concerns about the filter – Time magazine covers the issues here.

While many acknowledged that the filter is fun, for some it’s been jarring to see their social networks manipulating their gender so casually. Others have said that they are concerned that some people are using the filter in problematic ways.

Most sensible concerns aren’t about the filters, but the way they’re being used. Some people – man people, inevitably – are using the filters to make profile pictures for dating apps. The intention is to have a laugh, and some have shared the saddeningly predictable responses they’ve received with hilarious consequences. But some people argue that what these people are doing ties into something that’s a lot darker, which is the concept of trapping.

“Trap” is a word some people use to describe trans people, primarily trans women, who don’t look trans; it’s a trope in some pornography where a man is seduced by a beautiful woman before, surprise! But out in the real world, trap is a slur associated with violence. There have been multiple occasions of very violent and sometimes fatal attacks on trans women, the perpetrators claiming the “trans panic” defence: I took her home, I didn’t realise she was trans, and when I discovered the truth I lost my mind. It’s a variation of the gay panic defence, and sadly it’s still a legal defence in many parts of the world.

As Cáel Keegan points out in the Time piece, playing around with gender is something many trans people don’t have the privilege to do in safety.

“If trans people are accused of trapping, it can be deadly,” said Keegan. “It’s a privilege to be able to play with being a different gender.”

I thought this post – which went viral on social media a few days ago – made a good point:

For trans people, transition is a lot more difficult and a lot more painful than playing with an app on a smartphone.

As one of Time’s interviewees put it:

At the end of the day, you get to just turn it off and it’s not sort of a reality for you.

Manufacturing consent

I’m indebted to Tennessee Pete on Twitter for the link to and commentary on this story:

As he put it:

This is such a good case study for manufacturing consent because it’s just… ‘in response to Iran’

In response to Iran doing what?

No, not in response to any provocation, just in response to Iran. The continued existence of Iran.