Book recommendation: Love Lives Here, by Amanda Jetté Knox

I read this in a single sitting last night and cried through the whole thing.

What would you do if your child came out as trans, or if your spouse did?

What if both of those things happened?

You may know Amanda Jetté Knox from Twitter, where she’s @mavenofmayhem. In this book she writes about what happened when not one but two of her family came out: first her daughter, then her spouse.

Jetté Knox clearly has a huge heart, and she writes very movingly of what it was like for her partner to grow up living a lie even while she’s wrestling with her own feelings of loss and betrayal. She’s very honest about her fears for her daughter and later, for her partner, and she manages to find kindness even when she’s talking about utterly despicable behaviour by her peers at school and as an adult, her fellow parents.

You don’t need to be trans or love someone who’s trans to enjoy this book: at heart it’s a really well-written, warm and fascinating memoir about love and families. But if you are trans or do love someone who’s trans, it’ll probably have you blubbing like it had me.

It’s not a spoiler to say that this book has a happy ending: if you know her online you’ll already know that Jetté Knox is still married and is a strong, vocal trans ally. Sometimes love really does win.

The publisher’s page for the book is here.

Turning shame into sadism

A few days ago, a thread about radicalisation went viral. In it, Joanna Shroeder spoke about the way in which far-right activists recruit boys and young men by weaponising shame.

The process goes something like this:

  • Boys are encouraged to transgress social norms by posting racist, homophobic, misogynist or anti-semitic jokes
  • The boys are then called out on it by parents, teachers, and (especially) girls and women.
  • The boys feel deeply embarrassed and shamed.
  • The far-right tells them they’re getting into trouble for nothing, that they’re the victims of “woke” people, PC gone mad, snowflakes and so on.
  • The boys are encouraged to hate the people who called them out for their racist, homophobic, misogynist or anti-semitic jokes.
  • The more hateful their behaviour, the more their new friends praise them.

It’s not just teenagers, and it’s not just the far right. We’ve seen exactly the same thing happen with supposedly intelligent, successful adults – mainly, although not exclusively, relatively affluent, straight, cisgender, middle-aged white adults with jobs in media – when they say something awful about LGBT+ people. Their process goes like this:

  • They say something terrible or just incorrect about LGBT+ people.
  • They are called out on it by LGBT+ people and allies.
  • They feel deeply embarrassed and shamed.
  • Bigots tell them they’re getting into trouble for nothing, that they’re the victims of “woke” activists, snowflakes, PC gone mad, a sinister lobby and so on.
  • They are encouraged to hate the LGBT+ people who criticised them.
  • The more hateful their behaviour, the more their new friends praise them.

This is how, say, a washed-up comedy writer ends up dedicating his every waking hour to spreading hate about trans women: he writes a tone-deaf episode, gets criticised for it, and his shame becomes rage against the entire demographic.

This is how a moderate broadsheet journalist becomes evangelical about the supposed dangers to women of a tiny group of LGBT+ people, shouting over the women and women’s charities who tell him he’s wrong. He writes something incorrect, gets criticised for it, and his shame becomes rage against the entire demographic.

This is how a successful blogger decides to use his platform as a bully pulpit against a minority group. He writes something inflammatory, gets criticised for it, and his shame becomes rage against the entire demographic.

These men might not be shooting up supermarkets to express their rage against women, as some incels do, or taking AR-15s to mosques. But the shame and rage is the same. These men are red-faced little boys, vowing terrible revenge on the people who laughed at them.

“I Wish I Could Tell You It’s Gotten Better. It Hasn’t.”

The New York Times has put together a comprehensive series of reports on Gamergate, the poisonous movement that’s transformed politics for the worse. What began as misogyny would soon incorporate white nationalism; what began in video gaming circles would become a mass movement affecting everything.

It’s impressive, powerful and frightening stuff, and the reverberations continue today: what we first saw in Gamergate continues in the US and the UK. It’s in Brexit and in US and New Zealand gun massacres, in the culture wars against LGBT+ people and other minorities, in the lurch to the far right we’re seeing in Europe and both North and South America. It was fuelled by Breitbart, whose Steve Bannon became close to Donald Trump, to Nigel Farage and to Boris Johnson, and  it made stars of unprincipled opportunists such as Milo (whose courting of dangerous extremists has since been copied by other right-wingers in the US and beyond). Its tactics became the playbook of the alt-right and the far right; over here, publications such as Spiked clearly take some inspiration from Breitbart (as well as money from the US right).

Gamergate wasn’t the first time white male rage was weaponised online – that goes back at least to the early 2000s, if not before; as the NYT notes, some of the tactics were first used against black women on social media  – but it was the first time it became a mass movement.

Slate.com:

there is a clear and obvious connection between video games, white nationalist terrorism, and the image board where the El Paso shooter posted his manifesto. That connection is Gamergate, the campaign of misogynistic harassment by aggrieved gamers that began in 2014, and which moved to 8chan from 4chan when the latter refused to allow Gamergaters to use that board for coordinated harassment campaigns and doxing.

Trans Guardian staff quit over transphobic reporting and “face to face rows”

Buzzfeed news:

Two Transgender Employees Of The Guardian Have Quit Over Its “Transphobic” Reporting

…Her resignation marks a flashpoint in what multiple sources at the Guardian have described to BuzzFeed News as a deepening internal war over the rights of transgender people – and how the organisation reports on them. Staff members across several departments accused the paper of “institutional transphobia”, peddling transphobic tropes, and allowing a bitter schism to develop between pro- and anti-trans journalists.

…Many at the paper who share her concerns told BuzzFeed News that the internal divisions over trans rights have resulted in face-to-face rows in the office, a widening rift between the UK and US offices (which is largely populated by pro-trans writers), and moves against staff who protest against transphobia. All of which, sources said, is affecting morale.

As the story notes, the paper’s editorial stance has also persuaded high-profile trans columnists to refuse further commissions and moved staff to make formal complaints about the framing and language used in coverage of trans-related issues.

The Guardian and [sister title] Observer have in previous years run opinion columns using language such as “trannies”, “shemales”, “man in a dress”, “dicks in chicks’ clothing” and articles that have argued that “sex change surgery is modern-day aversion therapy” – equating transition, which is elective and saves lives, to electric shocks to “cure” homosexuality, which is state-sponsored torture.

The Guardian is quick to condemn other newspapers’ shameful coverage of minorities, but it appears to be throwing stones from inside a glass house.

How YouTube perverts politics and spreads fear and rage

This, the result of a months-long investigation by the New York Times, is terrifying: How YouTube radicalised Brazil.

A New York Times investigation in Brazil found that, time and again, videos promoted by the site have upended central elements of daily life.

Teachers describe classrooms made unruly by students who quote from YouTube conspiracy videos or who, encouraged by right-wing YouTube stars, secretly record their instructors.

Some parents look to “Dr. YouTube” for health advice but get dangerous misinformation instead, hampering the nation’s efforts to fight diseases like Zika. Viral videos have incited death threats against public health advocates.

And in politics, a wave of right-wing YouTube stars ran for office alongside Mr. Bolsonaro, some winning by historic margins. Most still use the platform, governing the world’s fourth-largest democracy through internet-honed trolling and provocation.

YouTube continues to deny what’s obvious to everyone: its algorithms prioritise conspiracy theories, right-wing bullshit and any other content that purports to tell you the truth that others are trying to conceal. And that has horrific real-world consequences – to the point where we need to warn parents of the signs that their boys are being radicalised by YouTube gaming commentators.

YouTube’s recommendation of awful content isn’t a bug. It’s feature. The entire system is built to prioritise attention, and what gets the most attention is the most inflammatory, fear-mongering, hateful content.

When even the far right are crediting YouTube with their political successes, it’s clear that YouTube’s protestations mean nothing. Whether it’s spreading anti-vaccine fear or right-wing conspiracies, YouTube has become a cancer at the very heart of modern life.

Playing video games

In the Mass Effect series, players can customise Jane (or John) Shepard (left). The version here is from the launch trailer; my Jane looked very different.

Writing in Metro, Owl Stefania writes about the importance of video games in her coming out process: “Growing up, video games were my escape, providing an avenue where I could explore who I was.”

I’ve written about this too, and a version of the following article was originally published in 404 Ink magazine in late 2017.

Video games have a special appeal for trans people. In addition to the usual escapism from the everyday, some of them enable you to play as the gender you feel you should be, not the one you’ve been assigned.

For many trans people the first such games were MMORPGs, massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Many of those games enabled you to play as all kinds of characters from humans to hobbits and space aliens). As many trans people discovered, when you communicate with other players in an MMORPG they’re quite happy to stay in character, so if your character is female you’ll be addressed as such. That isn’t always a good thing — there’s plenty of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia online, and online games aren’t immune to that — but as trans gamer Rissa Trent writes on MMOGames.com, being able to present as a female character is incredibly powerful. “To some people, it might just be pixels, but to those of us who want to break free from everyday life, and our own skins, it’s everything.”

I never really got into MMORPGs, but I fell hard for a sci-fi series called Mass Effect. In the first three Mass Effect games you play Commander Shepard, and that commander can be John or Jane. Not only is Jane Shepard better company — she’s voiced by the wonderful Jennifer Hale, who makes even the daftest dialogue breathe — but you can completely customise the character’s appearance in the game. Hair colour, facial structure, eye shape, jawline, hair, makeup… given enough time, and believe me I gave myself enough time, you could create a Jane Shepard who was an idealised version of your feminine self. 

To then have the game offer romantic options beyond the usual straight man/woman binary — something that caused controversy at the time, because while gamers had no problem with interspecies alliances (the same man-with-sexy-space-chick trope that goes back to Star Trek), same-sex attraction couldn’t possibly be a thing in the far future — was the cherry on top. Sadly the game wouldn’t let my character have a relationship with the character I really liked, the gorgeous, kick-ass soldier Miranda Lawson, and I clearly wasn’t the only one disappointed: the internet is packed with fan fiction where Jane and Miranda are an item.

Mass Effect and MMORPGs (and other games where you can be a girl, such as Dishonored 2 or Destiny) are very different games, but they both offer trans people something really important: the opportunity to inhabit your preferred gender, if only for a while. And as games get more realistic and immersive, that’s going to become even more powerful. 

This is what a moral panic looks like

Tea Uglow did an interesting thing. They took screenshots of articles containing the word “transgender” on a few English news outlets. Over the last 12 months, there were 878 articles. That doesn’t include publications such as the New Statesman, which has been home to a lot of anti-trans voices, and to regional press such as The Scotsman, The Herald and The National, all of which frequently print a disproportionate amount of content from anti-trans voices. It also doesn’t include articles that use “trans” instead of “transgender”, of which there are many more.

Uglow:

They’re not all bad – but they’re not all necessary.

We hope this serves to understand what 3 ‘articles’ a day about your community feels like.
Obviously, if we tried to track all ’trans’ articles online we would need someone clever.

We stopped when results felt irrelevant. i.e. Transgender is mentioned in many hundreds of ‘news’ or opinion pieces without relevance to the news item in question. (Here’s looking at you Sunday Times)

No, it’s not scientific. Yes, the methodology can be questioned.
Knock yourself out / Do better / Or.. perhaps, just leave us alone.

It may be a relatively small chunk of the anti-trans coverage we’ve seen in the last two years but it’s still a thoroughly saddening read. Trans people are repeatedly painted as a faceless, sinister mob that somehow has a stranglehold on politics and the media despite there being no trans politicians, columnists or editors.

In the popular press, all trans people are activists and all anti-trans activists are not activists. People who call trans people unspeakable things and threaten violence against them are just ordinary mums and dads with reasonable concerns. People who keep getting suspended from social media for online abuse get to present themselves as innocent victims of political correctness gone mad. People who hound women who disagree with them off the internet are portrayed as noble defenders of women. People who roundly abuse trans people until someone snaps get to claim they’re the victims, not the perpetrators.

You don’t have to read all 800-plus pieces to see the patterns. Again and again articles talk about the dangers of legal reform by scaremongering about completely different legislation. Articles repeatedly lie that children are given cross-sex hormones (they aren’t) and surgery (they really, really aren’t). Straight white men dust down their anti-gay columns from the eras of section 28, the lowering of the age of consent and the equal marriage debate and do a search and replace to swap “gay” for “trans”.

There are fair and balanced articles about trans people, but not many. It’s easy to find articles trying to persuade readers that the Mermaids charity is trying to force kids to have surgery (which doesn’t happen). Good luck finding profiles of any families they’ve helped. Private GPs who treat trans people are demonised, but the crisis that forces so many trans adults to go private or to take a dangerous DIY route is rarely mentioned. It’s easy to find stories about the invented dangers of trans women in prisons but not ones about the actual violence trans people in prison experiences; or pieces about the invented dangers of minor legislative reform but none about the actual experiences of the only people who will be affected by it.

All too often the same writers trot out the same bullshit. To them it’s a game, something to chortle about to their friends on social media. They know it’s cruel, because the cruelty is the point.

It’s not a game for the people they’re defaming.

Hate crimes against all LGBT+ people are up considerably since the press decided that actually, it’s okay to hate some LGBT+ people again. As anti-trans sentiment has increased in the press and online, it’s lead to a massive, disproportionate increase in hate crimes against trans people. What’s typed on a screen makes its way to the streets.

This is not about legitimate debate. This is about the full power of the press being used to target, defame and demonise a tiny, vulnerable minority of people. We’re not a mob. We’re not a lobby. We’re people just like you. And right now, we’re very, very frightened.

Old news

Here’s The Sun newspaper in 1992.

If you think that sounds familiar, have a read of Terry Sanderson’s Media Watch column from that month, May 1992. Sanderson spent a quarter of a century battling against bigotry in UK newspapers, and sadly the publications and the writers don’t seem to have changed much.

There was Julie Burchill:

Julie Burchill is rapidly becoming the most prominent commentator on gay issues in the straight press… the message comes over loud and clear that Julie has reached the conclusion that gay men are the ultimate oppressors of women. This, I think, is her problem. It is because she imagines all gay men hate women (or, worse still, patronise them) that she has got this bee in her bonnet about Aids.

Burchill would later turn her ire towards trans women, who she now appears to believe are the ultimate oppressors of women.

There were single-issue pressure groups gaining disproportionate press coverage for their intolerant views and allegations of sinister lobbies endangering children:

During the election campaign The CFC (prop. Stephen Green) was issuing press releases like confetti.

Nearly all of them concerned homosexuality. At the CFC’s prompting, The Sun reported (26 Mar): “Social workers are telling ten-year-old kids in care that gay sex is part of growing up.”

…The Daily Express (23 Mar) saying: “Labour and Liberal Democrat policies on gay rights would put children at risk from homosexuals.” Mr Green “condemned” the politicians concerned saying that any changes in the law would “endanger children”: What The Daily Express failed to extract from the CFC’s press release was revealed by The Independent (3 Apr). The CFC had actually said that Neil Kinnock and David Steel have supported “the child sex movement” (which is the CFC’s term for the gay movement).

There was dubious crowdfunding for publications advocating dangerous conversion therapy:

Mr Green revealed to the Independent that “he’s nearly raised the £11,000 he needs to publish a book on homosexuals provisionally entitled Emotional Orphans.” The book will explain “how homosexuals may achieve heterosexuality” which he says is a “painfully difficult process”.

There were newspapers deliberately equating being LGBT+ with being a criminal:

“Outrage as boy is handed over to lesbian criminal” said The Daily Mail (I Apr) with The Sun announcing: “Lefties put boy in care of lesbian jailbird”. Note how the words “lesbian” and “criminal” become interchangeable in these circumstances: which is the more horrid prospect for the small boy to cope with?

And there was the “they’re coming for your children” moral panic as illustrated in the “gay peril” cutting at the top of this post.

Awful, isn’t it? Two years later the Sunday Times, which railed against the so-called homosexual lobby, argued that HIV wasn’t the cause of AIDS and that saying so was the “HIV bandwagon” pushed by “the legions of the politically correct”. Andrew Neil, the editor at the time, believed that the link between HIV and AIDS was a conspiracy theory and that discussion of it was a “public misinformation campaign”.

Also in 1994, the newspapers fired their final salvos in their crusade against moves towards equalising the age of consent for straight and gay people (the age for straight people was 16 but in 1994 it was decreased from 21 to 18 for gay people. Equality wouldn’t happen until the following decade).

Sanderson:

Naturally the “we must protect the children” argument was trotted out repeatedly. This is a sensitive area, and consequently was played for all it was worth by “family” groups and other politically and religiously motivated opponents of change.

…The Daily Express, meanwhile, distorted the British Medical Association’s support for a lowering of the age of consent to 16 by headlining it: “Teenage Aids scourge” (January 14th).

Richard Littlejohn had some thoughts, calling Peter Tatchell a “professional sodomite” who “holds recruiting drives outside schools”.

And then there was the Telegraph.

The article was illustrated by a cartoon that Goebbels wouldn’t have been ashamed of. It showed lock gates imprinted with the word “consent” being opened ready to engulf the unsuspecting people below.

Ms Burrows, a woman of extraordinary fanaticism, alarmingly claims in her article that “a homosexual lifestyle reduces life expectancy from 75 to 42”. Where on earth does she get such a statistic? Why, from the Family Research Institute of Washington.

The Family Research Institute is described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the US organisation that tracks neo-Nazis, race hate organisations and other lovely people, as an anti-LGBT hate group.

This might sound familiar too.

This latest gem about the reduction of life expectancy has been repeated at least twice over the radio by members of these “family” groups, and in neither instance was it challenged.

Then, like now, bigots were given a platform to spout vicious bullshit about marginalised people without fear of challenge; then, like now, national newspapers incited fear and hatred of LGBT+ people; then, like now, the regulators did nothing and the victims’ pockets weren’t deep enough to fight the newspapers’ lawyers.

A lot can change in 25 years, but apparently not in the UK mass media.

“They have a product they want to sell and that product is hate”

(Content warning: violent misogyny)

This piece by Andrea Stanley in Cosmopolitan is astonishing. It’s about a woman, identified only as K, whose job is to stare into the abyss.

She infiltrates the places mass murders come from, the places where angry men start their journey to actual killing.

K’s focus has been pulled toward the alt-right, a younger, more misogynistic version of the white supremacist movement that’s converting a new generation on message boards and social media. She is tracking the men who hate women. And they’re so dangerous that most of her family and friends don’t even know what she does.

It’s one of the most frightening features I’ve ever read.

these guys aren’t just trolls in basements—they’re people you probably know. Beirich calls them “millennial misogynists.” K says many are college-educated and articulate. They have day jobs and Tinder accounts.

…Many of today’s extremists hide their radical views under the guise of boy-next-door preppy looks and organize activities, like all-male hikes, to appear mainstream. “They have a product they want to sell and that product is hate,” says K. “When you see a bunch of normal-looking guys, you think, How bad could it be? But violent men don’t have to look any different from kind men.” Some of the ones K tracks post pictures with their kids and pets amid their calls for mass violence.

…She tells me about one of the deeply troubling guys she’s been following lately, who posts rants about how he won’t let his wife watch television because it makes her too “feminist.” He shares degrading photos of naked women and fantasizes about electrocuting them—and seriously hurting others too. He recently hinted that these don’t need to stay fantasies.