Swimming in poisoned water

This week is both anti-bullying week and transgender awareness week, so some newspapers have chosen to celebrate both by, er, bullying transgender people (see my previous post). I’m not going to get into the arguments or unpick the bullshit — Alex Sharpe does a superb job of that here.

I’m just going to share a trans person’s tweet I saw yesterday.

So I’m sat on the train and there are four people reading The Sun and two with the Daily Fail in my eyeline… I’ve moved seats! No wonder trans people feel bombarded. #caniliveonthemoon?

Imagine starting your day by seeing six people in the same carriage as you holding newspapers that are doing their damnedest to stir up prejudice against you.

LGB people, muslims and non-EU citizens will recognise the feeling.

And the supposedly grown-up papers aren’t any better: The Times appears to be obsessed with trans people of late, often taking the side of religious evangelicals, while the Telegraph gives space to people like Norman Tebbit, who claimed that gay marriage would lead to him marrying his son.

It’s disproportionate, it’s relentless and it’s causing a great deal of distress for no good reason. And it’s getting worse.

To be trans in the current media climate is to constantly swim in poisoned water. No wonder so many of us end up feeling sick.

It’s about time we all stood up to defend, er, bullying

There’s something very strange happening in the UK media. It’s defending the bullying of children.

Last month, Peter Hitchens claimed in the Mail that banning smacking would “come back and slap us in the face.” The state has too much power, he said, noting that “Fathers, once kings (or despots) in their own homes, have been declared officially unnecessary.” As he explained, mistaking correlation for causation:

In the days of smacking, police walked around alone in tunics with no visible weapons. Now they make their rare public appearances in pairs or squads, clad in stab vests, clubs, pepper sprays and handcuffs.

Because of course absolutely nothing else in the world has changed politically, socially, culturally or economically.

They also roped in Jan Moir to opine, after detailing the barbaric discipline that used to be commonplace in schools and telling the hilarious story of her mum using a kettle “to ding my brother on the bonce”:

we all lived through an age of crime and home-grown or class-based punishment. And it didn’t do us any harm.

Imagine! Some people think whacking a child with a kettle is bad!

Today, to mark anti-bullying week, the Church of England has updated its anti-bullying guidelines for nurseries and primary schools. If a three-year-old wants to play with toys or clothes associated with the other gender,the guidance says, they shouldn’t be told not to or mocked for it.

Here’s the key phrase:

‘A child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment’

The Daily Mail’s front page headline? No, of course it isn’t “let girls wear hard hats”. It’s “Church: let little boys wear tiaras,” because while nobody’s bothered about girls playing with boy stuff a wee boy in a tiara is clearly Satan’s work.

The article notes with disdain that “Schools are also told they cannot use the Christian faith or Bible teachings to justify behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying – for example, identifying a transgender pupil by a sex other than the one they have chosen.”

“Behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying”. So, bullying.

In an interesting coincidence, over the weekend the Mail on Sunday described how a teacher was suspended over allegations about, ahem, behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying.

“I called a trans boy a girl by mistake… and it may cost me my job as a teacher: Maths tutor suspended after praising pupil using the wrong gender,” the headline says.

He’s an evangelical pastor and the complaint against him alleged ongoing inappropriate behaviour, such as trying to shoehorn his religious beliefs into his maths lessons, and concern that he was picking on a trans child by deliberately and frequently misgendering him as well as detaining him unnecessarily. He denies “inappropriately” talking about religion in maths lessons. The word “inappropriately” is doing a lot of work there.

From the article:

He added, however, that he did not feel that he should be made to use the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘him’ and that to force him to do so was a breach of his human rights.

Like many people who find themselves represented by the Christian Legal Centre, whose dread hand is behind this story, the tutor in this story appears to be an arsehole.

The Mail on Sunday – and today, the Sun – has also dragged up (pun fully intended) a story from back in June:

Drag queens are being brought into taxpayer-funded nursery schools so that children as young as two can learn about transgender issues.

The cross-dressers are reading nursery rhymes and singing specially adapted songs ‘to teach children about LGBT tolerance’.

The performances, which are being trialled in a grand total of one nursery, are so newsworthy that the Sun has made them its front page story.

There’s a really horrible final sentence to the Mail’s version, too. Noting that the nursery in question decided to trial the performances in response to increasing hate crimes, it says:

Reported hate crimes rose 29 per cent in the last year, Home Office figures show, although only one in six was considered serious enough for a suspect to be charged.

If you find yourself defending the beating of children and campaigning against anti-bullying initiatives, this video may resonate.

That’s a nice name

A young woman is doing my nails and we’re having one of those odd conversations you have when you’re spending a long time one to one with someone you don’t know. She mentions her kids, and as a parent I know we’re now on the safe ground of shared experience.

But we’re not, not really. I became a dad at 34. She became a mum at 18. I didn’t separate from my wife until I was 44. She was a single parent from the get-go. My kids were born into a two car family. She doesn’t drive.

We talk about our kids, about the cost of extra-curricular clubs and the problems of buying uniforms or kit for clubs the child might suddenly decide to quit. We talk about the lack of provision in her part of town, the binary choice of dancing for the girls and football for the boys. Her boy did hip hop dancing, just like my daughter, but he was teased for it and quit.

I ask her what her son is called, and she tells me. It’s one of _those_ names, the kind that tells you everything you need to know about the parent. The kind of name that makes you roll your eyes when it’s yelled across a soft play by somebody who’s having a much worse time than you.

That’s a nice name, I tell her, although I don’t really think it is. Was it something you arrived at quickly, or did you spend forever in baby books?

There’s a pause, and then she tells me.

They told her he was dead. A miscarriage. She cried, a lot. And when she went in for checks, checks to see if there was anything of him still there, they found a heartbeat.

There were other traumas, other indignities. But she left hospital with a miracle, a beautiful baby boy. A boy they said she’d lost.

Her family don’t like the name. They think people will judge her, and one day judge him. Sometimes she worries they’re right. Sometimes she is right. But when she sees him, her beautiful, strong, happy young boy, she can’t imagine calling him anything else.

I think it’s a beautiful name, I tell her. And this time I mean it.

It’s world mental health day today. Here’s some advice on psychic self-defence

It’s nearly a year since I came out as trans/NB, and about three years since I was diagnosed with depression. I’m much happier these days. Sometimes clichés are clichés because they’re true: it really does get better.

To mark world mental health day, which is today, I thought I’d scribble a quick piece about the importance of psychic self-defence. I’m writing this with trans people in mind but most of the points are relevant to everybody.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself: how to practice psychic self-defence

One of the things many trans people are pleasantly surprised to discover is that by and large, nobody cares whether you’re trans or not. Unfortunately the few people that do care have very loud voices, and it’s easy to end up feeling quite vulnerable as a result. That’s why it’s important to practice psychic self-defence.


First step: don’t Google “psychic self-defence”, because there’s a whole genre of books out there dedicated to the art of fighting paranormal attacks. I’m talking about something a bit less magical but just as effective, which is insulating yourself from toxic negativity. I call it psychic self-defence; others call it self care.

Don’t follow everyone

Social media can be brilliant for trans people. It enables us to find our kind of people, to learn from others’ experiences and to get support when we need it. However, social media can also be a toxic hellswamp where trans people are besieged by bigots, and if you’re seeing that daily then it’s going to make the world seem a much more wicked place.

The other danger of social media is people sharing anti-trans posts and articles they disagree with. Unfortunately by circulating such media the trans people are doing exactly what the authors want: sharing their views more widely. Again, it makes the world feel much smaller and nastier than it actually is.

Don’t read everything

Just because you’re trans doesn’t mean you need to stay up to date with everything being said or written about being trans. I’ve just cancelled my subscription to a newspaper after an uninterrupted seven day run of misleading anti-trans articles, partly because it meant I started seven consecutive days in a bad mood and partly because if they’re getting the facts wrong on a subject I know about, how do I know they’re reporting accurately on the subjects I don’t?

Turn off notifications

Chances are you have a smartphone, and chances are it notifies you of things you don’t need to be notified of: a new email, a mention on social media, an updated magazine. Very few of these things are worth interrupting what you’re doing, even if you’re doing nothing, and even the silent notifications can have a malevolent impact as the little red circle fills with ever higher numbers of things you haven’t looked at yet. Pare back notifications to things you actually need to know about immediately, turn the others off and enjoy the silence.

Choose your battles


If you wish, you can battle all day every day with people on the internet who want to argue with you – not just about trans issues, although God knows there’s no shortage of those arguments, but about anything at all. You’ll never win and it’ll just make you unhappy. As George Bernard Shaw reportedly put it: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Read the right things

Books are magical things, and even more magical when you’re trans: if you’re feeling pretty low, reading about the experiences of somebody who’s been there, done that and come out smiling really helps. For me that included The Gender Games by Juno Dawson, Trans Like Me by CN Lester and She’s Not There by Jenny Boylan, among many others. Other books that really helped me include Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive and Derren Brown’s Happy.

And of course, fiction provides much-needed escapism. Novels are portals to other worlds, and it’s always fun to travel.

Don’t fall for the beauty myth


By all means aspire to be a better version of yourself – if you aren’t happy with your weight, change what you eat; if you aren’t happy with your fitness, go for a run – but comparing yourself to some of the most beautiful people on the planet is a mug’s game largely perpetrated by people trying to sell you things you don’t need.

Don’t stay online

There’s a world beyond our phones and PCs, and it’s often a much nicer world. Just going out for a walk is good for your body and mind, and if you can combine that with meeting people who actually make your life better then that’s something you should do at every opportunity.

Be nice to yourself


Try to find things that make you happy. They needn’t be big things: a new book from the charity shop or a swim in the local pool can be just as rewarding as a PlayStation 4. My thing is gigs: I love the anticipation, the gig-day excitement and the joy of bouncing around like a loon in a room full of like-minded people. Think of these things as the cure for whatever makes you feel sad, an “In Case Of Emergency Break Glass” for your mental health.

Don’t let the big stuff frighten you

Time for another quote, this time from the Chinese philosopher Laozi in around 600 BC: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Sometimes the best way to deal with a terrifyingly big thing is to concentrate on just putting on foot in front of another. People are natural worriers and many trans people doubly so. Focus on what you can do or deal with right now and let the future take care of itself.

Find someone to talk to


Whether it’s online, a helpline or a real-life friend, it’s important to find people you can talk to when you need to. Friends don’t necessarily mean shoulders to cry on. Just being around people who make you feel happy is powerful magic. We humans are social animals, and friendship is an important factor in how we feel about ourselves. Look on meetup.com or on local noticeboards to find things you might want to do and where you might get to meet nice people.

Bin the booze

Self-medication – a polite way of saying “drinking too much” or “getting off your face on drugs” – is common among trans people, but if you’re already feeling a bit sad they’ll make things worse. It’s boring as hell, I know, but moderating substance use, eating well and doing a bit of exercise will all make huge differences to how you feel, and often how you look too. If you’re spending a fortune on skincare while eating crap or going to the gym to work off junk food you’re wasting your money, and your time.

Don’t waste time on people who aren’t worth it


Online or off, some people are emotional vampires who suck the joy out of everything – and unless they’re your conjoined twin, you don’t have to put up with that. Where possible, avoid spending time with people who’ll just drag you down. That’s harder with close family than with friends, of course, but if you come from a long line of emotional vampires you can still minimise the time you spend with them and do something less negative instead.

Get a dog, or borrow one, or invite a friend who has one over


Dogs are nature’s anti-depressants.

Take care of yourself

Whitney Houston was right. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you need help, ask for it. Being trans isn’t a mental illness, but many of us experience mental illnesses such as depression (as do many other people, of course).

Mental illness is no different to physical illness: you wouldn’t leave your arm hanging off for fear of being judged and you shouldn’t let embarrassment or stigma about mental illness prevent you from getting help. It might take a while to get the right help – different people have different solutions – but it is out there and it does work.

If you’re really struggling and need help right now, these numbers save lives:

Samaritans 116 123 / jo@samaritans.org

LGBT+ switchboard 0300 330 0630

Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87

It’s okay to say you’re not okay.

Shopping with dinosaurs

“People who push for this should be shot and burnt.” What do you think has made Daily Mail commenter Ben (now deleted) so angry? Yep, it’s the labels on John Lewis’s kids’ clothes. According to many tabloids’ commenters, by not labelling clothes as boys’ or girls’ John Lewis is pandering something something librul snowflake SJW muslins etc etc etc it’s political correctness gone mad.

One of the items that’s attracted a lot of comment is a cute wee dress with dinosaurs on it. And I just happen to have an opinion on both dresses and dinosaurs.

I’ve got two kids, a boy and a girl, and when my daughter was 5 she was told by her male classmates that she couldn’t be interested in dinosaurs because they were for boys. She’s also been told that girls aren’t allowed to play with dragons, because they’re for boys too. Girls have to play with unicorns.

You don’t need me to tell you that this gender bullshit starts very early and is reinforced by the unnecessary pinkification of so much girls’ stuff. Finding practical, comfortable shoes for my son is easy. It’s much harder for my daughter, whose trainers are hidden in shops behind a wall of high heels, glitter and sparkles. It’s the same with t-shirts and tops: it’s not unusual for us to leave a shop with an armful of stuff for my son and nothing for my daughter because she doesn’t like pink, sequins or slogans about being pretty.

This is a relatively recent development: children born in the 60s and 70s lived in a more gender neutral world, at least in terms of clothing. Here’s a Lego advert from 1981, before pinkification.

It’s not pink that’s the problem. It’s the constant reinforcement of exaggerated gender differences, to say that girls can’t do A, B and C and boys can’t do X, Y or Z.

John Lewis isn’t trying to change biology, as Facebook poster Susan Perkins suggests. It’s making a little change that tells my daughter that hey! Dinosaurs can be for girls too!

But that’s not what’s caused the “backlash” and “anger” the tabloids report. As ever with gender things, it’s the prospect of boys wearing dresses that’s got people upset, because it’s okay for girls to do boyish things but not the reverse. And discussing that opens up a great big box marked Pandora: it’s a very visible sign of a society that doesn’t value supposedly feminine traits, where what Grayson Perry calls Default Man dominates “the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population.”

As Perry writes: “The most pervasive aspect of the Default Man identity is that it masquerades very efficiently as “normal” – and “normal”, along with “natural”, is a dangerous word, often at the root of hateful prejudice.”

Boys in dresses? We’ll be letting girls play with Lego next. Or as one Daily Express commenter puts it, it’s…

The ongoing Marxist plan to feminise boys, who wont have the desire to fight for their country when it all kicks off.

Hmmm.

Ultimately, though, it’s really very simple. John Lewis isn’t forcing anybody to be gender neutral. It’s just saying that maybe we shouldn’t force dinosaurs to pick a side.

If your son doesn’t want to wear a dress, don’t buy him one.

Focus, man, focus

I know this lifeless blog makes it seem like I’m doing nothing, but behind the scenes there are many things, only some of which are frightening. David and I have nearly 70 unfinished DMGM songs at the moment, which says a great deal about our inability to focus on one thing and actually finish it, and I currently have three unfinished books on the go: two fiction, one non-fiction. And I’m doing loads of work too, so I haven’t really had the time for much more than the odd tweet. EXPECT CONTENT SOON. Honest. Not like before. I mean it this time. Etc.

Too fast, too soon

I wrote a piece for Beyond The Binary on how not to come out as trans.

Coming out as trans/NB was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Not because I did it, but because I did it in a spectacularly stupid way. I didn’t so much come out of the closet as roar out of it on a glitter-powered rocket cycle, waving the Trans Pride flag and putting all of eBay on credit cards I already couldn’t keep up with. I binned my boring boring boy clothes, wore skirts to the supermarket, talked about being trans on national radio to 400,000 people and spent months getting dirty looks from old women in ASDA who don’t think bolero tops go well with manly beards.

With the benefit of hindsight, that wasn’t the best way to do it.

Quiet, quite busy

 

This is one of those sorry-for-the-lack-of-updates updates: I’ve been neglecting the blog for ages due to a combination of work, creative stuff (writing, songwriting) and extreme barbecuing. I’ll share some of it soon, but in the meantime if you want to stay in touch and we already know one another please hit me up on Facebook, or come and say hello on Twitter.

This is a low flying panic attack

From the wise owls of MetaFilter to the comedians of Twitter, I follow a pretty diverse bunch of interesting people online. It’s generally a pretty left-of-centre bunch, because I’m a pretty left-of-centre guy. So you can imagine the howls of despair in my various feeds over the post-Brexit landscape, the outright hatred being peddled by the UK tabloids and now, President-elect Trump.

In most cases those howls aren’t coming from armchair warriors or the professionally offended. They’re people who see the world becoming nastier, more selfish, less tolerant – and in many cases they’re people who are experiencing that nastiness, that selfishness, that lack of tolerance first hand. Scared trans kids. Married gay couples. Pro-choice women. People with the “wrong” skin colour, the “wrong” accent, the “wrong” sexuality, the “wrong” gender, the belief that, hey! Maybe sex offenders should be punished rather than celebrated!

It feels rather like a bunch of straight white old folks are burning down the house to prevent the kids from inheriting anything.

And, well, they are.

But there are more of us than there are of them.

Or at least, there are if we celebrate what we have in common rather than what divides us.

If we challenge intolerance in whatever form it takes, even if – especially if – it’s directed at someone who’s not part of our own little bubble.

If we remember that we’re all here to get each other through this thing, whatever it is.

Whoever we are.