“Sweaty with rage”

I haven’t linked to a good literary kicking for a while, so here’s Anna Leszkiewicz giving Bret Easton Ellis both barrels in The Guardian.

There are too many good bits to quote them all, but these are some highlights:

like a recently dumped partner ranting about their ex for 90 minutes before adding that they don’t care.

a resentful, bitter man still caught up in the heat of arguments, years after everyone else has left the restaurant.

a nonsensical, vapid book, written by a man so furiously obsessed with his right to speak that he forgets to say anything at all.

Wonderful.

Why I block

Yesterday, the anti-trans group For Women Scotland accused publisher Laura Waddell of running a “misogynist blocklist” to prevent Twitter users from reading and replying to her posts. Like other claims the group makes – this is the same organisation that accused a cat of sectarianism a few weeks back – it wasn’t true. Like many people on Twitter, Waddell manually blocks individual accounts when she can no longer be arsed with their bullshit. Their account was one of them after previous interactions on the social network.

Blocking people can be crucial on Twitter. If you don’t do it, your feed can quickly fill with awful people trying to ruin your day. I block thousands of people, bigots and trolls of all stripes, using an automated list of known offenders – racist abusers, anti-trans bigots, sea lions (people who pretend to be arguing in good faith but just waste enormous amounts of time) and so on.

Sea lions are among the worst, because they’re the midges of social media: individually insignificant but hugely annoying in groups. Here’s a good cartoon about them.

I’m sure some perfectly nice people are also blocked by accident but I have neither the time nor the inclination to manually go through a list of thousands of people. Unfortunately accidental blocks are the collateral damage caused by bigots and trolls’ online abuse. If Twitter actually enforced its own rules against abuse, hate speech and harassment there’d be no need for a block feature at all.

Yesterday the Equality Network posted a tweet about gender recognition and was quickly piled on by the anti-trans crowd. As the organisation posted today:

We firmly believe that the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act can be done without affecting the rights of women or others, and we are happy to see that genuinely discussed and to engage. However some of the responses to our tweet [yesterday] illustrate a different agenda…

The important word here is “genuinely”. Many of the people who pile on trans people and trans allies online are not looking for a genuine discussion; they are coming with a script of pre-decided talking points and have absolutely no interest in the answers. They aren’t coming for a debate. They believe they are waging a war.

This graphic has been doing the rounds on Twitter lately. It’s the “I don’t hate minority X, but…” bingo card, designed to show the patterns that appear again and again and again online. “I don’t hate black/trans/gay people, but we need to protect our children from predators”. “Asian/Trans/women are just too easily offended.” “Black/trans/gay people are erasing us”. “I believe in equality but this lot have gone too far”.

Bear in mind that these aren’t just the odd tweet. People from minority groups and their allies can be on the receiving end of dozens, sometimes hundreds of messages all saying the same thing: I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG DEBATE ME NOW COWARD.

What’s a girl to do?

To take the current example over gender recognition reform, many people are completely wrong about the law. They conflate the Gender Recognition Act with the Equality Act, are unaware of the context within human rights legislation, have no understanding of what self-ID actually means, are unaware of the medical, scientific and legal status of trans people and so on.

Some people believe things that aren’t true because they’ve been misled by bad actors. They think trans children are given surgery (they aren’t), that they’re fast-tracked and forced to identify as trans (nope), that puberty blockers are new, experimental drugs (nope) or that children are prescribed cross-sex hormones (nope again).

If they are willing to discuss these things, to look at the evidence, then of course you can have a worthwhile debate. But if they’re just going to shout “fake news”, accuse trans women of being predatory, violent men and call you a handmaiden of the patriarchy (or worse) because someone on the internet told them to, they’re a complete waste of your time, energy and oxygen. You cannot have a legitimate, constructive or useful debate with somebody who is acting in bad faith.

Some people on the internet are stupid. Some are wicked. Some are both. You have no obligation to put up with their bullshit.

Unless you’re operating it on behalf of an organisation, your Twitter feed (or any other social media presence) is yours, and you decide what you want in it. Think of it as a table in a pub: you’re there talking to your pals. If a bunch of people were to come over and loudly demand you debate them right here, right now, you’d tell them to fuck off. And that’s pretty much what blocking does. It doesn’t censor people. It just stops them from being able to annoy you.

In the case of trans issues, if someone refuses to accept that trans people are not mentally ill, they are no different from flat-earthers. If they refuse to accept that biology is more complicated than they learned in primary school, they are no different from climate change deniers. If they claim that protecting trans people from discrimination will erase women, they are no different from the racists who peddle the “white genocide” conspiracy theory. If they claim trans people are being funded by George Soros, they are no different from any other anti-semite.

These people may deserve your pity, but they do not deserve your attention.

Young woman, know your place

Greta Thunberg, the young woman at the centre of the current climate change protests, has been vilified by the usual suspects on social media.

Brendan O’Neill of Spiked, reliably wrong about everything all the time and editor of a magazine funded at least in part by the climate change-denying Koch brothers, mocked her voice (she has Aspergers and is speaking a second language).

Toby Young retweeted an article accusing her of privilege (he’s the son of a baron, a man whose academic career was saved by a phone call from his father and whose media career seems to be built entirely on connections because, God knows, it wasn’t built on writing talent).

Douglas Carswell, a political lightweight, attacked her as the “Child messiah” head of a cult.

What’s notable about the attacks is that the vast majority of them are not about what she said; they’re about who she is: a young, articulate woman.

Jane McCallion, writer and editor:

The reaction of the likes of Toby Young and others on the right in particular to Greta Thunberg reminds me of how the same general group of people reacted to Malala Yousafazi. Young politically active women whom they see as uppity and in need of being put in their place.

Through any attempt to take down a young woman or girl who is making herself heard on an important issue there runs a deep vein of misogyny that shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked.

The reaction underlines something that’s a real problem in the UK media and political establishments: they’re dominated by the voices of mediocre, reactionary men. They’re not clutching their pearls because she says something they disagree with; they’re doing it because she has the temerity to say anything at all.

Sell your kids for clicks

There’s a deeply worrying article in The Guardian about the rise of child labour on the internet.

Making videos of your kids might not seem like work, but it is: as one interviewee puts it, “it’s not play if you’re making money”. Child performers are subject to laws designed to protect them from exploitation not just by employers but by their parents. Online, those laws are being evaded or avoided.

Money made online by children, and that money can be significant, goes directly to their parents, because children can’t have social media accounts on the likes of YouTube or Facebook.

We’re easily seduced by technology, and that seduction often blinds us to the distinctly old-fashioned things that technology enables: union-busting, unethical practices and “disruption” not just of industries but of the laws designed to protect individuals from rapacious employers and greedy parents alike. YouTube may be relatively new, but children being exploited by the people behind the cameras is not.

 

A night for Billy, Glasgow, 27 April

I’m taking part in a special event to remember my friend Billy Samson on Saturday night (27 April). It’s at The Old Hairdresser’s in Glasgow and will feature many of Billy’s musical friends, me (and my glamorous assistant Kenny, bass player in our band) included. Entry’s free but we’ll be shaking buckets for the Help Musicians UK charity on the night, so please come and bring lots of pound coins.

Apologies, the venue isn’t accessible for wheelchair users.

There’s something rotten in the SNP

Between 2017 and 2018, the Scottish Government consulted on proposed reforms to the gender recognition process to make life slightly less shitty for trans and non-binary people. The public response was overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed changes, with women’s groups dealing with some of the most vulnerable women in society offering very clear and public support.

For no good reason, without evidence and often with complete and utter lack of understanding of existing and proposed legislation, some SNP MSPs now claim that the changes will redefine the meaning of sex in law and harm women. It’s the culmination of an ongoing campaign of anti-trans scaremongering in the Scotsman, which publishes a letter from those MSPs today.

Stephen Paton on Twitter:

This morning, several SNP MSPs signed a letter calling for further debate on trans equality. Meanwhile, Holyrood held an event last night that gave MSPs the chance to speak candidly with trans people – and not a single one of the signatories came.

Rhiannon Spear of the TIE Campaign for inclusive education:

Great thread from @Cmacf76 here.

I note that not one of the MSPs in the letter attended an event in the ScotParl last night to hear from trans folk + to have their questions answered. 🤷 #ComeOutForTransEquality https://twitter.com/Cmacf76/status/1120952836723023872

Laura Waddell, writer and publisher:

Here are the public responses to the GRA consultation. I highly recommend having a browse, particularly of organisations who provide services and work with children and women. Anyone framing this as a ‘war on woman’ does everyone a disservice. https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Justice/law/17867/gender-recognition-review/review-of-gender-recognition-act-2004-list-of-orga/published-responses-from-organisations

…Politicians who’ve waded into the GRA discussion in recent months have encouraged ‘debate’ to turn nastier than it was before by framing it disingenuously as a ‘war on women.’ But the completely *bizarre* timing suggests there are other things at play too.

The Equality Network:

To the 15 @theSNP politicians who signed that letter in the Scotsman today: Trans people don’t want to change the definitions of male and female; they simply want to be recognised, and treated with dignity, as the sex they are.
#equalrecognition

Duncan Hothersall, Labour activist:

I point out that those offering support for the changes include Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap, Rape Crisis Scotland, Zero Tolerance and Equate Scotland, and those opposing include Christian Concern, the Free Church of Scotland and the Christian Institute.

Of all the pernicious lies told about this subject, among the worst is that “nobody knew this was happening”. Support for this reform of the GRA was explicitly declared in 2016 party manifestos from SNP, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems, and the 2018 consultation engaged very widely.

Come on in, the water’s lovely

Glasgow Life has issued a statement regarding the scaremongering articles about its changing rooms policy.

You will be shocked to discover that the articles weren’t true.

Glasgow Life’s staff guidance on accessing sports facilities and services by transgender people was produced and distributed in 2015. Since then, we have had more than 20 million attendances across our sport facilities and no reports of inappropriate behaviour in regard to trans customers. Trans men and trans women have been using our facilities for many years without incident.

About those women-only gym sessions:

Contrary to reports, Glasgow Life does not run any ‘women only gym sessions’ – our gym sessions and classes are open to all, regardless of gender.

And those women-only swimming pool changing rooms:

Our venues provide a mix of changing room facilities. A significant proportion of our changing facilities are unisex and open to all, with secure, private cubicles. Where facilities have male and female changing facilities, private cubicles are provided, where possible. Our staff are happy to assist with any requests in regard to provision of private changing facilities. If anyone, at any time, feels unsure or uncomfortable in using our services, they should immediately contact a member of staff for assistance.

The Herald, The Star, The Scotsman and The Sun all ran the original scaremongering, and yet I can’t see any sign of a correction, let alone one with equal prominence, today.

Damned lies and statistics

In my previous post I wrote about the easily debunked claims used against trans people. I should probably provide some evidence.

First up, here’s some actual stats on detransitioning among trans people. The source is the NHS in London from 2016 to 2017, the sample size 3,488, the detransition rate 0.47%.

Not 80%, the figure you see again and again in op-eds about trans people. 0.47%.

The 80% figure is long-debunked nonsense.

And here’s item number two, an analysis on the “rapid onset gender dysphoria” study that’s been quoted in multiple newspapers to suggest that trans people are only going through this shit because they think it’s cool.

Some highlights:

…reflects a certain preexisting non-neutrality bias

…The article continues to pathologize gender dysphoria and affirmation of trans identification through social network peers and online environments as an example of “deviancy training,” and describing it as an unhealthy pattern of reinforcement with trans-identified peers and linking it with a behavior that is “deceiving parents and doctors”

…Providing this premise prior during the consent process provides an opportunity for motivating a specific group of parental-respondents, particularly those who agree with the premise, to elect to participate in the survey. Furthermore, providing the premise of the study in this way sets expectations of the survey before parental-respondents can even begin to provide their answers

…Also of concern is the demographic profile of the parental-respondents in this paper. The parental-respondents displayed very narrow demographic stratification despite being sampled from a very specific venue: 82.8% were female sex at birth, 91.4% were White, 99.2% were non-Hispanic, 66.1% were aged 46–60, and 70.9% had attended college. Notably, 76.5% believed that their child’s trans identification is not correct, and recruitment relied heavily on three particular Web sites known to be frequented by parents specifically voicing out and promoting the concept of “ROGD.” Thus, these are not just “worried parents,” but rather a sample of predominantly White mothers who have strong oppositional beliefs about their children’s trans identification and who harbor suspicions about their children having “ROGD.”

…it is plausible that these data may contain multiple responses from the same parental-respondent.

In other words, it’s a shitshow of Andrew Wakefield proportions, horrifically biased propaganda pretending to be science.

Then there’s trans women in sport, where some 55,000 Olympians have competed since trans people were allowed to participate more than a decade and a half ago, and in the US NCAA athletics where more than 450,000 athletes have competed, without any sign of men enduring chemical castration for a year so they can compete against women.

And then…

You get the idea.

Finding the facts takes seconds. If someone isn’t doing it it’s because they’re incompetent or malevolent.

Singal minded

There’s an interesting piece in The New Republic by Josephine Livingstone, who analyses the idea that debate is always a good thing. She begins by looking at a US journalist called Jesse Singal, who’s notorious in LGBT circles for what appears to be an ongoing campaign of damaging misinformation about trans people and trans teenagers in particular.

When readers get angry with him, which happens often, he sees them as curtailing a productive conversation that he has prompted in the spirit of a free and vigorous exchange of ideas.

…Singal and others who are critical of the social justice left—a group that ranges across the ideological spectrum and includes Bari Weiss, Ben Shapiro, Daphne Merkin, and Katie Roiphe—accuse the left of being footstampingly insistent on their views, to the detriment of healthy debate. In fact, it is the “debate me, coward” crowd that has made it impossible to have arguments in good faith, because they demand, unwittingly or not, to set the terms.

Livingstone rather brilliantly describes this as “vacuous fight-picking” and “a howling canyon filled with misdirected energy”, using the familiar idea that we must hear both sides of any story in order to form our own opinions.

But these people are not interested in letting people hear both sides. They want you to hear their side and only their side, and if you disagree with them they’ll shout you down and accuse you of trying to silence them.

It is telling that critics of the social justice movement are obsessed with free speech and debate: It is the one inviolable principle they can fall back on when argument on the actual issues fails.

All too often, the argument being made is based on (deliberate or accidental) misunderstanding, or straightforward bad faith: so for example many so-called debates about trans people simply ignore decades of research or dig up long-debunked talking points. Again and again demonstrably false claims are presented as incontestable fact: the number of trans people who detransition, the medicine given (or not given) to young people, the content of existing and proposed legislation.

And it’s usually asymmetric. Journalists have power that other people do not; a journalist or public figure with tens of thousands of social media followers has a disproportionate amount of power compared to the people they may write about. For example, the supposed quality press in Scotland and elsewhere consistently regurgitates the claims of extreme anti-trans activists about legal or medical issues but never asks legal experts or medical experts whether those claims are true and certainly doesn’t give trans people the right of reply.

The truth is out there, but too many journalists prefer “truthiness”: what feels true to them, not what’s actually true.

People like Singal can bang on about free speech and debate endlessly without ever conceding a) that the deck may be stacked in their favor, and b) that certain ideas may be beyond their understanding.

And this is why marginalised people can become so angry. Singal’s work, and similarly distorted reporting, has often been comprehensively demolished by people with a greater understanding and a less blinkered view of the things being written about. But they aren’t the ones given the column inches to fill.

Livingstone:

The exhaustion that comes of teaching something over and over again, only to witness people re-educated by poorly-read journalists, is profound. Exhaustion makes a person angry. Anger makes a person seem like a hyperzealot. You cannot believe that somebody is asking you to go around the same block—the very same block!—yet another time.

I fought the law

Last night I knowingly and deliberately broke the law. It wasn’t quite Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with a lead pipe; it was me and my best friend in Kelvingrove Park with a nice bottle of red wine.

In Glasgow and the surrounding area, drinking in public has been illegal since 1996 under sections 201-203 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act. The law was tightened further in 2008 to include the carrying of open containers, even if the alcohol has already been consumed. So every nice day we see tons of police going around places like Kelvingrove, ordering people to pour away their plonk for fear of a fine of up to £500. The bylaw applies in every public place and is only relaxed on New Year’s Eve between 6pm and 6am the following morning. That’s a throwback to the days when George Square hosted a huge Hogmanay party.

The law was introduced because in the 1990s, Glasgow had still to shake off its No Mean City reputation. Public drinking was a public order problem, especially around football matches, and there was also a big problem with underage drinkers. Glasgow’s ban was partly motivated by the evidence from other parts of Scotland such as Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, which experienced a 46% drop in violent crime after implementing a public drinking ban.

Image from Twitter: Kelvingrove Park, Easter weekend 2019

The ban is widely ignored (hello!) and there’s still trouble. Every time the sun shines, Kelvingrove Park fills with drunks and litter; this weekend a teenage boy was facially disfigured in a fight. The last time I rode my bike through the park I saw almost as much broken glass as grass.

But judging by social media, the policing this weekend was massively over the top and there does appear to be a double standard in operation: while the police had set up a mobile command centre and brought vans and horses to Kelvingrove, there was no such presence in the nearby Botanic Gardens. There, as some people pointed out on Twitter, students and “yummy mummies” could sip their M&S mojitos in peace.