There will be blood

We’re having a bit of a moment here in Scotland over that favourite target of the US Christian right, drag queen story time. The current Scots story is a gift to conservatives: a drag performer booked to read to kids delivered a perfectly age-appropriate reading because, hey! Performers can have different personas for different age groups! However, one look at their social media should have suggested that perhaps it would be wise to book someone whose Instagram wasn’t quite so adult. There was no way there wouldn’t be a reaction.

But this reaction has been extraordinary, both in terms of the volume and the viciousness of the response: a lot of it has been variations on the theme of “queers are paedos, stay away from my kids or I swear I’ll do time”. It has been astonishingly, frighteningly ugly, and pretty much everybody who’s been actively demonising trans people over the last few years has been pouring petrol on the flames.

Christine Burns MBE was one of the architects of the gender recognition act and is the author of Trans Britain, a book detailing the long history of trans people, trans rights and anti-trans abuse in the UK. A few days before this particular story broke, she posted:

After two and a half years of pretty sustained vilification of Britain’s trans people across most of the press and corners of political discourse I worry that we are heading for a watershed event. That is the way things go and I’m worried sick about which of my friends will die.

I hope she’s wrong, but I fear she isn’t.

Some accident

[Content note: slurs]

The Morning Star has decided to prove once again that you don’t have to be right-wing to be hateful towards trans people. This is from the print edition:

There’s a sour joke among trans people that anti-trans bigots have one joke, which is “I identify as / I’m transitioning to X”. But it isn’t usually portrayed in quite such a vicious manner as it is here.

NW Durham constituency Labour Party:

we can’t believe an allegedly socialist newspaper would publish something as vile as this.

LGBTQ Bristol Labour:

It heavily borrows from racist propaganda you see in a history book and hope never to see in real life. On a paper funded by unions. We condemn this completely.

Guardian writer Owen Jones:

This, in a supposedly leftwing newspaper, is absolutely twisted. The vicious, obsessive and unrelenting campaign against trans people is sadly far from confined to the right.

This particular publication has been publishing virulently anti-trans stuff for several years now, but what’s different this time is it has apologised. From the website:

The Morning Star apologises unreservedly for the publication last Tuesday of a cartoon which was offensive to trans people.

The cartoon had not been authorised for publication and its appearance in the print edition represents a failure to follow our own procedures for approving submissions.

Maybe it’s true and editorial standards at the Morning Star are so lax that cartoons can just leap into the pages without anybody knowing. But Occam’s razor suggests that what really happened here is that the publication simply didn’t expect a backlash from any cisgender people after several years of running articles saying pretty much the same thing as the cartoon.

The myth that being trans is a lifestyle choice, that basic rights for trans people put other people in danger, is entirely invented. Here in the real world, being trans makes you a target. This was published this week too:

BBC: A man has been jailed for setting fire to the home of a transgender woman after saying: “Anyone who is a tranny offends me”.

Lee Harrison, 43, set light to the front door of her flat after trying to pour petrol through the letterbox.

The woman’s flatmate, who was in at the time, said she “truly believed she was going to die”.

Harrison, of Hallowmoor Road, Sheffield, was jailed for more than five years.

Prosecutor Robert Sandford said the attack on 15 August was born out of a “hostility based around the fact [the victim] was in the process of transitioning from the male to female gender”.

He said Harrison would call the victim “Steve” in the street and previously told her, “Anyone who is a tranny offends me; it’s a lifestyle choice.”

We can’t have nice musical things any more

Just when you think things are as miserable as they can get, a new piece of idiocy turns up. Now, in our post-Brexit wonderland, it seems that the only live bands and classical musicians that’ll be able to tour the UK from the EU as of 2021 are the ones who are able to pay £244 for each member’s visa and demonstrate that they each have at least £1,000 in savings. That’s a lot of money for an orchestra to hand over, and it’s a lot of money to expect struggling musicians to have in the bank.

According to the Incorporated Society of Musicians, “this is taking a shotgun and shooting ourselves in the foot” – not least because the EU may then impose similar tariffs and rules on UK musicians touring the EU.

We’ve already seen this in operation for non-EU musicians, with significant consequences for world music festivals such as Womad. Apparently the department of media, culture and sport fought against it but were overruled by the Home Office.

History lessons

The former deputy editor of the New Statesman, now of The Atlantic, posted this to Twitter:

There’s a lesson there, but it’s not the one Lewis thinks it is.

The reason the GRA wasn’t turned into “culture war fuel” wasn’t anything to do with the Blair government. It was because we didn’t have people spending the best part of two years writing endless articles and constantly going on BBC programmes to talk about how it would redefine the word woman, expose children to predators, force children into surgery and all the other nonsense that’s been flying around for the last couple of years.

That’s not to say people didn’t make those claims. They did. One of the most outspoken opponents was Norman Tebbit, who described gender reassignment surgery as a “practice of sexual mutilation” and tried to wreck the GRA in the House of Lords. Politicians raised concerns about redefining the very meaning of men and women, about trans women dominating women’s sport and about having trans women in female prisons. Tebbit even invoked the spectre of child killer Ian Huntley. Made-up stories about Huntley supposedly transitioning have been used to argue against GRA reform now. Politicians also claimed that trans people were merely suffering from “a serious psychological problem” and that the GRA would bring us into “a dark future of coerced totalitarian-style law making.”

What’s different today is the media. While the same things were said about the GRA then as about GRA reform now, they weren’t amplified and repeated by the press again and again over a period of years. We didn’t have social media and its troll armies, or publications more interested in garnering web traffic than accurate reporting, or current affairs programmes that considered their mission to deliver “a shot of adrenaline” instead of present facts. That’s the lesson.

The other point, that the Blair government deserves credit for its introduction, isn’t true either. The Blair government didn’t introduce the Gender Recognition Act because it wanted to. It did it because it had to, because it was breaking the law. In 2002, the European Court of Human rights ruled that refusing to change a trans person’s birth certificate was a breach of their rights under Article 8 and Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government’s defeat in Goodwin v UK was a key reason for the introduction of the Act.

Blair doesn’t deserve credit; trans people didn’t create or propagate this culture war.

Incidentally, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 effectively undid the damage caused by an older court case, Corbett v Corbett, in 1971. That set back trans rights a great deal because a millionaire, Arthur Corbett, wanted to divorce his wife, April Ashley, without giving her any of his money. By arguing successfully that Ashley, a successful female model, was not and could never be a woman – that penetrative vaginal sex with her didn’t count because her vagina wasn’t there at birth – Corbett was able to get the marriage annulled. Before Corbett v Corbett trans people’s birth certificates were generally changed on the quiet; afterwards, trans people could be and were outed by people in positions of authority, often with awful consequences for their lives and careers.

I know I can never be that idealised girl

There’s a superb piece in Vox by Emily Todd VanDerWerff about the costs of being a trans woman. I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of it.

I’ve done exactly this, albeit not quite so expensively: I’m more of a Boots No.7 person.

The thing about self-acceptance is that when you’re just getting used to it, you become an easy mark. The first time I went to Sephora, I spent way more on makeup than I ever thought possible, because the salesperson who helped me made me feel so good about myself. From the second she learned my name, she called me Emily, even though I was in full guy mode. She used she/her pronouns. She told me I was pretty. I plunked down $250, and I would have spent well over $300 if she had managed to talk me into a $70 foundation. (My wife saved me on that one.)

To be clear: None of this is the salesperson’s fault. None of it is my fault, either. This is just how society is designed to function, and to come out as trans later in life is to suddenly start careening downhill into a newer, truer gender, without some of the guardrails that snap into place when you grow up cis and figure out the ways society tries to exploit you on the grounds of gender.

Something I think some of us wrestle with is the conflict between being proud of who we are and being unenthusiastic about getting our heads kicked in. On the one hand we know that we’re being suckered into the same bullshit standards of beauty that cisgender women have to battle against, but on the other we know that if we don’t, if we proudly stride around as ourselves and let stereotypical gender presentation be damned, we’re likely to get screamed at or worse.

And, as VanDerWerff explains so beautifully, there’s an element of wanting to uphold those stereotypes because they’re still so new to us, because we’re chasing after something we could never have.

Maybe I run so hard toward becoming that idealized girl because I know I can never be her, due to the circumstances of my birth. Maybe if I run hard enough, I’ll get there and suddenly wake up a suburban mother of two in Omaha, Nebraska. Maybe I wear so many dresses because I really love wearing dresses. Maybe I’m just overthinking it.

This is one of the reasons I really hate the current anti-trans abuse that plagues social media. Reading this article, so many things were “yeah! I get that!” and “I hadn’t thought of it that way!” and the like; these are conversations I know I could have with other trans and non-binary people I’m connected to online but can’t because of the all-too-familiar and entirely reasonable fear of trolls. There is a small but obsessive contingent of people who monitor what trans people and our allies post online, circulating it to their equally obsessive followers (in many cases, to audiences much, much larger than our posts were published to) to malign, mock and in some cases encourage attacks on us. It would be foolish to give them any more ammunition.

Here’s an example, albeit an extreme one. Yesterday, the BBC Scotland “The Social” channel – which has around 100,000 followers – re-shared a video it had made featuring a poem by Gray Crosbie. I know and love much of Gray’s work, and this poem was typically wise and interesting: it’s about the difficulties of getting a haircut when the barbers tell you you’re a girl and the salons say you’re a boy.

Piers Morgan came across it and shared it disgustedly with his seven million, one hundred and fifty thousand, two hundred and twenty followers. Many of his followers sought out not just the BBC Social account but Gray’s personal Twitter account, which has 139 followers, and those people have spent the last two days posting abuse to it. Crosbie, who earlier this month posted about the negative effects on their mental health of social media, has been forced to lock the account to prevent any more abuse.

It’s targeted harassment, but Morgan – who this week was crying crocodile tears over the death-by-media of Caroline Flack; many of the people posting abuse to Gray were posting “Be Kind” memes just days ago – is cunning enough to maintain plausible deniability. He didn’t specifically tell his millions of followers to go and attack someone. It’s just something that happened, and which has happened many times before, and which will happen many times again, which he pretends he has no control over, and for which he will never suffer any consequences.

As Emily puts it in another context:

the world is already cruel, and being trans only ramps up that cruelty… The border between my safety and something horrible is so tenuous, and societal norms dictate that I am the one who’s asked to enforce it

As ever, the people who are really being silenced are the ones you aren’t reading in the papers or seeing on TV.

If this is the fast track, I’d hate to be on the slow one

The BBC has discovered that many trans people are stuck on waiting lists for so long they have to buy their own medicine from overseas.

The report, while accurate and worthwhile, also serves to demonstrate that the BBC clearly doesn’t have any trans people or experts on trans healthcare anywhere near the newsrooms it so happily fills with anti-trans activists. This is not a new story, and it’s definitely not a new problem. Long lists forcing people to self-medicate have been a huge problem in the trans community for very many years, and the ongoing trans healthcare crisis is a much bigger concern to us than any reform to our paperwork.

Here’s the graph showing waiting times.

These are not times between referral and treatment; these are times between referral and first appointment. To be given any medical treatment such as hormone therapy there are more assessments first. In my own case, they took a further seven months.

It’s interesting to change the measurements here. Talking about timescales in weeks sounds like a short time, but the 100-week waiting list in Scotland means two years. In Northern Ireland it’s over three years.

We’re talking here about medication that is proven to be safe, effective and in many cases life-saving; if these waiting lists for initial assessment were for any other group of people there would be outrage. But it’s us, so instead we have to endure endless bullshit in the papers about the supposed fast-tracking of trans people while the reality is the complete opposite. I fear that if there’s any outrage at all it won’t be at the broken system but at the people forced to go outside it.

“Take a long hard look at your bullshit shock jokes”

[Content note: suicide]

Last night I stepped off a stage and ended up in 1971.

My brother and I were the featured act at an open mic night I’ve played at many times before, a mix of musicians and comedians. It’s fun, although inevitably you have to put up with the odd person whose pub pals have told him he’s hilarious and who really isn’t. Last night’s example of that was the old man who got up on stage after our (fantastic, if I say so myself) performance.

I’ve seen him before. He’s a peddler of seventies-variety “take my wife, please” jokes with a whiff of misogyny to them. Last night the whiff became a stench. His new material is about lap dancing, his horror of women who groom their pubic hair, and in a piece he’s clearly very proud of, a horrible nightmare in which a beautiful woman turns out to be “a ladyboy”.

He isn’t the only stand-up to decide trans jokes are where it’s at. Last night, popular US stand-up Dan Telfer wrote on Twitter:

I am so fucking sick of transphobic jokes at stand-up open mics. It is absolutely everywhere and comedians who pretend it‘s not are in denial. There is nothing awkward or yucky to joke about here, cis folks. Take a long hard look at your bullshit shock jokes, for fucking serious.

it clearly touched a nerve: the post has been liked by 31.4 thousand people so far. Lots of comedians are doing the same stale jokes like it’s 1971.

Nobody’s saying you can’t make trans jokes. I did last night, on the very same stage between songs, and got some big laughs. But if your punchline is “Ugh! Trans!” then you’re a hack.

Last night’s hack didn’t have any new spin to offer, no hilarious take: his joke was that he had a dream, there was a sexy woman in it, she was trans. The expectation was that the room would share his disgust, but it didn’t and he died on his arse. Judging by the daggers he was looking at me later, he blamed me for that.

Good. I usually hate seeing comics die on stage, no matter how bad they are, but this was thoroughly deserved. I had to sit ten feet away – our table was at the very front – from a man who hoped to mine laughs from sharing his horror of bodies like mine. Imagine how it feels to sit through that, to feel every pair of eyes in the room turn to look at you as it becomes clear what the punchline is going to be. Those feelings linger long after the hack has come off stage.

“Ugh, trans” isn’t a punchline. It’s a punch down. The idea of trans people deceiving straight men is so commonly used as an excuse for violence and sexual violence against us that there’s a name for it: the trans panic defence. The idea that trans people are disgusting, horrific, worthy of nothing but contempt – a trope that is still very common, especially in comedy – keeps many of us in the closet and continues to harm us when we’re out of it. If the world keeps telling you you’re a monster, it’s hard not to believe it.

When I got home from the gig last night, I read a long blog post by another Scottish trans woman, Becca, roughly the same age as me. “After six years of being on hormones and presenting completely female, I am still getting misgendered far too frequently and as the years have gone by, the sheer hopelessness of it all has finally sunk in,” she wrote. “I would honestly rather be dead than seen as a ‘man in a dress’.”

It was a scheduled post, timed to go live hours after it has been written. By the time it was published, Becca had stepped in front of a train.

Stuck in the Middle with You is warm, wise and sad

I’ve written before about my admiration for the writer Jenny Boylan, aka Jennifer Finney Boylan: her memoir, She’s Not There, is warm, witty and often desperately sad. I didn’t realise she’d written another memoir, but when I found out about it I suspected it might also be warm, witty and desperately sad. It is.

Stuck In The Middle With You is “a memoir of parenting in three genders” and focuses on parenthood before, during and after transition as a father of babies becomes a mother of teenagers. Like She’s Not There it’s a powerful and often difficult book to read if you’ve experienced similar upheavals, and it’s very honest about the doubts and darkness that are part and parcel of being a trans parent.

I thought this, on trans people who marry before they work out who they are, was very true.


In addition to her memoir, Boylan also interviews a range of other people about parenthood. I found those sections a mixed bag; while the people Boylan interviews are all interesting in different ways, I felt the interviews detracted from the momentum of the memoir itself. Boylan’s own story and thoughts are interesting enough not to need the company, and Stuck In The Middle With You is a considered and often unbearably honest book about trying to be a good person and a good parent in often very difficult circumstances.

The Trauma Cleaner: an extraordinary book about an extraordinary woman

I’ve just finished reading The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein. It’s often a very hard read – it’s a biography of someone who cleans up crime scenes and the homes of deeply troubled people, and who’s experienced terrible things in her own life; it goes to some very dark places – but it’s an incredible piece of writing.

It was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize last year. Here’s what the awards site says about it.

The author charts the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bringing order and care to the living and the dead, in her role as a trauma cleaner. A compelling story of a fascinating life, and an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.

Sandra Pankhurst started life as an abused adopted son in a working-class family. Following marriage, fatherhood and divorce, she made the transition to living as a woman. Now, as a trauma cleaner she helps those at life’s dark extremes. In telling Sandra’s extraordinary story, Sarah Krasnostein shines a light on the complex and lasting legacies of trauma.

As The Pool wrote in its review:

Krasnostein’s writing is warm and curious. And, carefully, it draws a portrait of Pankhurst you’ll remember long after you’ve finished reading – a woman who is quietly, wonderfully triumphant while standing at the middle and centre of despair.