A wee problem

The photo above was shared on social media yesterday; it’s from the Spice Girls gig in Manchester. Apparently there were similar scenes at last night’s Pink concert in Glasgow, where not one but two security guards were posted outside the gents to stop women from using the cubicles.

Just another ordinary day

I’m at a bus stop in Glasgow, early on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Two neds stare at me as they swagger past.

Ned #1: [unintelligible]
Ned #2: That’s no’ a wumman!
Ned #1: Ah’d still stick it with ma willy.

The neds swagger on, laughing.

I’ve been outside for four minutes.

Reasonable concerns and legitimate debate

Image: Scottish Equality Network

It was Edinburgh Pride day yesterday.

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine spent much of it indulging in the “legitimate debate” she’s so fond of by circulating faked tweets in order to create a social media pile-on against a trans ally and human rights campaigner.

At the actual event some anti-trans activists came along to shout their “reasonable concerns” at the marchers.

Here’s one of the marchers, a cisgender woman.

…I heard shouting, and I looked to the corner to see who that was. I’m used to being shouted at by the fringe Christians, so I looked over to see if it was them (again).

It wasn’t. It was a small group of white, ostensibly middle class cis women screaming hate at us. At Pride – an event that was initially a response to police brutality against mostly black trans women.

…I’m a cis lesbian, and because of this sort of behaviour, I am scared to go the public bathrooms much of the time.

I am routinely challenged when trying to go to the toilet and I am anxious every time I walk into the women’s changing room at the gym.

I was once followed into the toilet in a pub in Cowdenbeath by a man who tried to kick the door down and attack me because, y’know, women’s safety.

That was the most serious attack, but it was by no means an isolated incident. The attack by the anti-trans protesters yesterday was part of that continuum of violence.

No trans woman has ever made me feel unsafe. They have always respected my boundaries and my dignity.

These people yesterday made Pride an unsafe place for women like me, and for my trans pals and allies.

It’s not us, it’s them

Psychology Today asks a question: what precisely do transgender people threaten?

The piece is based on a single study, albeit one that draws on multiple others and widely accepted social phenomena. The short version is that trans people get shot by both sides.

transgender individuals can be perceived as simultaneously transgressing the gender norms of BOTH binary genders. For example, a trans woman (i.e., someone assigned male at birth who now identifies as a woman) is transgressing male norms by identifying as a woman, but also may be seen as transgressing the norms of being a woman by not appearing feminine enough. Indeed, other research has found that transgender women are particularly at risk for prejudice and violence due to society’s general tendency to police femininity and to punish transgressions of misplaced femininity.

That’s something you see a lot of in anti-trans faux-feminist circles, where trans women are simultaneously mocked for not measuring up to standards of stereotypical femininity and condemned for trying to measure up to standards of stereotypical femininity.

I thought this bit was interesting: for some people, the most threatening trans people aren’t the genderqueer ones or those who look visibly trans. What makes them upset and angry are the people who “pass”, who appear to be the gender they are rather than the one they were assigned at birth.

if you yourself are a man and hinge a great deal of your identity on being a man, what does this piece of your identity really mean if someone born female can ‘pass’ as being just “as much of a man” as you?

Thus, the more an individual strongly believes in the gender binary, the more threatening transgender individuals (especially those who ‘pass’) are to that individual’s own personal identity as either a man or a woman.

The article gives an example.

imagine that you are a police officer and that being a police officer is central to your identity. Then imagine that the category of a police officer was replaced with “Security Professional,” and that this new category would include police officers, security guards, and installers of home security systems. This experience would trigger high levels of distinctiveness threat in police officers whose identities were highly enmeshed with being a police officer… with nothing left to distinguish them from a mall cop or a summer student installing home security systems.

Not a perfect comparison, I know: it’s more like expanding the category to include “police officers who don’t have exactly the same background as you” rather than less qualified people. But you get the point.

It’s awfully reminiscent of some of the pushback against equal marriage: I’ve heard many people claim that “if gay and lesbian people can marry, that somehow makes marriage worth less.” It doesn’t, unless you believe that being married makes you better than people who aren’t and that letting others marry makes you less special. And if that’s the case, it says a lot more about you than it does about gay or lesbian people – especially if you’re driven to oppose, vote against or campaign against giving the same rights to those people.

Love in a time of sadness

Today, the Scottish Government and the SNP effectively threw trans people under the bus. After a lengthy public consultation that found the general public and women’s groups overwhelmingly in favour of its proposals for gender recognition reform, the next step is… to water down the proposals and have another consultation and maybe water them down some more.

It’s a terrible decision: the Government has capitulated to the bigots, ignoring the results of its own consultation. It has backtracked from its manifesto commitment to bring gender recognition in line with best practice to proposing a minor tweak to the current system, reducing the recognition criteria from two years to either six or nine months (six months living full time plus a three month waiting period, or three and three; it’s unclear at the moment) – something that bears no relation to international best practice.

I’m not going to dwell on it, on the affirming message it sends to the bigots or on the inevitable uptick in anti-trans abuse it’s going to engender. Instead, I’ll tell you a story.

Every year a man, a religious man, stands at the entrance to Glasgow’s Pride event. Through his microphone he shouts fire and brimstone, punishment and damnation. And every year the crowd of beautiful LGBT+ people, of families and of allies grows larger, and louder, and more vibrant, and more diverse, and more beautiful. Few notice him. Even fewer care.

So let the bigots shout. Let them shout until their eyes pop and their throats rip and their lungs burst. Let them shout at clouds and at crowds and at a world that’s leaving them far behind.

All they have is hate.

We have love.

And love will win.

The love my friends and family have for me, and that I have for them, does not require a certificate.

Amazing journalism about an amazing musician

Music fans of a certain age will recognise the name of Ian Penman, one of the best writers ever to work for NME (the NME of its glory days, not the shallow lifestyle brand of today). Here, the London Review of Books gets him to review two biographies of Prince. It’s an incredible article about an equally incredible story.

Even here, he glows distantly like a quasar; it’s hard to make out the lineaments of a true inner life. There is a hummingbird effect: he keeps so busy you can’t see through the blur to make any sense of why he behaves in the ways he does, or makes the decisions he does. A workaholic who writes endless songs about how much he just hangs out. A perfectionist who releases way too much sub-standard work.

I’m not (just) brilliant. I’m privileged

It’s funny how privilege tends to make people lucky.

Game designer Owen Goss injects a healthy dose of reality into the “if I can do it, you can too!” school of careers advice. As he points out, privilege and luck have a huge role to play.

Indie games are a hard thing to make a living at. And yes, I’ve worked very hard to keep doing what I do, but so have the myriad of other indies who haven’t been as lucky and weren’t able to keep doing it full-time. I know how lucky and privileged I’ve been, and I’m very grateful.

It’s the same in my line of work. I got into tech journalism by accident: the right idea to the right person in the right mood at the right time. I got into broadcasting by being in the right place at the right time; into copywriting because I knew the right people, and so on.

We like to kid ourselves that we’re where we are by virtue of our God-given talent and our work ethic, but a lot of it’s just luck.

And the more privileged you are, the luckier you tend to be.

I’ve written about privilege before. It’s the advantage you have in life from not being something: not being a woman, not being black, not being poor, not being LGBT+ and so on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your life is great; just that those particular factors – your gender, your colour, your class, etc – don’t make it worse.

And I’m enormously privileged. I’m reasonably well educated. I had parental support when I was starting off, and when I hit financial problems that would otherwise have forced me into a different line of work. I haven’t been taken less seriously or harassed because of my gender, refused opportunities because of my colour, discriminated against because of my sexuality, unable to take advantage of educational opportunities because of my parents’ income. Nobody was able to discriminate me because of my gender identity because I didn’t come out as trans until I already had a career.

Privilege is the secret of many people’s success. There was a hilarious example of it yesterday, someone who’d paid off a huge pile of debt: “If I can do it, anyone can!”

The article detailed how the person’s parents bought them a flat which they rented out while living with their parents, using the rental income to drive down the debt.

“If I can do it, anyone whose parents buy them a house and let them live rent-free while they rent it out can!” is slightly less inspirational.

It’s the same in work. “If I can do it, anyone can!” often turns out to rely on a whole network of privilege and tons of luck. And even if you do get in, there are still factors affecting you that might not affect others, factors that can prevent you from building a career in that sector.

One of the biggest ones is money. Some sectors simply don’t pay enough for people to make a full time living from them.

Let’s take my official line of work as an example. I’m a freelance tech journalist, but actual tech journalism is a very small part of what I do now.

That’s because you can’t make a living from it any more.

The rates I’m being offered now are at best 1/3 lower than they were when I started 20 years ago; the length of articles being commissioned has been cut by 2/3. The time involved is unchanged.

When I started off in tech writing in 1998, you’d write a 3,000 word article and be paid somewhere in the region of £420 for it. Now the article, which requires the same amount of work, is £120. You’re often working for well below minimum wage.

And of course the world is a bit more expensive than it was in 1998. Back then the average UK house price was £65,221. Today it’s £226,798. Rents have soared similarly. The average annual gas bill in 1998 was £331 and electricity £388; now they’re £564 and £552. Petrol was 60p a litre; now it’s nudging £1.30.

When I started as a tech freelancer, you could make a living doing it. Now, you mostly can’t. Wages are so low that it’s something you need to do as an add-on to your main career, which in my case is a mix of commercial writing, book publishing, broadcasting and the odd bit of talking. Some of my peers moved sideways into education or PR.

Not everybody has those options.

Again, I’ve benefited from luck. Luck to have got into freelance tech journalism when it could still pay the rent. Luck to have found alternative forms of work before the money started to dry up. Luck to have the particular mix of skills and experience and contacts that gets you hired for copywriting gigs.

This isn’t a whinge. I’m lucky and privileged. And that’s my point.

I think we’re doing younger people a disservice if we don’t admit the power of privilege and luck in our narratives. If we perpetuate the idea that you can do anything if you just try hard enough, we’re ignoring the many factors that hear you say “Yes I can!” and reply “No, you can’t.”

Look at it in wider society, not just my line of work. We’re ignoring the structural factors that affect women and people of colour, the lack of representation, the discrimination and harassment, the old boys network, the problem of low wages and all the other factors that mean other people can’t simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Many of those factors can be challenged and changed, but they won’t be if we pretend they don’t exist.

Many of us, me included, are guilty of thinking the playing field is level because it worked for us. And that means all too often, when we say “I did it and you can too!” what we really say is “I’m okay! Screw you!”

“Menopause as a kind of ungendering”

This, by Darcey Steinke, is fascinating.

Without hormones my femininity is fraying. Twice I’ve been called “sir.” Once by a parking lot attendant and a second time by the young man who bagged my groceries. I did not correct them. Instead I tried to sit with the idea I’d been misgendered. I don’t possess the strong female signifiers I once did. My hair is not long and shiny, my skin is no longer smooth. Plus I do less to support my gender artificially. I wear more androgynous clothing and rarely put on makeup. I’ve lost interest in doing my female gender, propping it up. When I do dress up for a wedding or a bat mitzvah, I feel like a drag queen, performing a gender out of sync with my physicality; but unlike a drag queen, I don’t feel that gender is natural or correct.

Listening to the malicious, not the marginalised

PinkNews’ headline says it all:

After 30 academics sign letter opposing trans rights, 3600 sign letter in support

(Update, the same day: it’s more than 4,000 now) This is the reality, away from the social media echo chamber and the furious clickbait columns. Again and again, the public is overwhelmingly in favour of treating trans people with dignity and respect.

That’s something we saw in the Scottish public consultation over gender recognition reform, where the overwhelming majority of the public and all the major women’s groups were fully supportive of reform. The proposed reforms were also manifesto pledges by all the main Scottish political parties.

So it’s very frightening to hear that tomorrow the SNP may kick the issue of gender reform into the long grass – or worse, announce a second consultation.

There’s no way such a consultation can be fair now that all of the major newspapers in Scotland – the Herald and the Scotsman, plus the Murdoch press, the Telegraph and the Mail – are rabidly anti-trans, while social media has been poisoned by US money and activists. The press in Scotland is picking on trans people just like it used to pick on gay and lesbian people.

I really hope the rumours are wrong. Because if the Scottish Government chooses to be cowards on this, the last couple of years of vicious anti-trans abuse will seem like a golden age by comparison. The message it would send to bigots is frightening: if you scream loud enough, if you hate hard enough, we’ll do what you want.

How to spot someone who’s been radicalised

This is the British Army’s guide to spotting dangerous extreme right-wing (XRW) people, courtesy of James Wallis on Twitter.

Heres’s a summary.

  • They describe their opponents as traitors
  • They become increasingly angry about perceived injustices and threats to their national or cultural identity
  • They say their critics have been indoctrinated
  • They make sweeping generalisations and peddle untruths about specific minority groups
  • They claim their opponents’ ideology is the root of injustices against vulnerable people
  • They refer to political correctness as a left-wing plot
  • They make sweeping generalisations about “the left” or government
  • They claim they’re preparing for or already fighting a war
  • They actively seek out impressionable individuals to indoctrinate or recruit
  • They claim it’s okay to be abusive to specific minorities
  • They have columns in national newspapers

I may have added an extra point there.

You know where I’m going with this one. The signs the British Army urges squaddies to look for don’t just appear among young men in Army barracks. They’re visible among supposedly nice, respectable middle-class people with jobs in the media too.

The radicalisation described here doesn’t just apply to anti-Islam racism. It’s visible in other forms of bigotry too.