Echoes

For many decades, homosexuality was believed to be a mental illness. Gay and lesbian people were given electro-shock therapy, aversion therapy and various chemical or psychiatric “cures”, many of them horrific.

We’re all groovy and tolerant these days, of course, but homosexuality wasn’t removed from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) until 1973. And it took a long time for wider society to catch up with the medical and psychiatric consensus. Some bigots still argue that homosexuality is a mental illness, but thankfully most right-thinking people smile sweetly at those people and show them the door.

For many decades, transgenderism was believed to be a mental illness. Trans people were given electro-shock therapy, aversion therapy and various chemical or psychiatric “cures”, many of them horrific.

We’re all groovy and tolerant these days, of course, but transgenderism wasn’t removed from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) until 2018. And it will take a long time for wider society to catch up with the medical and psychiatric consensus. Some bigots will still argue that transgenderism is a mental illness, but I hope most right-thinking people will smile sweetly at those people and show them the door.

Pride only goes so far

It’s Pride Month, when firms go out of their way to show how cool and groovy they are about LGBT* people. But beyond the posters and window displays, the picture is a lot less positive.

According to a survey of 1,000 employers, nearly half of employers would “probably” discriminate against trans job applicants.

That’s illegal. But just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Discrimination is rarely overt, and as a result it’s hard to challenge, let alone prove. You didn’t get the job because your interview skills weren’t great, not because you were visibly trans. Your temporary contract was terminated because that particular job was finished, not because your line manager thinks you’re a deviant. You were passed over for promotion because the other candidate had skills you don’t, not because the firm doesn’t want to send a trans person as its representative. And so on.

Some 47% of retail businesses surveyed said they were “unlikely to hire a trans person”; 45% of IT businesses said the same, with leisure and hospitality coming in at 35%. Even in the most inclusive industry, financial services, just 34% of employers said they were “agreeable” to hiring trans workers.

“Agreeable.” One-third of employers are “agreeable” to not breaking the law.

That’s bad enough, but what if many of them are lying? It’s a known problem with attitudinal surveys: while some people tell the truth, many tell the surveyor what they think that person wants to hear, or what they think will make them sound best.

That means the number of firms who’d actually hire trans people is probably even less.

Trans people get the shitty end of the stick in employment. Stonewall reports that around half of trans people hide their gender identity at work for fear of discrimination; of those who don’t, one-third have been verbally abused by customers or clients and 12% physically attacked.

Hiring is just the start. Firms that aren’t “agreeable” to abiding by anti-discrimination legislation are unlikely to be “agreeable” to providing a safe environment for trans staff. They’re unlikely to be “agreeable” to having policies against discriminatory behaviour by other employees. They’re unlikely to be “agreeable” to giving trans people fair consideration for promotion, or in the event of necessary job losses.

If nearly half of employers admit that they’d discriminate, you can be sure that the real problem is much, much worse.

We must protect our children from the menace of books

Earlier today I was on the radio talking about the moral panic over kids playing Fortnite, a video game. Ten years ago I was on the radio talking about the moral panic over kids playing Grand Theft Auto 4, a video game. The games are different but the panic is the same: parents are letting too-young kids play for far too long and then blaming the game, the games industry and technology in general for their inattention.

Every new technology has a moral panic attached. As I said on air, we even had a panic over books. I’m not making that up. Rachel Adler in Slate:

By the end of the [19th] century there was growing concern—especially among middle class parents—that these cheap, plentiful books were seducing children into a life of crime and violence. The books were even blamed for a handful of murders and suicides committed by young boys. Perpetrators of crimes whose misdoings were linked to their fondness for penny dreadfuls were often referred to in the newspapers as “victims” of the books. In the United States, “dime novels” (which usually cost a nickel) were given the same treatment.

It’s a wonderful article.

“You’re four hours gone. I guess tomorrow brings another excuse”

I wrote the lyric to this a few years ago about a friend of a friend who was acting like a complete arse, apparently convinced that he was getting away with it. He wasn’t.

Where Do You Go? is one of those songs that has a difficult evolution. It began as an angry, retro guitar stomp in a Hives or Dr Feelgood vein, but musically it felt too much of an homage to be its own thing. I had a lot of fun reworking it as a Lady Gaga disco stomp, but again that didn’t quite work.

It took me a while to realise the problem. Sometimes having music that’s at odds with the lyric can work really well, so for example Robyn’s Dancing On My Own is a desperately sad song with a joyous tune. “Crying on the dance floor” is one of my favourite genres of pop music.

But sometimes you need the musical and lyrical moods to match, and that was the case here. This is a song about sitting by yourself, wondering what pathetic excuse you’re going to get, the realisation that not only is somebody going behind your back but that they think you’re too stupid to know they’re doing it. That’s not going to work as a hands-in-the-air disco banger.

I’m pleased with this one. I like my singing, and I think I’ve nailed the mix of contempt, anger and for-fuck’s-sake exasperation that I was trying to get.

As for the friend of a friend: he got busted, and now there’s nobody to come home to.

Transing Nemo

PinkNews has discovered the latest incarnation of the sinister transgender agenda: we’re turning alligators into gal-igators.

That’s the claim from the anti-trans We Need To Talk group, whose meetings are conducted in great secrecy for fear the wider world would discover how deranged they are. As PN reports:

Elizabeth spoke to the audience about “synthetic hormones” taken by transgender people.

“Another thing that really breaks my kind of heart is oestrogen-ic pollution, which is that because of trans and because of HRT [hormone replacement therapy],” she said.

“We’re peeing a lot of oestrogen, synthetic oestogren [sic] into the water and that’s forcibly ‘trans-ing’ the fish, and that means that crocodiles and alligators are in danger.

“It means fresh water fish are in danger. It means we’re destroying the world partially because of the trans ideology.

The Venn diagram between anti-trans views and dingbat conspiracy theories has a huge overlap. It’s been claimed by people who are allowed to drive cars and operate heavy machinery that trans people are part of an international Jewish conspiracy, that we’re paid stooges of a Big Pharma conspiracy to get girls hooked on testosterone, that we’re soldiers of the Illuminati and so on.

Debunking conspiracy theories is rather like kicking a baby: it’s not a challenge and it isn’t any fun. But here goes. Is trans women’s urine transing Nemo?

First up, the hormones are bio-identical – they’re chemically identical to natural oestrogen. And secondly, if oestrogen is your concern then trans women should be very far down your list.

The last time we had a trans-fish scare, women on The Pill got the blame. If oestrogen is indeed feminising fish, we need to start with the many millions of farm animals on hormones: the annual oestrogen discharge by livestock in the US alone is twice that of humans. Once we’ve solved that, we could look at the 5-plus million women in the UK on hormonal contraception and HRT. Then by all means investigate the urine of a trans population measured in the thousands.

Like so much anti-trans rhetoric, blaming trans women for oestrogen in the water supply is just taking the piss.

Update:

I’m indebted to my friend Lorraine, who found this hilariously appropriate BBC Blue Planet blog:

As the authors of a 2009 scientific paper in the journal Sexual Development noted, “In the popular cartoon movie Finding Nemo, a male anemonefish loses his mate and must struggle alone to raise his offspring Nemo. In real life, Nemo’s father likely would have switched sex following his mate’s death, and then paired with a male.”

The First Time I Saw Me

This, a collaboration between Netflix and GLAAD, is wonderful and joyous.

It’s various trans people – Laura Jane Grace, Jazz Jennings, Jamie Clayton, Tiq Milan and many others – talking about the first time they saw people like them represented on screen.

If you’re straight, white and cisgender (it means “not trans”; I loved the suggestion I saw online that said cis could stand for “comfortable in skin”), you’re on screen all the time: you’re the default, the “normal”. And if you aren’t from that group, you’re often invisible.

Representation matters.

If you don’t see people like you represented in the wider culture, it reinforces the belief that you’re not normal, that there’s something wrong with you. That was certainly the case for me. It’s one of the reasons I blog about being trans: the thought that somewhere there’s a young version of me trying to work out who the hell they are.

Things are getting better. We have trans actors, models, comedians, musicians, journalists (hello!). But they’re still labelled as trans, not just as actors, models, comedians, musicians or journalists. There are no trans judges, MPs or MSPs, no trans newspaper columnists or news anchors – or at least, none that have come out. 

And all too often, trans characters are played in films and TV programmes by cisgender people. As actor Jamie Clayton says in her video, “it perpetuates a stereotype that, at the end of the day, I take this off… [these men] play a character and then they’re given an award but with a beard. And people think, ‘oh, that’s what trans is.'”

To paraphrase Derren Brown, being trans is just a piece of information about someone – and most of the time it’s not even one of the most interesting pieces of information about them. One day, videos like these won’t be necessary.

“Nothing feels safe, and nothing feels the same”

This is Pianothing, a song whose working title suited it so well we didn’t want to change it. It started life as a little electric piano riff and turned into something that’s musically poppy and lyrically bleak.

It’s about the helplessness I often feel reading the news, the horrors large and small that dominate social media and make me want to scream. We live in what should be a golden age of humanity and we’re encouraged to feel angry and scared. And that’s not who we are. Again and again we’re shown the very worst of humanity and told it’s a mirror, but it isn’t. I feel like Howard Beale in Network, yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”: my version, “This is not who we are!”

The full rant from Network is a superb bit of dialogue. Here’s an extract.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
We know things are bad — worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’
Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. [shouting] You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

“Every day I pray for rain”

I wrote this song about an extraordinary man, Yukio Shige. He’s a retired policeman who patrols Japan’s “suicide cliffs” every day, and who has talked more than 600 people back from the edge. One line in the LA Times story about him (which I can’t link to; its publisher currently blocks EU visitors) really stood out: he said that “almost nobody jumps on rainy days”.

Musically this one’s me channelling my love of raucous guitar music, especially Nirvana and Pixies. The chorus reminds me of New Model Army, a band I love.

“There is something even worse than being abused in the street”

Molly Mulready is a mum-of-three, and one of her kids is trans. She writes in The Guardian:

My son, in his distress, helped me realise that there is something even worse than being abused in the street, and that’s being told by strangers you’re not who you know you are, that the truth of you is not acceptable so if you want to be safe – be normal, please.

Being thought of as funny-looking, a weak man or a manly, ugly woman, the titanic social pressure to look your gender, physical discomfort, even pain, are a small price to pay.

A baggy jumper in summer heat, chest binders, hormone blockers, side-effects, surgery; being more likely to attempt suicide, be homeless, be the victim of violent crime, murder, sexual assault.

Certain countries wholly out of bounds, a crime to be you, violence inevitable, media debates that aren’t kind, that make your mother flinch and rush to switch the radio off, change the subject, protect you.

Having to be tolerant of intolerance, taking deep breaths and bracing yourself, standing tall – they don’t know how fast your heart is beating, how much your palms are sweating.