LGBTQ+ Media

You’re not a bigot

Or at least, it’s highly likely that you aren’t. That’s according to the latest survey of UK people’s attitudes to trans people. While there’s clear evidence that three years of anti-trans scaremongering have had an effect, there’s also clear evidence that the scaremongers do not reflect wider public opinion.


When the public is asked to choose words that describe their feelings towards trans people, we see a really striking picture.

Overall, positive feelings dominate, particularly for women – half of us feel ‘respect’ and more than a quarter ‘admiration’ for trans people. We can also see that women are much more likely to feel respect and admiration for trans people, while also being less likely to feel disgust, pity, fear or resentment. This is important to bear in mind, as it undermines the common narrative which seeks to turns cis women and trans women against each other.

But alongside these positive feelings, quite a lot of us aren’t sure and that’s OK. Some of these people may not be comfortable expressing negative feelings, many of these people are likely to be those who genuinely don’t know how they feel, or simply see trans people as … people.

However, the people who hate us really hate us.

Very few people indeed selected negative feelings such as disgust, fear or resentment. But when we look at the views of the minority who describe themselves as prejudiced (16% of us), this transphobic minority feels very strongly: a third said they felt disgust (33%) and one-quarter said that they felt resentment (25%). This means that while the group of people who are transphobic, and would describe themselves as such isn’t large – 16% is in line with other forms of discriminatory attitudes to oppressed groups – the views of that minority are much stronger.

Those are the views most often platformed by UK newspapers, current affairs magazines and broadcasters, and they are the views most commonly expressed on social media.

The British public in general, and British women in particular, feel pretty positive about trans people. If our media coverage and social media discussions simply reflected this reality, the lives of trans people would be immeasurably improved overnight. Instead of this, the drip, drip of negative and distorted media coverage may be manufacturing a creeping sense of discomfort around shared spaces.

…[the survey] shows that we have a small, but vocal group of people with extreme anti-trans views in Britain, and that should worry us all.

If the majority of us simply sit by while the transphobic minority shout their harmful views from the rooftops, our warm feelings mean nothing, and we are part of a problem that is ruining trans folks lives.

Please, don’t be part of the problem.

Bullshit LGBTQ+

False flags

Here’s a great example of how anti-trans activism works.

On social media, some anti-trans activists are posting about stickers that prove how evil trans people are. The stickers, which were first spotted in Torquay, have the phrase “genital preferences are transphobic” over a rainbow flag.

The stickers were made and posted by an anti-trans activist trying to discredit trans people.

The phrase on them is an anti-trans trope: in much the same way homophobes want you to think that gay men want to have sex with your children, transphobes want you to think that trans women want to force you to have sex with them even, or especially, if you aren’t into trans people. It’s a vicious libel, and I’ve written more about where it comes from here.

Some of the better known anti-trans groups have condemned the stunt, so for example the LGB Alliance has said “if it is true that agents provocateurs are posting these stickers in an attempt to exacerbate our divisions, we certainly condemn it.”

But really, the arsehole making the stickers is just doing a crude version of what the anti-trans groups and activists do every day. They make false allegations about what trans people think, who trans people are or what healthcare trans people get, and they then call on everybody to condemn trans people (and often, to demand the removal of their rights) based on those false allegations.

How many articles have you read about the supposed prescription of cross-sex hormones to children, which doesn’t happen? About children being given gender reassignment surgery, which doesn’t happen? About trans women being predators, which the religious right made up? That’s much more deserving of your condemnation than a couple of stickers at the seaside.


Deliberately making safe spaces dangerous

If you’d like to understand the “debate” over trans people’s use of toilets, the academic paper “The toilet debate: Stalling trans possibilities and defending ‘women’s protected spaces’” by Charlotte Jones and Jen Slater is worth your time.

whether naive, ignorant or explicitly transphobic, trans-exclusionary positions do little to improve toilet access for the majority, instead putting trans people, and others with visible markers of gender difference, at a greater risk of violence, and participating in the dangerous homogenisation of womanhood.

…‘Gender-critical’ feminists prioritise the demonisation and exclusion of trans people, even when this comes at the expense of improving toilets for all.

…the fight is not so much ‘about toilets’ but about the contested boundaries of womanhood, tightening the reins on gender, and making trans lives impossible.

This, I think, is the key takeaway:

Toilets become dangerous to make trans identities impossible.

By pushing the false narrative of trans women being dangerous predators, activists – whether faux-feminist or religious right – encourage the policing of women’s appearance. And as we’ve seen again and again, that policing affects Black women, big women, tall women, women with short hair, lesbian women, gender non-conforming women and any other women whose femininity is considered lacking by strangers.

There was an example of this yesterday when on Twitter, a self-appointed toilet cop boasted proudly of hanging around outside toilets to catch and humiliate anyone they suspected of being trans. Given that the people who claim they can “always tell” have variously claimed that Taylor Swift, Meghan Markle, Holly Willoughby, Jodie Whittaker, David and Victoria Beckham, Keira Knightley, and all of Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriends are clearly transgender, such self-appointed bathroom police are a threat to all women.

Some of them know this, and don’t care: when asked about the lesbian women abused in toilets for the crime of looking like they might be trans, they responded that such cases, while regrettable, were collateral damage. If making toilets dangerous for all women is the price of making them dangerous for trans women, so be it.

The cruelty is the point.

Hell in a handcart

The end of the American dream?

Another blistering piece about Trump’s America, this time in Rolling Stone.

Anthropologist Wade Davis describes “the unravelling of America” and argues that COVID-19 “signals the end of the American era.”

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed close to half of Europe’s population. A scarcity of labor led to increased wages. Rising expectations culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an inflection point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal order that had dominated medieval Europe for a thousand years.

The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

…In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.

Empires end because they become failed states, unable to cope with external factors – factors such as global pandemics.

Patrick Wyman in Mother Jones:

When the real issues come up, healthy states, the ones capable of handling and minimizing everyday dysfunction, have a great deal more capacity to respond than those happily waltzing toward their end. But by the time the obvious, glaring crisis arrives and the true scale of the problem becomes clear, it’s far too late. The disaster—a major crisis of political legitimacy, a coronavirus pandemic, a climate catastrophe—doesn’t so much break the system as show just how broken the system already was.


Today, the base pay of those at the top is commonly 400 times that of their salaried staff, with many earning orders of magnitude more in stock options and perks. The elite one percent of Americans control $30 trillion of assets, while the bottom half have more debt than assets. The three richest Americans have more money than the poorest 160 million of their countrymen. Fully a fifth of American households have zero or negative net worth, a figure that rises to 37 percent for black families. The median wealth of black households is a tenth that of whites. The vast majority of Americans — white, black, and brown — are two paychecks removed from bankruptcy. Though living in a nation that celebrates itself as the wealthiest in history, most Americans live on a high wire, with no safety net to brace a fall.

…As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease. The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.


We don’t have to wait decades for all this to sink in. The nature of the problem and its scale are clear now, right now, on the cusp of the disaster. Maybe those future historians will look back at this as a crisis weathered, an opportunity to fix what ails us before the tipping point has truly been reached. We can see those thousand cuts now, in all their varied depth and location. Perhaps it’s not yet too late to stanch the bleeding.

Books LGBTQ+

Understanding the “TERF wars”

There’s a new and important academic work about the current anti-trans moral panic: TERF Wars, The Fight For Transgender Futures.  TERF is an acronym used to describe people who identify as feminists but whose feminism explicitly excludes trans women and non-binary people.

The book exists because:

Analyses of trans-exclusionary rhetoric provide an important contribution to sociology. This is not only because they offer an insight into the production of ideologically ossified, anti-evidential politics (including within academic environments), but also because of what can be learned about power relations. Questions of whose voices are heard, who is found to be convincing, what is considered a ‘reasonable concern’ and by who, and how these discourses impact marginalised groups are key elements of sociological enquiry.

If you have institutional access to SAGE you can read it online for free; if not, the paperback is £10 (and at the time of writing, using the code UK20AUTHOR gets you another £2.50 off).

The introduction is online and free to read here. It provides a good overview of the very significant rise in anti-trans activism in the UK, identifies the key attack lines of those activists and makes their connections to religious evangelism and the far right very clear.

The language of ‘gender ideology’ originates in anti-feminist and anti-trans discourses among right-wing Christians, with the Catholic Church acting as a major nucleating agent (Careaga-Pérez, 2016; Kuhar & Paternotte, 2017). In the last decade the concept has been increasingly adopted by far-right organisations and politicians in numerous American, European and African states. They position gender egalitarianism, sexual liberation and LGBTQ+ rights as an attack on traditional values by ‘global elites’, as represented by multinational corporations and international bodies such as the United Nations (Korolczuk & Graff, 2018).

…Ultimately, the growing social acceptance of trans and non-binary people has challenged immutable, biologically derived conceptualisations of both ‘femaleness’ and ‘womanhood’. ‘Gender critical’ opposition to this can be understood as an emotionally loaded, reactionary response to reassert essentialism, resulting in interventions such as the ‘Declaration of Women’s Sex-Based Rights’ (see Hines, this collection) which effectively echo the demands of far-right, anti-feminist actors.

…a growing number of anti-trans campaigners associated with radical feminist movements have openly aligned themselves with anti-feminist organisations. For instance, from 2017 US group the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) have partnered with conservative organisations The Heritage Foundation and Family Policy Alliance, both known for supporting traditional gender roles and opposing abortion rights, comprehensive sex education and same-sex marriage.


“It’s time to stop this silliness”

When it comes to covering trans-related issues the difference between the UK and US versions of The Guardian is dramatic, with the latter demonstrating just how parochial, insular and reactionary the UK edition is. While the UK repeatedly commissions the same handful of writers to write the same column (variations on “someone told me / my friend / a celebrity to fuck off on Twitter and therefore trans people shouldn’t have human rights”), the US edition commissions writers like Rebecca Solnit.

Rebecca Solnit: Dear transphobic feminists: it’s time to stop this silliness.

…trans women do not pose a threat to cis-gender women, and feminism is a subcategory of human rights advocacy, which means, sorry, you can’t be a feminist if you’re not for everyone’s human rights, notably other women’s rights.

Second wave feminism produced the classic 1972 children’s album Free to Be You and Me, which I’d like to point out was not titled Free to Be Me But I Get to Define You. Back then we thought gender really was kind of binary and defined by genitals; science has gotten smarter in the decades since and we now know it’s a complex interplay of chromosomes, hormones, primary and secondary sexual characteristics and other stuff, some of which is in the brain, not the pants, and also that quite a significant number of people are born intersex, and some are misgendered at birth, and male and female never were airtight categories anyway. Cultures from Native America to India have long recognized that there are other ways to be gendered. This complexity and fluidity can be a blessing and it’s something feminism embraced when it demanded that “woman” not be a category be so tightly defined by roles, relationships, appearances and limits set upon our options.

…When there is so much real violence against women, it’s a sad waste of time to focus on imaginary maybe presumably it-could-theoretically-happen violence. Trans women pose no threat to cis-women, but we pose a threat to them if we make them outcasts and pariahs (and insisting they use men’s bathrooms endangered them horribly). Trans women live dangerous lives, because gender nonconformity is punished in innumerable ways, speaking of patriarchy, and black trans women are murdered at a horrific rate, generally by cis-gender men.

…there are about 4 billion women and girls on Earth, and we are not in danger of being erased.

Health Hell in a handcart

“Ruthless, reckless, dishonest”

This, in Slate, is devastating. The Trump Pandemic: a blow-by-blow account of how the president killed thousands of Americans.

The story the president now tells—that he “built the greatest economy in history,” that China blindsided him by unleashing the virus, and that Trump saved millions of lives by mobilizing America to defeat it—is a lie. Trump collaborated with Xi, concealed the threat, impeded the U.S. government’s response, silenced those who sought to warn the public, and pushed states to take risks that escalated the tragedy. He’s personally responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.

This isn’t speculation. All the evidence is in the public record. But the truth, unlike Trump’s false narrative, is scattered in different places. It’s in emails, leaks, interviews, hearings, scientific reports, and the president’s stray remarks. This article puts those fragments together. It documents Trump’s interference or negligence in every stage of the government’s failure: preparation, mobilization, public communication, testing, mitigation, and reopening.

Trump has always been malignant and incompetent. As president, he has coasted on economic growth, narrowly averted crises of his own making, and corrupted the government in ways that many Americans could ignore. But in the pandemic, his vices—venality, dishonesty, self-absorption, dereliction, heedlessness—turned deadly. They produced lies, misjudgments, and destructive interventions that multiplied the carnage. The coronavirus debacle isn’t, as Trump protests, an “artificial problem” that spoiled his presidency. It’s the fulfillment of everything he is.



Someone posted this to Reddit last night:

There are boys without penises
Girls without vaginas
And transphobes without hearts.


“Perhaps we could give good faith a try”

Writing in The National, Andrew Tickell notes that while there are valid criticisms of the Scottish government’s proposed hate crime legislation, “conspicuous by its absence in the first wave of criticism Holyrood’s Hate Crime Bill has received is any morally serious reflection on why hate crime might matter, and might merit being talked about in a careful, thoughtful way.”

If you are racially abused on a routine basis at work, who could blame you for deciding to pack the gig in? If churches or synagogues are trashed or graffitied with hateful slogans, it is a message to every worshipper. If a same-sex couple is abused in public because they have the audacity to hold hands, they are never the only victims of the treatment meted out to them. To borrow a phrase from the late Lord Rodger, gay people who hope to share “the small tokens and gestures of affection which are taken for granted between men and women” are put on notice that it may not be tolerated.

…We rightly worry about chilling effects on free expression, but routine intimidation and banal harassment create their own social deep-freeze, as people censor themselves, adopt avoidance strategies and live their lives constantly exposed to how they’re perceived, and the potential prejudices of those perceiving them..

…You may not have experienced this in your life – but talk to people who are consistently on the receiving end of this kind of social treatment and you might not talk about “hate crime” in such a sneering and condescending way, or present the issue as a self-indulgent cartoonish enterprise in “woke” identity politics.

Books Health LGBTQ+

Raging and mourning

I’ve just finished reading How To Survive A Plague by David French. It’s a book about the AIDS crisis and the activist groups, notably ACT UP!, who fought an incredible battle against prejudice, ignorance and inertia.

Many of the cover quotes describe the book as uplifting, but that’s not a word I’d use: it’s a deeply harrowing read, and while it has a happy ending of sorts – it finishes at the point where retroviral therapies mean that infection was no longer a death sentence – it’s a book about deaths on a truly horrific scale.

The US CDC reckons that 675,000 people in the US died during the epidemic, and that 13,000 more die from it every year. The World Health Organisation says that globally, AIDS has killed around 33 million people.

The book is an ensemble piece, and it’s not a spoiler to say that many of the key characters in it don’t make it to the end.

It’s instructive to read this book during another global health crisis, and inevitably there are strong parallels between AIDS and COVID-19 – not least the lack of action by particular governments, especially right-wing ones, and misinformation and ill-informed speculation in the press. But it wasn’t just incompetence in the case of AIDS. It was effectively manslaughter. One of the reasons the AIDS crisis was so devastating is that too many people in power simply didn’t care, even when the scale of the crisis was apparent.

A key statistic in the book notes that at the beginning of the crisis, 80% of Americans claimed they’d never met a gay person. That unfamiliarity bred contempt.

As far as many politicians, religious leaders and newspaper editors were concerned, gay men’s lives didn’t matter and weren’t worth saving. The book is about the US, but this was true of the UK too: our press, politicians and religious leaders were often just as hateful (and it’s jarring to see some of the most outspokenly anti-gay publications of the time, such as The Sunday Times, providing glowing quotes on the cover). That intolerance contributed to inaction, and even when sums were pledged to fight the disease they were far too little for far too long.

I have a lot of thoughts about the book and the story it told, but at the moment they’re too emotional for a blog post: How To Survive A Plague was a deeply upsetting read that’s left me angry as well as sad.

I was a teenager during the AIDS crisis, and I remember the public safety campaign: “AIDS. Don’t die of ignorance.” And people did die of ignorance; the ignorance and intolerance of the powerful. So many people have so much blood on their hands.