Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter, pictured, has gone off on one about trans people again. Yesterday he claimed on twitter that calling cisgender women cis “is the most extreme form of misogyny”, which I’m sure will be news to many women who’ve endured much worse things than being accurately labelled with a latin prefix.
Cis is to trans what straight is to gay; nothing more, nothing less.
He’s yet another example of something that happens again and again:
Ageing, straight, cisgender person writes about trans stuff, gets it wrong
A couple of trans people say “hey man, that’s not cool. You’re wrong about X.”
Ageing, straight, cisgender person shouts “DON’T YOU OPPRESS ME YOU TRANS BASTARDS!” and becomes a rabid anti-trans activist
So what exactly is Macwhirter’s history of standing with Scotland’s women when they asked for protection? Oh aye, he opposed all that feminism gone mad. Yer New Definitely Feminist Hero last got a menshie on ATF for his opposition to the years of work done by women’s organisations, to pass the landmark Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which he condemned as “mince” in another Herald Da-sterpiece.
…Macwhirter is, sadly, far from alone in being a man guilty of uncritically parroting a tiny group of anti trans activists, while not doing even the most shallow bit of digging or asking any of the women’s organisations you’d imagine any journalist writing about gender would have on speed dial.
these “protectors of enlightenment” are guilty of the very behavior this phrase derides. Though often dismissed as just a fringe internet movement, they espouse unscientific claims that have infected our politics and culture.
Biology is more complex than you learned when you were 12.
Nearly everyone in middle school biology learned that if you’ve got XX chromosomes, you’re a female; if you’ve got XY, you’re a male. This tired simplification is great for teaching the importance of chromosomes but betrays the true nature of biological sex. The popular belief that your sex arises only from your chromosomal makeup is wrong. The truth is, your biological sex isn’t carved in stone, but a living system with the potential for change.
…the science is clear and conclusive: sex is not binary, transgender people are real.
Do read the whole thing. It’s a really good explanation of how amazing human development is.
Meanwhile in the UK, a handful of academics got an open letter published in The Times with that far-right trope: preventing them from being bigoted towards trans and non-binary students means universities are silencing their free speech and curtailing their academic freedom. Just asking an academic to use students’ correct pronouns is tantamount to locking them away in a gulag for the rest of their lives.
To give you a flavour of the great minds of the 30 signatories, the names include Stuart Waiton. Waiton, an occasional contributor to Glasgow’s Herald newspaper, believes children don’t have human rights, that parents should be allowed to hit their children and that the Scottish government is in thrall to a powerful transgender lobby; he recently stood as a Brexit Party candidate.
…trans people have been made into a convenient scapegoat for the idea that a group (or generation, or class) of people are forcing others to change the way they are speaking. That the phantom authority in question is simply good sense — that it makes sense to refer to trans women as “she” because, well, we look, speak, act, dress, and identify as women, and many of us have estrogen rather than testosterone in our bodies — can be ignored in favor of the paranoid fear that someone else is coming to dispossess us of our language.
Whether intentionally or by accident, the arsey academics are on the side of the far right, of people who want to harass and bully others under the guise of freedom of speech or academic freedom.
The entire movement against the supposed silencing of free speech in education is a far-right movement, which is why here in the UK it’s being driven by right-wing publications such as The Spectator and The Times (and the right-wing-funded Spiked). Here’s a good piece about its US version, which UK right-wingers have copied as part of bringing the US culture wars to the UK.
Fascist politics seeks to undermine the credibility of institutions that harbor independent voices of dissent until they can be replaced by media and universities that reject those voices.
…Universities, they say, claim to hold free speech in the highest regard but suppress any voices that don’t lean left by allowing protests against them on campus.
…Where speech is a right, propagandists cannot attack dissent head-on; instead they must represent it as something violent and oppressive (a protest therefore becomes a “riot”).
Attempting to characterise legitimate protest and even legitimate criticism as violence and oppression is something the far right (and their anti-trans fellow travellers) have been doing for some time now: it’s where bigots’ bogus claims of silencing and erasure come from.
Back to the letter. If 30 signatories are enough for publication in The Times, I wonder how prominent this response from many other academics will be: at the time of writing, it has more than 1,700 signatories (update, the same day: more than 4,000 now before checking for duplications etc.)
We are a diverse range of professionals working in higher education and research institutions. Together we register our support for the inclusion and safety of all staff and students, including trans individuals and gender-diverse people.
…Diversity training addresses equality, diversity and inclusion for all protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Stonewall promotes an inclusive environment, in which the rights of trans and gender-diverse people are placed on an equal footing with the rights of other historically disadvantaged groups. This addresses the needs of our trans colleagues and students, including use of their chosen pronouns and respecting their gender identities. None of this limits our academic freedom.
I went to see the comedian Frankie Boyle last night. As ever, he said many terrible things because he’s a really bad man. I laughed so hard for so long I’m actually a bit sore today.
I don’t go to as much comedy as I used to, even though I love live comedy: I got fed up hearing the same punching-down trans jokes night after night.
It’s hard to explain to other people what it feels like to hear those jokes. There’s an icy cold feeling in the pit of your stomach, a dread that takes you right back to your schooldays of bullies shouting epithets.
it seems that every comedian has a couple of trans jokes at the moment. But while it isn’t unusual, its ubiquity is pretty tiring. It’s not much fun to have people like you as the butt of the joke at every gig you go to whether it’s a comedy club with 100 people or a hall with 10,000.
It’s tiring because it doesn’t just happen on stage. That particular day started with anti-trans hit pieces in a couple of national newspapers, and involved the usual toxic anti-trans crap on social media. To then have some extra trans stuff on a gig you’ve been looking forward to for ages brings out the Sinister Transgender Agenda, which is: give us a bloody break, will you?
I don’t have a problem with trans jokes. But I hate lazy stereotypes being sold as jokes. All too often, “Haha! Trans!” is the punchline.
I put up with it for a while. At first I decided not to go to comedy gigs as me (imagine that: having to pretend to be someone you’re not for fear of being bullied by the guy on stage); after a few more shows I decided not to go to a lot of comedy gigs at all.
Boyle’s different. I’ve heard him talk about LGBT+ stuff before, on which the supposedly demonic comedian is firmly on the side of the angels, and last night he did some material specifically about lazy standups punching down on trans people. It was very, very funny, and for the first time I didn’t feel self-conscious about being in the crowd of a comedy gig as a visibly trans woman.
I don’t want to police comedians’ material, or to see anybody else do so. But I do wish comedians would do what Boyle admitted to doing last night: asking himself whether a joke really is brave and dangerous, or if you’re just saying the same thing as the bullies and the people in power.
Sorry about the title. My mum reads this blog and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make her spit out her coffee.
I mentioned this study before: it asked around 1,000 people about the genders they would consider dating. It wasn’t brilliant news for trans people.
The study gave respondents a list of five types of potential dating partners: a cisgender (ie, not trans) woman; a cisgender man; a trans woman (someone assigned male at birth but now living as female); a trans man; a non-binary person who identifies and/or presents as neither male nor female.
87.5% said they wouldn’t consider dating the trans and non-binary people.
The detail is interesting. There were significant differences between straight people and bi/queer people: only 3.1% of the former were willing to consider dating a trans/NB person, but the figure was 55% in the latter group.
One reason for this may be that individuals with queer or bisexual sexual orientations are already looking beyond gender in many ways when selecting a person to date.
Looking more closely at the patterns of responses, it also became clear that individuals were least likely to express an interest in dating trans women, even if their sexual identity would otherwise indicate an interest in women (i.e., straight men, lesbian women, or queer/bisexual individuals). Indeed, nearly 20% fewer people indicated an interest in trans women than would have been expected based on the sexual identities of the individuals within the sample.
The obvious follow-on question is a simple one. Why?
Time for a new study.
In a follow-up study recently presented at the Canadian Psychological Association’s annual convention, we examined people’s reasons for excluding trans folk from hypothetical dating pools. By and large, the reasons given fell into three overall categories: dehumanization/prejudice, uncertainty or lack of knowledge, and issues related to bodies and reproduction.
We don’t need to give the prejudiced reasons any consideration; some people just hate trans/NB people. It’s the other two that interest me: lack of knowledge and “issues related to bodies and reproduction”.
Lack of knowledge was the most common explanation by far, leaving the other sensible one – not wanting to date someone with whom you might not be able to have children – far behind.
many simply stated that they had never really considered the question before and were unsure of what it would mean to be in a relationship with a transgender or non-binary individual.
It’s yet another example of how visibility, or rather the lack of visibility, has real-world effects.
If you don’t know anything about trans/NB people or don’t see trans/NB people in popular culture in anything other than negative ways (trans people as perverts, trans people as tricksters, trans people making you vomit for ages on camera if you kiss one – thanks for that, Jim Carrey), then of course you’re going to consider them as the other, as alien, and definitely not people you’d consider as potential romantic or sexual partners.
The difference in attitudes between straight and LGBT+ people is a good example of that. If you’re LGBT+, you’re likely to hang out in places where LGBT+ people can feel safe – so you’re going to meet all kinds of trans and non-binary people, some of whom will be incredibly attractive. And if you don’t hang out in those places, you may never meet an openly trans person at all.
As the researchers rightly note, this isn’t about whether you should fancy trans/NB people. It’s about the wider culture, a culture that has an effect on how our preferences are formed (not to mention whether we feel safe enough to hang out in the same places you do).
People’s dating preferences can be a lens through which we can see societal attitudes, which is why it’s studied by sociologists keen to understand people’s attitudes to race, to body shape, to gender identity.
Just as sociologists have tracked acceptance of inter-racial relationships as a metric of overall societal acceptance of racial minorities, future fluctuations in the extent to which trans and non-binary individuals are included within the intimate world of dating may help to illuminate progress (or lack thereof) with respect to fully including trans and non-binary individuals within our society. After all, it is one thing to make space for diverse gender identities within our workplaces, schools, washrooms and public spaces, but it is another to fully include and accept gender diversity within our families and romantic relationships.
Ask yourself honestly: would you want to date a trans person? If you’re a parent, would you want your son or daughter to date a trans person, to have them become part of your family?
If the answer is no, we still have a long way to go.
As a young trans girl, I could only assume that the odds against me were long. What would happen, I wondered, if I spoke aloud the thing that was in my heart? Even worse: What would happen if I did not?
Boylan writes about something some of us fear: that our own children may be LGBT+.
Dear God, I thought. Anything but this. Given how hard being trans has made my life, it was the one thing I hoped my own child might be spared.
We’re not scared because deep down we feel there’s something wrong with being LGBT+. We’re scared because we know that there is nothing wrong with us but a great deal wrong with how some treat us. We know what it’s to be hated by strangers and hurt by people close to us, to endure the casual little cruelties of some and the monstrous, deliberate cruelties of others, to spend years trying to stop ourselves from being ourselves.
Being LGBT+ is tough, and not everybody makes it.
Who in their right mind would wish that experience on their children?
It’s important to realise the parameters of your own worldview. To take an uncontroversial example, we all believe that the best music of all time is the music we loved in our late teens.
And that applies to more serious things too. The fear I felt going into the city centre last night in a dress – something I haven’t done for a while for various reasons; I’ll post about it some other time – is largely based on the attitudes I experienced growing up, and the hatred that I see online. But my lived experience is completely different to my expectation. The mental model I have of How Things Are is hopelessly out of date.
We see the world based on how it was for us, not necessarily how it is for the people in the generations that have come after us.
Why is my daughter’s generation better than mine when it comes to accepting abundance and variation in human sexuality and identity? Why, to them, is being queer a delight and a cause for celebration, when for me it was something for which I felt I had to apologize, over and over, and to endlessly explain?
Here’s what I grew up seeing on the breakfast table (content warning: vicious homophobia and transphobia including offensive slurs).
Poofters. Benders. Shirtlifters. Bumboys. Lezzies. This was how British tabloid headlines referred to gay men and lesbians in the 1980s — an echo of the taunts heard on the street before a beating. The stories beneath would expand on the pejoratives, justifying them with news of “sick” “evil”, “predatory” gays; all arising from a presumption: that readers would agree.
…In a typical example from 1985, Sanderson is left returning fire on one homophobic piece after the other, all drawn from a single month. The first, a Sunday People spread under the headline “Ban the Panto Fairies”, saw the comedian Bernard Manning arguing that gay actors should not be allowed on “television, on stage, in clubs or pubs” in order that they don’t “corrupt the children”.
…It wasn’t just the national newspapers. In the same column, Sanderson selected a delightful mezze of local paper bigotry. “Gays are EVIL” was the headline in a recent edition of the Bromley Leader. The Plymouth Evening Herald described a mere advert for a gay club as “an offensive gay club poster”. While the Solihull Daily Times blared in a headline: “Row over poofs and queers”.
In the same column, he reported that The Sun, Britain’s bestselling newspaper, had “negative gay stories almost every day for the past few weeks”. In one, the paper branded a council leader “barmy” for campaigning for black and gay people to be protected from murder.
It’s shocking to see how little regard the papers had for human lives. As Strudwick writes, the AIDS era produced some astonishingly vicious journalism in papers such as The Times.
Shortly after The Sun’s near-daily anti-gay coverage, The Times declared its official position in a leader editorial: “Many members of the public are tempted to see in AIDS some sort of retribution for a questionable style of life.”
The Sun and The Times are both owned by Murdoch, as was The News of The World.
“The News of the World carried ‘gay plague’ headlines in three consecutive issues,” wrote Sanderson, detailing each one: “Victims of gay plague long to die”; “My doomed son’s gay plague agony”; “Art genius destroyed by gay killer bug”.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Sun ran a headline asking, “is it wise to share a lavatory with a homosexual?”
…The Sun then called gay men “walking time bombs” with the “killer disease AIDS” who are a “menace to all society”
Even when the evidence was clear that heterosexuals also had HIV, The Sun, wrote Sanderson, “still insisted that AIDS sufferers were ‘gay plague victims’” and merrily printed headlines unencumbered by facts: “Beer mugs may spread the disease”.
There’s a generation of LGBT+ people who read this stuff daily. When some of us finally came out in later life, people around us expressed surprise. Why didn’t we come out earlier?
Here’s The Sun on 12 December 1987, when I’d just turned 15.
Perverts are to blame for the killer plague.
The homosexuals who have brought this plague upon us should be locked up… Burning is too good for them. Bury them in a pit and pour on quick lime.
Broadsheets advocating for the murder of gay people; tabloids demanding they be locked up. The national press celebrating anti-gay hate crimes. Even The Guardian got in on the act.
[Sanderson] accuses the outlet of “giving a voice to people who should never have one in a paper like that, simply because they felt they should have balance.” Sometimes it was worse than that. Media Watch highlighted the reporting of a vicar who had been caught cottaging, entrapped in a public toilet by a policeman, but rather than criticise the police The Guardian published the defendant’s home address.
Publishing a gay man’s home address during a time of homophobic murders and petrol bomb attacks. No doubt The Guardian later ran a story pondering the mysterious rise of anti-gay hate crimes.
As Sanderson notes, the focus later moved to trans women in columns containing ‘phrases such as “man in a dress”, “dicks in chicks’ clothing”, “shemales”, “trannies” and a warning to trans people: “You really won’t like us when we’re angry”.’
The media regulator proved toothless for many years, and when it did finally rule against the press – against Garry Bushell’s Sun columns – they doubled down on the abuse.
And now, as Sanderson says, “the whole thing is starting again.”
The same slurs, the same publications, often the same writers. There are growing demands for Section 28-style legislation to prevent children being “exposed” to the existence of LGBT+ people. Newspapers are telling their readers to be afraid of people in toilets. A tiny, vulnerable minority is being victimised by some of the most powerful people in the world. Hate crimes have doubled; for trans people they’ve trebled.
The newspapers didn’t stop the abuse because of press complaints adjudications, because the had a change of heart, or because they discovered basic human decency. They stopped because their readers didn’t share their hatred. There wasn’t money in it any more.
the backlash eventually ebbed, says Sanderson, as newspapers began to realise “which way the wind was blowing”. Their readers were changing before they were.
The current anti-LGBT+ abuse won’t stop until the same thing happens. That means voting with your feet, with your web browser and with your wallet.
If you buy the papers that are currently conducting a vendetta against LGBT+ people – such as the Spectator, The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday, even The Guardian – or read anti-LGBT+ content online, you can’t claim to be supportive of LGBT+ people.
Your money means you are part of this. You’re funding it. You’re fuelling it.
You are paying the wages of people who make a living inciting hatred against people.
Cis women’s intolerance should not be a legitimate reason for limiting the rights of trans women. The idea that all trans women should be denied civil rights because a trans woman might someday commit a crime is the essence of bigotry and goes against feminist values.
That’s not to say The Guardian doesn’t sometimes print voices supportive of trans people. It does, albeit vanishingly rarely, in what looks rather like an attempt to deflect criticism of its overwhelmingly negative portrayal of trans people – criticism of which goes back many years.
I was at a talk last night by Juliet Jacques, whose transition diaries appeared in the Guardian from 2010 to 2012. The diaries were longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011, but Jacques was under no illusions that the editors had any interest in reporting trans issues beyond tokenism: her attempts to describe the wider picture, both cultural and political, had to be done by stealth.
This attack and the ensuing media circus are par for the course in 2019. In both my native United States and here in the United Kingdom, it always has been and still is open season on the bodies of (in no specific order) people of colour, indigenous people, transgender people, disabled people, queer people, poor people, women and migrants. I have evaded much of the violence and oppression imposed on so many others by our capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal system because of the privileges I enjoy by dint of my race, health, education, and conventional gender presentation. That has nothing to do with the merit of my character.
…The commodification and exploitation of my face came at the expense of other victims whose constant persecution apparently does not warrant similar moral outrage.
It begins with something depressingly common: a major newspaper highlighting the views of a website crank as some kind of expert, without seeking input from people who actually are experts.
This is the kind of reporting you get when LGBTQ writers and reporters are cut out from mainstream media. It turns our everyday experiences into fodder for pundits, cranks, and transphobes. Phony or inconsequential organizations like “Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics” are elevated to legitimacy by publications who think their readers need to hear “both sides” of an issue, even when one side is composed of hatred. Many in mainstream print media have fallen into this sort of lazy both-sides-ism which ends up promoting the junk science and wild conspiracy theories of the anti-trans and larger anti-LGBTQ movements.
Burns makes a point I’ve also made: the people reporting on LGBT+ issues don’t suffer from the consequences of their reporting. They aren’t beaten up on buses or yelled at in the street. They aren’t denied healthcare or evicted by bigoted landlords.
those largely responsible for covering the issues have no personal stake in the fallout from their reporting. Most writers and editors won’t ever have to worry about their parents kicking them out of homes for being LGBTQ.
There is a very large, very important imbalance in the mainstream reporting of LGBT+ issues and trans issues in particular. The right-wing, anti-science voices are platformed and amplified while the actual scientists and decades of scientific research are ignored. And that platforming has been happening for several years now.
Publications from Breitbart to The National Review have been feeding their audiences a steady diet of trans-based outrage for years now. As a result, there’s significantly more interest in trans issues on the political right than there is on the left — something I don’t think the average progressive voter even realizes.
In the UK, you can add Spiked, The Spectator, the Mail on Sunday and The Times and Sunday Times to the list. You can also add some left-wing publications, notably The Guardian and The New Statesman, which so far seem unable to spot the links between anti-trans faux feminists, hard-right politics and religious evangelism; The Guardian has a long and troubled history in its reporting of trans issues.
Burns quotes Gillian Branstetter of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Every morning, Branstetter reads a collection of media clips on trans issues; she says recently she’s tracked the horrifying phenomenon of anti-trans talking points leapfrog right over the mainstream media from the right-wing press straight to Congress. “There are members who oppose the Equality Act, for example, or trans protections in the Violence Against Women Act or are in favor of the military ban who have picked up, word for word, the language and the messaging of far right media in discussing transgender people and issues,” she said. “So then you do suddenly see this messaging that’s baseless, that is not founded in anything, that is fear mongering seep into some of the triple-A media sites.”
Many people believe that biological sex is binary: Either you’re male or you’re female. But as with many binaries, things are more complicated than they seem.
…Sex is our biology — what chromosomes, hormones, genes, sex organs, and secondary sex characteristics we have — while gender is how we think of our identity in the context of how norms function in our culture.
…The science is clear—sex is a spectrum.
And finally, a reminder that we’re talking about living, breathing, loving human beings here.
It’s no great secret that anti-trans bigots tend to be bigoted in other ways too; they just hide it. The ongoing hate-fest over the NSPCC working with and then dropping trans woman Munroe Bergdorf is a vivid demonstration.
The NSPCC has apologised for dropping Bergdorf, but its employees aren’t happy: 148 of its employees have written to the executives saying its actions are sending a terrible message to its LGBT+ staff and the children who need the charity’s help.
The anti-trans bigots, led by washed-up comedy writer Graham Linehan, are furious about this. So they have been trying to find details of those employees through social media to find out if there’s anything that can be used against them. Yesterday, they discovered that one of the employees is gay.
They are now demanding the NSPCC sack him.
This is “reasonable concerns”: telling a children’s charity to sack gay employees – because you believe gay people are a danger to children. A danger so dangerous the fact that the employee has an office job is no protection against the gay danger.
This isn’t a surprise. Again and again the anti-trans lot let the mask slip and reveal that bigotry isn’t about hating just one group of people. There’s a ton of homophobia, as well as racism and anti-semitism. The focus on trans people is just because that’s the bigotry you can still get away with in public.
a tawdry, sinister campaign is directed against trans people in the UK. Much of the media demonises them, playing the same tunes that were sung about gay people in the 1980s: sexual predators, deviants, grooming and brainwashing children. It not only erases the hatred directed at trans people, it legitimises and fuels it.
…Anti-trans activists claim they want trans people to have happy lives, but as their recent successful campaign to force the NSPCC to drop the trans model and activist Munroe Bergdorf as its first LGBTQ campaigner underlines, they want to drive trans people out of public life.
…And don’t believe you can demarcate transphobia from rising homophobia. The anti-trans activists who hounded Bergdorf are now demanding the sacking of a senior, gay NSPCC employee because they found pictures of him in fetish gear online, suggesting therefore he is not safe around children. This is the crude, unapologetic homophobia of 1980s Britain. The scaremongering over trans people has even led cis-gender lesbians – such as Stonewall chief executive Ruth Hunt – to be challenged over using women’s toilets. A minority of self-described feminists – who seem to talk of nothing other than the great trans menace – have no scruples about working with the anti-gay lobby.
As someone put it on Twitter yesterday, when the hateful anti-LGBT+ bigots are brown we damn them and get injunctions against them. When they’re white and middle-class…
Update: they’re now going after another gay man: Ben Hunte, the BBC’s first LGBT correspondent.
Today is the third anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 LGBT+ people were slaughtered. It was the single deadliest lone gunman mass shooting in US history, the worst terrorist atrocity since 9/11.
To commemorate it, a number of US Christian fundamentalists will hold a rally in Orlando.
The rally is called Make America Straight Again.
The speakers include Pastor Steven Anderson, who hailed the shooting and has publicly declared his wish to kill gay people; Pastor Roger Jimenez, who wants the US government to execute LGBT+ people by firing squad; Pastor Tommy McMurtry, who believes gay people should be put “six feet under” and advocates violence against them; and Pastor Bruce Mejia, who says LGBTQ stands for “let them burn quickly”.
It’s easy to dismiss these barely evolved Bible-thumping, terrorist-embracing fucknuggets as Christian Taliban, a bunch of mouth-breathing throwbacks who are in for a big surprise when they end up in Hell. But thanks to social media, their hate echoes around the world.