Books Media

A quiet place

I haven’t posted for a while, I know, and I’m sorry. Various personal dramas, work projects and family things have left me very short of time to blog here, and I’ve also found that constantly wading into the bad-faith dialogue and constant repetition of bullshit about trans people’s human rights has taken quite a toll. As I’ve written before, you can’t swim in dirty water without some of it getting on your skin.

Maybe it’s just that I’m really busy. We’ve been doing some more music, which I think is brilliant, and I’ve been working on the edits to Carrie Kills A Man with my amazing editor Kirstyn Smith, who’s taken the raw material of the book and turned it into something I’m really proud of; it’ll be out in November and you can pre-order it now. I’m told I’m also in the Bookseller magazine today, although it’s a subscription title for the trade so I don’t know if I’ve made an arse of myself or not.

But I think it’s more than just being busy. I’ve been blogging for a long time – seventeen years here and a few years before that on the likes of – but I don’t know if I want to keep doing it. It feels like the atmosphere around blogs has changed, that instead of publishing to like-minded souls you’re posting to an audience of bad actors seeking to find something they can take out of context to use against you. That leads to self-censorship and second-guessing, both of which are very tiring and suck the joy out of posting for me. I think until I find that joy again, it’s better to keep this a quiet place.

Books LGBTQ+

Carrie Kills A Man

I’ve been wanting to tell you about this for months, and now I can. My book, Carrie Kills A Man, will be published by 404 Ink next year.

Here’s the link to my publisher’s blog about it.

For us, Carrie’s submission was a joy to land in our inbox. Having published some of her writing in our literary magazine a few years ago, we were already fans of her work, and from the first pages, Carrie Kills A Man was fizzing with life and laughter, dealing with the serious and sometimes not-so-serious sides of trans life, parenthood, and lessons learned along the way. We loved it, we learned a lot, we laughed a lot. We’re so thrilled that Carrie has entrusted us with her memoir.

I love 404 Ink, and have done since their first ever title, Nasty Women. They’ve published some of my very favourite books and introduced me to some of my favourite writers. So I’m really excited that they’re going to publish me.

Carrie Kills A Man is a memoir about lots of things. It’s about growing up different. It’s about trying to be someone you’re not. It’s about what you learn when you give up privilege, power and pockets. And above all else, it’s about joy. I didn’t want to write a misery memoir, or a plea for tolerance. I wanted to write something true and funny and joyful.

Books are a team effort, and I am part of an amazing team that includes Heather and Laura, my publishers, and Kirstyn, my brilliant editor. Independent publishers are the best, not just because they’re great to work with but because you can sleep with a clear conscience.

Carrie Kills A Man will be published in late 2022 and you can pre-order it right here, right now.

Books Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Two brilliant books

Here are two books you should buy.

The Transgender Issue, by Shon Faye

This is a book I’d very much like to have written, because it’s a clear-eyed, well researched and well argued response to the evidence-free scaremongering and barely laundered antisemitism of cisgender authors who claim to know more about trans people than trans people do. It details the links between UK anti-trans feminism and the US Christian Right, the appalling history of trans rights in the UK, the reasons why the UK’s particularly white anti-trans feminism is viewed with horror by other countries’ more evolved and inclusive feminism groups, and much more. If you’d like to know the truth about trans people in the UK, you should buy this book. And if you happen to know a newspaper editor or radio producer, you should buy it for them.

Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers, by Sady Doyle

This is sad and shocking, fierce and funny and utterly exhilarating. Doyle uses everything from Ancient Greek philosophy to ironic slasher movies to analyse the stories our culture tells about women, and the narratives women are expected to conform to. It’s the kind of book that makes you gasp with horror on one page and giggle on the next, and I had to restrain myself from sending endless quotes from it to my friends. Here’s a bit from the intro:

Women have always been monsters.

Female monstrosity is threaded throughout every myth you’ve heard, and some you haven’t: carnivorous mermaids, Furies tearing men apart with razor-sharp claws, leanan sídhe enchanting mortal men and draining the souls from their bodies. They are lethally beautiful or unbearably ugly, sickly sweet and treacherous or filled with animal rage, but they always speak to the qualities men find most threatening in women: beauty, intelligence, anger, ambition.

Books LGBTQ+

“You can get married, but can you walk down the street holding hands?”

This interview with Shon Faye is a must-read.

You can’t be fired or denied a  service for being trans, you can legally change your gender, we have technically free healthcare… [but] because these rights exist, it gives people license to assume that everything’s fine when, actually, it’s far from fine. It doesn’t matter if gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act if we’ve completely decimated legal aid and there’s no way a trans person can take an employer to tribunal, for example.

This is why the “but what rights don’t trans people have?” question so beloved of anti-trans people is disingenuous: they’re fully aware that rights that aren’t enforced are rights denied. So for example while it’s illegal to discriminate against trans people in employment, one in three UK employers say they wouldn’t hire someone if they knew that person was trans. And as Faye says, even if you’re pretty certain you have been discriminated against, you probably can’t afford legal action against the employer.

Books LGBTQ+

The reality for trans kids

It’s ironic that The Guardian, a newspaper that – alongside its Sunday sibling, The Observer – has helped normalise transphobia in the UK, has published one of the best pieces I’ve read on the effects of transphobia in the UK. It’s an extract from Shon Faye’s forthcoming book, The Trans Issue, and I can think of many journalists who should read it and feel deeply ashamed and regretful. They won’t, but they should.

What’s striking about Faye’s book is that in stark contrast to the recent rash of books claiming to be definitive guides to “the trans issue”, Faye went out and talked to people: trans people, parents of trans people, specialists of all kinds. Existing books haven’t done that, preferring instead to rely on anti-trans obsessives: one recent book, Helen Joyce’s Trans, cites ludicrous pricks Graham Linehan and Stuart “Wings” Campbell as legitimate sources (in a very small list of citations) and appears to have swallowed Jennifer Bilek’s antisemitic conspiracy theories wholesale.

The reason anti-trans writers don’t talk to trans kids, parents of trans kids and specialists is because they would encounter uncomfortable truths: a great deal of what they write about trans people is bullshit.

A good example of that is the claim that children are being “transed” because their parents are homophobic and would rather have a trans child than a gay one. It’s a pretty good indicator that the person telling you this hasn’t talked to any parents of trans children, let alone children themselves: they’re sitting in front of a laptop with their friends, telling each other scary stories about the sinister transes.


Parents who decide to support a child in their wish to transition and live socially in a different gender are still usually regarded as controversial by much of the population. This can range from schoolgate whispers and pointed questions at best, to outright accusations of child abuse or Munchausen syndrome by proxy at worst. Some parents even fear losing their children because of misguided intervention by authorities.

It is much, much harder to be the parent of a trans child than the parent of a gay or lesbian child now. Here’s what happened when one child’s parents wrote a letter to other parents at their child’s nursery.

The initial positive responses to their letter gave way to hostility, as they found themselves confronted by parents who said they were doing the wrong thing. “The responses that hurt were where people thought that their child could be confused and/or that our child was contagious. So people stopped their kid hanging out with ours, or quit some of the groups that she was part of.” Kate recalled how people pulled their children out of the swimming lessons and gym club that Alex attended: “We had people ask to be put in a different class, saying, ‘My child can’t be around a trans child or a confused child.’”

Another claim is that coming out as trans gives kids at school special status, an excuse for bad behaviour, special privileges.

research reveals that the reality for trans pupils in British schools is starkly different: 33% of trans pupils are not able to be known by their preferred name at school; 58% are not allowed to use the toilets in which they feel comfortable. Horrifyingly, almost one in 10 trans young people have received a death threat while at school. Rather than being indulged or given special treatment, the stark truth is that many trans children are receiving little institutional support and, in some cases, are explicitly discouraged from being fully themselves at school.

The moral panic surrounding trans children and their families not only obscures the bullying and exclusion trans kids already face, but actively encourages it.

It’s a pity that the people who should read and reflect on this won’t.

Books LGBTQ+

The Appendix is out

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Appendix, by Liam Konemann: it’s one of 404 Ink’s “Inklings”, pocket-friendly books by interesting voices. Konemann’s book is beautifully written, fascinating, joyful and sad. It left me reeling.

Here’s the blurb:

In 2019, Liam Konemann began collating what he called ‘The Appendix’, a simple record of ongoing transphobia in the UK that he came across in day-to-day life: from the flippant comments of peers to calculated articles and reviews in newspapers. When the list began to take its toll on his mental health, he changed tack by asking different questions: how is beauty in transmasculinity found? And how is it maintained in a transphobic world?

I read the book in a single sitting. It’s the kind of book you want to tell everybody about and quote endlessly. Konemann’s life and mine are very different, but there’s so much in this book that resonated with me, so many lines that hit me right in the gut. Highly recommended.

Books Bullshit LGBTQ+

Irredeemable bullshit

Dianna Anderson reviews Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. The book is at the centre of yet another trumped-up free speech row because US retailer Target chose not to stock it and Amazon chose not to take adverts for it. Some trans people are unhappy that it’s number one in the Amazon transgender studies chart, because while it’s many things it certainly isn’t a study. It’s part of a moral panic.


Irreversible Damage is the Michelle Remembers of 2020. It is clearly designed to speak to parents of teenagers who have come out as trans, particularly to parents of children assigned female at birth. These teenagers, Shrier argues, are coping with their ongoing pain of being assigned female, of going through puberty, by deciding it would be easier to escape womanhood altogether and become a man. In true moral panic fashion, Shrier blames iPhones for isolation that causes teens to doubt themselves, Youtube stars for making transition seem like The Answer to everything, the Medical Establishment for making it far too easy for kids to access gender affirming treatments, and school districts for teaching “gender ideology” to kindergartners. This book has it ALL.

The one thing it does not have, however, is the voices of the young teens in question.

This is a “study” of teenagers that doesn’t study any teenagers, a book about trans people that doesn’t believe trans people are real.

Like the completely invented pseudoscience of “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” it’s based on interviews with parents; the book has very little understanding of or insight about the actual teenagers it talks about because Shrier didn’t talk to most of them. According to this review it also grossly misrepresents the treatment available to teenagers, telling readers that twelve-year-olds are being given surgeries. They aren’t. And at core it pushes a very stereotypical view of women: “Far from giving us explorations of what womanhood can be, Shrier narrows it back down to the biological function of breastfeeding and having babies, excluding women who choose not to engage in such activities from the banner of true womanhood.”

As Anderson points out, the book fails to support its central premise: that teenagers are being rushed by various sinister forces into making decisions they will regret.

Shrier’s panic is simply an invented, elaborate narrative, unsupported by the actual facts, that trans identity is somehow contagious – just as gay people were discriminated against in the 1970s because apparently we were going to teach it to your children.


Handsome is not a personality

Writing in the Independent, Ceri Radford has an interesting review of some gender-swapped fairy tales.

the co-authors used an algorithm to flip all gendered language (‘he’ becomes ‘she’, ‘daughter’ becomes ‘son’) in the classic Fairy Books, a series published in the late 19th century that collected and popularised many traditional folk tales. While fairy stories have been rewritten countless times to make them more palatable to changing tastes, this is the first experiment to revisit the originals with a purist gender reversal, leaving the text otherwise untouched.

Radford saw the title and thought it was a gimmick, but found that on reading the book it was “a strangely disconcerting experience”.

It’s one thing to know that misogynistic stereotypes exist, another to peer into the machine that creates them. After countless run-ins with scheming wizards, I started to find myself feeling hostile and suspicious towards any old man strolling across the pages. With the genders reversed, it became stark and ridiculous how almost every reference to a young guy concerned his appearance and his clothes.

…The thing I found most unnerving was that even after just half an hour of reading manufactured tales with a cynical hat on, I started to get sucked into the belittlement of young men, beginning to expect them to be nothing but weak window-dressing. In reality, when there are centuries of cultural norms combined with structures that encase real-world gender roles, it’s no wonder that the pace of change towards equality makes the average glacier look like Usain Bolt being pursued by a bear.

Books Technology

One writing app to rule them all

There’s been a fun discussion on Twitter about the various kinds of writers, how they organise their workflow and what apps they use. This image has made a lot of us laugh.

Journalist workflow alignment text

The last option, “write directly into the CMS”, is listed under Chaotic Evil. And it is. If you’re a working writer and you have any choice, and I know not everybody does, don’t write directly into a content management system.

There are several reasons for that. The first and most important one is that if the CMS crashes, or something on your computer crashes, you may need to start all over again and you don’t have a backup. Whereas if like me you write first and then copy it to the CMS, a crash is only a minor irritation.

I had a conversation once with a younger colleague who clearly thought I was daft for writing locally and then going into the CMS. Just do it directly, he said, before the CMS crashed and wiped out his day’s work.

The risk of that happening is particularly important if, like me, you’re paid by the word. If you have to write the same article twice because the CMS crashed, you’ve effectively cut your hourly rate in half. With so much freelance writing barely making minimum wage in the first place, that’s potentially disastrous. Many of us are barely paid enough to write a piece once, never mind twice.

It also has an opportunity cost. For the financial reasons I’ve just mentioned freelancing these days is often about achieving a certain volume of work to pay the rent. That means your days are often very packed. There’s very little wiggle room there, so if you get your work done and then have to do it again that can have a knock-on effect on the rest of the day. It might mean not hitting your next deadline, or having to cancel social plans so that you can.

Another key consideration for freelance writers is that if you don’t have a local copy of your work, a problem with the CMS or the closure of that particular publication can mean you end up without any copies of anything you’ve done. In recent months several publications I’ve written for have closed down, but everything I’ve written for them is right here on my Mac.

Last but not least, if you work for multiple clients the likelihood that they’ll all use the same platforms and software is very small. Even individual departments of the same company use different things, so for example today I’m doing work for a publisher that uses a CMS but for a department that uses Google Docs instead. In a typical week I’ll write for a half dozen different clients, none of whom have the same submission requirements.

For me at, least, the solution is to use the same writing app for everything. I write almost everything in Ulysses, which then enables me to copy and paste into CMSes, export to Word format, PDF or rich text, paste formatted copy into email… you get the idea.

There are many apps that do what Ulysses do; I just happen to like the way Ulysses does it.

The benefits of doing everything in Ulysses is that the actual writing process never changes. There are no different CMSes to learn, no different interfaces to remember, no apps to relearn. The app I’m writing in always looks the same, works the same, uses the same keyboard shortcuts, displays the same fonts.

That matters because it means I waste exactly zero time trying to remember how anything works. 100% of my writing time is spent writing. When I’m finished I can then export the document in whatever format the client wants.

It also means I have an archive of everything I write for absolutely everybody, and that archive is all stored in the most widely supported format of all: plain text.

That’s because Ulysses enables me to use a writing language called Markdown, which is plain text with a few additional tags for things like links and formatting.

Here’s an example of how that looks when I’m working.

I press the hash key for a title, press it twice for a subtitle, type numbers at the beginning of lines for a numbered list and so on.

Plain text means the system requirements are tiny, performance is blazingly fast and I can search my entire archive instantly. I can also synchronise that entire archive with my phone, iPad and laptop so I’ve always got access to all of it.

CMSes are useful things, I know. But if you’re freelancing for lots of different people I think it’s worth taking the extra time – and it isn’t much extra time – to do everything in your favourite text editor first and then put it into the appropriate format or publishing platform. It’s a lesson I’ve learnt the hard way. I hope you don’t learn it the same way.


Himpathy for the devils

I’ve just finished reading Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne.

In nine chapters, Manne elaborates on the many spheres in which male entitlement hurts women and girls. The entitlement to admiration that some men demand, for example, has led to the phenomenon of “involuntary celibates” (or “incels”) targeting women in violent acts. The entitlement to bodily control has led to cis-gendered men legislating, often ignorant of basic facts, the bodily functions of pregnant and transgender people, Manne writes.

The entitlement to sex has led to a rape culture rife with what Manne terms “himpathy” – the sympathy extended to a male perpetrator rather than to his female victims. “Misogyny takes down women,” she writes, “and himpathy protects the agents of that take-down operation, partly by painting them as ‘good guys.’”

It’s a fierce and well argued book, and it doesn’t spare the women who participate in this: as Manne writes, women, especially privileged white women, can be complicit in perpetuating misogyny against other women.

Manne takes particular aim at the women who campaign to restrict other women’s bodily autonomy and reproductive choices, who exclude particular groups of women from their feminism, who provide the “himpathy” for predatory and wicked men.

There’s a lot here to be angry about, but despite this Entitled finishes on an optimistic note. The pages in which Manne describes the world she wants her child to grow up in made me want to cheer.