The damage done

Last year, anti-trans rabble-rouser James Kirkup wrote an article in The Spectator about the terrible rise of trans rights. Today, IPSO forced The Spectator to admit that the lurid claims at the centre of the story were complete and utter bullshit, invented by the writer. This happens an awful lot with trans stories: many of Andrew Gilligan’s lurid claims in The Sunday Times have been quietly rescinded too.

The article was a cover feature; the admission that it was based on bullshit is buried in a corner; the damage was done a year ago and no amount of corrections will undo it.

Just an ordinary day

How’s your day going?

Just after midnight, I saw The Economist tweet this.

It turns out that the article was about Japan, and it has since been corrected with a less inflammatory headline. But as the writer Diana Tourjeé pointed out, “should trans people be sterilised?” is part of the regular media discourse on trans people alongside whether we should be banned from public toilets, whether we should be allowed to participate in sports, whether we should be acknowledged in the history books and in education, whether we should be allowed in homeless shelters, whether we should be given life-saving healthcare, whether we should be allowed correct identity documents, whether we should be allowed to serve in the military, whether we should be given normal health screening, whether killing us should be a hate crime, whether we should be allowed to adopt or raise children, whether we should be protected from discrimination. After all, “they chose this. They are sick. They are perverts. They are not normal.”

Responding to the thread another journalist, Katelyn Burns, noted that “Every single one of these questions in this thread has been the subject of major media coverage, op eds in large publications, or proposed in legislation over the last 6 months.”

On my way back from the school run, I listened to Radio Scotland where the discussion was about gender neutral toilets, a largely cost-based decision by local councils building new schools. Much of the discussion was about trans people; online, some listeners condemned the PC agenda, trans people etc. One approvingly shared links to news articles about parents getting “LGBT rights classes” dropped: “We desperately need a revolution” against LGBT people, he said.

Back home, on Twitter I saw Andrea Leadsom apparently supporting parental “choice” about whether or not children get to know that LGBT people exist, and I saw footage of Donald Trump nodding approvingly while Brazil’s bigoted president said he and Trump stand “side by side” in the war on “gender ideology”. Gender ideology is a meaningless phrase beloved by the hard right to describe all kinds of things they disapprove of: trans people, mainly, but also equal marriage, immigrants and women’s reproductive rights.

Also on Twitter, I saw that one Scottish school has canned its inclusive education because of it featured this poem:

Despite my best efforts my news app continues to show me right-wing newspapers, one of which is defending a woman who accused the CEO of trans charity Mermaids of “mutilating” her child and promoting “child abuse”. Almost all of the press and TV coverage has portrayed this not as vicious libel, but as a nice Catholic lady being victimised for using the wrong pronouns.

This is exceptionally common online: anti-trans activists will conduct a prolonged campaign of bullying against trans people or allies, and when it gets bad enough for the police to get involved they run to the papers claiming they’re being picked on for using the wrong pronouns. The police don’t give a shit what pronouns you use, but they do investigate harassment and malicious communications. The misreporting simply fuels anti-trans hatred.

My news app also gives me the terrible news that not only is Ricky Gervais still alive, but that his latest material includes more stuff punching down on trans people.

All of this before 11am on an entirely typical day.  I am so, so tired of this.

Criticism of sex education, and why it’s wrong

There’s yet another worrying development in the parents vs education story: Conservative politician Andrea Leadsom says that parents should get to decide when their children “become exposed to that information”.

Writing in the TES a few weeks ago, Natasha Devon explains why the “kids are too young” argument and two others are wrong.

When it comes to same-sex relationships, it’s interesting (in a disturbing way) how many people think of them as somehow inherently sexual, in a way heterosexual partnerships are not. Most schools now have several pupils with two mums or two dads. It’s important for all children to be exposed to representation that reflects this, in the same cartoon-character, age-appropriate way heterosexual parents are.

Children are not being taught about what people do in bed. As Devon writes:

Sex education at the age of 4 is generally restricted to a “pants are private” message and to helping children understand consent and that they must tell if someone touches them inappropriately. I think we can all agree that they’re never too young for that.

“The lucrative gas-lighting industry”

Writing in New Socialist, Pete Mitchell does a thoroughly entertaining demolition of two books making the culture war argument that “the left” is somehow silencing free speech. The whole thing’s worth a read but I particularly liked these bits:

In Lukianoff and Haidt’s account, college students aren’t distressed because they’re facing unprecedented debt and insecurity, because those safety nets they had are being stripped away from them, because they can no longer look forward to a recognisable future – or indeed because white supremacists keep trying to gather on their campuses to intimidate them, while their parents’ generation stands around finger-wagging about the importance of robust debate – but because they’re decadent, attached to their phones, full of self-pity, over-indulged and lacking in will.

The well-worn argument here is that millennial snowflakes refuse to be exposed to opposing views from people who disagree with them.

As anyone who’s spent any time around these debates knows by now, those “opposing views” usually turn out to be some variation of exactly the same one, and the “people who disagree with you” are always some variation of the same person: a well-paid white man who isn’t sure where all these women and brown people and queers came from but has some ideas about where he’d like to send them.

 

Stop us if you’ve heard this before

On Twitter, users mimmymum and the implausible girl have shared a few newspaper clippings about the dangerous people tricking their way into bathrooms and locker rooms, demanding inclusion in education and other terrifying things. No, not trans people. Gay and lesbian people.

Irony fans will appreciate this first one, about Martina Navratilova, because her recent comments about trans people have – surprise! – been used by anti-LGBT politicians to support anti-trans legislation.

The fonts make me think it’s The Sun. It claims that because of lesbian athletes like Navratilova, “young girls were scared to go into tournament changing rooms” and were “being led into homosexuality.”

This is a letter to the Daily Utah Chronicle in 1998 about whether gay people should be allowed to work as changing room attendants.

This is from the Edwardsville Intelligencer in 1977. It’s not that gay people are wicked, it’s that they’re sick and should be kept away from children.

1974, the Philadelphia Daily News.

The Vancouver Promise, 1973, suggesting that homosexuality is spread by social contagion. The same argument against trans these days is called Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. It’s still bullshit.

The Indianapolis News, 1974:

The Ottawa Journal, 1979:

And way back in 1956, the Coos Bay Times on the fact that gay people aren’t really gay; they’ve been talked into it, and will revert to being normal if they’re kept away from evil gay influences.

“Respect for all”, apart from the gays and the transes

There’s a predictable media storm in England (Scotland has a different, more enlightened education system) about plans to revise sex education, something that’s been overdue for decades now, to include “respect for all”. It’s predictable because various right-wing rabble-rousers have been banging on about the spectre of “gay and trans lessons” – a phrase you can thank the ever LGBT-friendly Times newspaper for. Education secretary Damian Hinds, who appears to be a coward, has now promised that “respect for all” does not have to include respect for gay or trans people.

The columnists, and the 100-odd-thousand parents who’ve signed a petition objecting to their children being taught basic human decency, appear to be misunderstanding a fairly basic point.

In primary school, and for much of secondary school, sex and relationship education is not about fucking.

Sorry for the language, folks, but that’s what the outrage is about here: the not-too-hidden message the likes of Melanie Philips are perpetuating is that gays will be teaching five-year-olds about poppers and fisting while the transes will be trying to persuade five-year-olds to chop their cocks off.

We went through this decades ago with Section 28, which did incredible harm to LGBTQ people. Can we maybe not do it all over again?

As the BBC reports, the guidance says in regards to LGBT content: “pupils need to understand ‘that some people are LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender], that this should be respected in British society’.”

That teaching should be age-appropriate, so in primary school it’s nothing more than awareness that not everybody has a mum and a dad, and that that’s perfectly normal.

I’m the trans parent of a five year old and an eleven-year-old. Some of my fellow parents are gay. To pretend that we don’t exist, to refuse to let children know that some of their peers have two mums or two dads or a dad who looks like a mum, to refuse to reflect the reality that every single LGBT adult was a child once is ridiculous.

All it does is create a vacuum that bigots are all too happy to fill.

 

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

This week, Lily Madigan was asked to appear on a BBC radio programme to talk about trans women in sport. There’s just one problem with that. While Madigan is trans, she is not an endocrinologist or a sports scientist – so she can’t talk knowledgeably about the crux of the issue, which is whether raised testosterone gives female athletes a competitive advantage or whether bodies assigned male at birth retain any biological advantages post-transition (as it happens, the answer to the latter question appears to be no. More of that in a moment).

Madigan was expected to debate the issue with an anti-trans activist who is not an endocrinologist or a sports scientist either.

As Madigan posted on Twitter, she “explained to them that good reporting means talking to sports scientists & trans people in sports, not trans people & a transphobic person. Facts & experiences, not opinions.”

What is the point in having two people talk about a subject neither of them have any expertise in? How does that help illuminate the issues, or make the listeners better informed?

As it happens, there’s tons of scientific research into trans women in sport. This, from 2017, is a systematic review of the current literature as of then. Among other things, the review found that “the majority of transgender competitive sport policies that were reviewed were not evidence based” and “there is no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals (or male individuals) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition (e.g. cross-sex hormones, gender-confirming surgery) and, therefore, competitive sport policies that place restrictions on transgender people need to be considered and potentially revised.

Of course, experts are not always available at times that suit programme makers. But I very much doubt any experts were actually sought. It’s a trans issue, so let’s pit a trans person against an anti-trans person and hope sparks fly.

This happens again and again in current affairs: rather than speak to people who know what they’re talking about, programmes choose instead to take a gladiatorial approach with false equivalence – so a climate scientist is pitted against an angry climate change denier, a feminist is pitted against a misogynist, a trans woman is pitted against an anti-trans bigot. Sometimes it’s because the researchers are expected to cover tons of topics of which they only have a superficial knowledge, but often it’s because the purpose isn’t to inform. It’s to entertain, or to outrage.

A row is much more entertaining than an expert giving a measured, informed opinion. Who cares about facts, about settled science, about expert consensus? There’s a loon for every subject, desperate to shout “fake news!” at real facts.

“The Scottish media are now at the forefront of undermining trans rights”

The ever-entertaining A Thousand Flowers blog has resurrected its Weekly Wanker slot for the Herald newspaper columnist Iain McWhirter, who has appointed himself as defender of women against the sinister trans agenda. It’s an amusing read, but it’s also fuelled by righteous anger.

If you aren’t familiar with ATF, it’s a Scottish blog that often does the basic legwork supposedly respectable, responsible journalism doesn’t – so for example while major Scottish newspapers were running scare stories about trans people’s threat to women’s refuges and other crucial resources, running op-eds wondering what Scottish women’s groups might think, ATF actually picked up the phone and asked all 40+ of those groups. The response: they’re already trans-inclusive and the newspapers were misrepresenting them.

Back to the Weekly Wanker.

Iain’s a long established Scottish hack who’s perhaps best know as The Da of The Yes Das, one of the few mainstream journos supportive of independence in the run up to the 2014 referendum.  More recently though, his failed attempts to understand the basics of the emergency facing Scotland’s trans community has resulted in a string of absolute shitfests.

As ATF points out, McWhirter appears to be completely ignorant of the current legal situation, of science and of the trans-inclusive policies of Scottish women’s groups. And he’s not the only person spreading fear and long-debunked bullshit, for which the Scottish media seems to have a huge appetite.

in reporting uncritically on these dodgy new groups and amplifying only the views of a tiny, vocal minority of loudly “silenced” transphobes, space simply isn’t being given either to trans groups or to the women’s groups on the front line. Under the comments to Iain’s latest outburst, there were further attacks against groups like Rape Crisis Scotland, Engender and Womens Aid – and their staff – who were accused of actually being secret bigots who were just too scared to say so, SILENCED, in case they lost their funding or jobs.  We’ve already refuted this lie, by calling every Women’s Aid group in Scotland, every group we spoke to said they were trans inclusive already – but the transphobes won’t believe these women, it suits them to call women who work with survivors cowards and liars instead.  Who’s silencing who exactly?

These targeted and relentless attacks against women’s groups by the anti trans lobby are deeply sinister and we need to continue to resist them.  The people who peddle lies and bigotry won’t rest until Rape Crisis Scotland has been replaced by a random website run by people hating on orange cats and Women’s Aid is just a badly filled in form about the “dangers” of trans kids.  They want to undermine the credibility of women’s groups so they can claim that space and funding for themselves.

Women and men, cis and trans people, gay people, bi people and lest we forget the “heteronormative” lesbians Iain’s been bashing out his one handed columns about, all need to speak up for those being attacked and undermined by the latest wave of moral panic which has infected the Scottish media.  Otherwise, we risk both trans groups and women’s groups being undermined by bigotry and hatred.

 

A Mermaids tale

Last year, there was a concerted smear campaign by anti-trans activists against the Mermaids charity. It began with misleading articles in major newspapers such as The Sunday Times (articles that have since been corrected after IPSO found them to be based on false allegations) and culminated in an organised campaign to get the Lottery fund to cancel its grant to the charity.

The campaign was extremely ugly. I’ve seen Mermaids’ CEO repeatedly libelled online, and the charity itself described in such a way you’d think it was harvesting humans for their blood. That’s not as bizarre an image as it might sound: some of the anti-trans mob are anti-semitic too and claim that trans organisations are funded by The Jews for reasons far too insane to detail here.

The campaign was spearheaded by two people: an obsessive, washed-up sitcom writer and an obsessive, washed-up newspaper journalist. The writer urged the notoriously transphobic members of a particularly toxic section of Mumsnet to bombard the Lottery fund with complaints. Bombard they did.

The lottery fund has now investigated all the allegations and published its report. Over 40 pages it makes it very clear that the anti-trans activists’ claims run the gamut from utterly unsubstantiated to ideologically-driven bullshit.

I’m not going to go through the whole thing line by line (it’s here if you want to do that.) It appears to be pretty balanced: there are areas where Mermaids can clearly do better,  and it makes recommendations in those areas.

But the takeaway here is that the lurid allegations against the charity, the terrible things that  the campaigners allege, are not true. The charity doesn’t push anybody towards medical treatment or refer anyone to anything. It doesn’t use false statistics to exaggerate the mental health issues of trans children. It doesn’t provide misinformation about sexual development and it doesn’t conflate gender non-conformity with being trans.

There was lots of innuendo, but no actual evidence.

There’s a lot of innuendo about. This weekend, the Sunday Times published tennis star Martina Navratilova’s thinky thoughts about trans people – thoughts, you’ll be amazed to discover, that weren’t very trans-friendly. Navratilova is on the advisory board and is an ambassador for the Athlete Ally LGBTQ sports charity. Or at least she was until they fired her this morning. In a statement, the charity explained that her comments were “based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence.”

A “false understanding of science and data” perpetuating “dangerous myths” is something you see a lot of in the specific allegations the Lottery fund considered and rejected.

It’s not just an important report for Mermaids. It’s important for LGBT people generally, because the same “protect the children” mob also wants to pressure organisations to defund any charity that is trans-inclusive – a list that doesn’t just include trans charities (Scottish Trans Alliance, Gendered Intelligence etc) but also any charity that is trans supportive – so Stonewall and even the disabled kids’ charity Allsorts are on the online activists’ hit list.

That collection of targets gives the lie to the claims of “reasonable concerns”. There’s nothing reasonable about this. It’s hatred.

Some trans people are, understandably, experiencing schadenfreude: the campaign didn’t just fail, but it was directly responsible for a crowdfunding campaign that put another quarter of a million into the charity’s coffers. But while it’s fun to see bigots thwarted, this isn’t the last such campaign we’ll see.

This hatred isn’t driven by facts, but faith. The response to the Lottery fund’s report isn’t “well, they’ve investigated it and it turns out we were wrong!” but “Let’s find out where these people live and make their lives hell.” Some of the activists are discussing making crank calls to the Mermaids’ helpline to make the phone lines unavailable. Others are claiming conspiracy or continuing to peddle the most vicious libels.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it before. Many anti-trans activists are very friendly with US right-wing evangelicals of the anti-abortion, restrict-women’s-rights variety; some of the higher profile figures in the anti-trans movement are also demonstrably racist and islamophobic. Their hatred, these tactics, won’t suddenly go away. They’ll be used against other charities too.

The message to other charities from this campaign is simple: if you aren’t on the same side as the evangelicals or the far right, it could be you.

In whose face? Down whose throat? For God’s sake, let it go

When was the last time you had objectionable content rammed down your throat? Because according to the internet, it’s happening constantly. All over the world, people are getting things rammed right down their throats.

Except, of course, they aren’t.

Here’s an example. Today, one of my friends was reading a Facebook thread about a children’s cartoon, Frozen. The thread was based on a report that in the sequel, one of the female characters – Elsa – may have a girlfriend.

You can guess the response. Over 1,000 comments with tons of: people are trying to force politics into everything! It’s political correctness gone mad! I’ve got nothing against LGBT people, but why do they have to ram this stuff down our throats?

First of all, nobody’s ramming anything down anything. You’re a grown adult moaning about a cartoon that hasn’t been made yet.

Secondly, politics is in everything. As my friend posted on Twitter:

Everything is political.

If you think letting cartoon characters (🤦🏻‍♂️) only have heterosexual relationships is not political, you’re wrong. If you think having only white characters on TV is just, like, normal, and ‘adding’ people of colour is PC-gone-mad, think harder.

Newsflash: gay people exist, have always existed, and always will exist. To exclude gay characters  (or Asian characters, or Black characters, or trans characters, or…) is a political act; whether consciously or otherwise, it’s choosing not to reflect reality.

As another commenter noted, pretty much every female character in Disney movies has a love interest – a straight one, although not necessarily a human one. For example, in Beauty And The Beast  the lead character, Belle, dates a monster – the titular Beast – after he kidnaps her.

This is a cartoon in which one of the key characters is a living, talking snowman, from a company whose previous films included living teapots, talking animals and a duck who goes around in people clothes but who never wears trousers.

If you are outraged by the presence of an inoffensive gay character in a cartoon, you’re a bigot.

If you’re okay with your kids seeing a guy developing superpowers because he was bitten by a radioactive spider but you can’t hack the idea of them seeing a girl with a girlfriend, you’re a bigot.

If you can accept your kids seeing an enormous angry space monkey fly a spaceship but can’t face the thought of them seeing two girls holding hands, you’re a bigot.

If you feel that letting gay kids (or black kids, or trans kids, or…) see the occasional character a bit like themselves among the thousands upon thousands of characters that are white, cisgender and straight, you’re a bigot.

What, exactly, do you think these characters are going to do? Do you think that the cartoon will include an extended fisting scene? Will the denouement be delayed for some lovingly animated ass play? Are they going to change the snowman song to “do you want to see a dildo?”

What is wrong with you?

There’s a core belief here, which is that if children see a gay character on screen it might turn them gay. And there are two responses to that. One is “so what?” The other is to point out that it really doesn’t work like that. I spent 40-something years seeing cisgender people on TV, in cartoons and in films. If trans people were featured, which they generally weren’t, they were murderers making shirts out of women’s skin (Silence of the Lambs) or were portrayed as they were in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, in which Jim Carrey discovers he’s kissed a trans woman, throws up twice, uses an entire tube of toothpaste to brush his teeth, strips naked, throws his clothes in the trash, burns them and then weeps in the shower.*

Guess what? Still trans.

Every time somebody says they don’t want political correctness shoved down their throat, what they mean is that they believe that the minority in question is sinful, shameful or evil in some other way – that the minority is less than human and deserving of fewer rights than others.

We must protect our children! they holler.

Protect them from what?

Right now, my group’s the one getting most of the “protect the chiiiiiiiiiiiiildren” nonsense. Previously it was lesbians; before that, gay men. Before that, black people. And so on.

And it’s everywhere. On the social network Reddit, one visitor to a trans discussion forum asked a whole bunch of questions (now removed) and made the comment that they personally were cool with trans people and LGBTQ people generally, but why did they have to shove it in people’s faces all the time?

My reply:

We aren’t the ones having gender reveal parties, dressing babies in babygros with “Ladies Man” printed on them, obsessing over what other people do in bathrooms or bed or approaching complete strangers in the street and shouting that they’re abominations. We aren’t demanding that you can be discriminated against in health and in housing, in employment and education, and that you shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the military, teach children or take part in public life. We aren’t regularly writing in the papers and online about how people like you are all pedophiles and potential rapists. But sure, if we go to a parade once a year we’re the ones shoving things in people’s faces. I’m rolling my eyes pretty hard here.

Back to Facebook.

There are, yes, and the overwhelming majority of entertainment is made by them, for them. And yet any time there’s the slightest hint of a non-white or non-straight or trans character in anything, thousands of straight people lose their shit. They lost their shit when Ghostbusters was remade with female leads, one of whom was abused horrifically because she was not just a woman but a black woman. They lost their shit when a Star Wars film featured an Asian woman in a prominent role (and some of them made a version of the film where all the women were removed). And now they’re losing their shit at the thought that one of the characters in Frozen might have a girlfriend instead of just a talking snowman who doesn’t ever melt.

I’ll give the last word to Elsa.

I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let the storm rage on.

* The scene isn’t just offensive for its mockery of trans women. It’s a deliberate parody of the scenes in dramas where women are traumatised after a sexual assault or rape. Think about that for a moment: rape as comedy. You just know that it wasn’t a woman who wrote that scene (it was a man, Jack Bernstein), or who directed it (it was directed by Tom Shadyac, a man), or who signed it off (the producers were Gary Barber, Peter Bogart, Bob Israel and James G Robinson, who are men). This is what happens when your productions aren’t inclusive.

There’s more about transphobia in popular culture here.