“Lazy contrarians are putting everyone at risk”

Alex Andreou, writing for Politics.co.uk:

I fully support Peter Hitchens and Brendan O’Neill’s inalienable right to be infected with a deadly virus. If they existed in a vacuum, I might buy myself one of those big foam fingers and cheer them on, as they march to the extinction that is the destiny of every dinosaur.

But they don’t exist in a vacuum. They have no more a ‘right’ to keep congregating in pubs than they have a right to set fire to their flat on the ground floor of a skyscraper. Not following guidance, not distancing socially, doesn’t just imperil you. It is something that imperils my friends, my loved ones, everyone. Nobody has a right to put others at risk.

… the very talking heads who have been, for some years now, telling everyone else to rediscover the Spirit of the Blitz, were revealed to be the morons who refused to turn their light off during a blackout and endangered their entire neighbourhood.

It’s becoming very clear who the real “enemies of the people” are.

If this is the fast track, I’d hate to be on the slow one

The BBC has discovered that many trans people are stuck on waiting lists for so long they have to buy their own medicine from overseas.

The report, while accurate and worthwhile, also serves to demonstrate that the BBC clearly doesn’t have any trans people or experts on trans healthcare anywhere near the newsrooms it so happily fills with anti-trans activists. This is not a new story, and it’s definitely not a new problem. Long lists forcing people to self-medicate have been a huge problem in the trans community for very many years, and the ongoing trans healthcare crisis is a much bigger concern to us than any reform to our paperwork.

Here’s the graph showing waiting times.

These are not times between referral and treatment; these are times between referral and first appointment. To be given any medical treatment such as hormone therapy there are more assessments first. In my own case, they took a further seven months.

It’s interesting to change the measurements here. Talking about timescales in weeks sounds like a short time, but the 100-week waiting list in Scotland means two years. In Northern Ireland it’s over three years.

We’re talking here about medication that is proven to be safe, effective and in many cases life-saving; if these waiting lists for initial assessment were for any other group of people there would be outrage. But it’s us, so instead we have to endure endless bullshit in the papers about the supposed fast-tracking of trans people while the reality is the complete opposite. I fear that if there’s any outrage at all it won’t be at the broken system but at the people forced to go outside it.

Hashtags aren’t healthcare

It’s #timetotalk day today, a day when people are encouraged to open up and talk about mental health. I’m not going to be negative about it – the organisations involved are good ones and I’ve written a lot here and in my songs about the importance of opening up about sadness, anxiety and other mental health problems. But without action, talk doesn’t change anything.

I lost two friends last year, both of whom were having mental health problems, and at least one of them had opened up about it. I know that because I was one of the people he opened up to, and we talked a lot about the problems he was having getting the right support and medication from his doctor. He took his own life shortly afterwards.

Never mind #timetotalk. How about #timetofundmentalhealthprovision? #timetostopstarvingmentalhealthservicesoffunds? #timetoinvestinchildmentalhealthservices? #timetodosomethingaboutgenderclinicwaitinglists? Not as catchy, I know. But much more accurate.

This, by Hannah Jane Parkinson, is from 2018 but it’s just as powerful and as relevant today (content warning: self-harm).

[it is] infuriating to come home from a secure hospital, suicidal, to a bunch of celebrity awareness-raising selfies and thousands of people saying that all you need to do is ask for help – when you’ve been asking for help and not getting it.

…The truth is: enough awareness has been raised. We – the public, the health professionals, the politicians – need to make our words and actions count for more.

There’s no point in asking for help if there’s no help available.

What life is like for LGBT+ people in Scotland

NHS Greater Glasgow and NHS Lothian have teamed up to research the experiences and health needs of LGBT+ people in Scotland. The full report is here. It’s part of a wider study that includes a literature review and that will help inform future planning.

It’s a long and often very saddening report, with people sharing some often very traumatic experiences.

A couple of bits that jumped out for me:

A common theme in the interviews and group discussions was the change in recent years to society in general becoming more accepting of LGBT+ people, particularly people with gay and lesbian identities. This was in part attributed to equality legislation. Societal attitudes towards trans, non-binary and bisexual people were felt not to have become as accepting to the same degree. Indeed, many felt that attitudes towards trans people, particularly trans women, had taken a ‘backward step’ in recent times, largely attributed to a very negative narrative around trans identities widely reported in the media and particularly social media, often in reference to the campaign around the Gender Reform Act. Many felt that inflammatory media reporting had a measurable impact on how trans and non-binary people were treated in public.

Despite the progress, almost every participant had experienced homophobia, biphobia or transphobia in a wide variety of settings.

Many LGBT+ people who participated in the research recounted incidents where they had been threatened or intimidated because of their identity – but they rarely viewed incidents such as being shouted at in the street or name calling as ‘hate crime’, and did not report them to the police.

…Exposure to negative opinions and stories in the media, particularly social media had an effect particularly on how safe trans women felt. Many trans women spoke about how media reports affected their anxiety and feelings of safety.

…There was much discussion from all LGBT+ groups about the current discourse on social media against trans people, particularly trans women.

Depression and isolation were common.

A common theme for all LGBT+ identities was the struggle to work out their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity, and the toll which their period preceding their self-discovery took on their mental health. Usually, there was a period where they fought against their identity or did not want to accept it. This was more pronounced in environments and circumstances where having an LGBT+ identity would be more difficult (e.g. more deprived areas, rural areas, certain faith and cultural groups), and could lead to internalised homophobia/transphobia which could prevail after coming out.

…Trans men and women and non- binary people were particularly likely to speak about suicidal thoughts, although these tended to subside after transition.

LGBT+ people of all kinds reported being unable to take part in certain forms of physical activity. Trans men and women reported no longer being comfortable in swimming pools or gyms, while gay men often felt excluded by the “laddish culture” in many sports.

Many trans and non-binary people spoke about doing exercises such as yoga alone at home rather than in a class setting because they did not feel they could participate with others. One trans woman described how she went to the gym at 2am because the gym was almost empty at that time and she was also able to use the disabled changing cubicle. A trans man said he could only use the gym if he changed at home.

There is much, much more – GPs lacking crucial knowledge, lesbian and bisexual women being treated terribly by healthcare providers, horrific waiting lists for pretty much everything, people being scared to talk about mental health issues for fear it would be used against them. The report also explores the experiences of people of various faiths, of people with disabilities and of asylum seekers.

The research isn’t entirely negative, but the picture that emerges again and again is of LGBT+ people struggling against multiple issues including severely underfunded health provision, social isolation and other people’s prejudices – and of social and mainstream media actively fuelling those prejudices.

Boobs from a burger? Now that’s a whopper

The picture above is of the Impossible Whopper, a meat-free burger from Burger King. Like many vegetable, seed and nut-based products, it contains phytoestrogens – structures that are similar, but different to, the estrogen in people.

Here comes the internet.

The above claims, and many like them, are currently circulating on social media. Let’s not get pedantic about the ignorant phrase “a standard hormone replacement therapy shot to become transgender” and focus on the big claim here: this burger will make you female!

Spoiler: no, it won’t.

The article that kicked off this particular panic is from a site called National File, which claims:

the Impossible Burger is a genetically modified organism filled with calorie-dense oils that can make a man grow breasts if eaten in sufficient quantity.

Man boobs aren’t caused by plants, nuts, seeds or soy. The main cause of gynecomastia is obesity, particularly in older men. If you have a largely burger-based diet of any kind, meaty or meat-free, it’s very easy to pack on the pounds: a Whopper is around 660 calories (630 if meat-free). Add large fries (430 calories) and a large Coke (310 calories) and that’s more than half the daily recommended calorie intake for an averagely active and healthy man.

National File:

eating four of the vegetable burgers daily would result in a human male growing breasts

Even if the claim was true, which it isn’t, if you’re eating four fast food burgers a day it’s not cleavage you need to worry about. It’s a coronary.

National File’s article is based on a piece by a doctor, but the doctor isn’t a doctor of humans and his article isn’t in a medical or scientific publication. He’s a South Dakota vet, writing for a trade publication (Tri-State Livestock News) written for and funded by the meat industry – an industry that isn’t too happy about Impossible Burgers and other meat-free products.

You can see why a meat industry magazine might want to try and discredit meat-free food. But why would a political site be so keen to run with the story too? The answer, inevitably, is that the site is connected to the lunatic fringe of the US far right, which is why this story is all across US right-wing media (and why it’s been republished here on the likes of the Daily Mail, which spent over 300 words repeating the claims before quietly admitting that there’s no evidence for any of them).

The story’s author has previously written for the far-right fantasy factory Breitbart and is a regular guest on the Alex Jones show. Yes, the same Alex Jones who famously claimed that the US government is using a magical, Pentagon-funded “gay bomb” to turn people gay:

“The reason there’s so many gay people now is because it’s a chemical warfare operation, and I have the government documents where they said they’re going to encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children”

That was in 2010. A few years later Jones claimed that the government was “putting chemicals in the water that turn the friggin’ frogs gay… the majority of frogs in most areas of the United States are now gay.”

It’s easy to laugh at this, but gay frogs are part of a wider far-right theory called The Great Replacement: brown people and feminists and gay people and trans people are a conspiracy against Honest God-Fearing Straight White Folks to feminise the men (via the aforementioned chemicals in the water supply that turn the friggin’ frogs gay, plus soy milk and meat-free burgers and “gender ideology” and the “gay agenda”) and outbreed the women. The theory’s supporters include senior members of the Trump administration.

When you read it in that context, the Whopper Gives You Tits story isn’t so funny.

The great HRT shortage: a very British disaster

Hundreds of thousands of women in the UK have been affected by the ongoing shortage of many HRT products. The products aren’t made in the UK but the shortage is very much a UK thing. Emma Hartley discovers why.

The short version: the UK government messed up.

The slightly longer version: supply problems have been massively magnified by a change to the way the UK prices HRT medication, changes which have also been affected by the Brexit-related fall in the value of the pound.

Hence a supposedly global problem having disproportionate effects on women in the UK.

At the heart of a problem so ferociously complex that many in the pharmaceutical industry even have trouble understanding it, could this be a simple case of incompetence?

It certainly seems to be.

This hateful, murderous ignorance

The thing about bigots is that often, they have no idea what they’re talking about. Sometimes that’s because they’re stupid. But all too often it’s wilful stupidity, where the information is widely and easily available but they either don’t look for it or refuse to believe it.

Here’s an example from this morning. Over on Mumsnet, aka Prosecco Stormfront, the anti-trans lot are appalled at the idea of trans women being able to change the gender marker on their passports without having to present medical evidence, report to a panel and so on.

The thing they’re concerned about has been law for 49 years.

Not only that, but the law simply codified something that’s been happening since at least 1942.

If you weren’t wilfully stupid that might give you pause: after all, if self-ID were so dangerous and open to abuse we’d presumably have seen a flood of passport-changing predators over the last 77 years; the fact that there hasn’t been a single case demonstrates how ridiculous that argument is. But nobody’s going to change their mind here. All they’ll do is ignore the evidence and demand the law be changed to accommodate their bigotry.

They’re not interested in facts, or in evidence. They’re wilfully, maliciously, proudly ignorant.

Their far-right friends show just how dangerous wilful stupidity can be. In Ohio, right-wing forced-birthers have introduced a bill that would force doctors to carry out medical procedures that aren’t physically possible at significant risk to pregnant women’s health.

I’m not making this up. The bill, Ohio HB413, says that if a doctor doesn’t want to face charges of murder for letting an embryo die, they must try to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy – something that isn’t medically possible.

A doctor will face criminal charges unless they:

Takes all possible steps to preserve the life of the unborn child, while preserving the life of the woman. Such steps include, if applicable, attempting to re-implant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman’s uterus.”

There are no documented cases of this ever being done successfully. The likelihood of success is zero. The risk of killing the woman is significant.

But these so-called pro-lifers aren’t interested in the health of the woman. They already advocate “watchful waiting”, which means refusing treatment to a woman until she miscarries – despite the very real and significant risk that she may die of a haemorrhage if her ectopic pregnancy isn’t treated.

That’s where wilful stupidity leads you.

Women’s reproductive healthcare is not some dark art or some secret. The evidence around ectopic pregnancy, its dangers and how to minimise those dangers is solid and easy to access.

But these murderous yahoos don’t want evidence. They don’t want facts. They want doctors to do what they’re damn well told because they know better than so-called experts with their “facts” and their “science” and their “not killing women”.

As Grazia Daily put it:

This is what happens when people who know nothing about women’s bodies make laws about women’s bodies.

The Endocrine Society is getting really tired of this shit

“I’m getting pretty tired of this shit too” – estrogen, yesterday

Do you know what endocrinology is? It’s the branch of medical science that studies the endocrine system, the glands that secrete hormones. Hormones regulate our metabolism, our physical development, our reproductive function, our sleep, our mood… you get the idea.

The Endocrine Society is the international organisation for endocrinology experts, and it works in association with other groups such as the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American Society of Andrology, the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology, the European Society of Endocrinology, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health in the study of hormone therapy for adults and puberty blocking for young people.

These guys, gals and everyone in between are the world’s leading experts in hormones and hormone treatment. Which is probably why right-wing newspapers never talk to them, because they’d spoil their hateful fun.

In the US, right-wing media has politicised a sad custody case involving a young trans kid, with experts such as Donald Trump’s idiot, conspiracy-peddling son and probable Zodiac killer Ted Cruz sharing their ill-informed and uneducated thoughts on subjects they know fuck-all about.

The Endocrine Society has, frankly, had enough of this bullshit.

In a very strongly worded editorial in their members’ magazine Endocrine News, the Society urges policy makers to shut the fuck up with their anti-trans bullshit. It’s not quite as strongly worded as that, but it’s as close as you can get in a medical journal:

many of the claims being made about gender-affirming care for transgender and gender-incongruent individuals are inaccurate.

…Claims that a transgender child would receive surgical or irreversible hormonal treatment do not reflect the reality of medical practice.

…Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity. There do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity.

Suppressing puberty is fully reversible, and it gives individuals experiencing gender incongruence more time to explore their options and to live out their gender identity before they undergo hormone or surgical treatment. Research has found puberty suppression in this population improves psychological functioning.

It is critical that transgender individuals have access to the appropriate treatment and care to ensure their health and well-being.

…Policies concerning the diagnosis and treatment of transgender individuals should be based on science, not politics.

You can understand their frustration. In the current climate, solid, peer-reviewed science by people who know this field inside out is being ignored in favour of the thinky thoughts of yummy mummies, religious fundamentalists and far-right trolls who claim “facts don’t care about your feelings” while yelling the latter over the former, who claim to be “silenced” by “extremists” while silencing the very people who know the subject inside out.

The problem is not a lack of data. The problem is the same as with the anti-vaccination movement. The media is platforming scaremongering over science, feelings over facts and extremists over experts.

We don’t need mental health awareness. We need action

Today is World Mental Health Day, and the theme is suicide prevention. Many politicians and commentators will say or write suitably concerned things about the importance of getting help, without acknowledging that they are part of the reason people need help in the first place.

Mental health is political.

The causes are often political. And the shocking lack of support and treatment for people is political too.

I’ve lost two friends  to suicide this year. One of them took his own life while on a too-long waiting list for treatment. His death was the result of political choices. The system might not have been able to save him. But the system never tried.

The grotesque underfunding of the NHS, underfunding that makes vulnerable people wait years for treatment if they live long enough to access it, is not accidental. It’s the result of many years of swingeing cuts, of ideologically driven changes to the way the NHS works, of a deliberate lack of funding for the training of health professionals, of a refusal to fairly tax corporations and the most affluent people in society to adequately fund health and social care.

I’m particularly aware of this because I’ve seen how desperately underfunded mental health services are. It’s even worse if you’re trans: people who are trans have to wait even longer for help, which is why the suicide, self-harm and substance abuse rates in our community are so frightening. In some cases the gap between initial referral and actual treatment can be four or even five years.

That’s political too. Trans healthcare is a grotesquely underfunded and overworked subset of mental health provision. Once again, that’s the result of political choices – choices affecting the wider NHS, and choices such as the UK governments’ persistent refusals over many years to heed warnings of growing demand for trans-related healthcare. The current crisis in the gender clinic system was predicted years ago by credible experts. Politicians chose not to listen, let alone provide any additional funding.

Commentators play their part too. My own mental health has been severely impacted by the daily demonisation of and scaremongering about trans people in mainstream media – Radio 4 was at it again this morning, platforming anti-trans bigots without any dissenting voices – and on social media, where I have to block thousands of people just to be able to use the apps normally.

It’s not just us. It’s the immigrants blamed for putting pressure on the NHS to distract from funding cuts and creeping privatisation. It’s the EU nationals forced to apply for settled status to continue living here, the non-white people demonised in the national press as criminals and terrorists, the so-called “snowflakes” laughed at for daring to talk about their mental health, the people from ethnic, sexual and romantic minorities whose very existence is questioned and whose rights are deemed less important than those of others.

And most of all, it’s poverty.

There’s a reason people in Glasgow’s affluent West End live longer than those in the deprived East, and that reason has existed since the West End came into being: it isn’t race, it isn’t religion and it isn’t sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s money.

Money enables you to buy better living conditions, better food, a better education for your children, in many respects a better life.

That’s not to say affluent people don’t get mental health problems. Of course they do. But they don’t rot on the same waiting lists that poor people do. They aren’t bullied by the DWP like poor people are. They aren’t on zero-rights, zero-hour contracts like many poor people are. They aren’t reliant on desperately overstretched and underfunded community mental health services like poor people are.

Mental health problems are not a sudden plague caused by who knows what. They are the inevitable result of successive governments removing the safety net for society’s most vulnerable people, the consequences of creating a society where the most privileged are able to deny their responsibility to help the less fortunate and incite hatred of those who need help most. They are the result of inadequate housing, of slashed funding for mental health services, of inadequate protection against hate crimes and discrimination, of a low-wage, low-rights employment market.

They are the inevitable result of a society that works for the few and despises the many.

It’s not enough to say “if you’re sad, get help”. There needs to be help available. All too often there isn’t. And that’s no accident. That’s political.

We don’t need better mental health awareness. We need better mental health provision. We know we need help. For too many of us, the help isn’t there.

Don’t let the politicians away with it. Don’t let them post “it’s OK not to be OK” and consider their job done. Demand answers. Demand action.

Too many people aren’t OK. And that’s not okay.

Go and get the flu vaccine

I was given the flu vaccine the other day. I hadn’t really thought about it but since a lung cancer scare a few years ago there’s a flag on my medical records and I’m considered high risk for pulmonary infections and COPD, so I get invited to this stuff.

As you’d expect, the vaccine didn’t give me flu, make me grow horns or make me autistic, because vaccines don’t do that. What it did do was make me feel a bit crap for a few hours before protecting me from catching – and more importantly, spreading – a really horrible disease.

As Frances Ryan writes in The Guardian, the flu jab saves lives.

Flu is often thought of as nothing more than a week of feeling rotten, but it can be life-threatening, particularly for older people and anyone with an acute illness like cancer or underlying chronic health conditions, like me.

In 2018 I developed flu complications that left me unable to breathe or move and on a ventilator for months. It’s left me with life-changing fatigue and pain, but in many ways I was lucky. Last year 1,700 people died of the flu – despite the fact that this was a relatively mild strain – and further hospital admissions put even greater pressure on an already overstretched NHS.

The vaccine is free for at-risk groups and incredibly cheap for everybody else. You should get it, if only to prevent having to take time off work to feel like shit.

Unfortunately we have a problem persuading people to take vaccines. Ryan:

The UK, like much of the west, is battling an anti-vaxxing movement in which social media has become a gateway for scare stories and quackery. Diseases such as measles are on the rise in England, with the UK recently losing its measlesfree status with the World Health Organization because a growing number of people believe dangerous myths about vaccines.

Things are so serious that one newspaper is taking a stand. Here’s today’s Daily Mail.

The crusading, campaigning Mail is going to fight against the forces of idiocy and darkness that have persuaded parents that vaccines are dangerous.

Forces such as, er, the Daily Mail.

The Mail scaremongered about vaccines for years, and while other UK papers (including the Guardian for a while) did the same it was by far the most vocal. Its sustained, decade-long campaign against the safety of the MMR vaccine continues to inspire and be cited by the global anti-vaxx movement.

As late as 2005, the Mail continued to argue that debunking the MMR/autism scare was fake news and accused critics of disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield as perpetrating a witch hunt.

The science editor of the Daily Mail argued that ‘the MMR scandal is getting worse. Urgent questions about the vaccine’s safety remain unanswered. The doctor who raised those questions is being subjected to what appears to be a witch-hunt. The parents’ recourse through the courts has been blocked. Now they have to put up with being told yet again that the evidence of their own eyes is fraudulent.’

The Daily Mail spent a decade scaremongering about vaccines: Google “Daily Mail MMR” and you’ll find tons of uncorrected “the truth about MMR” articles and articles that push the long-debunked claim that vaccination causes autism.

Its new campaign is laudable, but it won’t undo the damage it’s done to public safety not just here, but globally.