Tiers and clowns

I live in Glasgow, which is currently in Level 3 coronavirus restrictions. I don’t think we’re likely to move to level 0, near-normality, this side of Spring. And that’s me being optimistic.

Until then, we have to live under restrictions. And those restrictions often seem contradictory or based on very dubious assumptions. I’m going to talk specifically about Scotland here, because the English approach is a horror story.

One of the most important restrictions is on socialising. Until the virus is effectively eradicated and Glasgow moves into Level 0, I can’t have anybody in my home unless they’re a tradesperson there to do work.

I live mostly alone (my children stay with me half the time) in a flat with a large, open plan, well-ventilated living area. I can’t invite one of my friends into my home to sit three metres away from me, but I can meet six people in a café and sit around a small table with them for a long period of time. That café may have another two dozen people in it, or it may be roughly the same size as and no better ventilated than my bathroom.

I can’t invite one of my friends into my home, but I can go to church with up to 50 other people. I might even sing some hymns, because while communal singing is advised against – singing is a significant disease transmission vector – it is not prohibited.

I can’t invite one of my friends into my home but I can go to a wedding reception or a wake with 20 other people.

So I can’t meet one person in a safe and extremely low risk way, but I can meet more people in a much higher risk environment amid many other people.

There are other restrictions too. When I pick up and drop off my children I must wear a face covering in the street outside their school, even though the risk of outdoor transmission by passing near another adult is zero, but I don’t need to wear a face mask in a café full of other people, an indoor environment where we know the transmission risk is particularly high. I can’t travel outside Glasgow, but I can if it’s for work – so I can travel from my high-risk area to have a business meeting in a café with six people in a low-risk area.

I understand the necessity for restrictions. But restrictions need to be evidence-based, consistent and clear. The current restrictions are unclear, inconsistent and ever shifting. I have to go online to check what we are and are not allowed to do because it appears to change every couple of days, so for example the school-mask thing was a late addition to this week’s restrictions.

I’m no fan of the anti-mask, anti-lockdown crowd who demand the freedom to kill your gran, or the clowns I saw on Instagram last night having a riotous gender reveal house party in Clydebank (such parties seem to bring out the idiots; I’ll no doubt come back to that later). These people are modern day Typhoid Marys. But to combat their bullshit, ignorance and sheer selfishness, governments need to persuade everybody else that the restrictions are not only necessary but proportionate; that other people, whether those people are Government advisors or their next door neighbours, are not getting an easier ride than they are.

And that’s not the feeling I’m getting from my social networks. There’s confusion, and anger, and resentment, and in some cases – such as my own – deep, deep despair at the prospect of being banned from seeing the people I care about for yet more months. And when people feel that way about public health messaging their attitude changes: instead of “what do I need to do to keep everyone else safe?”, it becomes “what can I do without getting caught?”

Health LGBTQ+

One potato

Because I live in the central belt of scotland, I’m not going out anywhere right now. The pubs and venues are all closed, so there are no gigs to go to, no open mics to play, no comedy shows to cackle at. I can’t meet my friends in restaurants and I can’t cook for them at home. With a couple of exceptions there are no online things either. All my communication with my friends is via texts or instant messaging and the only people I spend any time with in real life are my children.

One of the results of that is that I don’t pay much attention to what I wear right now. Nobody’s going to shove themselves into underwired bras or clacky heels unless they absolutely have to, and I absolutely don’t have to. If I’m not going out, there’s no reason to bother with make-up or fun clothes; if I didn’t have to go to the shops or pick up the kids I’d probably stay in my dressing gown all day. My AW2020 signature look is “Carrie puts the bins out.”

It’s surprisingly demoralising. I feel like a human potato, or something else similarly ungendered. A disembodied head in a jar, perhaps, or a balloon with a face on it. Something that doesn’t exist in the world but independently of it.

I feel ungendered because gender is partly a performance, a feedback loop where you perform a particular role – such as “man” or “woman” – and people respond to you accordingly, both positively and negatively. So in non-COVID times I inhabit the world as a woman and spend time with people who recognise me as and respond to me as a woman. That’s an important corrective to the ongoing demonisation of people like me, which happens daily in the press and constantly online. In myriad ways it shows you that the narrative in your own head, that the world is a hateful and dangerous place for people like you, is not true.

For most of this year, that corrective has been taken away. The press haven’t stopped and the social media bullies continue to abuse trans people and anyone who supports trans people. If anything, covid has made them worse: they have more time to spend online, and they have become bolder and less concerned about maintaining a veneer of respectability. And the real-life interactions that give the lie to their scaremongering are not happening.

That’s not all. LGBT+ groups have all had to move online, as have the life-affirming Pride events. Healthcare has been reduced to the occasional phone call; no monitoring, no referrals. Safe spaces are shuttered.

I’ve written before that this is a hard road to walk. It’s harder still when you can’t walk it at all.


“And nothing feels right now”

This, by Jared Misner for the NYT, is devastating.

Now that I’m actually married (the legal kind), I can say I love my husband very much. He is pragmatic, kind and handsome.

But he does not pull over for garage sales. He does not smuggle bags of dog costumes and treats out of press events to later give to my dogs and my parents’ dogs. He does not bring friendship bracelet crafts or design-your-own hats to our annual Labor Day trip and does not understand my references to the Beehive.


“How have I been?”

Are you feeling guilty about not maintaining all your friendships through COVID? Me too. Brandy Jensen takes the helm of Jezebel’s “Ask a fuck-up” and tries to explain.

The problem, for me, is that it feels like there is simply nothing to catch these people up on anymore. Too many things are happening but also nothing much is happening at all, and I find I have nothing particularly interesting to say about it. Life is dull and that has in turn made me a dullard.

Health Hell in a handcart


If you’ve been wondering why the far right is so keen on anti-masking and so against any measures to combat COVID other than letting the virus rip through the most vulnerable, the answer is simple: a core tenet of fascism is about casting out the weak.

On the internet there’s a famous trope called Godwin’s law, which says that in any online argument sooner or later somebody will be compared to the Nazis or Hitler. But as Godwin himself has said, the law only applies to false comparisons. When you’re talking about actual neo-Nazism, Godwin said:

By all means, compare these shitheads to the Nazis. Again and again. I’m with you.

And right now, the shitheads are everywhere.

It’s frightening to see ideologies that once belonged solely to the far right appearing in mainstream discourse, as sides in a “debate”. It’s as if we’ve persuaded ourselves that fascism only manifests itself in Hugo Boss uniforms and shiny boots, rather than in smart suits, carefully chosen soundbites and Facebook groups.

Here’s political analyst Natascha Strobl on the far right’s belief that COVID should be left to eliminate the weakest members of society, an ideology that’s becoming worryingly echoed by sectors of the mainstream press too.

And it is precisely here that we witness one of the most central elements of fascist ideology: the weak and all its synonyms. A decadent, soft, unmanly, hysterical, panicky, timid, effeminate society is the problem… men aren’t men anymore, but nervous, urban, overly intellectualized and (here it comes) sickly weaklings. The idea of sick as weak is important.
… Protagonists now proclaim with great pathos that should they be befallen by the virus, they will look death calmly in the eye. Self-heroization against a virus (which doesn’t care at all).
And what is demanded as a globally social strategy is to let things go their usual way, both in order not to ruin the economy and because the lockdown is a fearful and thus unmanly strategy, and the measure are the strong, not the weak.

The idea that some people are weak and not deserving of saving – that their weakness is harming the strong and damaging the economy – has a chilling precedent. The first victims of the Nazis were the “unfit”, the “unworthy of living”: the disabled, the mentally ill, the chronically sick. Nazi propaganda posters told the public that disabled people were a drain on the economy, and that the money spent on them was “your money too”.

One of the programmes responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of disabled people was called Aktion T4, aka T4. Speaking at the unveiling of a memorial to its victims, German culture minister Monika Grütters told the crowd that the memorial “confronts us today with the harrowing Nazi ideology of presuming life can be measured by ‘usefulness.’”

Health Hell in a handcart

Competence and cronyism

The UK, which is very far away from China, has a population of around 66 million people and has officially recorded 635,000 cases of COVID-19 and 43,000 deaths.

Vietnam, which has a long land border with China, has a population of 95 million people. It has recorded 1,113 cases and 35 deaths.

The difference isn’t some special Asian COVID-resistant DNA, as some of the more unhinged right-wing commentators have suggested, or the Vietnamese government suppressing the real scale of the virus; doctors on the ground say the figures match their experiences. It’s that Asia has learnt lessons from previous pandemics and applied them competently.

To take just one example, in Vietnam temperature checks were introduced in Hanoi airport in January before human to human transmission had even been confirmed. In the UK, we started trialling temperature checks for Heathrow arrivals in late May, two months after we went into lockdown. Vietnam began contact tracing and quarantining in January. As The Guardian reports, the UK track and trace system wasn’t announced until late May and it still isn’t working.

the government’s Sage scientific advisers have concluded NHS test and trace is not working.

Too few people are getting tested, results are coming back too slowly and not enough people are sticking to the instructions to isolate, they say.

The system “is having a marginal impact on transmission”, as a result, and unless it grows as fast as the epidemic that impact will only wane.

One of the reasons it isn’t working is that the government decided to outsource everything to private firms instead of using existing public health services. The Guardian again:

The percentage of people reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts [by the national test and trace system] hit its lowest level since June at the end of September, with performance worsening steadily over the month. It means about 25% of contacts are not reached at all.

Our World In Data has a fascinating and comprehensive explanation of how and why Vietnam responded to COVID. Not everything could have been replicated elsewhere, but in its conclusion the report says that many lessons are applicable to other countries: investing in public health infrastructure, taking early action to curb community spread, having a thorough contact tracing system, quarantining based on possible exposure rather than symptoms, and clear, consistent and serious public communication.

When Vietnam did lockdown and contact tracing, it did it properly. Here, the time lockdown was supposed to buy us wasn’t spent on building an effective track and trace system; it was spent enriching the Government’s mates and giving lucrative contracts to cronies. That’s already killed thousands of people, and it looks likely to kill very many more.


Tourism, large tables and Tinder dates

Helen Rosner, the New Yorker’s roving food correspondent, is a great writer. And this is a great article: although it’s about New York I think it has resonance here too. It’s called The Uncertain Promises of Indoor Dining in New York City.

This grinding moral calculus leaves us with a fallacious sense of personal responsibility and misplaced blame. In recent months, I’ve seen chefs and restaurateurs lash out on social media at those whom they deem insufficiently supportive of the industry’s return. Those declining to eat in restaurants during the pandemic, they argue, are complicit in the economic suffering of their businesses and employees. (The crisis is unimaginably severe, and the stress is nearly unbearable, but such a position seems rooted more in existential terror than in logic.) There are, of course, ways to be supportive without prioritizing capital over safety: early in the pandemic, when the mass extinction of small businesses was looming, I purchased more logo-emblazoned sweatshirts, coffee mugs, and tote bags than one human ever ought to own, and encouraged everybody I knew to do the same. Still, it is obvious that restaurants will not be saved by T-shirt sales alone. I’ve found a measure of relief in a simple piece of advice passed along by a friend: pick three businesses that matter to you and your community—a manageable number—and then pour everything you can into making sure they come out O.K. on the other side. But, in September, during a Zoom conversation I had with the chef David Chang to promote his new memoir, he put the same idea in more dire terms, invoking philosophy’s infamous trolley problem: “I think ninety per cent of independent restaurants are going to die,” he said. “We need to start to choose which ones we want to prop up.”


Lots of food isn’t labelled

The UK government’s decision to relax food standards to allow imports of poor quality, appallingly produced and potentially hazardous US beef, poultry and pork is disgusting, of course, but some people are arguing that it isn’t a big deal: we can just read the labels and choose not to buy it.

But that’s only true for raw food that we buy in shops. As Jay Rayner points out on Twitter, there are lots of places where food won’t be labelled: cafés, restaurants, canteens, pre-made sandwiches…

Not in food service it wont: that sandwich you buy on the run, that school meal your child eats, that lunch you get served in hospital; indeed in any food service operation. No labeling at all.

Health LGBTQ+

Why trans people go private

There’s a good piece by GenderGP head of patient services Adi Ni Dhálaigh Gourdialsing in PinkNews about trans people accessing private healthcare.

In 2016, the Women and Equalities Commission bravely and unreservedly found that: “The NHS is failing in its legal duty under the Equality Act in this regard. There is a lack of continuing professional development (CPD) and training in this area amongst GPs. There is also a lack of clarity about referral pathways for Gender Identity Services. And the NHS as an employer and commissioner is failing to ensure zero tolerance of transphobic behaviour amongst staff and contractors.”

Fast forward to 2020 and little has changed. We still have: No NICE guidelines on the medical interventions available for gender incongruence; no standards of medical education set for this area of healthcare by the General Medical Council; no continuing professional development (this is the responsibility of the Royal Colleges and Postgraduate Deaneries); no agreed standards of care for NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups; no UK-wide medical guidelines; and healthcare that is provided in super-specialised clinics, which are supposed to cater for just 500 patient cases per year.

I’ve been involved in a few consultations about trans healthcare recently and absolutely none of the issues being raised in the consultations are new. Trans people go private or self-medicate because in many parts of the UK the NHS tells them to wait nearly six years before they can discuss getting any kind of treatment.

Health Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Intended consequences

The anti-trans mob and their evangelical Christian pals are behind a judicial review that could have chilling effects on young women’s access to contraception. That’s not a potential unintended consequence. It’s the whole point.

Stonewall’s Nancy Kelley, writing in the i Paper:

If [we] chip away at the idea that children and young people are not fit to know what’s best for them, we open the door towards eroding Gillick Competency. ‘Gillick’ was a case in 1985 which established that young people under the age of 16 can consent to their own medical treatment, without the need for parental knowledge or permission.

Gillick is a cornerstone of children and young people’s rights and helps ensure young people can access the healthcare service they may need, including abortion, contraception or sexual health services.

So, this case isn’t just about healthcare for trans young people, it’s about a much wider issue: whether we believe children and young people have a right to treat their bodies as their own.

The lawyers representing the people bringing the case say it would push Gillick to ‘breaking point‘. This would give a green light to those who want to use this an opportunity to roll back the healthcare rights of not just LGBT young people, but all young people.

Getting rid of Gillick is a key goal of the religious right, who do not want any teenagers to have access to contraception or sexual health services. The anti-trans women hoping the verdict goes against the NHS are either willing accomplices or deeply, deeply stupid.