Just another ordinary day

I’m at a bus stop in Glasgow, early on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Two neds stare at me as they swagger past.

Ned #1: [unintelligible]
Ned #2: That’s no’ a wumman!
Ned #1: Ah’d still stick it with ma willy.

The neds swagger on, laughing.

I’ve been outside for four minutes.

Reasonable concerns and legitimate debate

Image: Scottish Equality Network

It was Edinburgh Pride day yesterday.

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine spent much of it indulging in the “legitimate debate” she’s so fond of by circulating faked tweets in order to create a social media pile-on against a trans ally and human rights campaigner.

At the actual event some anti-trans activists came along to shout their “reasonable concerns” at the marchers.

Here’s one of the marchers, a cisgender woman.

…I heard shouting, and I looked to the corner to see who that was. I’m used to being shouted at by the fringe Christians, so I looked over to see if it was them (again).

It wasn’t. It was a small group of white, ostensibly middle class cis women screaming hate at us. At Pride – an event that was initially a response to police brutality against mostly black trans women.

…I’m a cis lesbian, and because of this sort of behaviour, I am scared to go the public bathrooms much of the time.

I am routinely challenged when trying to go to the toilet and I am anxious every time I walk into the women’s changing room at the gym.

I was once followed into the toilet in a pub in Cowdenbeath by a man who tried to kick the door down and attack me because, y’know, women’s safety.

That was the most serious attack, but it was by no means an isolated incident. The attack by the anti-trans protesters yesterday was part of that continuum of violence.

No trans woman has ever made me feel unsafe. They have always respected my boundaries and my dignity.

These people yesterday made Pride an unsafe place for women like me, and for my trans pals and allies.

It’s not us, it’s them

Psychology Today asks a question: what precisely do transgender people threaten?

The piece is based on a single study, albeit one that draws on multiple others and widely accepted social phenomena. The short version is that trans people get shot by both sides.

transgender individuals can be perceived as simultaneously transgressing the gender norms of BOTH binary genders. For example, a trans woman (i.e., someone assigned male at birth who now identifies as a woman) is transgressing male norms by identifying as a woman, but also may be seen as transgressing the norms of being a woman by not appearing feminine enough. Indeed, other research has found that transgender women are particularly at risk for prejudice and violence due to society’s general tendency to police femininity and to punish transgressions of misplaced femininity.

That’s something you see a lot of in anti-trans faux-feminist circles, where trans women are simultaneously mocked for not measuring up to standards of stereotypical femininity and condemned for trying to measure up to standards of stereotypical femininity.

I thought this bit was interesting: for some people, the most threatening trans people aren’t the genderqueer ones or those who look visibly trans. What makes them upset and angry are the people who “pass”, who appear to be the gender they are rather than the one they were assigned at birth.

if you yourself are a man and hinge a great deal of your identity on being a man, what does this piece of your identity really mean if someone born female can ‘pass’ as being just “as much of a man” as you?

Thus, the more an individual strongly believes in the gender binary, the more threatening transgender individuals (especially those who ‘pass’) are to that individual’s own personal identity as either a man or a woman.

The article gives an example.

imagine that you are a police officer and that being a police officer is central to your identity. Then imagine that the category of a police officer was replaced with “Security Professional,” and that this new category would include police officers, security guards, and installers of home security systems. This experience would trigger high levels of distinctiveness threat in police officers whose identities were highly enmeshed with being a police officer… with nothing left to distinguish them from a mall cop or a summer student installing home security systems.

Not a perfect comparison, I know: it’s more like expanding the category to include “police officers who don’t have exactly the same background as you” rather than less qualified people. But you get the point.

It’s awfully reminiscent of some of the pushback against equal marriage: I’ve heard many people claim that “if gay and lesbian people can marry, that somehow makes marriage worth less.” It doesn’t, unless you believe that being married makes you better than people who aren’t and that letting others marry makes you less special. And if that’s the case, it says a lot more about you than it does about gay or lesbian people – especially if you’re driven to oppose, vote against or campaign against giving the same rights to those people.

Love in a time of sadness

Today, the Scottish Government and the SNP effectively threw trans people under the bus. After a lengthy public consultation that found the general public and women’s groups overwhelmingly in favour of its proposals for gender recognition reform, the next step is… to water down the proposals and have another consultation and maybe water them down some more.

It’s a terrible decision: the Government has capitulated to the bigots, ignoring the results of its own consultation. It has backtracked from its manifesto commitment to bring gender recognition in line with best practice to proposing a minor tweak to the current system, reducing the recognition criteria from two years to either six or nine months (six months living full time plus a three month waiting period, or three and three; it’s unclear at the moment) – something that bears no relation to international best practice.

I’m not going to dwell on it, on the affirming message it sends to the bigots or on the inevitable uptick in anti-trans abuse it’s going to engender. Instead, I’ll tell you a story.

Every year a man, a religious man, stands at the entrance to Glasgow’s Pride event. Through his microphone he shouts fire and brimstone, punishment and damnation. And every year the crowd of beautiful LGBT+ people, of families and of allies grows larger, and louder, and more vibrant, and more diverse, and more beautiful. Few notice him. Even fewer care.

So let the bigots shout. Let them shout until their eyes pop and their throats rip and their lungs burst. Let them shout at clouds and at crowds and at a world that’s leaving them far behind.

All they have is hate.

We have love.

And love will win.

The love my friends and family have for me, and that I have for them, does not require a certificate.

Listening to the malicious, not the marginalised

PinkNews’ headline says it all:

After 30 academics sign letter opposing trans rights, 3600 sign letter in support

(Update, the same day: it’s more than 4,000 now) This is the reality, away from the social media echo chamber and the furious clickbait columns. Again and again, the public is overwhelmingly in favour of treating trans people with dignity and respect.

That’s something we saw in the Scottish public consultation over gender recognition reform, where the overwhelming majority of the public and all the major women’s groups were fully supportive of reform. The proposed reforms were also manifesto pledges by all the main Scottish political parties.

So it’s very frightening to hear that tomorrow the SNP may kick the issue of gender reform into the long grass – or worse, announce a second consultation.

There’s no way such a consultation can be fair now that all of the major newspapers in Scotland – the Herald and the Scotsman, plus the Murdoch press, the Telegraph and the Mail – are rabidly anti-trans, while social media has been poisoned by US money and activists. The press in Scotland is picking on trans people just like it used to pick on gay and lesbian people.

I really hope the rumours are wrong. Because if the Scottish Government chooses to be cowards on this, the last couple of years of vicious anti-trans abuse will seem like a golden age by comparison. The message it would send to bigots is frightening: if you scream loud enough, if you hate hard enough, we’ll do what you want.

How to spot someone who’s been radicalised

This is the British Army’s guide to spotting dangerous extreme right-wing (XRW) people, courtesy of James Wallis on Twitter.

Heres’s a summary.

  • They describe their opponents as traitors
  • They become increasingly angry about perceived injustices and threats to their national or cultural identity
  • They say their critics have been indoctrinated
  • They make sweeping generalisations and peddle untruths about specific minority groups
  • They claim their opponents’ ideology is the root of injustices against vulnerable people
  • They refer to political correctness as a left-wing plot
  • They make sweeping generalisations about “the left” or government
  • They claim they’re preparing for or already fighting a war
  • They actively seek out impressionable individuals to indoctrinate or recruit
  • They claim it’s okay to be abusive to specific minorities
  • They have columns in national newspapers

I may have added an extra point there.

You know where I’m going with this one. The signs the British Army urges squaddies to look for don’t just appear among young men in Army barracks. They’re visible among supposedly nice, respectable middle-class people with jobs in the media too.

The radicalisation described here doesn’t just apply to anti-Islam racism. It’s visible in other forms of bigotry too.


Old man shouts at crowds

Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter, pictured, has gone off on one about trans people again. Yesterday he claimed on twitter that calling cisgender women cis “is the most extreme form of misogyny”, which I’m sure will be news to many women who’ve endured much worse things than being accurately labelled with a latin prefix.

Cis is to trans what straight is to gay; nothing more, nothing less.

He’s yet another example of something that happens again and again:

  • Ageing, straight, cisgender person writes about trans stuff, gets it wrong
  • A couple of trans people say “hey man, that’s not cool. You’re wrong about X.”
  • Ageing, straight, cisgender person shouts “DON’T YOU OPPRESS ME YOU TRANS BASTARDS!” and becomes a rabid anti-trans activist

It’s not the first time; it won’t be the last. So let’s just re-read this A Thousand Flowers piece from February about MacWhirter’s long opposition to women’s rights and disregard for the views of women’s groups.

So what exactly is Macwhirter’s history of standing with Scotland’s women when they asked for protection? Oh aye, he opposed all that feminism gone mad.   Yer New Definitely Feminist Hero last got a menshie on ATF for his opposition to the years of work done by women’s organisations, to pass the landmark Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which he condemned as “mince” in another Herald Da-sterpiece.

…Macwhirter is, sadly, far from alone in being a man guilty of uncritically parroting a tiny group of anti trans activists, while not doing even the most shallow bit of digging or asking any of the women’s organisations you’d imagine any journalist writing about gender would have on speed dial.


Weaponising freedom and fake science

One of the tricks the far right likes to use is phony science. They claim “facts don’t care about your feelings” while putting their feelings above actual facts, such as how human biology works.

Scientific American has had enough of their shit and their “facts don’t care”.

these “protectors of enlightenment” are guilty of the very behavior this phrase derides. Though often dismissed as just a fringe internet movement, they espouse unscientific claims that have infected our politics and culture.

Biology is more complex than you learned when you were 12.

Nearly everyone in middle school biology learned that if you’ve got XX chromosomes, you’re a female; if you’ve got XY, you’re a male. This tired simplification is great for teaching the importance of chromosomes but betrays the true nature of biological sex. The popular belief that your sex arises only from your chromosomal makeup is wrong. The truth is, your biological sex isn’t carved in stone, but a living system with the potential for change.

…the science is clear and conclusive: sex is not binary, transgender people are real.

Do read the whole thing. It’s a really good explanation of how amazing human development is.

Meanwhile in the UK, a handful of academics got an open letter published in The Times with that far-right trope: preventing them from being bigoted towards trans and non-binary students means universities are silencing their free speech and curtailing their academic freedom. Just asking an academic to use students’ correct pronouns is tantamount to locking them away in a gulag for the rest of their lives.

To give you a flavour of the great minds of the 30 signatories, the names include Stuart Waiton. Waiton, an occasional contributor to Glasgow’s Herald newspaper, believes children don’t have human rights, that parents should be allowed to hit their children and that the Scottish government is in thrall to a powerful transgender lobby; he recently stood as a Brexit Party candidate.

The things the academics claim to be oppressed by include Pride flags on campus, anti-bullying initiatives and universities’ messages of support for LGBT+ students.

Here’s Grace Lavery in the LA Review of Books.

…trans people have been made into a convenient scapegoat for the idea that a group (or generation, or class) of people are forcing others to change the way they are speaking. That the phantom authority in question is simply good sense — that it makes sense to refer to trans women as “she” because, well, we look, speak, act, dress, and identify as women, and many of us have estrogen rather than testosterone in our bodies — can be ignored in favor of the paranoid fear that someone else is coming to dispossess us of our language.

Whether intentionally or by accident, the arsey academics are on the side of the far right, of people who want to harass and bully others under the guise of freedom of speech or academic freedom.

The entire movement against the supposed silencing of free speech in education is a far-right movement, which is why here in the UK it’s being driven by right-wing publications such as The Spectator and The Times (and the right-wing-funded Spiked). Here’s a good piece about its US version, which UK right-wingers have copied as part of bringing the US culture wars to the UK.

Fascist politics seeks to undermine the credibility of institutions that harbor independent voices of dissent until they can be replaced by media and universities that reject those voices.

…Universities, they say, claim to hold free speech in the highest regard but suppress any voices that don’t lean left by allowing protests against them on campus.

…Where speech is a right, propagandists cannot attack dissent head-on; instead they must represent it as something violent and oppressive (a protest therefore becomes a “riot”).

Attempting to characterise legitimate protest and even legitimate criticism as violence and oppression is something the far right (and their anti-trans fellow travellers) have been doing for some time now: it’s where bigots’ bogus claims of silencing and erasure come from.

Back to the letter. If 30 signatories are enough for publication in The Times, I wonder how prominent this response from many other academics will be: at the time of writing, it has more than 1,700 signatories (update, the same day: more than 4,000 now before checking for duplications etc.)

We are a diverse range of professionals working in higher education and research institutions. Together we register our support for the inclusion and safety of all staff and students, including trans individuals and gender-diverse people.

…Diversity training addresses equality, diversity and inclusion for all protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Stonewall promotes an inclusive environment, in which the rights of trans and gender-diverse people are placed on an equal footing with the rights of other historically disadvantaged groups. This addresses the needs of our trans colleagues and students, including use of their chosen pronouns and respecting their gender identities. None of this limits our academic freedom.

Frankie Boyle is a good bad man

I went to see the comedian Frankie Boyle last night. As ever, he said many terrible things because he’s a really bad man. I laughed so hard for so long I’m actually a bit sore today.

I don’t go to as much comedy as I used to, even though I love live comedy: I got fed up hearing the same punching-down trans jokes night after night.

It’s hard to explain to other people what it feels like to hear those jokes. There’s an icy cold feeling in the pit of your stomach, a dread that takes you right back to your schooldays of bullies shouting epithets.

As I’ve written before it’s not pleasant.

it seems that every comedian has a couple of trans jokes at the moment. But while it isn’t unusual, its ubiquity is pretty tiring. It’s not much fun to have people like you as the butt of the joke at every gig you go to whether it’s a comedy club with 100 people or a hall with 10,000.

It’s tiring because it doesn’t just happen on stage. That particular day started with anti-trans hit pieces in a couple of national newspapers, and involved the usual toxic anti-trans crap on social media. To then have some extra trans stuff on a gig you’ve been looking forward to for ages brings out the Sinister Transgender Agenda, which is: give us a bloody break, will you?

I don’t have a problem with trans jokes. But I hate lazy stereotypes being sold as jokes. All too often, “Haha! Trans!” is the punchline.

I put up with it for a while. At first I decided not to go to comedy gigs as me (imagine that: having to pretend to be someone you’re not for fear of being bullied by the guy on stage); after a few more shows I decided not to go to a lot of comedy gigs at all.

Boyle’s different. I’ve heard him talk about LGBT+ stuff before, on which the supposedly demonic comedian is firmly on the side of the angels, and last night he did some material specifically about lazy standups punching down on trans people. It was very, very funny, and for the first time I didn’t feel self-conscious about being in the crowd of a comedy gig as a visibly trans woman.

I don’t want to police comedians’ material, or to see anybody else do so. But I do wish comedians would do what Boyle admitted to doing last night: asking himself whether a joke really is brave and dangerous, or if you’re just saying the same thing as the bullies and the people in power.

No-one wants to see my tits

A trans masculine gender-nonconforming person and transfeminine non-binary person kissing

Image from broadlygenderphotos.vice.com

Sorry about the title. My mum reads this blog and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make her spit out her coffee.

I mentioned this study before: it asked around 1,000 people about the genders they would consider dating. It wasn’t brilliant news for trans people.

The study gave respondents a list of five types of potential dating partners: a cisgender (ie, not trans) woman; a cisgender man; a trans woman (someone assigned male at birth but now living as female); a trans man; a non-binary person who identifies and/or presents as neither male nor female.

87.5% said they wouldn’t consider dating the trans and non-binary people.

The detail is interesting. There were significant differences between straight people and bi/queer people: only 3.1% of the former were willing to consider dating a trans/NB person, but the figure was 55% in the latter group.

One reason for this may be that individuals with queer or bisexual sexual orientations are already looking beyond gender in many ways when selecting a person to date.

Looking more closely at the patterns of responses, it also became clear that individuals were least likely to express an interest in dating trans women, even if their sexual identity would otherwise indicate an interest in women (i.e., straight men, lesbian women, or queer/bisexual individuals). Indeed, nearly 20% fewer people indicated an interest in trans women than would have been expected based on the sexual identities of the individuals within the sample.

The obvious follow-on question is a simple one. Why?

Time for a new study.

In a follow-up study recently presented at the Canadian Psychological Association’s annual convention, we examined people’s reasons for excluding trans folk from hypothetical dating pools. By and large, the reasons given fell into three overall categories: dehumanization/prejudice, uncertainty or lack of knowledge, and issues related to bodies and reproduction.

We don’t need to give the prejudiced reasons any consideration; some people just hate trans/NB people. It’s the other two that interest me: lack of knowledge and “issues related to bodies and reproduction”.

Lack of knowledge was the most common explanation by far, leaving the other sensible one – not wanting to date someone with whom you might not be able to have children – far behind.

many simply stated that they had never really considered the question before and were unsure of what it would mean to be in a relationship with a transgender or non-binary individual.

It’s yet another example of how visibility, or rather the lack of visibility, has real-world effects.

If you don’t know anything about trans/NB people or don’t see trans/NB people in popular culture in anything other than negative ways (trans people as perverts, trans people as tricksters, trans people making you vomit for ages on camera if you kiss one – thanks for that, Jim Carrey), then of course you’re going to consider them as the other, as alien, and definitely not people you’d consider as potential romantic or sexual partners.

The difference in attitudes between straight and LGBT+ people is a good example of that. If you’re LGBT+, you’re likely to hang out in places where LGBT+ people can feel safe – so you’re going to meet all kinds of trans and non-binary people, some of whom will be incredibly attractive. And if you don’t hang out in those places, you may never meet an openly trans person at all.

As the researchers rightly note, this isn’t about whether you should fancy trans/NB people. It’s about the wider culture, a culture that has an effect on how our preferences are formed (not to mention whether we feel safe enough to hang out in the same places you do).

People’s dating preferences can be a lens through which we can see societal attitudes, which is why it’s studied by sociologists keen to understand people’s attitudes to race, to body shape, to gender identity.

Just as sociologists have tracked acceptance of inter-racial relationships as a metric of overall societal acceptance of racial minorities, future fluctuations in the extent to which trans and non-binary individuals are included within the intimate world of dating may help to illuminate progress (or lack thereof) with respect to fully including trans and non-binary individuals within our society. After all, it is one thing to make space for diverse gender identities within our workplaces, schools, washrooms and public spaces, but it is another to fully include and accept gender diversity within our families and romantic relationships.

Ask yourself honestly: would you want to date a trans person? If you’re a parent, would you want your son or daughter to date a trans person, to have them become part of your family?

If the answer is no, we still have a long way to go.