Book recommendation: Love Lives Here, by Amanda Jetté Knox

I read this in a single sitting last night and cried through the whole thing.

What would you do if your child came out as trans, or if your spouse did?

What if both of those things happened?

You may know Amanda Jetté Knox from Twitter, where she’s @mavenofmayhem. In this book she writes about what happened when not one but two of her family came out: first her daughter, then her spouse.

Jetté Knox clearly has a huge heart, and she writes very movingly of what it was like for her partner to grow up living a lie even while she’s wrestling with her own feelings of loss and betrayal. She’s very honest about her fears for her daughter and later, for her partner, and she manages to find kindness even when she’s talking about utterly despicable behaviour by her peers at school and as an adult, her fellow parents.

You don’t need to be trans or love someone who’s trans to enjoy this book: at heart it’s a really well-written, warm and fascinating memoir about love and families. But if you are trans or do love someone who’s trans, it’ll probably have you blubbing like it had me.

It’s not a spoiler to say that this book has a happy ending: if you know her online you’ll already know that Jetté Knox is still married and is a strong, vocal trans ally. Sometimes love really does win.

The publisher’s page for the book is here.

Turning shame into sadism

A few days ago, a thread about radicalisation went viral. In it, Joanna Shroeder spoke about the way in which far-right activists recruit boys and young men by weaponising shame.

The process goes something like this:

  • Boys are encouraged to transgress social norms by posting racist, homophobic, misogynist or anti-semitic jokes
  • The boys are then called out on it by parents, teachers, and (especially) girls and women.
  • The boys feel deeply embarrassed and shamed.
  • The far-right tells them they’re getting into trouble for nothing, that they’re the victims of “woke” people, PC gone mad, snowflakes and so on.
  • The boys are encouraged to hate the people who called them out for their racist, homophobic, misogynist or anti-semitic jokes.
  • The more hateful their behaviour, the more their new friends praise them.

It’s not just teenagers, and it’s not just the far right. We’ve seen exactly the same thing happen with supposedly intelligent, successful adults – mainly, although not exclusively, relatively affluent, straight, cisgender, middle-aged white adults with jobs in media – when they say something awful about LGBT+ people. Their process goes like this:

  • They say something terrible or just incorrect about LGBT+ people.
  • They are called out on it by LGBT+ people and allies.
  • They feel deeply embarrassed and shamed.
  • Bigots tell them they’re getting into trouble for nothing, that they’re the victims of “woke” activists, snowflakes, PC gone mad, a sinister lobby and so on.
  • They are encouraged to hate the LGBT+ people who criticised them.
  • The more hateful their behaviour, the more their new friends praise them.

This is how, say, a washed-up comedy writer ends up dedicating his every waking hour to spreading hate about trans women: he writes a tone-deaf episode, gets criticised for it, and his shame becomes rage against the entire demographic.

This is how a moderate broadsheet journalist becomes evangelical about the supposed dangers to women of a tiny group of LGBT+ people, shouting over the women and women’s charities who tell him he’s wrong. He writes something incorrect, gets criticised for it, and his shame becomes rage against the entire demographic.

This is how a successful blogger decides to use his platform as a bully pulpit against a minority group. He writes something inflammatory, gets criticised for it, and his shame becomes rage against the entire demographic.

These men might not be shooting up supermarkets to express their rage against women, as some incels do, or taking AR-15s to mosques. But the shame and rage is the same. These men are red-faced little boys, vowing terrible revenge on the people who laughed at them.

Trans Guardian staff quit over transphobic reporting and “face to face rows”

Buzzfeed news:

Two Transgender Employees Of The Guardian Have Quit Over Its “Transphobic” Reporting

…Her resignation marks a flashpoint in what multiple sources at the Guardian have described to BuzzFeed News as a deepening internal war over the rights of transgender people – and how the organisation reports on them. Staff members across several departments accused the paper of “institutional transphobia”, peddling transphobic tropes, and allowing a bitter schism to develop between pro- and anti-trans journalists.

…Many at the paper who share her concerns told BuzzFeed News that the internal divisions over trans rights have resulted in face-to-face rows in the office, a widening rift between the UK and US offices (which is largely populated by pro-trans writers), and moves against staff who protest against transphobia. All of which, sources said, is affecting morale.

As the story notes, the paper’s editorial stance has also persuaded high-profile trans columnists to refuse further commissions and moved staff to make formal complaints about the framing and language used in coverage of trans-related issues.

The Guardian and [sister title] Observer have in previous years run opinion columns using language such as “trannies”, “shemales”, “man in a dress”, “dicks in chicks’ clothing” and articles that have argued that “sex change surgery is modern-day aversion therapy” – equating transition, which is elective and saves lives, to electric shocks to “cure” homosexuality, which is state-sponsored torture.

The Guardian is quick to condemn other newspapers’ shameful coverage of minorities, but it appears to be throwing stones from inside a glass house.

Playing video games

In the Mass Effect series, players can customise Jane (or John) Shepard (left). The version here is from the launch trailer; my Jane looked very different.

Writing in Metro, Owl Stefania writes about the importance of video games in her coming out process: “Growing up, video games were my escape, providing an avenue where I could explore who I was.”

I’ve written about this too, and a version of the following article was originally published in 404 Ink magazine in late 2017.

Video games have a special appeal for trans people. In addition to the usual escapism from the everyday, some of them enable you to play as the gender you feel you should be, not the one you’ve been assigned.

For many trans people the first such games were MMORPGs, massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Many of those games enabled you to play as all kinds of characters from humans to hobbits and space aliens). As many trans people discovered, when you communicate with other players in an MMORPG they’re quite happy to stay in character, so if your character is female you’ll be addressed as such. That isn’t always a good thing — there’s plenty of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia online, and online games aren’t immune to that — but as trans gamer Rissa Trent writes on MMOGames.com, being able to present as a female character is incredibly powerful. “To some people, it might just be pixels, but to those of us who want to break free from everyday life, and our own skins, it’s everything.”

I never really got into MMORPGs, but I fell hard for a sci-fi series called Mass Effect. In the first three Mass Effect games you play Commander Shepard, and that commander can be John or Jane. Not only is Jane Shepard better company — she’s voiced by the wonderful Jennifer Hale, who makes even the daftest dialogue breathe — but you can completely customise the character’s appearance in the game. Hair colour, facial structure, eye shape, jawline, hair, makeup… given enough time, and believe me I gave myself enough time, you could create a Jane Shepard who was an idealised version of your feminine self. 

To then have the game offer romantic options beyond the usual straight man/woman binary — something that caused controversy at the time, because while gamers had no problem with interspecies alliances (the same man-with-sexy-space-chick trope that goes back to Star Trek), same-sex attraction couldn’t possibly be a thing in the far future — was the cherry on top. Sadly the game wouldn’t let my character have a relationship with the character I really liked, the gorgeous, kick-ass soldier Miranda Lawson, and I clearly wasn’t the only one disappointed: the internet is packed with fan fiction where Jane and Miranda are an item.

Mass Effect and MMORPGs (and other games where you can be a girl, such as Dishonored 2 or Destiny) are very different games, but they both offer trans people something really important: the opportunity to inhabit your preferred gender, if only for a while. And as games get more realistic and immersive, that’s going to become even more powerful. 

This is what a moral panic looks like

Tea Uglow did an interesting thing. They took screenshots of articles containing the word “transgender” on a few English news outlets. Over the last 12 months, there were 878 articles. That doesn’t include publications such as the New Statesman, which has been home to a lot of anti-trans voices, and to regional press such as The Scotsman, The Herald and The National, all of which frequently print a disproportionate amount of content from anti-trans voices. It also doesn’t include articles that use “trans” instead of “transgender”, of which there are many more.

Uglow:

They’re not all bad – but they’re not all necessary.

We hope this serves to understand what 3 ‘articles’ a day about your community feels like.
Obviously, if we tried to track all ’trans’ articles online we would need someone clever.

We stopped when results felt irrelevant. i.e. Transgender is mentioned in many hundreds of ‘news’ or opinion pieces without relevance to the news item in question. (Here’s looking at you Sunday Times)

No, it’s not scientific. Yes, the methodology can be questioned.
Knock yourself out / Do better / Or.. perhaps, just leave us alone.

It may be a relatively small chunk of the anti-trans coverage we’ve seen in the last two years but it’s still a thoroughly saddening read. Trans people are repeatedly painted as a faceless, sinister mob that somehow has a stranglehold on politics and the media despite there being no trans politicians, columnists or editors.

In the popular press, all trans people are activists and all anti-trans activists are not activists. People who call trans people unspeakable things and threaten violence against them are just ordinary mums and dads with reasonable concerns. People who keep getting suspended from social media for online abuse get to present themselves as innocent victims of political correctness gone mad. People who hound women who disagree with them off the internet are portrayed as noble defenders of women. People who roundly abuse trans people until someone snaps get to claim they’re the victims, not the perpetrators.

You don’t have to read all 800-plus pieces to see the patterns. Again and again articles talk about the dangers of legal reform by scaremongering about completely different legislation. Articles repeatedly lie that children are given cross-sex hormones (they aren’t) and surgery (they really, really aren’t). Straight white men dust down their anti-gay columns from the eras of section 28, the lowering of the age of consent and the equal marriage debate and do a search and replace to swap “gay” for “trans”.

There are fair and balanced articles about trans people, but not many. It’s easy to find articles trying to persuade readers that the Mermaids charity is trying to force kids to have surgery (which doesn’t happen). Good luck finding profiles of any families they’ve helped. Private GPs who treat trans people are demonised, but the crisis that forces so many trans adults to go private or to take a dangerous DIY route is rarely mentioned. It’s easy to find stories about the invented dangers of trans women in prisons but not ones about the actual violence trans people in prison experiences; or pieces about the invented dangers of minor legislative reform but none about the actual experiences of the only people who will be affected by it.

All too often the same writers trot out the same bullshit. To them it’s a game, something to chortle about to their friends on social media. They know it’s cruel, because the cruelty is the point.

It’s not a game for the people they’re defaming.

Hate crimes against all LGBT+ people are up considerably since the press decided that actually, it’s okay to hate some LGBT+ people again. As anti-trans sentiment has increased in the press and online, it’s lead to a massive, disproportionate increase in hate crimes against trans people. What’s typed on a screen makes its way to the streets.

This is not about legitimate debate. This is about the full power of the press being used to target, defame and demonise a tiny, vulnerable minority of people. We’re not a mob. We’re not a lobby. We’re people just like you. And right now, we’re very, very frightened.

Old news

Here’s The Sun newspaper in 1992.

If you think that sounds familiar, have a read of Terry Sanderson’s Media Watch column from that month, May 1992. Sanderson spent a quarter of a century battling against bigotry in UK newspapers, and sadly the publications and the writers don’t seem to have changed much.

There was Julie Burchill:

Julie Burchill is rapidly becoming the most prominent commentator on gay issues in the straight press… the message comes over loud and clear that Julie has reached the conclusion that gay men are the ultimate oppressors of women. This, I think, is her problem. It is because she imagines all gay men hate women (or, worse still, patronise them) that she has got this bee in her bonnet about Aids.

Burchill would later turn her ire towards trans women, who she now appears to believe are the ultimate oppressors of women.

There were single-issue pressure groups gaining disproportionate press coverage for their intolerant views and allegations of sinister lobbies endangering children:

During the election campaign The CFC (prop. Stephen Green) was issuing press releases like confetti.

Nearly all of them concerned homosexuality. At the CFC’s prompting, The Sun reported (26 Mar): “Social workers are telling ten-year-old kids in care that gay sex is part of growing up.”

…The Daily Express (23 Mar) saying: “Labour and Liberal Democrat policies on gay rights would put children at risk from homosexuals.” Mr Green “condemned” the politicians concerned saying that any changes in the law would “endanger children”: What The Daily Express failed to extract from the CFC’s press release was revealed by The Independent (3 Apr). The CFC had actually said that Neil Kinnock and David Steel have supported “the child sex movement” (which is the CFC’s term for the gay movement).

There was dubious crowdfunding for publications advocating dangerous conversion therapy:

Mr Green revealed to the Independent that “he’s nearly raised the £11,000 he needs to publish a book on homosexuals provisionally entitled Emotional Orphans.” The book will explain “how homosexuals may achieve heterosexuality” which he says is a “painfully difficult process”.

There were newspapers deliberately equating being LGBT+ with being a criminal:

“Outrage as boy is handed over to lesbian criminal” said The Daily Mail (I Apr) with The Sun announcing: “Lefties put boy in care of lesbian jailbird”. Note how the words “lesbian” and “criminal” become interchangeable in these circumstances: which is the more horrid prospect for the small boy to cope with?

And there was the “they’re coming for your children” moral panic as illustrated in the “gay peril” cutting at the top of this post.

Awful, isn’t it? Two years later the Sunday Times, which railed against the so-called homosexual lobby, argued that HIV wasn’t the cause of AIDS and that saying so was the “HIV bandwagon” pushed by “the legions of the politically correct”. Andrew Neil, the editor at the time, believed that the link between HIV and AIDS was a conspiracy theory and that discussion of it was a “public misinformation campaign”.

Also in 1994, the newspapers fired their final salvos in their crusade against moves towards equalising the age of consent for straight and gay people (the age for straight people was 16 but in 1994 it was decreased from 21 to 18 for gay people. Equality wouldn’t happen until the following decade).

Sanderson:

Naturally the “we must protect the children” argument was trotted out repeatedly. This is a sensitive area, and consequently was played for all it was worth by “family” groups and other politically and religiously motivated opponents of change.

…The Daily Express, meanwhile, distorted the British Medical Association’s support for a lowering of the age of consent to 16 by headlining it: “Teenage Aids scourge” (January 14th).

Richard Littlejohn had some thoughts, calling Peter Tatchell a “professional sodomite” who “holds recruiting drives outside schools”.

And then there was the Telegraph.

The article was illustrated by a cartoon that Goebbels wouldn’t have been ashamed of. It showed lock gates imprinted with the word “consent” being opened ready to engulf the unsuspecting people below.

Ms Burrows, a woman of extraordinary fanaticism, alarmingly claims in her article that “a homosexual lifestyle reduces life expectancy from 75 to 42”. Where on earth does she get such a statistic? Why, from the Family Research Institute of Washington.

The Family Research Institute is described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the US organisation that tracks neo-Nazis, race hate organisations and other lovely people, as an anti-LGBT hate group.

This might sound familiar too.

This latest gem about the reduction of life expectancy has been repeated at least twice over the radio by members of these “family” groups, and in neither instance was it challenged.

Then, like now, bigots were given a platform to spout vicious bullshit about marginalised people without fear of challenge; then, like now, national newspapers incited fear and hatred of LGBT+ people; then, like now, the regulators did nothing and the victims’ pockets weren’t deep enough to fight the newspapers’ lawyers.

A lot can change in 25 years, but apparently not in the UK mass media.

Stay in your lane

In a study that’s caused much appalled amusement, researchers at Penn State have discovered that men avoid things such as using reusable shopping bags for fear others will perceive them as gay.

It’s interesting but not surprising that the policing of this stuff is done by both men and women.

In a series of studies, the researchers evaluated specific pro-environmental behaviors that previous research suggested were seen as either “feminine” or “masculine” and examined whether they affected how people were perceived.

They found that men and women were more likely to question a man’s sexual orientation if he engaged in “feminine” pro-environmental behaviors, such as using reusable shopping bags. They were also more likely to question a woman’s sexual orientation if she engaged in “masculine” pro-environmental behaviors, such as caulking windows.

A man with a Bag For Life is gay; a woman doing minor DIY is a lesbian.

The researchers found that participants whose behaviors conformed to their gender were seen as more heterosexual than those whose behaviors did not conform to their gender, which may suggest participants were using traditional gender roles as clues to sexual identity.

There’s a whole knot to unravel here, but ultimately it’s about the way we – often unconsciously – reinforce stereotypes. A man who does the recycling isn’t manly; a woman who can fix something isn’t womanly. Clearly, that means they’re gay.

These beliefs are so facile there’s no point digging into them here. But the wider point is that these beliefs aren’t just perpetuated. They’re policed.

It’s not just the policing by others that happens, although God knows that happens. We police ourselves too. We internalise the rules and actively try to ensure we don’t break them for fear of the consequences. Sometimes we pass on those rules to our siblings or our children, sometimes as advice and sometimes as mockery.

Every day in myriad ways we’re told to stay in our lanes.

When stereotypes equal safety

One of the many things that annoys me about anti-trans activists is that on one hand they accuse trans people of perpetuating gender stereotypes, and on the other they viciously mock trans women who don’t conform to stereotypical ideas of female beauty. As the wonderfully named Tranna Wintour writes in The Walrus, it’s very difficult not to conform when non-conformance is policed, sometimes violently.

My being seen as the woman I am is almost entirely dependent on my ability to perform femininity as its been established in our culture—namely, to be beautiful. Here is how I feel most of us have been taught to process gender: if a person looks female, she’s a woman; if a person looks male, he’s a man. Those of us who don’t always look perfectly female or perfectly male are subject to being misgendered and misunderstood; we are often the subject of ridicule, judgement, and scrutiny.

I’m not beautiful, but nevertheless my ability to go through the world as me is largely dependent on how I present: the blurrier the line between male and female the more unwanted attention I attract. To be blunt, in many contexts it’s better to be perceived as an ugly woman than a trans one.

Transness, in its ambiguity and nonconformity, is seen as a particularly strong threat. Transness says, “Wait, I don’t have to be a woman or a man in the way the culture has taught me to be.” Transness says, “I can be my own person. I don’t have to conform.” But, in response to that defiance, the culture says, “If you transgress against the binary, we will make life hard for you. You will be ridiculed. You will be misgendered. Your safety will be at risk.”

“Gender critical” philosophy doesn’t make sense

The culture wars over trans people have made their way to the philosophers’ community, with some high-profile anti-trans people wrapping their views in philosophical arguments. Unfortunately, Luke Roelofs writes, those arguments don’t make sense.

This is a long read, but it’s interesting if you’d like to understand why issues such as policing bathrooms are so complex and potentially bad for all women.

Here’s a quick extract.

So in practice, ‘gender-critical’ doctrines just provide rationales for policing gender nonconformity. And the big lie at the heart of it, that people are seeking transition to better fit gender stereotypes, justifies this by painting the nonconforming people being policed as the real gender police.

Just like with bathrooms, the whole GC discourse about gender roles ultimately functions to obscure the real stakes and the real options. You can police people’s gender expression, or you can dismantle the prison of gender, but you can’t do both. GCRF [Gender Critical Radical Feminism] is a feminist fig leaf waved in front of social conservatism.

The best of both worlds

I was having a bad day on Saturday so I went to the pub to cheer myself up. It wasn’t entirely successful.

First, a young woman who’d been standing next to me at the bar heard me speak, turned, and stared at me with open disgust.

A few minutes later a drunk thirtysomething man put his arm around me and demanded I talk to him.

That’s one of the great things about being trans. Why have your evenings ruined by people of just one gender when you can be made miserable by two?

As Cartman from South Park put it: