I regret to inform you that the Sunday Times and the Christian Legal Centre are at it again

Another weekend, another bunch of anti-trans stories in the Sunday Times (following on from four stories in the Saturday edition). Today’s selection includes a 3/4 page tale of a deeply troubled man who transitioned and then de-transitioned, something that’s incredibly rare but that does happen, usually because some trans people face terrible hostility when they come out.

His story is being used to demonstrate that children are being coerced into surgical transition, even though it doesn’t do anything of the sort.

Point one: he was middle-aged when he began transition.

Point two: his transition was DIY and ignored the specialist advice that he should consider social transition before considering any medical treatment.

In other words, the story demonstrates something rather different: that troubled middle-aged men who decide to ignore medical advice don’t always get the happy ending they hope for.

It’s a sad story about a sad individual with various personal problems who faced terrible hostility (hostility the Times and its sister titles help to fuel) after a transition they began despite medical advice.

That’s not how it’s being spun here, though. The Sunday Times is using it as yet more evidence of the fictional transgender cult – and the fact that the Christian Legal Centre is representing him casts even more doubt on the whole thing. The CLC is very good at coaching people to make lurid but conveniently unverifiable claims that fit its culture war narratives, claims that frequently turn out to be untrue. The Times has published many of those stories, but doesn’t return to them when they’re thrown out of court.

The CLC are a bunch of culture war ambulance chasers, and they tend to represent two kinds of people: howling bigots and deeply troubled individuals. This looks like the latter. I feel sorry for the man in the story, but he’s just the CLC’s latest useful idiot.

 

Spreading hate

What does hate look like?

In many cases, it looks just like you.

When we think of hateful bigotry, we tend to imagine stereotypes: the bomber-jacketed skinhead, the spittle-flecked preacher and so on. We don’t imagine nice people: our neighbours, our friends, the mums on the school run.

But the stereotypes are often wrong. To take just two examples I know a bit about: those skinheads are often proudly anti-racist and their gigs raise money that goes directly to refugees; those school run mums are posting poison on the internet.

Here’s an example. Yesterday, Flora margarine’s parent company terminated an endorsement deal with Mumsnet. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last major advertiser to cut ties with the wholesome-sounding message board over its inability to police a hard core of viciously bigoted users who use part of its feminism forum to post hate speech about trans people.

Mumsnet posters are claiming a co-ordinated campaign against the site by sinister trans activists, but what really happened is that one woman, the mother of a trans kid, messaged the company and said “are you sure you want to be associated with this?” The company investigated and concluded: hell no.

It’s important to be clear about this. Talking about trans people is not transphobic. Having worries about legal changes is not transphobic. Discussing even anti-trans articles is not transphobic. But that’s not what a hardcore of users are doing, and it’s not why advertisers leave.

The new face of hatred is not a screaming skinhead shouting slurs. It’s nice middle-class people who choose their words carefully.

Writing in Out magazine, Gillian Branstetter talks about the US hate group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and its relationship to the Westboro Baptist Church. Both organisations are hateful, but the ADF understands that wandering around with placards saying “God hates fags” is counterproductive. The ADF is much smarter, and much more dangerous.

Alongside branding standards, the ADF instructs its employees to replace words like “transgender” with “sexually confused,” “gay” with “homosexual behavior,” and “intersex” with — I’m not kidding — “sexually mutilated.”

Perhaps most telling, however, is how Mr. Trent and his colleagues are instructed to describe their own work and the policies they defend. They don’t engage in “bigotry,” according to the style guide. They’re merely “defending biblical, religious principles.” They don’t oppose “sex education programs” in schools; they oppose “sexual indoctrination.” It’s not “gay marriage”; it’s “marriage imitation.”

The Mumsnet crowd do this too. They use the debunked faux-diagnosis of “autogynephilia” as a way to call trans people fantasists, fetishists and perverts. They use “protecting sex-based rights” to agitate against trans people’s rights. They say  they’re just a place where nice, friendly harmless women come together to debate the issues, campaign against Childline, try to defund trans-supportive charities and force charities to cancel discussions on preventing child abuse.

… these tricks of language rely on the “naive conception” of bigotry. The ADF, allies of the president, and many others in Washington hope to manipulate the view that racism, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, or transphobia cannot be called for what it is until it’s screaming in your face, carrying a five-foot poster declaring your eternal damnation.

…The Alliance Defending Freedom — as well as the Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and many others — are fighting for a world without LGBTQ+ people in it, where anyone can feel free to deny trans people our most basic rights because they feel God hates us. That fact should not go unnoticed simply because they aren’t holding signs declaring it.

“We come out in order to tell our young people that they can be loved”

It’s National Coming Out Day in the US today. It’s often pitched as a celebration, but National Coming Out Day began as activism. For LGBT+ people, the personal is political – so coming out is a political act.

Life is different if you’re LGBT+. The US Supreme Court is not currently discussing whether it should be legal to fire people for being heterosexual. Radio 4 does not invite lobby groups to tell its listeners that cisgender women will attack them in hospital wards. Straight people do not have to worry that strangers will beat them up for holding their partner’s hand in public*. Cisgender people do not have to pass extensive psychiatric assessments to get simple medication. Nobody’s protesting outside schools that tell children straight people exist. Cisgender people do not give themselves bladder infections because they’re too scared of being yelled at or worse to use public toilets. Heterosexual teenagers don’t need to fear homelessness or physical or sexual abuse if they tell their parents they’re straight.

By coming out, by simply getting on with our lives, we can help fight that prejudice and bigotry.

But not everybody can come out, or is ready to. It’s hard enough dealing with your own stuff without also setting yourself up as a target for every arsehole on Earth, bringing 57 varieties of bigoted bullshit into your life.

We’ve come a long way in a fairly short time, but even in supposedly enlightened countries like the UK there are people who hate LGBT+ people. Those people do not always keep their bigoted beliefs a secret, wrap them in “reasonable concerns” or keep their hatred in the closet. Many of them are vocal. Some are violent. And not everyone is strong enough to come out and have to deal with that.

Helen Boyd, author of the insightful and thought-provoking memoirs My Husband Betty and She’s Not The Man I Married, has written a powerful open letter about that very thing.

your visible pride flag is for the young people who are LGBTQ+, who can’t come out, or be out, because they have so little autonomy in their lives, who don’t get to choose who their parents are or what their religion is or even where they go to school. It’s for the young people who are bullied because they are different and no one at their school is helping. It’s for the young people who worry about disappointing their mom or dad or grandma or uncle, who think it’s impossible to live a happy, productive life as an LGBTQ+ person, or who believe there is something wrong, or evil, about them because of who they are or who they love.

…We come out in order to tell our young people that they can be loved, feel safe, have a job, be successful, have families. We come out so they know their elders are out here loving them even when we don’t know who they are yet. We come out so they know we’re here and that someone cares about them living their lives to their fullest potential. We come out so that those young people live to be adults because too many of them don’t.

We come out because we can and we know others who can’t, won’t, shouldn’t – yet, or maybe ever.

* Not all straight people, of course. People dating people from ethnic or religious minorities can be attacked for who they love too.

Useful idiots are still idiots

I’ve written many times about useful idiots, members of minority groups who join anti-minority parties. One of the best-known examples is Winston McKenzie, the former Commonwealth spokesman for UKIP, whose presence in the party was used to prove it wasn’t racist. He ended up quitting the party because it was racist.

Trans and gay people do it too. In the US, the “LGBT for Trump” campaign and the Log Cabin Republicans proved to be a bunch of idiots helping to rainbow-wash one of the most anti-LGBT presidents we’ve ever seen, a president whose campaign against LGBT people may see even basic anti-discrimination protections removed.

Here in the UK we have ageing transsexuals joining anti-trans bigots to rail against the invented dangers of other trans people, and celebrity trans people pulling the ladder up behind them to leave other trans people behind. We even have transgender candidates standing for the thoroughly anti-trans Brexit Party.

You’ll be shocked to discover that despite having trans candidates, the Brexit party – hardly the most progressive, inclusive party around – still hates trans people. Here’s PinkNews on its co-founder, Catherine Blaiklock.

The only people this should come as a surprise to are the idiots who can’t see that they’re being accepted because they’re useful, not because they’re welcome. They are there for one reason and one reason only: to try and persuade the public that the organisation is less hateful than it really is.

Not so reasonable now

Jezebel has posted a very comprehensive analysis of one of the LGBT+ human rights cases in front of the US Supreme Court.

Tellingly, a who’s who of anti-trans bigots have signed on in support of Rost, from the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson to the Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF, all of whom are attempting to make the same argument: that trans women are not women and that giving trans women civil rights protections would harm other women. (For the members of WoLF, the fact that a ruling against Stephens would possibly reify gender stereotypes in the workplace apparently matters less than ensuring trans women have fewer rights.)

That who’s who also includes some of the most prominent anti-trans activists from the UK. For example Linda Bellos, a regular contributor to UK radio, TV and newspaper discussions about trans issues, travelled to the US to address the primarily right-wing and straight crowd of anti-LGBT+ protesters outside the Supreme Court. Messages of support from other high-profile UK activists were read out to the crowd.

Bear in mind that these people have said repeatedly that they are only speaking out about trans issues because they have “reasonable concerns” about possible unintended consequences of reforming the UK gender recognition system. Nothing more, nothing less. They are absolutely not motivated by a hatred of trans women, and to suggest so is a vicious slur.

And yet here they are, proudly standing in front of supporters of, and in front of banners bearing the logo of and paid for by, the anti-abortion, anti-lesbian, anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-diversity Alliance Defending Freedom.

The links between British anti-trans activism and the US religious right are well documented, but they’re generally concealed on the grounds that holding hands with anti-women, anti-LGBT+ hate groups isn’t a very feminist thing to do even if you hate trans people as much as they do. And the ADF really is a hate group. It was classified as such by the SPLC in the US for its efforts to criminalise homosexuality and enable businesses to discriminate against LGBT+ people. It advises anti-LGBT+ organisations in other countries how best to keep anti-gay laws on the statute books, and it fought vigorously against the US decriminalisation of gay sex.

Here’s Opendemocracy:

The global wing of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has a multi-million dollar budget but does not disclose who its funders are. It opened an office in London two years ago and is now spending hundreds of thousands in the UK.

Recently, this group has publicly opposed ‘buffer zones’ around British abortion clinics and supported calls for “freedom of conscience” provisions to enable medical staff to independently object to providing legal abortion services.

…It was recently denied ‘participatory status’ at the Council of Europe because of its opposition to a convention on preventing and combating violence against women.

…ADF International has worked with the British Christian right for years. It previously collaborated with its “allied organisation” the Christian Institute, for example, to support a London registrar who refused to officiate for same-sex civil partnerships

Imagine standing proudly with people like that.

You’re probably a target too

Arwa Mahdawi writes in The Guardian about the US court cases on LGBT+ discrimination.

These cases are, to put it mildly, a huge deal – and not just for LGBT people. The ruling will have serious implications for straight people who don’t comply with gender norms. It could allow employers to fire women who don’t wear heels or makeup. It could allow companies to discriminate against men who are not considered manly enough. It could give employers a green light to act as the gender police.

That’s not an accident. It’s part of the strategy. Globally we’re seeing a very well-funded attempt by the Christian Right to remove the separation of church and state, and to make the non-religious  and the non-Christian subject to Christian law.

If this were a campaign to introduce Sharia law in secular democracies the mainstream media would be outraged; because it’s a strategy to create Christian theocracies many newspaper proprietors support it and actively promote the key players.

It’s not, and it never was, just about LGBT+ people.

Here’s the Guardian again, this time reporting on the Australian Christian Lobby. Like the ADF in the US, it’s demanding the power for employers to fire people based on the employers’ most regressive religious beliefs. And like in the US, it’s part of a wider move to protect discrimination by, not against, Christian extremists.

ACL director Martyn Iles:

defended the prospect of hiring and firing based on the “Christian sexual ethic … that sexual relations are for one man and one woman” to the exclusion of others.

Once again Christian extremists are asking not just for protection from discrimination, but for the legal right to discriminate against anyone they disapprove of in the workplace, in housing and in healthcare. Gay people. Unmarried mothers. Feminists. Trans people. Women who aren’t saving themselves for marriage. People of other faiths. Anyone who doesn’t conform to a regressive view of human rights and behaviour.

The headlines may say LGBT+, but even if you’re straight and cisgender you’re a target too.

Mahdawi:

We can’t draw a line between feminism and the fight for gay liberation or trans equality. LGBT rights are human rights – we are all in this together.

A scary day for LGBT+ people in America

Today, the US Supreme Court will hear three cases with massive potential consequences for LGBT+ people.

The court will be asked to declare whether it’s legal to fire people on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. If the court rules that it is, it’ll be a very bleak day for human rights.

Reuters:

Trump, a Republican with vigorous support among evangelical Christian voters, has pursued policies taking aim at gay and transgender rights. His administration has supported the right of certain businesses to refuse to serve gay people on the basis of religious objections to gay marriage, restricted transgender service members in the military and rescinded protections on bathroom access for transgender students in public schools.

…A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would give gay and transgender workers greater protections, especially in the 28 U.S. states that do not already have comprehensive measures against employment discrimination. A ruling against the plaintiffs would mean gay and transgender people in those states would have few options to challenge workplace discrimination.

Kate Sosin covers LGBT issues for a number of outlets. As they posted earlier:

To be clear, they don’t get to rule on our humanity. They’re ruling on their own.

All the world’s The Stage

There’s been a thoroughly predictable outcry against The Old Vic theatre’s move to gender-neutral toilets, and trade magazine The Stage invited two cisgender women to write about it. A Twitter storm ensued and the articles were both taken down again, but it’s been reported on social media and on the BBC as the silencing of critics. That isn’t true; the supportive article was taken down too.

That one was by writer and arts producer Amber Massie-Blomfield, who has published the piece on her website.

When I tweeted a pretty innocuous comment in response to the Old Vic’s announcement – ‘This is fantastic, thank you for making this important change to help those of all genders feel welcome at your venue’ – I found my notifications inundated with aggressive responses calling me ‘an idiot’ and asking ‘why do you want women to be assaulted?’. As a cis woman, it was an unwelcome reminder of the levels of intimidation and harassment faced by trans* people every day. Many of those attacking me were apparently, like me, privileged, cis women – and it has made me more committed than ever to use my own privilege to stand alongside the trans community.

Besides, it’s not only trans* people who benefit from these changes. It’s carers looking after someone of another gender to them, parents, and any woman who has ever stood in a long queue waiting for a cubicle to become available, watching men sailing freely in and out of the toilets designated exclusively for them.

These orchestrated pile-ons – and yes, some trans people do it too, albeit not in the massive numbers that anti-trans pile-ons attract– are making it impossible to have any sensible discussions about anything. People take the most extreme positions (eg. thinking gender neutral toilets are a good idea means you want women to be sexually assaulted) and just scream them endlessly.

And some of that screaming is being done deliberately by people who know better.

Here’s Ruth Pearce, whose expertise is in trans healthcare.

One of the most frustrating things about being a trans researcher on Twitter is seeing lies and misrepresentations which are *demonstratably* wrong propagated by journalists and commentators. Anti-trans activists call for “debate” but there is literally not enough time in the day.

Debating trans issues online feels like banging your head against a brick wall. You can produce evidence, appeal to human decency, point out logical inconsistencies – to absolutely no avail. If you manage to bring around one person, others have been spreading the lie elsewhere.

Part of the problem here is that “debate” rarely works to persuade – it’s more frequently a form of political theatre… it’s hard not to feel massively disheartened when I’ve spent days, months, years interviewing people, reading publications, visiting clinics etc, and meanwhile people are running around the internet propagating myths because they read a thinkpiece and all their mates agree.

You can’t say “it happened to me!” if it didn’t happen to you

Sky News, prop. R Murdoch, has given strange prominence to the launch of a new charity.

Let’s start with a question. Detransitioning from what?

What do you think transitioning means? To most, it’ll mean hormones and surgery. And as the article makes clear, to Sky it definitely means hormones and surgery.

But that’s not what Evans, the founder of the charity, detransitioned from. She’s written extensively online about her story. She was never diagnosed with gender dysphoria; was never prescribed hormone blockers; never had surgery. During the ten years she was supposedly living as a man she still presented female.

It’s important to tread carefully here, because the current system places undue emphasis on psychiatric assessment: being trans is not a mental health issue and you’re still trans if you don’t have a diagnosis. And many trans people for various reasons have to present as their birth gender from time to time.

However, if you’re telling a national news outlet that you lived full-time as a man for ten years,  hated anyone seeing your feminine body and tightly bound your chest for a decade, low-cut swimsuit pics from the middle of that period tend to undermine that. And if you are claiming that there is an epidemic of young women being rushed into hormone treatment and surgery, and you are using your own experience as evidence of that, you need to be able to back up your claims.

Quite simply: it’s dishonest to claim experience of a system if you do not have that experience, to say “it happened to me!” if it didn’t happen to you.

“I had short hair and hated periods” doesn’t cut it.

“I had short hair and hated periods” is a very common trope among anti-trans activists, many of whom say things along the lines of : “I was totally butch when I was a teen, I bought my shirts from the boys’ section and wore Doc Martens and didn’t like having cramps and if that was today I’d be rushed into surgery and given phalloplasty.”

That isn’t just attention-seeking nonsense by people lucky enough not to have experienced dysphoria. It’s completely offensive to trans men. It essentially says they’re faking it, that strangers on the internet know them better than they do. It shows a lack of knowledge of what it’s like to be a trans man, of the discrimination and prejudice they experience and of the system as it works (or more likely, doesn’t work) for them.

I know several trans men and what they’ve gone through makes my own transition seem like a pleasant stroll through a leafy park on a sunny day. I genuinely don’t know how some of them cope against such incredible obstacles. And I know for certain that none of them is being rushed through anything. Quite the contrary. One person I know is in a lot of distress after repeatedly being refused any help whatsoever. Others have been treated appallingly by supposed health professionals. All have languished for many years on too-long waiting lists.

These articles don’t exist in isolation. They are fuel for the anti-trans bigots who are already gleefully sharing the Sky article as yet more “evidence” of a rush to surgery that doesn’t exist. The crowdfunder will no doubt attract the usual dark money from people who don’t want any trans folk to get any kind of healthcare or support, and who see this as yet another way to get anti-trans misinformation aired.

And it is misinformation. The Sky article doesn’t do basic research, makes baseless claims and uses anecdotes from two people, one of whom hasn’t had any medical treatment, as “evidence” of a supposed epidemic of medical malpractice.

The article here is not about people who experimented with their gender presentation or adopted gender-neutral names. It repeatedly uses phrases such as “detransition to their biological sex” and talks about surgery. The message, which is right there in the headline, is that hundreds of people are seeking help to “return to their original sex”.

Sky:

There is currently no data to reflect the number who may be unhappy in their new gender or who may opt to detransition to their biological sex.

Oh yes there is. The surgical regret for gender reassignment surgeries is less than 2% worldwide. That’s massively lower than the regret rate the majority of the most common surgeries including cosmetic surgery. Gender reassignment surgery is known to be extremely successful in improving trans people’s mental health. Here are some stats from the American Journal of Psychiatry, published yesterday.

We also know the detransition rate of people attending an NHS Gender Identity Clinic in England, which includes people who only undergo social transition as well as those who have medical help. It’s 0.47% from a sample size of 3,488 people. That’s three people, two of whom re-transitioned.

Detransitioners exist, and they need and deserve sympathy and support. There are some really awful stories of people who attempted to transition and found life to be just as unbearable because of the transphobia they faced, so they returned to the gender they were assigned at birth. Many will try again later in life; they won’t always be successful then either.

I can’t imagine what that must be like. To go through transition once is hellish. To go through it and then have to reverse it, before perhaps trying again…

Thankfully, though, those ordeals are incredibly, incredibly rare. And what the poor sods who go through it really don’t need is a bunch of attention-seekers and fantasists claiming to be detransitioners because they had short hair when they were 17.

I feel sorry for anyone who has found it hard to work out who they are. But that sympathy stops when somebody takes their own personal hurt and turns it outwards, as appears to be the case here.

The idea that trans people or some sinister trans lobby is pushing people towards transition is nonsense. Trans people, trans healthcare specialists and trans allies are the last people who want people’s gender presentation policed or people undergoing treatment they don’t need. Butch women, femme guys, non-binary identities, genderqueer and genderfuckery: we’re all for it. We know how difficult, traumatic and painful transition can be and the last thing we’d want is anybody to go through any of it unnecessarily.

But that’s not the story Sky wants to tell. Given a chance to scaremonger about the sinister trans lobby once again, the most basic tenets of journalism are ignored. All Sky News needed to do was ask a couple of simple questions about the validity of the claims being made and the whole thing would have fallen apart.

But that’s not how Murdoch outlets work, is it?

Might as well jump

There’s been an interesting discussion on Twitter among some trans folks on the subject of transition and bravery. Did we have to transition? Are we brave to have done so?

Here’s Emmy Zje:

“Do you really HAVE to transition tho?”

Yes. The horrific certainties of not transitioning eventually eclipsed the certainties transphobia was sure to bring into my life by transitioning.

I transitioned to an uncertain future because I was certain of how bad it would be to not.

I felt like that too. I didn’t begin my transition because I wanted to. I did it because I had to. It’s like the scene in an action movie where the protagonist is marched to a cliff edge at gunpoint to face a firing squad, but instead of waiting to be shot they jump. There’s every chance the fall could kill them, that it’s a long drop onto rocks, broken bottles, hypodermic needles and discarded washing machines. But while the chance of survival is tiny, the likelihood that the firing squad will shoot you is 100%.

Does making that jump make us brave? I’m not sure it does. Here’s Scattermoon:

You often hear “you’re so brave” when you talk about transitioning, and yeah, while it’s rough being trans in a world like this, it’s not like it’s necessarily a choice.

Would you say someone fleeing a burning building was brave, even if into a snowstorm?

I really like that analogy: we’re not doing a graceful dive into the air; we’re running out of a burning building and our hair is on fire.

Other trans people have added their own thoughts. Two in particular really resonated with me.

The state of mind I was in when I decided to start transition was “My own thoughts right now are scarier than anything anyone else could possibly say or do to me.”

And:

I wasn’t brave. I was desperate.

Me too. Me too.