“Do you have to do it in front of my kids?”

This is powerful and wonderful. It’s from BBC’s The Social, the bit where Auntie Beeb gives a platform to voices you don’t necessarily hear very often on the main channels’ output. Its comedy output is consistently hilarious, but it’s in the serious stuff where it really shines.

This one’s about something simple: being in love.

The video’s made it to the excellently intelligent discussion site MetaFilter, which has resulted in a really interesting discussion.

Here’s Mudpuppie, on how LGBT people police their own behaviour in public:

Be careful who you touch in public, and how, and be mindful of who’s watching. Be careful how you refer to your partner, and be mindful of who’s listening. Constrain your public hellos and goodbyes. Be careful how you present yourself, lest you offend someone who reacts to that offense with violence, either physical or verbal or metaphorical: Something less than a punch, maybe, but not nothing.

Sciatrix agrees, but adds a positive that I’ve definitely experienced:

…there’s a world of difference between a straight person’s enthusiastic grin and the quiet chin jerk from the dapper gentleman on the bus, the particular pleased crinkle of eyes from the woman on my walk to work when I’ve buzzed my hair again, the slouching, tow-headed tilt of recognition in the kid in the back, the lit eyes of the student on the edge of the room… There’s a quiet kind of seeing each other that’s totally unrelated to the straight, cis world except inasmuch as none of us fit inside it. For all that we don’t always speak the same languages or the same community concepts, we all speak the lingua franca of hello, I see you and can you believe it?

There’s something lovely about that, too.

I’ve only experienced a little of it, but Sciatrix is right. There’s something really lovely about it.


People are happier when they can be themselves

Cornell University has studied all the peer-reviewed English articles about gender transition from 1991 to 2017 and found overwhelming evidence that social and/or medical transition is a positive thing.

Among the positive outcomes of gender transition and related medical treatments for transgender individuals are improved quality of life, greater relationship satisfaction, higher self-esteem and confidence, and reductions in anxiety, depression, suicidality, and substance use.

…regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved.

Anti-trans activists and their friends in the media repeatedly claim the opposite. They’re lying to you. There’s an ever growing body of evidence showing that letting people be themselves is great for their mental health.


Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

I can’t get no sleep

The Caledonian Sleeper train is in the news after the latest concerted “pile-on” (their words) by anti-trans activists who organise on Mumsnet: they don’t want trans people on sleeper trains.

(It’s interesting to see people with hateful views, many of whom advocate violence against minorities, hiding behind the label “mumsnet user” and abusing the stereotype of mums as nice, unthreatening and sensible people who can’t possibly be vicious bigots. The US religious right trades in similar tropes.)

Later this year, the service is changing so that people won’t be sharing with strangers at all, so the risk of feeling “uncomfortable” will be removed entirely. But even now it’s a non-issue, as Dr Brooke Magnanti explained on Twitter:

A lot of people piling on @CalSleeper about gender clearly have never used the service; they can if they wish select single occupancy and sleep by themselves; alternatively, there are sleeper seats in an open carriage where anyone can sit next to anyone.

You can also travel with friends and family and share your cabin with them.

As someone who has travelled these routes regularly, it is in fact only seldom that you actually end up sharing with a stranger. And most people use the Sleeper for its intended purpose: TO SLEEP.

If you feel uncomfortable with your assigned berthmate, you can change when you arrive (the old Sleeper system used to designate anyone with ‘Dr’ as male, so I had to do this on the platform a couple of times)

Every carriage has an attendant, and every berth has an emergency and attendant call button if anything happens. You can change once the journey is underway; I was reassigned an empty cabin due to noisy/drunk person in the top bunk once.

I fully support trans people.@CalSleeper, the folks piling on you now are doing it for publicity and headlines. They aren’t even your customers.

This is something I’ve had to think about. I’m going to a concert in That London in the summer and considered the Sleeper, because it’s by far the most convenient and cost-effective option. But I decided against it: on the one hand my fear of sharing with a bloke (the same fear women have, plus the extra risk of abuse that LGBT people face), on the other my concern about making someone uncomfortable by my mere presence.

So instead, I’m flying and staying in a hotel. It’s going to cost considerably more money and it’s considerably less convenient but I’m fortunate in that I can choose that option.

Not everybody can. And that’s the problem with the current wave of anti-trans bile coming from Mumsnet and being parroted, unquestioned, in the media and on social media. It’s about policing where we can go, about limiting our ability to live normally. We’ve even got supposedly sensible newspaper columnists advocating segregated bathrooms, an idea that we’ve seen somewhere before:

Some of the most vicious racists were mums who claimed black women spread disease and must be segregated; in the US, some suffragettes argued for the vote on the grounds that it would help white power defeat black people’s votes. The same kind of nice, unthreatening and totally not bigoted at all people turned their attentions to gay and lesbian people in the 1970s. It’s not that they were racist, or homophobic. They were “uncomfortable”. They had “genuine concerns”. That was more important than the dignity and safety of other people, people who had much more to fear than they did, people who they demonised and vilified.

What extremists did then, and what their spiritual heirs are doing now, is weaponising people’s fear of the other, of the unknown. Their goal isn’t to protect anybody. It’s to erase a victimised minority, to prevent them from living normally, to exclude them from public spaces and public life.

Don’t let the labels fool you: what bigots are doing on Mumsnet is the same radicalisation the alt-right racists and anti-semites have been doing on Reddit and other social media.

They’re not protecting women. They’re grooming them.


Three minutes of awesome: what it’s like to be visibly yourself

Today is international trans day of visibility, and the excellent Overtake asked me to write a piece about what it’s like to go out in public as yourself for the first time. I hope you find it as funny as I did writing it.


Handsome man marries beautiful woman

Here’s a happy story: Jake and Hannah got married this week. Jake’s an actor, Hannah’s an army officer and the photos show a clearly delighted couple in love. I don’t know Hannah but I’m connected to Jake on Facebook and he strikes me as a thoroughly excellent human being, so it’s really lovely to see the wedding pics.

Even if they’re on the front page of the Sun.

Jake and Hannah are both trans, and their wedding’s made all the papers. The coverage is positive, the Sun’s astonishingly disrespectful headline aside, and while it falls for a lot of the clichés of trans coverage – such as “before and after” pictures and clunky language – it’s a ray of sunshine in an otherwise pretty toxic media environment.

I hope Jake and Hannah are very happy together, and that I’ll live to see the day when two people getting married isn’t newsworthy.

LGBTQ+ Media

Did Richard Littlejohn drive a woman to suicide?

The thoroughly repellent Richard Littlejohn has written yet another anti-trans piece in the papers. It’s not significant in itself; it’s the usual bile from a man who rails against “vicious trolls” while being a vicious troll.

But it’s significant because it’s been published five years since another Littlejohn column was implicated in the death of a trans woman.

Lucy Meadows was 32. She taught year six, pupils aged 10-11, at the St Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School in Accrington, in England. She had a young son.

And in March 2013 she killed herself.

Lucy left a note, which said:

“I try to do things the right way to make people feel more comfortable with it. I have simply had enough of living. I have no regrets other than leaving behind those who are dear to me and of causing them pain in doing so. I would like to thank everyone who has had an impact in my life.”

Lucy had left another note, this one at the front door. Warning, it said. The house is full of carbon monoxide. Don’t come in.

By all accounts, that was typical of her. Thoughtful. Caring about other people, even at the very end.

The coroner confirmed the cause of death: cardio respiratory failure due to carbon monoxide toxicity. But while he said that Lucy had taken her own life, he had another message to share.

“To the members of the press, I say shame,” Michael Singleton, the coroner, said. “Shame on all of you.”

Lucy hadn’t been born Lucy, and she transitioned to live as a woman full-time in Christmas 2012. Her school was very supportive. Head teacher Karen Hardman spoke to each primary school class about the change their teacher would be going through, and it was mentioned as an aside in the school’s Christmas newsletter: “[Name] has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman.”

One parent wasn’t happy and contacted the local newspaper, the Accrington Observer. The story went national. Meadows’ transition was “inappropriate” and children were “too young” to be “dealing with that.”

What should have been a private matter was front page news. The press argued that because the school had written parents a letter, the story was in the public domain. And because of that, they made Meadows’ life hell.

Lucy’s wife, Ruth Hunt, recalls the press’s despicable behaviour:

The first and most visible consequence of “press interest” is the press pack turning up on your doorstep. They appeared, en masse, to besiege Lucy in her home. Reporters. Photographers. Camera crew. You name it.

…It might have been less bad if the press could have been relied on to report honestly. But as Lucy noted at the time, they weren’t interested in the many, many positive comments that parents gave out in her support. No: they cared only about the man with the confused child and his petition.

Nor was it just biased reporting. Some columnists – the Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn led the way – simply used their columns, read by millions of people to attack a woman who wanted only to live her life in peace.

The Mail is so proud of this column they removed it from their online archive.

Deliberately misgendering Meadows as “he” throughout the piece and “deadnaming” her — that is, using her given name rather than her female name — Littlejohn’s piece began with the headline “He’s not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job” and became less tolerant as it went on.

“The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its ‘commitment to diversity and equality’ above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents,” Littlejohn wrote. “It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats. These are primary school children, for heaven’s sake. Most them still believe in Father Christmas. Let them enjoy their childhood. They will lose their innocence soon enough.”

He continued: “[Deadname] is entitled to his gender reassignment surgery, but he isn’t entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children. By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen’s, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years.”

That’s not just a dog whistle. That’s a whole pet shop.

And in March 2013, Lucy Meadows was dead.

There were petitions to have Littlejohn fired and complaints to the press complaints commission, but the Daily Mail stood by its star columnist, as newspapers do unless the libel bills get too much. A spokesman said: “Richard Littlejohn’s column emphatically defended the rights of people to have sex change operations but echoed some parents’ concerns about whether it was right to for children to have to confront such complex gender problems at such a vulnerable young age.”⁠1

The Mail is so proud of the article that it has quietly deleted it from its online archive.

The coroner didn’t agree that the coverage was fair. It “sought to humiliate and ridicule” Meadows, he said.

Lucy Meadows was not somebody who had thrust herself into the public limelight. She was not a celebrity. She had done nothing wrong. Her only crime was to be different. Not by choice but by some trick of nature. And yet the press saw fit to treat her in the way that they did.⁠2

And it’s still happening.


1 If you’ve ever complained about newspaper articles to the regulator IPSO, you’ll know that their definitions of unacceptable behaviour are so narrow it seems that no publication is ever guilty of anything.



Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

On names and pronouns: don’t be an arse

Following on from yesterday’s daft Sunday Times story, Owl Stefania writes in iNews in defence of using the correct pronouns.

It’s just the compassionate and right thing to do. Because in the end, why would anyone deliberately go out of their way to harm another human being?

There does appear to be a double standard in operation.

People seem fine calling drag queens “she” and “her”; for example, most of the coverage I’ve seen about Celebrity Big Brother winner Courtney Act calls her “Courtney” and uses “she/her”, even though Courtney is Shane offstage and doesn’t identify as female.

But if trans people ask for the same courtesy, they’re somehow wicked.

It can’t be authenticity we’re worried about. We don’t seem to have a problem with Bono, born Paul Hewson, even though he took his name from a hearing aid shop. Guitarist The Edge was born David Evans, and took his name from an imaginary character in an imaginary village.

Fish, formerly of Marillion, isn’t a fish.

Snoop Dogg isn’t a dog.

Ice-T isn’t made of ice or tea.

To the best of my knowledge, Sting doesn’t.

And that’s before we list the many women who’ve changed their name, from Miley Cyrus (Hope) and Jodie Foster (Alicia) to Whoopi Goldberg (Caryn Johnson), Shania Twain (Eilleen Edwards) and bell hooks (Gloria Watkins).

Of course, these are pseudonyms, noms de plume or stage names. But all the world’s a stage.

If you met any of the people I’ve mentioned in real life you wouldn’t insist on calling them by their birth names because that’d be rude and their people would probably have you thrown down the nearest staircase.

There’s no reason to call anybody by anything other than their preferred name: if you insist on doing otherwise, you’re an arse.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Parasites and the turkeys voting for Xmas

I love this cartoon by Paul Noth in The New Yorker.

This week the Conservative MP David Davies (not the successful one; that’s David Davis. This one’s the MP for Monmouth) held a meeting of anti-trans militants in the House of Commons. The speakers are well known for their extreme views.

As Newsweek reports (the UK media hasn’t covered it beyond LGBT magazine Pink News; it contradicts the narrative of brave women standing up against wicked trans):

An academic who reportedly compared trans people to parasites during an event held at the British Parliament has been accused by LGBT rights advocates of using “fascist” and “dehumanizing” language.

I’ve read pretty detailed reports of what was said at the meeting and none of it was surprising, but it’s surprising that it was welcomed in the House of Commons.

Or maybe it isn’t, because Davies’ voting record is spectacularly anti-LGBT and arguably anti-women too. He was famously described as being on the “far right of the Conservative party”, is a climate change sceptic, was a passionate opponent of equal marriage, has problems with charities such as Save The Children and has repeatedly voted against legislation to make LGBT people’s lives and poor people’s lives better.

You might think he’s an arsehole. I couldn’t possibly comment. But supporting anti-trans bigots is hardly a stretch for him.

Still, it’s ironic to see one of the meeting’s organisers happily posing with Davies and thanking him on Twitter for “standing up for lesbians”, when his entire political career is based on doing exactly the opposite.

But then, it’s also ironic to see the same activists gleefully fuelling anti-trans hit pieces in right-wing newspapers, those famed supporters of women’s equality and LGBT rights.

I can’t help thinking that in the future, the activists rushing into alliances with hard-right conservatives here and in the US will become like the Twitter joke: “I can’t believe leopards are eating my face, says the woman who voted for the Leopards Eating Your Face Party.”

But disgust makes people do strange things, and disgust is clearly the background here. “Parasites” may be a relative newcomer, but the sentiment behind it isn’t.

The members of the Gender Cynical wiki on the social media site Reddit collated the various terms and allegations made against trans people by self-declared “gender critical” people on just that website. When you see them all listed it’s really something.⁠1

As the wiki notes (with references for each; often, lots and lots of references), our heroes claim trans people — and primarily trans women — are:

Dangerous, rapists, “the bad guys”, “easy to spot”, “paedophile rights activists”, “men’s rights activists”, “men’s rights activists with a sissy fetish”, “like men’s rights activists who go on shooting sprees”, mentally ill, too mentally ill to consent to changing sex, too mentally ill to work, too mentally ill to fly planes, disgusted by mentally ill people, insane, psychopaths, sociopaths, untrustworthy, delusional, obsessed with Wikipedia, narcissists, whiny women, screeching, shrieking, a bunch of entitled assholes, a cult, armed robbers, just another dangerous fad, submissives, “natural slaves”, unworthy of empathy, openly paedophilic, autistic, sexually exhibitionistic, stereotypical, not stereotypical enough, “correctively raping young lesbians”, “lying and deceptive creeps appropriating the experiences of an oppressed class they cannot ever be a part of”, contagious, predators, death metal fans who befriend men, representatives of rapists, in need of humiliation, sick, disgusting, unnatural, drag queens, a deviant minority, more socially accepted than gay people, mistaken, subhuman, male supremacists, male supremacist victims of psychological warfare, inherently sexualised, an elite aristocracy funded by 76 large corporations, femme gay men, straight men with low self esteem, socially awkward autistic men who hate lesbians, hysterical, fetishists, “outright perverts and criminals”, abusers, latent mass murderers, “the worst thing to happen to gay people since AIDS”.

It’s quite the list. I’m surprised nobody’s claiming we can’t swim or that we have lower IQs.

Bear this in mind the next time you hear these people say they want a reasoned debate.


LGBTQ+ Media

Preference vs prejudice and the politics of disgust

There’s a fascinating piece by philosopher Amia Srinivasan in the London Review of Books about sex, sexuality and entitlement.

It’s wide ranging and covers everything from “incels” – self-proclaimed “involuntary celibates” who believe they can’t get laid because women are evil – to LGBTQ people.

The core question is whether anybody is entitled to sex, and of course the answer to that is no.

But that doesn’t mean sex and sexual preferences don’t have a political element. Apologies in advance if I get any terminology wrong; I’m not well versed in the correct language to use in these topics.

Consider the supreme fuckability of ‘hot blonde sluts’ and East Asian women, the comparative unfuckability of black women and Asian men, the fetishisation and fear of black male sexuality, the sexual disgust expressed towards disabled, trans and fat bodies. These too are political facts, which a truly intersectional feminism should demand that we take seriously. But the sex-positive gaze, unmoored from Willis’s call to ambivalence, threatens to neutralise these facts, treating them as pre-political givens. In other words, the sex-positive gaze risks covering not only for misogyny, but for racism, ableism, transphobia, and every other oppressive system that makes its way into the bedroom through the seemingly innocuous mechanism of ‘personal preference’.

Srinivasan talks about the so-called “cotton ceiling”, an unfortunate term for the othering of trans women. It’s been wrongly and maliciously characterised as trans women demanding lesbians have sex with them.

The term was coined by trans porn star Drew DeVeax in 2012 to describe what she felt was a tendency in feminist and queer spaces to welcome trans women in theory, but to think of them as weird, icky and totally unfuckable in practice. Getting past the cotton ceiling, then, would mean women believing that trans women could be sexually attractive — that trans women were women, not things.

Similar discussions happen around ableism or fat shaming, where people who don’t conform to a particular societal norm may feel that they are tolerated but not considered desirable.

Nobody’s demanding anything when they talk about this stuff. They’re just pointing out that what you prefer in the bedroom may be shaped by what you experience outside the bedroom – and that what you prefer in the bedroom may also shape how you act outside the bedroom.

Whatever gets you through the night

Let’s say you aren’t attracted to fat women. That’s a preference. We all have preferences, because that’s how people work. My particular preference is funny, smart, beautiful women who don’t fancy me, because God has a sick sense of humour. I can’t say I’ve ever been attracted to a man, the odd pop star excepted (have you seen the band REM put through a gender swap? Michael Stipe would have made a beautiful woman, because he was and still is a beautiful man). But I don’t think guys are disgusting. They just don’t float my boat.

Let’s take another example: maybe you love big girls but not big trans girls.  Again, a preference. But where does that preference come from? Is it just your personal thing, or is it because you’ve spent decades seeing men on screen vomiting after being “tricked” by a trans woman because trans women are disgusting?

Pass the sick bag

One of the most famous scenes in Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is when Carrey discovers he has kissed somebody who’s trans. This revelation causes him to throw up twice into the toilet bowl and then clean his teeth so vigorously he goes through an entire tube of toothpaste.

It happened in The Crying Game too, and in Naked Gun 33⅓. Horror at trans women is also played for laughs in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Hangover Part II and in a particularly repellent example, in the cartoon The Cleveland Show. The “trans as disgusting trickster” trope is widespread on social media.

Still, it makes a change from portraying trans people as murderers. For decades popular culture has treated trans people in a very negative way.

So it’s worth considering where preferences may come from. Are you just not into somebody, or have you been conditioned to believe that gay people, or trans people, or fat people are somehow lesser people or worthy of disgust?

This matters. There are many kinds of people I’m not usually attracted to, but I don’t think any of them are disgusting. They’re just not my type.

That’s the difference between preference and prejudice.

Guys not floating my boat is a preference. Thinking guys are disgusting, or that guys who like guys are disgusting, is a prejudice.

Not being into big women is a preference. Believing that big women are disgusting and lazy is prejudice.

Not wanting to sleep with a non-op trans woman is a preference. Believing nobody could want to sleep with a trans woman because trans women are disgusting is prejudice.

The politics of disgust

Being prejudiced doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll discriminate against a group of people, although it often does. But it does make it much more likely that you’ll support discrimination against that group. The politics of disgust – focusing on “dole scroungers” and single mums, promiscuous gay men and trans people – is widespread and keeps papers like the Daily Mail in business.

Disgust is a visceral, powerful, dangerous thing. If an entire class of people disgust you, that means you see them as lesser humans.

Here’s an example of disgust in action. The “gay panic” defence (and its successor, trans panic) has been used in court to justify murder: “it turned out he was gay. I was so disgusted that I panicked and stabbed him 37 times”. Such a defence has been used in around half of the states in the US, and only two states have explicitly prohibited it.

This isn’t ancient history. Just last week, a sex offender called Mark Lewis escaped prosecution for killing a young, black trans woman. He claims that they had been kissing, and when she grabbed his backside he panicked and pushed her into the river, where she drowned. He didn’t try to help her.

There’s no doubt that he did it. He said so, twice. But thanks to a bungled prosecution that focused not on his manslaughter charge but the much lesser crime of failing to register as a sex offender, he’s a free man who can’t be prosecuted over the death. The manslaughter of Kenne McFadden is a “terrible tragedy”. Just one of those things.

But it isn’t. Lewis’s lawyers claimed self defence, and they were confident that had the case been tried by jury they would have won in that arena too. As his attorney put it: “what my client actually did was push a person off of him who was touching him in an offensive manner.”

Call me cynical, but whenever somebody I’m kissing grabs my backside I don’t immediately panic, push them in a river and watch them die.

And this is where the personal becomes political. Would Lewis have been disgusted, would he have reacted the way he did, if Kenne McFadden had been white and cisgender, not black and transgender? Would the defence be so sure of victory? Would the prosecution have been allowed to make such boneheaded decisions? Would it still be just one of those things, a terrible tragedy in a country where such tragedies happen far too often?

Maybe. But I doubt it.

LGBTQ+ Media

Ricky Gervais lacks humanity

Ray Burmiston/Netflix

I don’t find Ricky Gervais funny. I thought the US remake of The Office was much better than the original, largely because he wasn’t in it: I couldn’t shift the feeling that his portrayal of a boorish, charmless arsehole wasn’t acting. I’ve been proved right many times since.

Writing in, Matt Zoller Seitz takes issue with his latest stand-up special, Humanity, mainly because like Gervais’s previous stand-up shows large swathes of it are tedious and unfunny. But he also takes issue with the topic that dominates the show: Gervais’ belief that he’s being persecuted.

Gervais devotes much of this special — which lasts about an hour and 20 minutes — to complaining that the world keeps telling him what he can and can’t say.

That’s a man worth £55 million, on stage in front of devoted fans, being filmed for a Netflix special that’ll be shown worldwide.

Nobody is denying a platform for Gervais, Chappelle, Chris Rock, or even Louis C.K. (who had a Netflix special last year, a few months before his career imploded). They’re free to say whatever they want during their routines, and Netflix is free to give them time and space in which to say it. What seems to infuriate these comedians, however, is that audiences can talk back more easily now and say, “I don’t like that,” or “I didn’t find that funny,” or “That seemed cruel to me.

We’re back to misunderstanding free speech. Free speech says the government can’t put you in jail for having an opinion. It doesn’t say you should be free from criticism.

What comedians like Gervais object to is being made to think about what they’ve said, and potentially feel regret or guilt over having made a poor choice of material or words. That their initial impulse is to feel anger and resentment at the person raising an objection is telling.

…What these comedians are demanding is that we respect their feelings while they exercise their constitutionally safeguarded prerogative to hurt other people’s feelings. That’s not a level playing field. It’s the power dynamic preferred by a playground bully, in which all the discomfort flows in one direction: away from them.

There’s something particularly risible about a multi-millionaire picking on marginalised groups and then claiming to be a victim.