How journalism should work

Imagine if journalists writing articles about things spoke to people with expert knowledge of those things.

That’s what Caitlin Logan does.

To find out what concerns Scottish women’s groups may have about gender reform, trans people and self-ID, she spoke to women’s groups: Engender, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, the Young Women’s Movement (YWCA Scotland), Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, Forth Valley Rape Crisis, Edinburgh Women’s Aid, and Shakti Women’s Aid.

This is what a trans debate should look like: sober, sensible, well-informed. The reason we don’t get that debate is because all too often, the only opinions sought by journalists are from bigots and cranks.

The Scottish Government’s consultation on gender reform ends this Thursday, and has been the subject of a co-ordinated campaign by said bigots and cranks. If you have a more reasoned opinion, it’d be great if you could add your voice. 

Here’s what the Equality Network has to say in its open letter to LGB people, our friends and our families.

This is a debate about how some of the most marginalised people in our community are treated. It’s about making things just that little bit easier for trans people. It’s about dignity but most of all its about making Scotland a more equal place.

As Logan’s article makes it clear, a great deal of what you’ve read about the proposed reforms simply isn’t true.

LGBTQ+ Media

A mental elf issue

Here’s one of my favourite jokes.

A man walks into a bar and orders a drink. He looks at the other patrons and realises that the man next to him has a small orange for a head.

“Excuse me,” he says. “I can’t help noticing that –”

“I have a small orange for a head?”


“Would you like to know why?”

“Yes. Yes, please.”

“Well, once upon a time I found a grimy old lamp. I cleaned it up with an old rag and to my great surprise a genie popped out. ‘O Master!’ he said. ‘You have freed me from my prison! I shall grant you three wishes!’ Great, I thought. So I wished for great riches and good health, and he granted me both.”

“My goodness!” said the first man. “So what on earth was your third wish?”

“My third wish?”


“Oh,” said the man. “I just wished I had a small orange for a head.”

The case of Luis Padron reminded me of it, because he too has a small orange for a head.

No, not really. But he’s spent £45,000 to make himself look like an elf.

This, inevitably, is being reported as him being “trans-species”, which he isn’t, because elves don’t exist.

Also, he specifically says he isn’t trans-species. The Daily Mail:

During his appearance on This Morning Luis revealed that he is often described as ‘trans-species’ but says that this is not something he agrees with.

That said, this time last year he reportedly told the Daily Mail that he did consider himself trans-species “in the same way transgender people feel”.

The Mirror went with this headline:

‘Trans-species’ fantasy lover born in wrong body risked life for costly and painful £45,000 transformation into an ELF

Whether Padron believes himself to be trans-species doesn’t really matter, though. Some people do claim to be trans-species, and they’re problematic for trans people.

We’re the last people to want to police other people’s identities, but this stuff is inevitably used to delegitimise trans people: the “identify as” trope that’s used to belittle and mock us.

(Incidentally, there’s a fascinating article to be written about the surgeons who facilitate these transformations, like the US border surgeons who treat the mental illness of body dysmorphia by amputating healthy limbs: there’s a lot of money moving around. But again, this is problematic because people would lump them in with the surgeons who operate on trans people.)

I have absolutely no problem with anybody who wants to look like an elf, or a cat, or Barbie’s partner Ken. But there’s a huge difference between that and being transgender. Identifying as a werewolf, as some people do, is just dicking about on the internet. Getting yourself to look like an elf is akin to wanting a small orange for a head.

This matters because trans people are, as I’ve written before, the target of a wedge strategy attacking all LGBT people. The word “real” is used again and again. Equal marriage is not real marriage. Trans women are not real women. Being trans is not a real thing.

Rights are only for real people.

In other words, this shit has consequences.

Claiming to be trans-species (or trans-racial, a term used in adoptions but appropriated by a white woman called Rachel Dolezal amid much controversy) gives people yet another stick to beat transgender people with.

It filters through the culture, too.

Here’s David Sexton, sniggering in The Standard over books by two people pretending to be animals in order to get book deals:

Transgender has a challenger. Once the Kardashians have become leaders in the field, transgender can hardly claim to be transgressive… Time to move on. A new frontier beckons. Trans-speciesism is the future. There are plenty of people out there who suffer from species dysphoria these days. They feel they are a non-human species trapped in a human body, rather along the lines in which transgender people feel gender dysphoria. We may just be at the start of a major new liberation movement.

Does he finish with the “I identify as…” trope? Of course he does.

For myself, I have long identified as, essentially, a parrot, a blue-fronted Amazon I think: cheerful jabbering and plenty of nuts.

Here are some tweets and comments about Padron’s story.

“See what happens when we give a bit of understanding to nutters? Trans has now moved on to this. But we must accept this as normal in our schools I suppose.”

“He looks like a fairy. Maybe one day he will realise he wants to be a woman.”

“I was waiting for species to be added to the list of trans identities.”

“This BE WHO YOU REALLY ARE trend has got to stop!”

In many cases trans-species is used to argue against the whole trans political-correctness-gone-mad thing, with commenters urging others to check out the videos of virulent alt-right bigots.

This is part of the drip-drip-drip I’ve blogged about previously. Seeing somebody described as “trans-species” on breakfast television might not mean much to you or have any effect on your day, but for us it’s different: it’s yet another thing people use against us, yet more “evidence” that we aren’t real.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

How journalism works

I recently cancelled my long-standing subscription to The Times and Sunday Times because I was getting fed up with its selective reporting.

As any writer knows, you can change a story by choosing what to include and what not to include – so if you leave out important details you can create a misleading impression.

I can’t comment on subjects I don’t know about, but when the Times/ST reports on trans-related subjects it does that all the time.

As I’ve written before, parts of the UK media automatically side with people who bully children, and trans children in particular. And in recent months The Times and Sunday Times have been particularly bad.

Here’s an example from yesterday: Police Called In Over Gender Row.

Police were called when a tutor refused to address a transgender pupil by the correct pronoun, it emerged yesterday. Officers became involved because the behaviour counted as a hate crime, it was alleged.

The article quotes Susie Green of the charity Mermaids:

“Recently we had to get the police involved because a young student was being regularly misgendered by his tutor. The tutor dismissed it until he was informed that it counted as a hate crime. The matter has now been resolved by the police.”

And that’s pretty much it. I’m quite sure many people would read that and think “Police? For God’s sake, what an overreaction.”

Here’s the same story, this time in the Telegraph, with the same source (a story about supporting trans kids in schools in the Times Educational Supplement [paywall]):

Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a charity which supports transgender children and their families, told how the teacher had laughed in the child’s face and said “if you don’t want to be called a girl then don’t look like one”.

She said that the teacher and school’s management ignored three months of pleas from the transgender child and their parents and dismissed their requests, until she was informed by police that her actions constituted a hate crime.

She said that the child was so distressed by the teacher’s actions that their mental health suffered, and they took two weeks off school with anxiety and depression.

The pupil’s parents contacted Mermaids, and with their help, escalated the matter to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the police.

Ms Green said: “We spoke to a member of the police force, who contacted the CPS and clarified the position. The CPS said it was a hate crime.” [Emphasis mine]

Reading that, it’s a completely different story: here we have a teacher who deliberately flouts the Equality Act 2010, who deliberately bullies a child for three months and who only stopped when they were informed that they could be prosecuted.

In this version I’d suggest that the reaction is likely to be “Police? Quite right. What an arsehole.”

The majority of people aren’t trans and don’t have trans kids, of course, so whether The Times has some kind of anti-trans agenda may not seem relevant to them. But if the paper is willing to mislead its readers about something as easily checked as this, what else is it misleading you about?

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Sense and sensitivity

“So a tran walks into a bar…”

I went to a comedy show last night, and the comedian didn’t make any jokes about trans people. I knew he wouldn’t – the comic, Jimeoin, doesn’t do that kind of joke – so I felt safe enough to go as me.

By “as me” I mean as Carrie, rather than in disguise. I should probably describe what that means in case you’re imagining some kind of Cupid Stunt or Lily Savage creature. When I’m out as me, I generally try to imitate what ordinary fortysomething women wear and dial it back a notch. Think of it like a golf handicap: because I’m trans (not to mention taller and heavier than most women) I stand out much more, so I need to be a little more sober in my presentation.

So for example last night I was in jeans, casual boot/shoes, a top and a cardigan. That’s about as dramatic as I get. Makeup-wise I go for the “hide my horrible skin” approach rather than smoky eyes and ruby lips; on top of my head the hair is simple, just short of shoulder length and undramatically blonde.

That doesn’t mean I don’t stand out, though. Last night’s show was in the new auditorium of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The bar area is notable for being incredibly brightly lit, incredibly spacious and incredibly short of anywhere for people to sit. The few seats around the edges and every bit of wall space were already occupied, so my pre-gig G&T was sipped while standing in the middle of the room.

You know that dream where you’re doing something in front of an audience – in the school assembly hall, maybe, or at a big work conference – and for no good reason you have to do it in your underwear?

That’s my social life.

Everybody looks. Everybody. Some do it subtly. Most don’t. And they look in different ways. Younger women generally do the “oh, trans” look and get on with whatever they were doing. Older ones often double-take and then get on with whatever they’re doing or give you a really hard stare before getting on with whatever they’re doing. The oldest women couldn’t care less; they’ve seen it all before.

Men are different. Some look at you with open disgust. Some stare so hard you fear they’re actually going to dent your skull with sheer stare power. Some look at you in a threatening way, making it clear that they know they’re making you uncomfortable and that’s the point. And a few – bookish types, usually – give you the “oh, trans” look.

It’s an odd thing to experience when you don’t want to stand out. Bono from U2 famously and stupidly said that being famous meant he knew what it felt like to be a girl; but to be trans in a brightly lit public room gives you a pretty good idea what it might be like to be Bono.

You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

You say it best when you say nothing at all

I can’t say I particularly enjoy it, but it’s part of the territory. As is misgendering, which is when you’re called sir when you’re presenting as madam or madam when you’re presenting as sir.

Misgendering is a common tactic of anti-trans trolls, who delight in saying “you’re a MAN!” to trans women in the apparent belief that they’ve never been yelled at before. It’s background noise on the internet but when it happens from strangers in real life it’s surprisingly powerful.

I’m under no illusions that I pass as a cis woman. I’m 6’3” in my favourite casual shoes and I have a voice that makes Barry White seem awfully squeaky. But I’m still taken aback when, as last night, I hand over my concert ticket and the woman tells me where my seat is and calls me “sir”.

It’s hardly the bucket of blood in the film Carrie, I know. But it still knocks the wind out of your sails: it’s a reminder that the two lots of shaving, the agonising over what to wear, the carefully applied makeup, the three-times-attempted nail polish, the expensive wig and all the rest of it was completely and utterly pointless. You’re a heifer in heels, a dude in drag.

I’m not offended or outraged or overreacting, just thinking out loud in a blog post, but it strikes me that this is a matter of simple sensitivity.

I try not to use words or phrases that might make other people feel awkward – for example by assuming that they’re straight, or that they’re not religious, or that they share my political views – and if somebody in front of you is clearly presenting in a female way then surely common sense suggests that they might not want to be called “sir”. In such cases, surely it’s better not to use any term than to accidentally use the wrong one.

No offence

Getting it wrong, intentionally or otherwise, is what’s known as a micro-aggression. It’s a term feminists and trans people have borrowed from people of colour: Columbia professor Derald Sue used the phrase to describe “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of colour.”

When a commenter notes that a working class black man is articulate when the same wouldn’t be said about a white graduate, that’s a micro-aggression. If someone says an African woman’s name is too difficult to pronounce, that’s a micro-aggression. If you use the word normal as an antonym of gay, that’s a micro-aggression. If you tell a woman that you want to see the manager because you assume she isn’t the manager, that’s a micro-aggression. If you misgender a trans person, that’s a micro-aggression.

Individually, micro-aggressions don’t do much. But they’re like drops of water. It’s what they do cumulatively that matters. It wasn’t the individual drops that drove victims of Chinese water torture insane. It was that the drops just kept on coming.

Asking people to consider the words they use often results in people railing against “snowflakes”, especially in the columns of right-wing newspapers. Apparently asking people to be respectful to other people is a step too far. It’s political correctness gone mad.

As another comedian, Stewart Lee, said a long time ago:

The kind of people that say “political correctness gone mad” are usually using that phrase as a kind of cover action to attack minorities or people that they disagree with… [they’re] like those people who turn around and go, “you know who the most oppressed minorities in Britain are? White, middle-class men.” You’re a bunch of idiots.

Everybody makes assumptions, including me, and the language we use often reveals those assumptions: we may be unconsciously making assumptions based on people’s race, class, sex, gender, accent or any one of a myriad other things. Questioning those assumptions doesn’t cost us anything, and might just help make the world a slightly better place. None of us is perfect, but we can try to be a little bit better.

And as for political correctness gone mad… you really shouldn’t use the word mad either.

LGBTQ+ Media

“What would a less gendered world look like?”

Buzzfeed has a reputation for daft listicles, and deservedly so. But the traffic those listicles generates also pays for long form content like this personal and thought provoking essay by Shannon Keating.

It’s important to recognize when “sex” or “gender” doesn’t have anything to do with the matter at hand at all — that workplace harassment isn’t about sex, but about work; that panic over trans people in your restroom isn’t about sex or sexual predators, but who is allowed to exist in public space. Our task is figuring out when sex or gender do have to do with the matter at hand, what about gender we should be holding onto, and what gender might look like if we’re all empowered to determine where we belong for ourselves.

LGBTQ+ Media

“Oh, honey. Who do you think they’ll come for when they’re done with us?”

Photo from Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria via the GLBT Historical Society

I wrote a piece for Metro about the religious right’s wedge strategy to roll back equal rights legislation.

The religious right knows it lost the equal marriage battle. But it thinks it can win the war against LGBT equality and women’s rights by using trans people as a proxy.

Scratch an anti-trans bill, of which there are currently dozens, and you’ll usually find – surprise! – that it just happens to give bigots the right to discriminate against LGBT people of any description, and against women too. Some bills are specific to healthcare; others extend the permitted discrimination to housing, employment and adoption too.

For example, the legal protections for the “religious freedom” of healthcare workers recently announced by the Trump administration (and linked in the Metro piece) would protect the following:

  • Ambulance crews refusing to help trans people who’ve been in a car crash.
  • Nurses refusing to help women with post-abortion complications.
  • Clinics refusing fertility treatment to lesbians.
  • Pediatricians refusing to see kids who have two mums or dads.
  • Doctors refusing to see, let alone treat, anybody who’s LGBT.

This is mainly, but not exclusively, happening in the US. It’s becoming cause for concern in the UK too.

My article is part of LGBT history month, commemorating a history that often featured LGBT people of every stripe uniting against a common enemy. But that history also included some people trying to throw trans people under the very same bus they helped to start, and it’s something that’s become quite the talking point among newspaper comment trolls and right-wing gay men.

Writing in New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan says that the problem [of growing anti-LGBT sentiment] is “a reaction of many ordinary people to the excesses of the social-justice left”. Further LGBT equality is “a battle none of us need to fight. Especially after the real war was won.”

Oh, honey. Who do you think they’re going to come for when they’re done with us?


That’s not really funny

I was chatting with a comedian pal about comedy last night: we both went to see Chris Rock last week, and it turns out we’ve been to a lot of the same comedy shows over the years.

One of the things we talked about was Rock’s rage, where he’d take things out of the audience’s comfort zone: comedy as polemic, speaking truth to power. You’re uncomfortable because you should be uncomfortable. The comedian’s making you think about something too many of us don’t think about. Rock excels at that.

We also talked about Rock’s supports, two of whom made jokes about trans people. This is not unusual: 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.

Chris Rock’s first support, a man whose name I can’t remember, was a good example of that: he did a couple of throwaway trans jokes where trans was the punchline. Trans people may be topical but these jokes weren’t: one could have come from 1974, and another was about Caitlyn Jenner (who the comedian called Bruce throughout).

The second support, Michelle Wolf, was completely different. When she mentioned trans people in bathrooms I got the familiar sinking feeling, but she used it as the setup, not the punchline: she went into a routine about why it’s not trans women but overly nice men who scare her and then into eye-watering detail about bathrooms, bodily functions and how she deals with unwanted attention.

Still trans. Still topical. But funny. Really, really funny.

It’s the difference between Bernard Manning or Roy Chubby Brown and Frankie Boyle. They’re all incredibly offensive comedians, but Manning and Brown were/are also incredibly lazy comedians. They cater for the kind of people who find the word “poof”, “cunt” or “tranny” hilarious, and their comedy is little more than a ticketed version of drunken arseholes yelling at people in the street. Boyle’s offensive too, but he’s much cleverer and works much harder. In a typical set he’ll cover geopolitics, institutionalised racism, war crimes and how we’re trashing the planet. The offence is there to make these things funny.

Doug Stanhope is one of many comedians that wobbles between the boundary-breaking and the lazily abusive, I think. In a 2011 review, The Guardian’s comedy critic Brian Logan put it very well:

When his scorn and loathing is intelligently applied, he tears away the veil of socialised politesse, revealing the world at its atavistic, carnal purest. But these days, his hatred is often indiscriminately applied, and his intelligence less frequently engaged… Stanhope’s despairing idealism slumps into nihilism, while the many parties worthy of his furious, filthy comedy get off scot-free.

I think context and intent make all the difference. So it’s interesting to think about a comedian whose material didn’t really change but whose apparent intent did, and whose context definitely did: Jerry Sadowitz.

It turns out that my comedian pal and I had been to the same Jerry Sadowitz gigs in Glasgow several years ago. Sadowitz is famously unbroadcastable due to his really offensive act: not caring whether people are comfortable with what you say is a good way to become a pariah in broadcasting, and his truth-to-power routines about Jimmy Savile were not welcomed: people chose to believe in Savile, not Sadowitz.

You can understand why he might be bitter.

The first show we saw of his comeback after some years in the wilderness was phenomenal. Comedy gold. Most of it was horrific, unrepeatable but quite clearly a persona: if you thought he meant it, if you agreed with it, the joke was on you.

A year later we saw him again. Same venue, same horror, same offence. But word had spread, the venue was more full and the crowd was very different. The previous year it had been very student, left-wing, Guardian reading: the kind of people who also go to see Stewart Lee. This time out the crowd was older, more male, more angry. Where previously the laughs were gasps – did he really just say what I think he just said? – this time around people were cheering and shouting “fucking right!” at the very worst things Sadowitz was saying.

Sadowitz didn’t call them on it, or pull the rug from under them. It was one of the most unpleasant gigs I’ve ever experienced, and my comedy friend and the people he was at the show with felt the same. It felt like some kind of EDL benefit gig, not taboo-busting comedy. Neither of us have been to see Sadowitz since.

That wasn’t political correctness gone mad, and nobody’s saying Sadowitz should be censored (he’s playing the Glasgow Comedy Festival this year, if you’re interested). It’s just pointing out that context matters.

Sadowitz is an extreme example, of course. But context is still important.

Back to Chris Rock’s supports. Comedy gigs don’t happen in isolation; they’re part of the wider culture, and of course they’re only a part of your day. So the sinking feeling I get when a comedian makes a “Haha! Trans!” joke isn’t me desperate to take offence (I’m a parent too, and one of the other supports did a fantastically funny routine about dropping babies, quite possibly one of the most offensive subjects imaginable. I howled). It’s because I started my day seeing anti-trans pieces in the newspapers. I spent my day seeing various anti-trans things on social media. And I see anti-trans cartoons in magazines I used to look forward to reading.

Individually these things are minor, but they’re minor in the way Chinese Water Torture is minor. It’s not the drips. It’s that they don’t bloody stop.

Just after Christmas I wrote a letter to Private Eye, a magazine I’ve loved since my teens and subscribed to since my twenties. I’d been meaning to do it for some weeks because it was contributing to the drip, drip, drip: it seemed that every issue there’d be a cartoon, satirical piece or both where the punchline was effectively “Haha! Trans!” It’s not a surprise – the Eye has a giggling public schoolboy persona, and gay/bi jokes sneak in from time to time too – but I think it’s lazy. So I wrote to suggest that being on the same side as Richard Littlejohn, who called trans people “dimbos in dresses” this week, wasn’t a good look and – to use the same lazy punchline many of the pieces had used – I “identified as” disappointed.

I got a reply in the following issue from an angry, self-declared “tranny” – a word most trans people don’t like, let alone use, because it’s usually yelled or tweeted by bigots – who thought I was a hypocrite demanding censorship of a cartoon she thought was quite funny. My letter hadn’t mentioned any specific cartoon (and wasn’t about the one she mentioned) and her reply completely missed the point.

My point is pretty simple: it isn’t 1971 any more.

I’m picking 1971 for a good reason: it’s when the infamous UK comedy programme The Comedians was first broadcast. The series ran until 1985 and simply wouldn’t be broadcast today: very many of the jokes were racist, misogynist or homophobic. And that’s an understatement.

Lenny Henry recalls one of the regular guests, black comedian Charlie Williams:

“Charlie told a lot of ‘darkie jokes’. ‘I’ve been left in the oven too long’ or ‘I’m perspiring a lot, I’m leaking chocolate’ – which were very stupid and very immature. I remember doing a show in Hull and a guy shouting out ‘Oi! You’ve got to do jokes like Charlie Williams. That’s the kind of thing we expect from black comedians up here’. “I would go to see Charlie pulling the house down doing stuff about ‘darkies’ and I thought ‘this is obviously what you’ve got to do if it’s a predominantly white audience – you’ve got to put yourself, and other people, down’.”

Another star of the programme, the aforementioned Bernard Manning, was a self-confessed racist whose material largely involved lazy stereotypes of black, asian and gay people and who repeatedly used words most of us won’t even print today.

1971 is relevant to taboo-busting comedy in another way: while Manning and his pals were peddling racism and Charlie Williams was playing along, on the other side of the Atlantic one of comedy’s genuine boundary-breakers, Richard Pryor, was beginning to move from cosy, family-friendly fare to something much more important and for many audiences, frightening and offensive.

Comparing Pryor to Manning is like comparing diamonds to dogshit (white dogshit, naturally. It was the 70s).

I’m not asking to censor anything. I haven’t cancelled any subscriptions, and I haven’t stopped or considered stopping going to comedy shows. I’m just asking comedians, whether they’re stand-ups or cartoonists or satirists, to consider the wider context of the joke.

Are they comedians, or The Comedians?

LGBTQ+ Uncategorised

Fight the power

There’s been a fascinating spat between Irish feminists and anti-trans English people over the last few days: noticing that the secretive A Woman’s Place speaking tour was coming to Ireland, the Irish feminists promptly wrote an open letter telling the group to sod off:

We can see from your social media posts about your tour and its contents, that your opposition to the GRA is based on the idea that feminist organising and women’s rights will somehow be harmed through trans inclusivity and organising with our trans sisters. We know this is not true.

The response has been predictably awful, with really abusive posts on social media, jokes about the Potato Famine and other unpleasantness. And while a few people have taken the bait and responded in kind, most of the response to the unpleasantness has been thoughtful, measured and fair minded.

This twitter thread, by Aiofe aka @flyingteacosy, is superb. And so is this one  by Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin, aka @dirtycitybird.

In the first thread, Aiofe talks about the difference between “power over” and “power with” or “power through”:

Power OVER is brittle. It’s the power of divide-and-conquer. The power that is all about ME: my control over you. It about what I can force you to do. It’s the power of patriarchy, class, white supremacy. It’s also the power of the coloniser… [it’s based on the myth of scarcity]…

If the only power you know is power-over, then all you can do is try to get as big a slice of the pie as you possibly can. And then hold onto it with all you’ve got. That’s why it’s so damn brittle: all it wants is to perpetuate itself… You want power-over? You build walls. Kick out everyone who doesn’t belong. Take the pie. Hoard the forks, cause you’re terrified of being the hungry one.

That’s where we come to “power with” or “power through”. Instead of focusing on power OVER you to get what I want, this means: power to create, THROUGH the relationships we build and work we do together.

“Power through” is creative. It’s not about me over you, so your ideas don’t threaten me: they inspire me. It’s adaptable: we can support one another and lift one another up, ’cause we aren’t threatened by one another. And it’s EFFECTIVE.

And in the second thread, Ní Fhlannagáin (I hope I’m using the surname correctly here – if not please tell me!) makes some important points about engaging with people who fundamentally disagree with you and why it isn’t helpful to get angry, no matter how justified.

if all folks are getting on the one side is poison dripped in their ears *someone* has to do the hard education work…

there are people doing the dialog work and anything we say that makes that work more difficult hurts us all in the end. And yeah. We’re not gonna be perfect at that. I’m certainly not. But we can be better at it.


Ask me anything

I’ve been chatting with Common Space editor and Sunday Herald columnist Angela Haggerty about a recent barney in Scottish political twitter: some of it has descended into a trans/anti-trans argument where everybody’s shouting at everybody else and nobody’s listening to anybody. As she wrote on Twitter, wishing people would “please stop ripping each other apart”:

Asking questions, even stupid ones, doesn’t make a person transphobic.

She’s absolutely right, of course. But unfortunately “just asking questions”, or JAQing off as it’s also known, is a known tactic of arseholes such as Glenn Beck and the alt-right. As a result, some trans people / trans allies see a trans-related argument, assume that that’s what they’re seeing and go in with all guns blazing.

As RationalWiki explains:

Just asking questions (also known as JAQ-ing off) is a way of attempting to make wild accusations acceptable (and hopefully not legally actionable) by framing them as questions rather than statements. It shifts the burden of proof to one’s opponent — rather than laboriously having to prove that all politicians are reptoid scum, one can pull out one single odd piece of evidence and force the opponent to explain why the evidence is wrong.

The tactic is closely related to loaded questions or leading questions (which are usually employed when using it), Gish Gallops (when asking a huge number of rapid-fire questions without regard for the answers) and Argumentum ad nauseam (when asking the same question over and over in an attempt to overwhelm refutations).

These tactics are all used repeatedly by anti-feminist trolls, far-right trolls and anti-LGBT trolls too.

The sheer volume of it means that more often than not, when people are just asking questions of feminists, of activists or of ordinary LGBT people they aren’t doing it out of curiosity. The questions are statements disguised as questions, moves in a game that’s been planned and played a thousand times, key words and phrases repeated again and again.

It usually goes a bit like this:

Troll: Why are you silencing women?
Trans person: Er, we’re not. Actually it’s trans people who are be–
Troll: Why do you support women being murdered?
Trans person: Eh? I don–
Troll: Why do you hate women so much?

It’s frustrating and infuriating, not least because if you get wound up by the aggressive idiocy of it all and respond angrily you’re the one who comes across as an unreasonable hothead.

And equally frustrating and infuriating, it can mean you interpret a genuine question as something with malign intent, coming across once again as an unreasonable hothead and this time losing a potential ally.

Maybe the answer is to realise that when the trolls move in, the opportunity to make any kind of sense has already moved on. As Haggerty suggested to me:

Ignore the trolls and bigots, make the positive points, don’t get pulled into arguments, build relationships with people who show a willingness to listen. That’s leading by example and can have a strong impact.

It’s good advice. I have no time for trolls, I mute the JAQ lot on Twitter and I’ve come to realise that arguing however nicely with bigots is the proverbial pig wrestling: you just get dirty and the pig likes it.

But over the last couple of weeks I’ve also had several conversations with people who don’t know much about trans stuff, who knew about trans men but not trans women, who had questions about name changes etc… all of them just asking questions, but genuine questions. Those conversations were interesting, educational (for me!) and often really, really funny.

If you’re a genuine person with genuine questions you can ask me anything about anything. Especially if you buy me a drink first.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

“Our shared progress toward a more equal society has depended on people standing together”

The Green MSP Patrick Harvie has always struck me as a good man. He was namechecked in an anti-trans piece in Scots newspaper The National yesterday, a piece that dragged up the usual “trans people are silencing women” bullshit and accused Harvie of not listening to women.

Harvie responded on the Scottish Greens website. It’s worth reading in full, but here’s an extract:

Many national media outlets carry relentlessly hostile coverage, turning the argument for human rights and basic respect into a “culture war” to divide people from one another. That tactic has been used to oppose all forms of equality, time and again down the generations. Progress has been made by people standing together, supporting each other and refusing to accept that your equality or human rights are incompatible with mine.

…Or we can do exactly what the opponents of equality always want us to do by trading my rights off against yours, yours against hers, his against theirs. If we do that, we will all lose.

Meanwhile in America, President Trump proved Harvie’s point when his administration announced protection for religious people who don’t want to give healthcare to trans people.

That’s any kind of care: plasters for cuts, painkillers for headaches, saving your life after a car crash.

And it’s not just trans people. That was just the headline. The bill is also about protecting people who don’t want to give healthcare to gay people, to lesbians, to people who’ve had abortions, or to anybody else they disapprove of for any other reason. In Kentucky it’s been suggested that similar “religious freedom” legislation will also enable discrimination against interracial couples.

NPR gives examples of recent religious exemption claims:

a nurse who didn’t want to provide post-operative care to a woman who had an abortion, a pediatrician who declined to see a child because his parents were lesbians and a fertility doctor who didn’t want to provide services to a lesbian couple.

At the press conference to announce the changes, acting Department of Health and Human Services secretary Eric Hargan compared what I’d call religious extremists’ hateful bigotry to the Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust and Martin Luther King’s quest for civil rights.