LGBTQ+ Media Technology

The wrong kind of body

This collection of photos is fascinating: it’s the Athlete series by Howard Schatz, and it shows bodies. Big bodies, little bodies, stocky bodies, thin bodies, light-skinned bodies, dark-skinned bodies… the only thing they have in common is that the people pictured are all elite athletes.

The collection has been doing the rounds again as a reaction to the reaction to a female character in The Last of Us Part 2: Abby, a soldier.

This is Abby.

She’s hardly a 32-stone sumo wrestler, is she? But having slightly bigger shoulders than some women and a walk that didn’t wiggle was enough for some less enlightened players to start bellowing unhappily: “She’s trans! Get her out of my game!”

She isn’t trans.

Let’s skip past the “and anyway, so what if she was?” discussion because what I want to talk about is the idea that women don’t look like that.

Of course women look like that. I enjoyed a MetaFilter discussion of this because it featured very many women who said they looked either like Abby, or that compared to them Abby was a little delicate princess. All kinds of women look like all kinds of things because women, like men, are human beings that come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

Clearly, some of the people who assumed Abby was trans have a very narrow view of what a woman should look like, and that view is no doubt informed at least in part by the really bloody awful portrayal of so many female characters in video games. Such as:

I’ve certainly played video games where the male characters prepare for battle by wearing giant metal suits of armour and the female ones don that battle-tested combination of push-up bras, thigh-high stockings and stiletto heels.

But it’s not just video games. We make judgements about other people very, very quickly, and in the case of gender we make those judgements on a few very basic visual cues. So Abby has big shoulders, developed biceps and narrow hips; clearly, she’s a man.

For some people, that was enough to make them very angry simply because she did not meet their expectation of how a woman should look. The Venn diagram of those people and of the arseholes currently sending death threats to Laura Bailey, the actor who did Abby’s voice, has some overlap.

Patricia Hernandez, writing in Polygon:

much of the hate visible on social media isn’t just about the story and Abby’s likability compared to Ellie and Joel, it’s fixated on Abby’s jacked-up body.

…Perhaps the grossest result of all of this is the insistence that Abby could only look like this if her character was trans, as if only folks who are assigned male at birth could possibly have big muscles.

This is why it’s so dangerous to foster a climate where people believe it’s acceptable or even necessary to watch out for supposed imposters in places such as public toilets. Especially when some of those people proudly claim that they will commit violence against any person they decide shouldn’t be there.

That isn’t an empty threat. In Oregon last year, Lauren Jackson was beaten so badly by a self-appointed bathroom policeman he broke her jaw. In Puerto Rico this February, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz was stalked and murdered after someone reported her to the police for using the women’s bathroom in McDonalds. Last year in North Carolina, two women were charged with sexual battery and second-degree kidnapping after attacking a trans woman in the toilet of a bar. And here, anti-trans activists openly discuss committing acts of violence against any trans women who might cross their path. I’ve even seen one describe the six-inch knife she says she carries specifically for the purpose of stabbing any trans woman she might encounter in a toilet.

Bravado? Empty posturing? Maybe. But with anti-trans hate crimes increasing, it’d be foolish to dismiss it.

I’ve more or less given up trying to persuade people that trans people’s safety matters; too many people clearly think it doesn’t. But if I can’t persuade you to care about people like me, maybe I can persuade you to care about the cisgender women who will be yelled at and possibly even attacked by the same dangerous obsessives. The people who claim “we can always tell” keep on proving that they can’t.

We have seen bathroom policing in other parts of the world and it always ends up harming women: women with short hair, women with big shoulders, women with the wrong colour of skin, women with the wrong kind of body.

LGBTQ+ Media

“Why has it taken you so long if you’re serious?”

This Twitter thread by Helen Belcher, who has been analysing media coverage of trans people for many years, is worth your time. I’ve posted the text below.

Most trans people I know tried for years not to be trans. The personal cost was often thought to be too high. So when some “white knight” rides in to say people like me are “lazy” and basically wannabe gay people, it understandably enrages many.

Waiting lists to see medics are measured in years. Put that on top of the years trying not to be trans, and you start to see how much of our lives can start to feel wasted, just because of the fears imposed by others.

That’s why medics are largely moving to a model where they start to trust the person they see in front of them, rather than the hostile questioning like I got from the first medics I saw. Questions, ironically, like “why has it taken you so long if you’re serious?”

It means that people start to work with the medics rather than learning scripts, such as the one I was encouraged to learn, which run high risks of hiding real dangers.

And, if someone decides that transition is not for them, and I suspect many still do before they get very far, that’s fine. The problem was that the medical model tended to focus on one clear surgical destination, and some now accept that that’s not always appropriate.

All of this turgid, repetitive “debate” is predicated on the basis that being trans is a “bad outcome”, rather than it simply being what it is. There’s no kudos in being trans, and there should be no kudos in not being trans either.

No trans person I know thinks it’s even possible to convert someone to be trans, yet the antis are full of people who want to convert some not to be trans, but never outline their criteria for how they know – just like they can apparently always identify trans women – they can’t.

I also had a few years where I was treated as an issue rather than a person. Consider how dehumanising that is. Yet that’s what this turgid “debate” keeps trying to go back to – replacing pragmatic laws which allow people to live their lives with philosophically pure ones.

If your philosophical debate only harms one group of people, and bears no resemblance to what actually happens on the ground, and relies on fears being whipped up, then it’s not worth the air used to broadcast it.


“We refuse to be tainted as activists”

Soledad O’Brien’s op-ed in the New York Times is an attempt to expose an uncomfortable truth: news media needs a #MeToo movement.

I left CNN more than seven years ago. But I watch its coverage, and that of other news networks — the panel-driven journalism that sometimes gives voice to liars and white supremacists; the excuse of “balance” to embolden and normalize bigots and bigotry by posing them as the “other side.” When I criticize CNN (as I do frequently on social media), the company attacks me as “more of a liberal activist than a journalist,” a common dig against journalists of color who criticize newsroom management.

…The thin ranks of people of color in American newsrooms have often meant us-and-them reporting, where everyone from architecture critics to real estate writers, from entertainment reporters to sports anchors, talk about the world as if the people listening or reading their work are exclusively white.

There are simply not enough of us in the newsroom to object effectively — not in TV, print or online, certainly not in management. So our only option is to mimic the protester’s strategy: Talk directly to the public and just talk loud.

…We refuse to be benched or tainted as activists or deemed incapable of objectivity, while white reporters are hailed for their “perspective” on stories.

LGBTQ+ Media

“Dear Baroness Nicholson”

This, by Munroe Bergdorf, is really something.

While this poisonous conversation may constitute an amusement to those who are in a position to pit their privilege against a minority, for people like me, it is an extremely painful onslaught on the very core of who we are.

It would be insulting your intelligence as well as my own and the intelligence of those who follow us both, to suggest that your tweets were posted in error. They were not out of character for a high profile politician who has a long and proven record tweeting what I consider to be cruel taunts and unfounded allegations against trans people, including a child, and trans organisations such as Mermaids, for whom I am a proud patron.

…I worry that your activity during the last few hours speaks to the truth behind your apology. That you are more concerned for your own reputation as complaints gather and grow by your name than you are for any need to reconcile our considerable differences.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Hateful words lead to hateful acts

The TIE Campaign is a wonderful organisation that campaigns for more inclusive education.

The TIE Campaign posted this yesterday:

We are a charity which works with schools, teachers, and educators to tackle prejudice-based bullying. We provide anti-bullying sessions and gender stereotypes/equalities workshops to schools, and produce resources to include LGBT people and history in the curriculum.

…For a number of months, we have been receiving the most hurtful – and dangerous – posts and messages from individuals who appear to be opposed to LGBT themes being included within education. We have never had to deal with anything like this before.

…We cannot continue to sit by as individuals do this to us. Trolling is one thing – but what they are doing is dangerous, prejudicial, and hateful. Please report tweets like this if you see them. We cannot address this alone.

LGBT people and charities are regularly called groomers, pedophiles, abusers. This is unacceptable and horrific.

…It’s not just us. Many LGBT organisations have been receiving this for months; as have national women’s charities, youth organisations, politicians. Lying like this about people or groups on social media is dangerous & can have serious consequences. It needs to stop.

Please do read the whole thing. It’s horrifying, and utterly typical of the abuse LGBT+ organisations and supporters of LGBT+ equality receive on social media. And it’s increased dramatically in the last two years.

Here’s Pink Saltire:

This type of abuse is commonplace towards LGBT+ groups and has a real impact on us all.

Sisters Scotland:

The online abuse, slander, misrepresentation and lies that the LGBT community face on the daily destroy lives. It bleeds from online toxicity in to abuse in the media, and straight into abuse in the workplace, at home, in the streets. These prejudiced narratives pushed influence the narratives lived by the LGBT+ community. Their voices and strength are crushed under the weight of this. It’s up to all of us to ensure we give that strength back, that we raise those voices, make them louder and challenge those that seek to silence them.

Dr Rebecca Crowther of LGBTI Scotland:

It claws in to our personal social media accounts too & of course our minds, our mental health, our bodies. I couldn’t & wouldn’t type some of the names I’ve been called. I could never share the mysognynistic homophobic bullying & gaslighting I’ve received. That all of us have.

And the worst part? Nothing I have received even compares remotely to the horrific bullying and abuse my trans siblings have been subject to.

SNP women’s convener and TIE Campaign chair Rhiannon Spear:

Constantly being called a pedophile or a child groomer because I support LGBT rights cannot become normal + I refuse to let it become normal.

We are seeking legal advice + will take action where we can.

The rhetoric needs to change.

Abuse against LGBT+ people is rising in the UK, and that rise corresponds to the increasingly violent rhetoric being used about us and our allies in print and on social media. The people calling LGBT+ people and charities paedophiles on the internet are just echoing what high-profile Twitter accounts and newspaper columnists are saying. Violent words ultimately lead to violent acts.

Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

These days, if you say you’re a bigot, you’re arrested and thrown in jail

Former comedy writer Graham Linehan’s Twitter account was finally closed this weekend. The move came a week after another nasty troll, Katie Hopkins, lost her account for the same reason: repeated violations of Twitter’s hateful conduct policy.

The stories are almost identical, but the reporting isn’t. And the best way to demonstrate that is to show you the way the same outlets reported the stories in their headlines.

Sky News:
– Katie Hopkins permanently banned by Twitter for breaking ‘abuse and hate’ rules
– Father Ted co-creator Graham Linehan banned from Twitter after trans comment
– Katie Hopkins permanently suspended from Twitter to keep platform ‘safe’ from ‘hateful conduct’
– Twitter permanently suspends ‘Father Ted’ writer after he replies ‘men aren’t women’ to pro-trans tweet

– Katie Hopkins permanently removed from Twitter
– Twitter closes Graham Linehan account after trans comment

Daily Mail:
– Katie Hopkins is BANNED from Twitter for breaking rules on hate speech
– Father Ted creator Graham Linehan is suspended from Twitter after stating ‘men aren’t women’

As you can see, each publication has framed the two stories very differently, and that’s apparent in many more publications than the ones I’ve quoted here. When Hopkins’ tweets have been referenced in headlines, if they were mentioned at all, they were usually prefixed with words like “vile” and “hateful”. There’s no such context in the headlines about Linehan.

Maybe that’s because all of those publications have run anti-trans story after anti-trans story, anti-trans column after anti-trans column.

Quick question: who claims that trans rights advocates are a front for a sinister cult sacrificing your children: the washed-up comedy writer or the award-winning newspaper columnist?

Trick question. It’s both.

LGBTQ+ Media

I wish everyone would watch this

This is the trailer for Disclosure, a new documentary on Netflix helmed by the incredible Laverne Cox. It’s ostensibly about the way trans people have been represented (or in the case of trans men, not represented) in film and TV, but it’s really about what it’s like to live in a world that constantly tells you you’re not welcome.

It’s an American programme, and that means there are some differences between it and any UK equivalent. For starters, it got made. And it provides proper representation of all kinds of trans people, not just unrepresentative rich white women. But its US focus means there’s no room for the portrayal of trans and gender non-conforming people in other countries, such as Little Britain, the IT Crowd and what felt like all TV comedy in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK.

It’s an intelligent, insightful programme: rather than damn programmes or films outright, many of the contributors explain how on the one hand a portrayal was appalling, but on the other it was the only time they had ever seen someone like them on screen.

But even those stories are often heartbreaking. Imagine how it feels to finally come up with the courage to tell your best friend that you’re trans and to be asked, “what, like… Buffalo Bill?”

Buffalo Bill was the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs who murdered women and wore their skin like a suit.

Over the course of the programme a clear theme emerges: the way trans people are portrayed or erased on screen has a powerful effect on how other people see us, and on how we see ourselves.

It also makes a strong case that the portrayal of trans people as deceptive and disgusting is directly connected to the violence many trans people experience, particularly trans women of colour in North and Central America. In just the last week, my news app has brought stories of three trans women’s murders: one shot in the face multiple times after revealing her trans history; one found dumped by the side of a motorway; and one dismembered and thrown into a river. A cisgender man is in custody accused of her murder and mutilation.

I cried quite a lot watching this, and for me there were two scenes in particular I wish everyone could see. The first is a simple montage showing some – not all, but some – of the films where a man’s discovery that a woman he liked was trans caused him to vomit, something that started in The Crying Game and was then amplified sadistically in many comedy shows and films; and the second is Jen Richards trying not to cry as she talks about how her family told her she would only be welcome if she did not come as herself.


Brendan O’Neill’s big stupid head

It’s the sensation that’s sweeping the nation: posting puerile Photoshops of Brendan O’Neill’s big stupid head every time Spiked runs one of his big stupid articles.

Tom Whyman explains.

The Brendan O’Neill forehead meme is perfect – one of the few perfect memes this year has produced (as er, Esquire of all places has correctly pointed out). Formally, it works because – a bit like the Galaxy Brain meme – it has the scope to get exponentially ever-more ridiculous, as O’Neill’s forehead expands to become larger than the Hindenburg; larger than most skyscrapers; larger than the Earth itself. Recent attempts by O’Neill, clearly rattled by the meme, to shield his head with a hat have been easily incorporated – who knows where it might go next.

…[By] refusing to take O’Neill seriously, and turning him into a figure of fun. It responds to his unreason exactly as it should be responded to: with some (much more playful and funny) nonsense of its own. There is no point engaging with this clown, the Forehead Meme communicates, he must be mocked and scorned from public life.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart Media

Super Size Media

Morgan Spurlock in a promotional image for Super Size Me (2004)

Have you ever wondered why so much news output is junk?

It’s because of the big board.

As journalist Mic Wright explains, the big board was popularised by Nick Denton of Gawker media. It’s a big screen that everybody in the newsroom can see, and it shows you in real time which stories are getting the most attention.

What Gawker did a decade ago is commonplace in newsrooms now, because most media outlets have become dependent on traffic-based advertising revenue. As a result every significant media outlet pays close attention to its traffic: “which reporters/writers/columnists are killing it and whose stuff is absolutely eating dirt,” as Wright puts it.

And sadly, it’s usually the lowest-quality content that’s killing it.  You can see that for yourself: while media outlets don’t let you see their big board, many of them do show you what content is the most read (and often, most shared and/or most commented on).

In 2011, Nick Denton explained that this system worked really well for everything but “the worthy topics”: “Nobody wants to eat the boring vegetables. Nor [do advertisers] want to pay to encourage people to eat their vegetables.”

He was right, and the food comparison is a good one: many of us would much rather eat Big Macs than broccoli, and the stats show that we are similarly drawn to unhealthy news output: the dogwhistling columnists, the manufactured outrage, the reinforcement of prejudice, idiocy rather than analysis.

But the downside is the same too. As Morgan Spurlock demonstrated in Super Size Me just before the big board became a newsroom staple, there are terrible consequences to consuming a diet made mainly of junk.

Bullshit Health LGBTQ+ Media

Good news, bad news

The UK government’s plans to roll back trans rights suffered a setback this week when tens of thousands of cisgender women emailed the Prime Minister to say “not in my name”. I don’t believe for a moment that the plans have been dropped – as today’s Guardian notes, Dominic Cummings was focus-grouping trans rights in the Autumn as a topic the conservatives can use to attack Labour – but it was a welcome reminder that anti-trans voices do not speak for most women.

As was this, in the LA Times: it’s very typical of the US response to JK Rowling’s blog post.

Poke a prejudice, almost any prejudice, and pretty quickly the conversation goes straight down the toilet. Those opposed to civil rights, LGBTQ rights and the Equal Rights Amendment all have historically boiled their bigotry down to some wild-eyed fear about what equality in any form will mean to the state of our public restrooms. Black people peeing with white people, men with women, straight people with gays people, trans with cis — oh, the horror, the horror.

As I’ve written before, the difference between the mainstream US media and the mainstream UK media is dramatic. Last night BBC’s Newsnight – which previously gave extensive coverage to an anti-trans piece in the BMJ without revealing that the article it was covering was written by the journalists who were covering it – once again decided to scaremonger about trans teens’ healthcare by getting the same journalists to essentially tell the same story again.

There was lots of scary music and lurid claims from conveniently anonymous sources, but no time to explain how the system currently works. Coincidentally, knowing how the system actually works is at odds with scary tales of children being railroaded at high speed into irreversible treatment.

The parent of a trans kid detailed the process in the I Paper last year, when waiting lists were shorter – they were 20 months for a first appointment then; it’s now 27 months and climbing.

Once you are seen for the first time, there follows a lengthy assessment process, involving a minimum of six appointments with two psychologists who assess and challenge the child over a period of at least six months, often stretching to years in limbo. Each appointment is a lost day of education and work, with long journeys to London, a second Gids centre in Leeds, or a handful of satellite clinics.

If this long assessment period is ever concluded, “hormone blockers” may be prescribed. These are designed to pause puberty, which allows the young person time to reflect on their gender. The medication is well understood, considered reversible, and has been used safely for nearly 30 years for transgender young people and considerably longer for treating early onset puberty.

Given the timing, it seems rather suspicious that Newsnight chose this of all weeks to reheat the same innuendo from what looks very much like a mendacious campaign. But it appears to have had the desired effect, with endless commenters on Newsnight’s social media comparing trans healthcare providers to Dr Mengele, claiming that this is a scandal akin to Thalidomide and describing an NHS facility as a “child abuse clinic”.

You may recall similar rhetoric being used before people started bombing abortion clinics or taking assault rifles to pizza parlours in the belief that Hilary Clinton was skinning babies in the basement.