A dangerous obsession

Let’s compare two numbers.

In a typical year, the UK Gender Recognition Panel will grant around 320 gender recognition certificates to trans people.

Over the last year, the UK press printed more than 6,000 articles about trans people, most of them negative, many of them scaremongering about the imagined dangers of letting trans people get those certificates in slightly less expensive, time-consuming and humiliating ways.

As the analysis notes, much of the coverage is carefully worded: there’s been a shift from obvious abuse to “reasonable concerns”, although the message and the negativity remains the same.

As of last summer, the UK government had issued a total of 4,910 GRCs over a period of fourteen years. The UK press printed that many anti-trans articles in less than one.

If the trend continues, the UK press will soon be printing more pieces scaremongering about trans people than there are actual trans people.

A song about friends and allies

This is Loving Me Is A Political Act, from our Bring The Good Times Back EP.

I write a lot of autobiographical stuff but it tends to be quite oblique. This is unusually direct for me, and it’s about my experience of being out in the world. To be visibly different is to attract attention, and that attention is also directed to the people who hang out with me whether it’s the guys in the band or my friends.

I’m no fool, I know you see
the looks you get when you are with me

The title is a simple statement of fact: in a world that often fears and hates trans people, to be an ally is to make a political statement. Simply by walking with me, my friends are being forced to take a side. The friends who support trans women online are accused of hating their sisters; the friends who hang out with me in the real world are judged in other ways.

I don’t have a choice about being trans, but my friends choose to be with me and I love them deeply.

Your heart is bigger than the sky
Your love gives me life

 

“A fatberg in the river of Scottish public conversation.”

I don’t normally link to The Scotsman, but I’m a big admirer of its columnist Laura Waddell. Today, she’s writing about the so-called debate over trans rights.

For the sake of trans people, for women, and for the state of our public discourse, enough of the bad faith actions. The Women’s Pledges which have recently sprung up to sit vulture-like on SNP, Labour and Lib Dem fringes are not party affiliated and further single-issue interests under the guise of speaking for all women; the trans-exclusionary alliances with Facebook pages run by young American men attached to Trump, anti-choice, and other pages designed to stoke political fallout from culture wars; the politicians who use the deeply irresponsible, imflammatory, and dishonest phrase ‘war on women’ about the policy consultation and who’ve let the idea they are leading the charge go to their heads.

Enough of those who direct online mobs to harass trans-inclusive Scottish women’s charities, shelters, libraries, and bookshops, weakening public faith in these important feminist organisations who’ve work with determination and grit over the decades for everything they have. Most of this doesn’t even pertain to the proposed policy which has attracted like a magnet a collected debris of homophobia, misogyny, men who’ve never taken an interest in women’s rights in their puff, conspiracy theorists and party agitators, condensed like a fatberg in the river of Scottish public conversation.

Money for Mermaids

Mermaids, the charity for trans kids and their families, is trying to raise money to better help people. The video above does a really good job of demonstrating just how toxic things are at the moment: I thought I was pretty much desensitised to the constant barrage of anti-trans articles, but it turns out I’m not – to see the onslaught on-screen is still horrifying, especially when it only represents a tiny, tiny proportion of the newspaper scaremongering and online abuse.

The Mermaids crowdfunder is here. I don’t agree with everything they’re raising money for – I think their planned billboards, which they hope will raise positive awareness of trans kids, are going to be completely ineffective; when you’re up against the overwhelming majority of the UK media and much of the political class too, having a couple of billboards is like taking a pea-shooter to a nuclear war – but they’re also raising money to fund more helpline volunteers and improve the information on their website, practical steps that will genuinely help people.

And while they’re hopelessly outgunned, the point they’re making with their #IfIHadAVoice campaign is an important one. What’s missing from the so-called debate about trans kids is the voices of the children and of their families (and the medical professionals who are active in this field), all of which are drowned out by ill-informed, self-proclaimed experts. For example, the right-wing press’s favourite  “expert” on trans kids is a former religious cult member whose expertise is in sculpture, not medicine; their go-to anti-trans transsexual “Dr” isn’t a medical doctor but a physics teacher; many of the voices given airtime are simply bigots.

Mermaids:

the amount of negative coverage of transgender kids over the last 8 years has grown massively. The press and a small group of anti-trans campaigners have decided to make transgender children – and the few organisations supporting them – the target of deliberate misrepresentation.

While transgender children and their families feel increasingly afraid to speak out, some of the country’s most influential speakers are content to speak about them, speak for them and speak over them.

“The biggest threat to single-sex services is insufficient funding from the Government”

I hadn’t seen this before: a Q&A on gender recognition by the Fawcett Society, a leading feminist charity campaigning for women’s rights. It strikes me as nuanced and fair-minded, so for example:

The tone of the debate in some quarters, and on extremes of both sides, has been a problem. Amplified by social media, a small minority whom we believe do not represent the views of most people have gone far outside legitimate debate and strayed into violence, or aggressive, intimidating, or dehumanising language. We believe there is no place for that in this discussion.

Events appear to have overtaken this bit:

It is notable that in Scotland, where there has been an ongoing dialogue for some time between women’s and trans organisations, that mutual understanding and respect is stronger and there is a common agenda. We think this is valuable and needed in the rest of the country too.

That was written in February, but while it’s an accurate description of women’s groups and single-sex services it sadly doesn’t apply to the majority of Scots media and the most vocal parts of social media. Our newspapers and current affairs magazines are relentlessly one-sided; they frequently go “far outside legitimate debate” and do nothing about comments pages full of aggressive, intimidating and dehumanising language.

The sin of omission

Something that’s puzzled me for a while is how so many people believe that Donald Trump and his administration are pro-LGBT+ when they’ve been so viciously anti-LGBT+: from the transgender military ban onwards, they have mounted a sustained attack on the basic rights of LGBT+ people in an ongoing campaign to remove the most basic human rights such as protection from discrimination in housing, healthcare and employment.

The most recent example of that is the November 1 rule that will allow adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT+ parents. Agencies that receive federal grants will no longer have to abide by non-discrimination guidelines thanks to new “religious freedom” exemptions, exemptions that also apply to sexual health education, youth homelessness programmes, drug and alcohol recovery programmes and other key services.

It’s a horrible backwards step that’s going to have terrible effects on some of the most vulnerable people, so why aren’t more people up in arms about it?

Because they don’t know about it.

A study by MediaMatters found that the majority of America’s top newspapers didn’t report it. Of the top 50 titles, 28 didn’t publish a single item in print or online about the new rule.

Of the papers that did report it, many uncritically quoted extremist anti-LGBT+ evangelical groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council. Only one paper, the New York Daily News, reminded its readers that these organisations have spent decades inciting hatred of LGBT+ people.

The lack of context means that people are incredibly ill-informed.

It is also crucial for media to cover individual actions like the new rule as one piece of the Trump-Pence administration’s broader, vehemently anti-LGBTQ record. The New York Daily News and The Washington Post provided two good examples of this in their reporting, as both contextualized the rule as part of the larger attack and rollback of LGBTQ rights. Most coverage unfortunately failed to do this, which may mislead readers into thinking the administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights could be a one-off occurrence.

As MediaMatters explains, the mainstream US press was keen to portray Trump as pro-LGBT+ during his presidential campaign on his say-so, and it has conspicuously failed to report on anti-LGBT+ actions by his administration since he took power. That has left a vacuum the right-wing press and social media have been only too keen to fill with propaganda.

In the absence of meaningful mainstream reporting on Trump’s anti-LGBTQ onslaught, right-wing and evangelical media often dominate coverage of the issue and twist the attacks on basic LGBTQ rights into a fight for “religious freedom.”

The news media’s job is to report and contextualise, to educate and inform, to speak truth to power. When it fails to do that, whether by bias or omission, it becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

When people show you who they are, believe them

There’s a famous quote by Maya Angelou: when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

It means that when someone shows you a clear red flag, you shouldn’t ignore it. Someone who disrespects you will continue to be disrespectful. Someone who is violent will continue to be violent. Someone who is hateful will continue to be hateful.

So I’m not joining in today’s surprise that Rod Liddle has written another hateful, racist piece for the hateful, racist Spectator. Liddle showed us who he was when he accepted a police caution for punching his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach, when he was found using a pseudonym to post racist remarks on football forums, and in pretty much every column he’s ever excreted for The Spectator and other vile rags.

Here in Scotland, a whole bunch of people have decided to show who they are thanks to a fabricated furore over a census question.

If you haven’t actually seen the question, here’s a screenshot from the census’s quality testing report, which this entire story has been based on.

The above question has been reported as the PC lobby forcing Scots people to choose from a “baffling” list of 21 sexualities. The reality is much more tedious. The list is for autocorrect entries so that if people choose the “another way” option, it’ll offer some other suggestions (and help harmonise the data by ensuring consistent spelling).

The story originated in the Murdoch press and was quickly picked up by the Scottish Daily Mail. We already know who these publications are, but they’re showing us again.

The Sun story is around 650 words. Its interviewees are an anti-trans academic and activist (this story has no connection to trans people at all), an unnamed Tory spokesperson, an evangelical anti-LGBT+ Christian group and the Catholic Church. The Daily Mail sought comment from an additional, extremely fringe, anti-feminist, anti-LGBT evangelical group who railed against “gender madness”, even though the story has no connection with anybody’s gender.

You’d think such obvious, politically motivated culture war framing – concoct a story about so-called identity politics, get the evangelical rent-a-gobs to damn it, tell your readers that the queers have gone too far this time and encourage them to post foul homophobic and transphobic vitriol in your comments sections – would prevent grown-ups from sharing it.

But you’d be wrong. People who previously limited their online abuse to abusing trans women, including senior newspaper journalists, bloggers and political figures, have seized upon this non-story, abusing the entire LGBT+ community for something the Murdoch press made up and standing proudly alongside some of the most viciously anti-women, anti-LGBT groups in the country.

They showed trans people who they were months and in some cases years ago. And now they’re showing you.

When people show you who they are, believe them.

A greedy few ruin everything for everyone

This is a story about two different social media posts that demonstrate the same problem: that the greed and/or stupidity of a few people on the internet can ruin things for everyone else.

First up, there’s Film Stories Junior. To the best of my knowledge it’s unique: it not only caters for under-15s, but it commissions and pays under-15s to write for them. It’s produced on a shoestring budget by very good people.

Here’s editor Simon Brew, a man who is usually one of the most even-tempered people on social media.

To the absolute shitheads who are pirating copies of Film Stories Junior magazine: stop and think for a minute.

I’ve sunk my savings into this magazine, trying to pay under 15s for writing about film work, showing them that their brains and words have real value.

It is so hand to mouth. I stay awake pondering ways to bring more interest and industry support to it. I’ve put everything on the line for these magazines. And you just steal them.

You steal a kids’ film magazine, and threaten the future of it.

You threaten me being able to print more of their work. You threaten them earning for their work.

You’re stealing a magazine that’s written by kids.

Meanwhile on Facebook, Cris Shapan – as in Cris Shapan, maker of incredibly funny fakes – has found that the content he shares for free online is being stolen and sold for profit.

I have discovered that there are MANY examples of my work being sold on eBay by people who have no connection to me whatsoever. They have simply taken it from the net, printed it, and put it up for sale, often in the $30-$50 range.

Shapan’s initial and entirely justifiable reaction was to decide not to post any more of his work online.

I can’t see the logic in allowing others to make a buck off of my work while I’m eating crackers for dinner. Thanks, and sorry…really, really sorry. I have some really great fans.

After a lot of supportive posts from those fans he’s decided to leave the existing content up for the time being – “the damage has already been done” – but he’s really wary of posting anything new. Why give your work away for free so that others can profit from it?

Murdoch press in “printing bullshit” shocker

In today’s Scottish Sun, there’s a story about the 2021 census.

Like most things the Murdoch press prints in its ongoing campaign against LGBT+ people and trans people in particular, it isn’t true. It’s just an excuse to get the usual crowd of reactionaries – anti-trans academics, vocally anti-trans MSP Joan McAlpine, the Catholic Church and the evangelical Christian Institute – to mouth off about how it’s loony left political correctness gone maaaaaaaaad.

There will not be 21 options. There will be four: straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual or other. It’s the same question and set of responses that’s been used in a range of UK surveys for many years.

The list The Sun is talking about is for predictive text in the online form. When someone types into the “Other” field, the idea is to have autocorrect suggest options that other people have used in previous surveys.

As The Equality Network explains:

The list of 21 terms that the Sun prints is a list of the most common answers that people who select Other have given in past surveys.

If you select Other in the online Census, one of those terms may pop up (as a suggestion only) if it matches the first letters you type.

This bullshit is only going to get worse now an election is looming. In September, it emerged that the Tories were polling “culture war” issues they could use to sow division via the right-wing press. Human rights for trans people is one of those issues.

Update, 31 October

The way this is playing out in print and social media tells you a great deal about the people trying to spread hate. They aren’t just anti-trans. They’re anti-LGBT+. This story isn’t about gender. It’s about sexuality. And people are trying to weaponise it against the wider LGBT+ community.

Labour activist and gay man Duncan Hothersall on Twitter:

The census sexualities question stushie is really exposing the dishonesty at the heart of the “legitimate concerns” movement. MSPs and journalists ranting about “21 different sexualities” are compounding a basic misunderstanding into a revolting, and frankly homophobic, attack.

The attacks are coming from supposed LGB supporters who don’t really like the L, the G or the B any more than they like the T. From bloggers and social media trolls who are as homophobic as they are transphobic. From people who have moved from trying to police gender to trying to police sexuality. From people sharing a platform and often an ideology with Christian fundamentalists and the far right.

As Hothersall puts it:

Anti trans rhetoric leads to anti LGB rhetoric. Excusing hate legitimises more hate. Do better.

How hateful conspiracy theories make it into the papers

The Christian Post is yet another evangelical newsletter from America, and it’s part of an axis that includes the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council – two organisations with strong links to the British anti-trans movement. It’s just published an article about the “trans cult” that could have been lifted from The Sunday Times.

You know how these things go by now. Sinister cult members stealing children by the dead of night, chopping bits off them, selling them to Satan.

Here’s Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for the US National Center for Trans Equality.

The article is astonishing in its sensationalism, but quite typical of anti-trans fear mongering. The Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council use similar language. The goal is to activate disgust–an extremely strong emotion–in the reader.

It’s why almost all of these articles talk about a sinister push towards surgery for children, even though children do not get gender confirmation surgery. When they can’t scare you about surgery, they’ll tell you that children are being given cross-sex hormones. That doesn’t happen either. And when they’ve ran out of things that don’t happen to scare you about, they’ll redefine “children” to mean “32-year-olds”.

The Sunday Times was doing it today, in yet another piece about the “state-sponsored sterilisation of trans children”. The “children” in the article were 20, 21 and 32. The article is uncannily similar to the one in the Christian Post.

It’s worth looking at the Sunday Times piece in a bit more detail, because the most shocking revelation was that one of the “children” – the 32-year-old – had committed suicide after a history of such attempts. The fact that the parent repeatedly misgenders their dead child suggests that lack of parental acceptance and support might just have been a factor. We know that the suicide rate for trans people with accepting families is the same as the wider population; for those with unaccepting families, it’s sky high.

If like me you’ve experienced the gender clinic system, there’s a lot of this story that just doesn’t add up. If this person, as stated, had a history of clinical depression, anxiety and suicide attempts, nobody from the GP to their psychiatric assessors would have ignored that let alone recommended transition in any form as the way to fix their problems.

Another parent, a father, said:

“I couldn’t change my daughter’s mind so I have to change the minds of those doing this to her.”

His child, who would presumably prefer to be called his son, is 20.  Does that sound supportive and accepting to you?

My daughter is not transitioning, she is being transitioned by an LGBT cult and by medical professionals.”

Which suggests that again, the adult child has undergone extensive psychiatric assessment by those “medical professionals”.

Last but not least, our case study, now 21. They have been persistent, consistent and insistent about their gender identity for five years and did not access any NHS gender services until they were an adult.

“I trusted the NHS with my child and cannot believe the harm it has done,” their mum says.

What terrible procedures did they make her child endure?

[The child] has had no medical interventions.

So in five years of attending gender services, the NHS has pushed the woman’s child – her adult child – towards no medical treatments whatsoever.

This, somehow, is evidence of the NHS pushing children – child children, not adult ones – into treatments that we know the NHS does not provide to children.

But of course, nobody wants to let the facts get in the way of a good satanic conspiracy theory.

The points Branstetter makes about the Christian Post piece, and similar pieces by the Heritage Foundation and FRC, apply just as well to the Sunday Times piece and most of the other anti-trans scaremongering in the UK press.

But it also relies on tropes we see in any number of moral panics and conspiracy theories. PizzaGate + QAnon– like Satanic panics of the 80s–all rely on secretive cabals sacrificing children under cover of night. But it’s actually an ancient fear even older than that.

One of my favorite reads this year was @annamerlan‘s deep dive into the state of conspiracy theories today. She does a wonderful job finding the common threads through 9/11 trutherism, anti-vaxxers, and many more to discover what makes these absurd ideas so appealing to so many.

On PizzaGate, she notes the fear of child sacrifice is an anti-Semitic trope dating to the Middle Ages. Such “nocturnal rituals” are used to justify violence against other groups (namely Jews)

You can find the same myths in anti-native writings of European colonialists, anti-Roma sentiment throughout the last few centuries, and anti-Semitism up to the current era.

The primary purpose of these myths is playing into parental fears. They hope to animate a protective instinct against a ghostly “other”, unleashing an animalistic rage that will excuse any violence against the targeted group.

…By animating fears of child abduction, ritual abuse, and sexual exploitation, anti-trans activists are–knowingly or not–following a very old roadmap for justifying oppression. The goal is to build so much fear that the cost trans people pay will be deemed a worthwhile bargain.

They also try to fudge the other side of the equation–are trans people really oppressed? How suicidal are they? Are they really facing *that* much violence?

It’s a two-pronged strategy: you tell people that trans people are dangerous even though you know they are not. And you tell people that trans people do not face any victimisation or discrimination, even though they do.

…If trans people are a cult–dangerous and deranged–and the potential cost is your own children, then such framing justifies oppression of us by any means necessary. All the violence and rape and poverty and suffering trans people face is, in their eyes, an acceptable cost.

Its important to note that the exchange posed by them is, of course, completely imaginary. Nothing about trans people, our rights, or our health care is a danger to anyone. Period.

You’ll find that the majority of anti-trans hate groups claim to care about “real” trans people. But they don’t. That’s why they offer no solutions, accept no statistics, believe no experts. They are motivated not by a desire to help anyone, but to hate and hurt people.

And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself: What is the conservative solution to anti-trans discrimination? How would these activists end anti-trans violence, raise trans people out of poverty, or stem the public health crisis taking trans children by suicide?

Their solution, of course, is to deny that any of these issues exist.

They don’t have an answer because they don’t care–and they need you not to care, either. They need you to believe trans people are a sickly cult of perverts unworthy of your empathy, let alone equality. They need you to believe the price is just too high to pay.