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Bullshit Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Things that are different are not the same

A typically incisive piece by Parker Molloy on the censorious clowns who claim that legitimate criticism of what they say and write is the same as the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie.

That is the problem people have with the “cancel culture” discourse. It’s selective, it flattens important distinctions between horrific acts (beheadings and physical attacks!) and free speech (dissent, boycotts, protests). The “cancel culture” brigade sure loves to claim that speech it doesn’t like (dissent, boycotts, protests) is a threat to speech, while sitting mostly silently on actual threats to free expression, like the Republican plan to use obscenity laws to make certain books on LGBTQ topics illegal to sell, the Republican-led purging of books from school and local libraries, and the Republican-led re-writing of textbook standards to remove “divisive” issues. Funny how none of that is “cancel culture,” and yet they think someone speaking out against J.K. Rowling’s factually incorrect rants about trans people (i.e. using their freedom of speech) represents a threat to the very concept of “free speech.” The reason is simple: one of these advances their own agenda, the other doesn’t.

Categories
Media Music

T time

I was delighted to be a small part of BBC Scotland’s new podcast, The Rise and Fall of T in the Park. It’s about more than just the festival itself; it’s about the impact it had on the Scottish music scene and on Scotland as a destination for touring bands. I’m in there talking about TiTP being my very first festival, and what it was like for a small town band to play one of the tents after winning a place in the T Break competition.

The first four episodes are live now, and the remainder will go live on 18 July. I hope you enjoy it.

Categories
Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Leopards

With crushing predictability, the faux-feminists in the UK press have decided that the real villain in the decades-long plot to overturn Roe vs Wade en route to establishing a Christian theocracy is… trans women.

The argument, if you can call it that, is simple: trans men wanted to be included in discussions of reproductive healthcare; that somehow erased women; because there is no such thing as a woman any more the US Supreme Court banned abortion. So it’s all trans women’s fault.

Better to concoct a ludicrous conspiracy theory than admit the truth: much of our media has spent years ignoring the Christian Right’s attacks on LGBT+ people and reproductive rights, preferring instead to publish a constant torrent of Christian Right anti-trans talking points and to platform Christian Right-funded anti-trans groups.

As the internet cliche goes: I can’t believe leopards are eating my face, says woman who voted for the Leopards Eating Your Face Party.

The simple fact is that the global anti-trans movement is part of the global anti-gender movement, whose target isn’t just trans people. It wants an end to same-sex marriage, to LGBT+ rights, to contraception, to abortion, to human rights for anybody who isn’t a socially conservative cisgender straight Christian.

You couldn’t ask for a better example of how this is all connected than the anti-abortion goons intimidating and filming people outside the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow. They’re there to target women seeking abortions, but – happily for the goons – the Sandyford’s other services mean they get to intimidate people going for sexual health services, for rape counselling and for transgender health care. Over the weekend they moved to the City Centre to harangue people going to Pride, because of course they did. The war on women’s reproductive freedom and the war on LGBT+ people are the same war.

And this morning there was another example. On BBC Scotland, the discussion about whether we should have buffer zones around abortion clinics – zones that would separate the Sandyford clowns from vulnerable people – invited the ADF to contribute.

The ADF isn’t just the organisation responsible for funding many anti-abortion groups around the world or the organisation involved heavily in anti-abortion legislation in the US, including the Mississippi case that led to the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs Wade; it’s also the organisation that provides “experts” in anti-trans legal cases in the UK, and which promotes intolerance and hatred towards LGBT+ people globally. And part of its job is to launder that hatred, by providing nice-seeming, media trained people who will absolutely come on air to discuss their ‘reasonable concerns’.

Opendemocracy:

Another US group that’s long tried to influence classic “culture war” cases in the UK is the anti-abortion “dark money”-funded legal army Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). openDemocracy revealed in 2019 that its international wing had spent nearly half a million pounds on lobbying in the UK over just two years. The group does not disclose who its donors are, and has even gone to the US Supreme Court to defend donor secrecy.

ADF’s lawyers have previously said they are working to ensure ‘that bad European precedents don’t spread further in Europe, then across the sea to America’. It worked on the high-profile ‘gay cake’ cases in both the UK and US, defending Christian bakers using free speech arguments.

ADF has also publicly opposed protest-free “buffer zones” around abortion clinics and supported calls for “freedom of conscience” provisions to enable medical staff to object to providing legal abortion services. And it claims the UK government adopted its recommendations on free speech and academic freedom at universities.

Rather than platforming them, journalists should be investigating them.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

Here, always

There’s a really nice piece in National Geographic about historians documenting the lives of trans people, and in addition to being really interesting it’s a much-needed corrective to the oft-spoken belief that trans people were invented in 2015.

There’s ample evidence of gender variance throughout human history. Among the earliest are accounts of galaand galli, priests assigned male at birth who crossed gender boundaries in their worship of a variety of goddesses in ancient Sumer, Akkadia, Greece, and Rome. Other cultures acknowledged a third gender, including two-spirit people within Indigenous communities and Hijra, nonbinary people who inhabit ritual roles in South Asia.

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but our current gender binaries (and persecution of LGBT+ people) are primarily a western Christian invention. In addition to the cultures mentioned above there are multiple genders in the Torah and many Islamic cultures are accepting of trans people (more so than they are of gay and lesbian people, in some cases; there’s a belief that being trans is something you’re born with but that homosexuality is a sin). But the spread of the British Empire and the colonisation of the US by European settlers meant that that belief was imposed on many other cultures, often with extreme violence. The modern social conservatives and religious extremists trying to eliminate LGBT+ people from society are as ignorant of history as they are of biology.

Categories
Media

Oh lord, it’s hard to be humble

I enjoyed this post by Max Rashbrooke on writer James Patterson and podcaster Joe Rogan, both of whom claim to be oppressed by woke activists.

These are perilous days indeed for a near-billionaire author who outsells Stephen King and Dan Brown combined, and for his fellow victim, the host of a podcast downloaded 200 million times a month. But jibes like this, though satisfying, only get us so far.

Rogan and Patterson are expressing a fear increasingly held by older males: that society no longer seeks their views. Indeed, they feel their opinions to be scorned and denigrated.

As the cliché goes, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. But Rashbrooke makes a more nuanced point, which is that what these highly privileged and successful figures describe as “silencing” is not what’s being asked of them.

For the most part, though, what I hear is a request for something subtly different: humility. It’s not the speaking that’s the problem, it’s the dominating: the need of so many men to hold forth at length, to speak over others, to assume theirs is the most interesting and most important voice.

As I wrote about Lizzo the other day, what is often described as cancel culture isn’t; it’s people asking high profile figures to try and be better people. But all too often the response of the person criticised, particularly if he’s a cisgender straight white man, is to throw his toys out of the pram. Heaven forfend anybody point out that he’s incorrect, or that the world is more complex than he understands it to be. As Rashbrooke puts it:

for a certain class of highly educated men, the speaker’s authority is all – or most – of what they have. Strip that away, and they are left bare, exposed, even humiliated.

Humiliation is a horrible feeling. But the reaction to it by highly privileged people demonstrates that for them, it’s also a rare feeling – whereas for the marginalised groups they complain about or in some cases even attack, it’s everyday reality.

Rashbrooke:

This frightens them deeply because they, like us all, are social beings, reliant on the regard of others; not to be heard is almost not to exist. (A point, of course, that traditionally marginalised groups have often made.)

Categories
Media Music

Not cancelled

Earlier this week, the singer Lizzo released a record containing a word she didn’t realise was a slur against disabled people. When disabled people told her on social media that it was derogatory, she effectively said “Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” and re-released the song with the word changed.

If you believe the endless pieces about cancel culture in the press, you’d expect Lizzo to be on the receiving end of ongoing abuse. But that’s not what happened. The very same fans and disability advocates who had criticised her thanked her. This, by writer Hannah Diviney, is typical:

Thank you so much for hearing us Lizzo and for understanding that this was only ever meant gently and being open to learning, it honestly means the world.

Had Lizzo been a famous comedian or an opinion columnist, I suspect things would have been very different: they’d have used the slur deliberately and then rather than apologising, they’d have doubled down on the offence and planned their lucrative “I’ve been cancelled!” tour and media appearances. But Lizzo is a member of multiple marginalised groups, so she did what the comedians and columnists usually don’t: she listened, realised she’d made a mistake and apologised.

In other words, she tried to be a decent human being.

Categories
Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Turning back the clock

LGBT Youth Scotland has published its latest survey of LGBT+ young people, Life In Scotland For LGBT+ Young People in 2022. And while some things have got better – people coming out to their families and friends are more likely to receive a positive response than ever before – some of the most important things have got significantly worse. This graph tells a terrible story:

The image is a graph showing how LGBT+ people felt about living in Scotland, and as you can see there was steady progress from 2007 to 2017: the percentage of people who believed Scotland is a good place for LGBT+ people to live rose from 57% in 2007 to 81% in 2017. But that progress has gone sharply into reverse, and five years on we’re almost at the levels of fifteen years ago.

Just 37% of Scots are happy or very happy with their lives, down from 57% in 2017 and 66% in 2012; for trans peopple the figure is even lower, 28% compared to 46% in 2017 and 59% in 2012.

There are two likely explanations for that. The first is that since 2012, and particularly since the “transgender tipping point” of 2014/5, the long-predicted crisis in trans healthcare (more people coming out; insufficient staffing and funding for trans healthcare services, many of which were already substandard and overwhelmed) has kicked in: waiting lists for my gender clinic in Glasgow have trebled since I referred in 2016.

The other explanation, which would explain why 2017 in particular was when LGBT+ people started to feel much less safe in Scotland, is simpler. That’s when the Scottish and national press and many high-profile social media users joined the Christian Right in its war on “gender ideology” with trans people as the first, but not the only, target. Fifteen years of progress have been undone in five years of scaremongering by people who want to make Scotland hate again.

 

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Books Media

A quiet place

I haven’t posted for a while, I know, and I’m sorry. Various personal dramas, work projects and family things have left me very short of time to blog here, and I’ve also found that constantly wading into the bad-faith dialogue and constant repetition of bullshit about trans people’s human rights has taken quite a toll. As I’ve written before, you can’t swim in dirty water without some of it getting on your skin.

Maybe it’s just that I’m really busy. We’ve been doing some more music, which I think is brilliant, and I’ve been working on the edits to Carrie Kills A Man with my amazing editor Kirstyn Smith, who’s taken the raw material of the book and turned it into something I’m really proud of; it’ll be out in November and you can pre-order it now. I’m told I’m also in the Bookseller magazine today, although it’s a subscription title for the trade so I don’t know if I’ve made an arse of myself or not.

But I think it’s more than just being busy. I’ve been blogging for a long time – seventeen years here and a few years before that on the likes of Blogger.com – but I don’t know if I want to keep doing it. It feels like the atmosphere around blogs has changed, that instead of publishing to like-minded souls you’re posting to an audience of bad actors seeking to find something they can take out of context to use against you. That leads to self-censorship and second-guessing, both of which are very tiring and suck the joy out of posting for me. I think until I find that joy again, it’s better to keep this a quiet place.

Categories
Books Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Two brilliant books

Here are two books you should buy.

The Transgender Issue, by Shon Faye

This is a book I’d very much like to have written, because it’s a clear-eyed, well researched and well argued response to the evidence-free scaremongering and barely laundered antisemitism of cisgender authors who claim to know more about trans people than trans people do. It details the links between UK anti-trans feminism and the US Christian Right, the appalling history of trans rights in the UK, the reasons why the UK’s particularly white anti-trans feminism is viewed with horror by other countries’ more evolved and inclusive feminism groups, and much more. If you’d like to know the truth about trans people in the UK, you should buy this book. And if you happen to know a newspaper editor or radio producer, you should buy it for them.

Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers, by Sady Doyle

This is sad and shocking, fierce and funny and utterly exhilarating. Doyle uses everything from Ancient Greek philosophy to ironic slasher movies to analyse the stories our culture tells about women, and the narratives women are expected to conform to. It’s the kind of book that makes you gasp with horror on one page and giggle on the next, and I had to restrain myself from sending endless quotes from it to my friends. Here’s a bit from the intro:

Women have always been monsters.

Female monstrosity is threaded throughout every myth you’ve heard, and some you haven’t: carnivorous mermaids, Furies tearing men apart with razor-sharp claws, leanan sídhe enchanting mortal men and draining the souls from their bodies. They are lethally beautiful or unbearably ugly, sickly sweet and treacherous or filled with animal rage, but they always speak to the qualities men find most threatening in women: beauty, intelligence, anger, ambition.

Categories
Media

A modest proposal: term limits for columnists

I’ve written many columns for various magazines, but I don’t do it so much any more: there are still plenty of places to pitch to, but I’m too old and too tired to pretend to be irate about things I really don’t care about, or to mock people I don’t know to try and demonstrate how edgy and hilarious I am.

That’s the thing about writing columns. Sooner or later you run out of ideas, but you still have to keep writing. So your writing gets worse and worse. How it gets worse depends on your own life; some columnists, hired to represent the ordinary man or woman on the street, end up affluent enough that they write their columns from a gated community in Florida; others are clearly shitfaced when they write; still others end up writing about their own Twitter adventures or just recycle the same copy every week.

Mic Wright, a former columnist himself:

The notion that the issue with columnists is that people outside of journalism demand conformity of opinion is absolute mirror world logic. There is no trans person with a regular national newspaper column articulating that view. Where are all the black columnists with regular access to a national platform? Most columnists in British national newspapers are over-40, white, and either based in or linked to London [in the Scottish press the first two still apply – CM].

The ease with which a writer can slip from The Guardian to The Daily Telegraph or conversely from The Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph to The New Statesman is not an example of their flexibility but of the homogenous quality of British media.

Columns aren’t there, as Freeman, suggests to “reveal a variety of perspectives”. Any columnist who regularly offered perspectives that were counter to the accepted lines of the British media — on houses, landlords, the market, politics, royalty, sexuality, class — would not have that job for long.

The rallying cry of the columnist is “no one tells me what to write” but the point is that no one has to. Every columnist knows that they are subject to the whims of the editor and, ultimately, the peccadillos of the proprietor. If they fall foul of either, they’re gone. A columnist who sticks around for decades is a columnist who knows how to endlessly compromise.

Parker Molloy has noticed the same thing in the US, and argues that the problem is simple: don’t let columnists write columns for very long.

It really does seem as though the longer columnists retain their gigs, the less meaningful output they seem to have. They are not experts in any particular field, but rather, generalists who often run out of useful ideas. This is how you end up with contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake and stories about sandwiches. After five years on the job, swap them out with fresh faces.

…Opinion journalism can be wonderful, but when columnists lose touch with readers and fail to provide factually sound content, we are all left worse off. If newspapers must have opinion sections (another issue that I may one day write about), there’s no valid reason not to strive for a substantive, factual discussion centered around a collection of experts. This is especially true when it comes to things like public health, climate change, and the other challenges that face us.

But as long as places like the Times continue to allow columnists to stay on staff to the point of brain rot, the public is going to continue to be force-fed repetitive nonsense about controversies on college campuses and personal grudges.