Harry Potter and the Chamber of Bigots

Today’s story of JK Rowling and an anti-trans tweet is a good example of how lazy reporting reinforces bullshit.

If you missed it (and you probably didn’t; it’s been all over the media today): last night, the author tweeted in support of the anti-trans activist Maya Forstater, claiming that her defeat in a tribunal was an attempt to “force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real”. #IStandWithMaya, she wrote.

That’s been reported as Rowling supporting free speech, but it isn’t.

It’s Rowling telling her 14 million followers to support a bully.

Forstater wasn’t forced out of her job; her employer chose not to renew her fixed term contract. She wasn’t told she couldn’t state that “sex is real”; she was told that she didn’t have the legal right to create a hostile and humiliating environment for her co-workers.

Forstater has said publicly that her case was intended to establish a legal precedent: the precedent she wanted would give anti-trans activists the legal right to be as abusive as they liked towards trans colleagues without consequences.

That isn’t how this is being reported. It’s being reported as “cancel culture”, the sinister “woke mafia” picking on a national treasure.

But Rowling has form for this. She was an unapologetic follower of anti-trans activist Magdalen Berns, who claimed that there was a Jewish-funded conspiracy to turn the world trans and that trans women are “fucking blackface actors” who “aren’t women” but “get sexual kicks from being treated like women. Fuck you and your dirty fucking perversions… you pathetic, sick fuck”. She’s publicly liked anti-trans tweets claiming trans people are “men in dresses” and when called out on it, she had her PR team claim that it was a “clumsy and middle-aged moment” because she doesn’t want to upset her significant LGBT+ fanbase.

By misrepresenting what the Forstater case was actually about, Rowling is fuelling anti-trans sentiment. The reporting over this is perpetuating the myth that women are being silenced by the sinister trans lobby while giving those women global press coverage for their supposedly silenced views.

Here’s journalist Laurie Penny.

Trans people, and trans women in particular, have for years been under attack by dedicated cohort of the British press, egged on by a small group of transphobic extremists. Transphobic views have been normalised in Britain. That’s the context for JK’s comments today.

When the media promotes conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories aren’t just the preserve of cranks. The Sunday Times ran a long campaign claiming that AIDS was the invention of a “gay lobby”; as recently as 2009 The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson claimed that the link between HIV and AIDS was contentious and that “debate” on the subject was being silenced by a “strong and vociferous lobby”.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, much of the UK press chastised those who sought to “silence” Andrew Wakefield’s discredited and dangerous claims about the safety of the MMR vaccine, coverage that brought a fatal, preventable disease back into our classrooms.

Just this weekend, The Sun published a far-right conspiracy theory claiming Jeremy Corbyn was part of a shadowy network of hard-left extremists – an article it quickly and quietly unpublished.

So we’re hardly in uncharted territory if sections of the media promote conspiracy theories today. They do, particularly around trans people. This week, they’re claiming that Big Pharma is paying the Liberal Democrats to force gender recognition reform into law, thereby turning all our children trans, because reasons.

This isn’t just cranks on social media. It’s Radio 4’s Today Programme and the Murdoch Press.

Here’s the Sunday Times’ explanation.

Ferring Pharmaceuticals donates to the Lib Dems.

True. It’s done so for years, to the tune of about £1.5m.

It markets the drug Triptorelin

Also true.

“which is used to block puberty among adolescents”.

That’s a deliberate distortion. Triptorelin is not primarily prescribed as a puberty blocker. It is a cancer drug, and it’s used overwhelmingly for cancer patients – thousands of them, compared to the few dozen for whom it’s used to treat precocious puberty or as a puberty blocker.

Now, Ferring doesn’t appear to be a very nice company. Pharmaceutical firms rarely are. But it’s not mainly in the puberty blocking business. It’s in the cancer business, which is much more profitable. The entire market for puberty blockers in the NHS is worth around £90,000 a year, but it spends more than £2 billion on cancer treatments.

Let’s think for a moment. Which is more likely: a corporation that makes cancer drugs spending £1.5m as an insurance policy for a market sector worth £2,000,000,000 per year, or a corporation that makes cancer drugs spending £1.5m to make all the children transgender so it can bring in £90,000 a year?

Aha, the anti-trans lot say. But the market will grow. There are so many people trying to access gender clinics that the market for puberty blockers will soon be worth, like, lots and lots and lots. Maybe eleventy billion pounds a week.

More referrals does not mean more prescriptions. In 2014-2015, the number of under-15s referred to the UK’s only gender clinic for adolescents rose from 46 to 52 – but the number of people prescribed hormone blockers dropped from 41 to 32. Puberty blocking remains exceptionally rare. These drugs aren’t and won’t be handed out like sweets.

And remember, the alleged plot here is that the money from Big Pharma is going on lobbying for reform of the Gender Recognition Act, which has no connection with trans healthcare of any kind, let alone adolescent healthcare.

The argument, then, goes something like this.

  • Cancer drugs firm donates not to the political parties that will win the election, but to one that won’t
  • Political party that won’t win the election will somehow force the other parties to make paperwork slightly easier for trans adults, which they’d promised to do anyway
  • Something something something think of the children

Not mad enough? On social media, high profile figures with tens of thousands of followers decided to add yet more skulduggery to the equation.

  • Vladimir Putin wants all UK children turned trans, because reasons
  • Putin gives a gong to the boss of a cancer drugs firm, possibly with mind control technology inside it
  • Cancer firm donates not to the political parties that will win the election, but to one that won’t
  • Political party that won’t win the election will somehow force the other parties to make paperwork slightly easier for trans adults, which they’d promised to do anyway
  • Something something something think of the children

How did we end up with Vladimir Putin? Well, the boss of Ferring, Frederick Paulsen, has been awarded the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation. What more proof do you need?

Of course, Paulsen has been given some other honours. Maybe if we looked into that we could see just how big this international conspiracy really is.

Paulsen’s honours include:

  • The French legion of honour.
  • The Order of the Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan.
  • The Order of Merit Class I by Germany.
  • The Cross of the Order of Chivalry by Denmark.
  • The OBE, the Order of St John Service Medal and Freeman of the City of London.
  • The Scottish Geographical Medal.
  • The Companion of the Royal Aero Club of the UK.
  • An honorary professorship of the University of Dundee.

Now, I don’t want to alarm you, but clearly it isn’t just Putin. The international transgender conspiracy goes much deeper and includes President Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, Queen Margarethe II of Denmark, King Wangchuck of Bhutan, The Queen of England, the Scottish Geographical Society, The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom and the entire University of Dundee. Together they are united with a single goal: to get the Lib Dems into power to turn all your children trans.

Either that, or sections of the mainstream media will happily promote unhinged conspiracy theories that help create fear and distrust of trans people.

One of these possibilities is much more likely, and much more frightening, than the other.

 

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?