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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.

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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.

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LGBTQ+ Media

“This book gives me hope”

This is a nice, thoughtful and personal piece about Shon Faye’s new book, written by journalist Vic Parsons. I read the opening line after seeing a bunch of new anti-trans pieces in the UK press this morning:

Barely a day goes by without another hostile article about trans people.

Today’s pieces are claiming that the real bigots are people telling bigots not to be bigoted and that gay men are actually homophobic straight men. So another perfectly normal day in rainy fascist island, then.

The fixation on “trans issues” in the British media – The Times alone published nearly two articles a day between January and May of this year, about a group that is less than 1% of the UK population – is not really about trans lives at all. It’s a moral panic: an irrational fear, stoked by the media, that trans people are a threat to society, much in the same way that gay men and lesbians were portrayed as dangerous deviants in the 80s and 90s. Right now, trans people are a minority group that is being bashed by the press, which isn’t at all interested in reporting on the very real, urgent and serious challenges that make our lives as trans people more difficult than they need to be.

Anyway. I’ve pre-ordered Shon’s book and from what I’ve seen so far it looks like an important work and an antidote to the full-blown moral panic we’ve been in for so long now.

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Bullshit Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

The LGB Alliance isn’t a hate group. It’s much worse than that

A must-read thread on why the LGB Alliance aren’t a hate group: they’re much more sinister than that.

Well, that’s an oversimplification. They most certain are a hate group, and act the same as any other anti-LGBT hate group, but more than that, they’re something more sinister: They are controlled opposition. And that’s considerably worse.

…They’re not just a hate group; they’re masquerading as a legitimate LGB rights organisation, seeking to undermine the existing charity that fights for LGBT rights, and replace them, while being nothing but an arm of the religious right.

…Imagine for a second they hadn’t faced such public scrutiny and pushback and got their way? The UK would have an “LGB rights charity” that opposes anti-bullying, opposes hate crime legislation, thinks gay teachers are predators and that school LGBT groups are harmful

This is all well documented and easy to find. Media outlets that continue to platform them or present them as a legitimate organisation are either incompetent or malevolent.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Twitter is not real

Whatever you think of the SNP/Green Party deal, it’s significant that 94.9% of the SNP membership voted in favour of a deal whose key points included GRA reform. Once again it demonstrates that the spittle-flecked anti-trans fury you see online isn’t representative of reality.

But it is representative of what gets printed in the papers. As many people have pointed out, Twitter is used disproportionately by people in the media. It’s a good source of stories on slow news days and of content to plagiarise, and it’s also home to a number of echo chambers where journalists hang out.

There was a good example of this earlier in the week when the BBC ran a story about Ofcom leaving the Stonewall Diversity Champions project. The wording of the article was very strange, suggesting that the LGB Alliance was a rival to Europe’s largest LGBT+ advocacy group (and since when did human rights organisations have rivalries?), completely misrepresenting why most of the LGBT+ community hates the LGBA and using the same language about trans people that anti-trans hate groups use.

If you look at the writer on Twitter, his following list is a who’s-who of anti-trans activism; his wife, also on Twitter, is an anti-trans activist who used her account to boast of “peak transing” her husband – the anti-trans equivalent of redpilling, where you successfully recruit somebody to the cult – back in 2018. Here in Scotland, a Scotsman writer’s recent piece on anti-trans activists being ejected from an Edinburgh pub had to be pulled completely: first it was edited to remove the deliberate misgendering she’d put in the news story; then it was pulled altogether, presumably because the lawyers decided it was legally actionable. If you look at the writer’s Twitter account, it too is a who’s who of anti-trans activists and hate groups.

These anti-trans activists are not writing columns, where opinions are labelled as such. These people are writing news stories, which are supposed to be unbiased and transparent. When you’re reporting news you can shape the story without telling any lies: you simply choose to platform this voice but not that one; to publish what group A tells you but not the rebuttal from group B.

People who are deeply immersed in the anti-trans movement should not be writing news reports on activism they or their friends are actively involved in. It’s unethical, immoral and in blatant breach of the NUJ Code of Conduct. In fact, it’s in breach of every version of the Code since the original in 1936: A journalist “should not falsify information or distort or misrepresent facts.”

Twitter is not real, and neither are the scare stories the echo chambers’ tame journalists circulate. What they’re publishing isn’t journalism; it’s client journalism, journalism that twists reality to suit the agenda of its friends. Or as it’s also known: propaganda.

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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

A war on children

This, by Melissa Gira Grant, is horrific: Behind the GOP Strategy to Outlaw Trans Youth. It’s about the families affected by the Christian Right’s war on trans people, particularly trans teens.

As ever, US Republicans are more extreme than our home-grown bigots but there are still strong parallels between what’s happening in the US and what some people want to happen here.

Republicans across the United States have seized on trans people as a social and political scapegoat, reprising a strategy used to great effect in Texas late in the Obama administration. This strategy bears some surface resemblance to Republican attacks on marriage equality the decade before, when the GOP succeeded in getting voters to back dozens of ballot initiatives limiting marriage to one man and one woman, while also securing votes for Republicans (though it’s unclear whether it was as decisive a factor as many contemporary commentators claimed). But the fight for marriage equality started in the lesbian and gay rights movement. There is at present no analogous fight for trans rights backed with anything resembling the same level of legal, philanthropic, or political muscle. Indeed, in the conflict over marriage equality, trans rights were pushed to the political margins, a dynamic that set the stage for the current war on trans people.

That’s an important point. This isn’t a backlash against trans people’s demands; this is an attack on trans people just for existing. For example here in the UK, the “reasonable concerns” mob have been scaremongering about legal rights that trans people already have, and have had for many years.

As HB 1399 was before the state House health committee, the state Senate took up SB 1646, a bill that would allow parents of trans kids to be charged with child abuse. Supporters of bills like these typically advanced a very pointed narrative: that a powerful, shadowy “trans lobby,” in concert with the media and Big Pharma, was colluding to sexually exploit—even “mutilate”—children by forcibly “transing” them.

UK newspapers and some BBC programmes advance exactly the same arguments using exactly the same language. And like the UK, some of the most anti-trans voices pushed forward by the religious right are those of “ordinary mothers” who just have “reasonable concerns”.

Moms have been at the forefront of ADF’s legal battles to exclude trans girls from girls’ sports—another effort that fueled this wave of anti-trans bills. These moms are part of a long history of white women who saw it as their moral duty to the American nation to speak out as mothers—white moms fought against school integration and for warning labels on music.

The article quotes Remington Johnson, a trans woman:

It was “wickedness,” Remington said. Wickedness was what she called the bad-faith maneuvering of Dutton, of all of them. Only wickedness could describe the idea that these bills were necessary in order to protect children, when the truth was that children were harmed even by the attempt to pass them. But for those who had an evangelical mindset, she said, that was the point: “Protecting” children meant making it impossible for them to be trans and survive.

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Media

Who pays the piper

Earlier today Dr Amy Kavanagh, a historian and disabled rights expert, was rejected by BBC London News after she asked for an appearance fee. The same thing happened to her two weeks ago with Sky News.

I’ve experienced this too. There’s an assumption in a lot of news outlets that people will be happy to work for free – and it is work; the programme calls you because they want the benefit of your expertise – because you’re there to promote your employer, your book, your particular cause or your personal brand. And if you are, that’s fine: if you calculate that the publicity you’ll get is worth the lack of fee, more power to you. But that doesn’t mean that everybody else should work for free too.

I used to fall for this. I’d happily speak to a researcher for 25 minutes to cover the different perspectives on the subject and identify the key talking points, and I’d set my alarm so I could be ready to talk at 5.45am (or 6.15am, or 6.32… radio items are often moved at the last minute). But not only was I doing this work for free; it was then affecting the work I do get paid for, because I was dog tired for the rest of the day. It’s even worse if you’re talking about something deeply personal, because that comes with a whole bunch of additional stresses and strains.

I know some people who’ve got work from doing these things, but for me the only offers that came from working for free were more requests to work for free. And sadly my landlord doesn’t accept exposure in lieu of cash.

As the famous Oatmeal comic puts it:

Dr Kavanagh:

Yes, media is a powerful & important tool for campaigning. If you want your story shared & that is the most important thing, that’s ok.

What I’m really bored of is being approached as a contributor, known for my quality of media work / interviews & expected to do it for free!

I don’t think anybody should work for free when everybody else is getting paid. That’s partly common sense, but it’s also because payment means obligation. When I go on the radio as a paid contributor I am working for the programme and its listeners. If someone else was footing the bill, they would be doing so in the expectation that I will be working for them in some way: promoting the brand, perhaps, or pushing a particular agenda. The job of an expert, surely, is to counter that.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Olympian ignorance

Today in the Olympics, a weightlifter didn’t win a medal. This wouldn’t be remarkable if the weightlifter weren’t Laurel Hubbard, a transgender woman. But Hubbard it was, and her loss is confusing me. I thought trans women had to be kept out of sports because of their male-born advantage? That’s what social and right-wing media has been telling me about Hubbard for weeks now: her chances of winning because of her gametes or chromosomes or supposed lack of womanly essence were so incredibly high that her rivals shouldn’t even bother turning up.

And then she lost, all three times.

The anti-trans have an answer for that. Hubbard threw the event. Not only that, she threw it because she had a wider purpose in mind: to make people believe that trans women don’t necessarily have an unfair advantage in sport. It’s not that Hubbard was beaten by a stronger woman, because that couldn’t possibly happen: women are weak and need to be protected from the evil transes!

It’s incredible to see the speed at which the anti-trans mob have gone from “no woman can compete with a transgender woman!” to “the transgender woman threw the event!” But it’s easy to do that when your argument starts from your desired outcome – in this case, that trans women should be banned from everything. The same thing happened when the flaws in the “trans people are bathroom predators” argument were exposed; the anti-trans mob quickly changed to “predators will pretend to be trans people to get into bathrooms.” When reality disproves your argument, simply pick a different argument that leads to the same conclusion as your last one.

This is exactly the same thing cult leaders do, and that QAnon does. Every single prediction QAnon has made to date has been either meaningless or wrong, but because people are so invested in the conspiracy theory they interpret the evidence that it’s bullshit as evidence that it is real. We misinterpreted what QAnon said, or the Deep State got word of the event and made it too risky to continue with, or Q is testing us. The real answer, that Q is fucking with you, is not something the faithful can bring themselves to consider.

There are lots of names for this. I like the term sunk cost fallacy, which applies to illogical behaviour: it’s why gamblers keep on paying to play when they’ve lost almost everything. The rational behaviour is to realise that you’ve made a mistake and gambled more than you can afford and to stop. But the sunk cost fallacy says that you’ve put so much money in that it would be foolish to stop: the big win is coming any time now, and if you walk away you’ll lose the lot to the next person who comes along and plays.

With conspiracies it’s much the same. The more invested in the conspiracy you become, the more of you you have sunk into it and the more difficult it becomes to extricate yourself, or for others to help you extricate yourself. It’s much easier to flip to a different conspiracy theory than to accept that you’ve been hoodwinked, lied to, used. We humans do not like cognitive dissonance, which we experience when reality differs from our beliefs and expectations.

And with the Olympics, the reality is that in the 17 years since trans women were eligible to compete, not a single trans woman has won a medal. In fact, before these Olympics, not a single trans woman or trans man even qualified. Rather inconveniently for the anti-trans crowd, while one trans athlete did bag a medal this week the athlete was a non-binary person who’d been assigned female at birth, not a trans woman.

And yet our papers and airwaves have been filled with the supposed dangers of Laurel Hubbard all week in a way they haven’t been regarding any of the other issues concerning women’s sports, such as predatory coaches, income inequality or the apparently racist, misogynist demands for Black women athletes to take birth control to suppress their naturally occurring hormone levels or be excluded from events. It’s almost as if these pundits and social media posters don’t really care about women in sport at all.

As Hannah Jewell of the Washington Post (and author of 100 Nasty Women) put it:

and the gold medal for cruelty to trans people goes, as always, to britain 🏅

if you listen closely you can hear the tippy-tapping of a thousand british columnists rewriting their hateful columns to account for the fact that laurel hubbard did not do well at the weightlifting, while preserving their awful world view 🏅🏅🏅

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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Anti-trans terrorism

The US edition of The Guardian continues to embarrass its UK sibling with its coverage of anti-trans violence; most recently, its coverage of a stochastic terrorism event in the US.

If you’re not familiar with the term, stochastic terrorism is when you incite violence indirectly: you’re not saying that someone should go out and attack the Jews/Roma/Blacks/Queers/Trans; you’re just saying that these sick fucks are coming for your kids and family and country and maybe they need to be taught a lesson. When blood is inevitably spilled, your hands remain snowy white.

One of the best known examples of stochastic terrorism is the witch trials in Europe and America, where women were accused of witchcraft – often by other women. More recently we have “white women’s tears”, a term used to describe when a white woman weaponises their whiteness and womanhood against somebody who is Black.

Here’s Julia Carrie Wong on the “Central Park Karen” story in The Guardian (inevitably the US Guardian, not the UK one):

Amy Cooper’s Karen status was cemented when she called the police on Christian Cooper, a 57-year-old Black birdwatcher, after he had asked her to leash her dog in New York City’s Central Park. Not content with falsely alleging, twice, that “an African American man” was “threatening me and my dog”, Cooper put on a play for the 911 operator, changing the register of her voice to one of distress and panic as she cried: “I am being threatenedby a man in the Ramble. Please send the cops immediately.”

It was through that performance that Amy Cooper took on the mantle of an American archetype: the white woman who weaponizes her vulnerability to exact violence upon a Black man. In history, she is Carolyn Bryant, the adult white woman whose complaint about a 14-year-old Emmett Till led to his torture and murder at the hands of racist white adults. In literature, she is Scarlett O’Hara sending her husband out to join a KKK lynching party or Mayella Ewell testifying under oath that a Black man who had helped her had raped her. In 2020, she is simply Karen.

That’s stochastic terrorism: unleashing forces that you know may or will harm somebody on your behalf. And often, those forces are the far right.

Which brings us to LA this summer. Here’s Sam Levin and Lois Beckett for The Guardian US.

On 24 June, a woman claimed on Instagram that a Korean spa in Los Angeles had allowed a “man” to expose himself to women and girls in the women’s section.

There is no evidence that the alleged event ever happened, and lots of evidence to suggest that the woman is an anti-LGBT+ evangelical Christian with an agenda to push.

The unsubstantiated allegations about Wi Spa in LA’s Koreatown neighborhood quickly spread from social media to rightwing forums to far-right news sites to Fox News, and were distorted by anti-transgender groups across multiple countries.

The massive media attention resulted in two weekends of chaotic rallies in LA this month, in which anti-trans and trans-rights protesters fought in the streets, and women carrying “protect female spaces” signs paraded alongside members of the far-right Proud Boys. Trans counter-protesters and their supporters described being Maced, stabbed and chased by rightwing demonstrators, as well as injured by police.

The episode, experts said, offered a case study in how viral misinformation can result in violence, and provided clear evidence of the links between anti-trans and far-right movements, including QAnon conspiracy theorists, who believe that a cabal of elite pedophiles is manipulating the American government.

This is not a purely American conspiracy.

The video was also shared by feminists who advocate against trans-inclusive policies – sometimes referred to as gender critical feminists, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists (Terfs). Moro documented a flurry of posts on Ovarit (a site for users banned from Reddit due to transphobia) and Mumsnet (a platform for UK mothers, which has attracted anti-trans feminists).

Some of the people sharing the video were British journalists, including Guardian contributors.

Wi Spa represented a nightmare scenario of what can happen when far-right groups, rightwing conspiracy theorists and gender-critical feminists are all aligned against trans rights, Serano said: “The idea that anytime people can point out a trans woman was in a women’s space, and suddenly the Proud Boys and QAnon people all come out against it, is very scary.”

It’s also deliberate. Anti-trans groups in the UK have toured rough housing estates to tell men about the supposed trans threat to their daughters; their supporters write books saying the same with bigger words. Allegations of grooming and child abuse are commonplace online, not just against trans women but against the parents of trans and non-binary people. Supposedly serious journalists write of children being “sacrificed”; on social media and in forums, people talk openly about how trans people and allies should be assaulted or even executed. And some anti-trans activists have deliberately courted the far right: chances are if they’ve been banned from Twitter, they’ve appeared on a white supremacist podcast or YouTube channel.

The problem with that is that they are supping with The Devil without having brought a long spoon. Or to mix my metaphors, they have let the fascist genie out of the bottle and he doesn’t want to go back in again.

An anti-trans protest planned for speaker’s corner this weekend in London – a protest partly organised by a prominent anti-trans activist who has openly embraced the far right and urged armed men to threaten trans women – has been cancelled because Tommy Robinson and his racist pals were planning to join them. It seems highly likely that the cancellation wasn’t because the activists didn’t want neo-Nazi support; it’s that they didn’t want to be seen getting neo-Nazi support.

Whether you’re palling around with Nazis or just demonising minorities online or in newspaper columns, you are taking part in stochastic terrorism. Neo-nazis stabbing people are just one example of where that leads. When a young mother is beaten with an iron bar by 13 youths shouting anti-trans slurs; when a teen gets their nose broken for refusing to answer whether they’re a boy or a girl; when a man sets a trans woman’s house on fire after sharing transphobes’ talking points online; that’s stochastic terrorism: violent events deliberately incited by people who know exactly what they’re doing.

They may not get blood on their hands, but they have a stain on their souls.

Categories
Bullshit Media

This is not a technology story

I’ve had multiple calls from media wanting to do an item today on the tech story du jour, the NHS COVID app telling more people to isolate. But it’s not a tech story. The app is pinging more people because more people are getting infected.

The uncritical framing of this as an app problem rather than the app doing what it’s supposed to do is really appalling: it’s pure spin, a blatant bit of Trumpism: tests are reporting more infections so we must reduce testing.

I shudder to think what the body count of so-called Freedom Day will be.