A disturbance in the force

I took the kids to see the latest Pixar movie, Coco, yesterday. It’s a great film with a typically Pixar emotional punch (yes, I cried) and some truly exceptional CG, and it’s notable for being set in Mexico and based on Mexican folklore.

It’s interesting to discover what went on away from the computers. The film was initially greeted with great concern by Latino commentators, not least because Pixar’s owner Disney initially attempted to trademark “Día de los Muertos” – Day of the Dead. The thought of the House of Mouse appropriating Mexican culture wasn’t exactly a happy one.

Pixar responded to the concerns in a very Pixar way: it hired its most vocal critics, not for PR gloss but to ensure that it didn’t screw up. A group including artist Lalo Alcaraz, playwright Octavio Solis and former Mexican Heritage Corp. CEO Marcela Davison Aviles acted as cultural consultants for the film.

The result? It quickly became the second-highest-grossing animated film in the history of the Mexican film market (the first was Toy Story 3). And it’s a really good film.

While I was waiting for it to come on, there was a trailer for the forthcoming A Wrinkle in Time, a live action fantasy with some serious star power among the inevitable CGI. And it took me a moment to realise what was unusual about the trailer.

It had people of colour in it.

Not as a statement — for example, something like Black Panther, which is also being trailed in the cinema at the moment, is a film specifically about a black superhero — or as sidekicks. But as the main characters.

As Latonya Pennington writes:

Not only do we get a Black female protagonist played by Storm Reid, but we also get Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling in prominent roles.

…When the trailer for “A Wrinkle in Time” was first released, my eyes grew wide, my heart swelled with excitement, and I smiled so big. I’ve loved fantasy fiction since I was a kid and seeing that trailer reminded me of the joy I felt as I devoured book after book. Although I’ve never read the book the film is based on, I’ve always longed to see more fantasy films with Black female leads.

With the release of “A Wrinkle In Time”, young Black girls will get to see someone that looks like them be a hero.

That’s great, obviously. But you have to wonder why in 2018 it should be in any way remarkable to see women of colour in lead roles, why kids still don’t see people like them on screen as the norm rather than the exception. It shouldn’t be notable to have actors such as Kelly Marie Tran in a Star Wars film or Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok.

And then you read the first (and so far only) comment on Pennington’s piece.

Are non white women really that pathetic that they need to see someone who looks like them succeeding in a fictional setting in order for them to feel better about themselves? You do realise that all your examples are fiction right? It’s not real. Quite frankly, your either a bigot for wanting to see less whites in film, or a self-hating loser whose self esteem needs to be stroked by fictional characters in order to feel better about themselves.

Guess what colour and gender the poster is.

Such posts are a gift to bloggers, of course, because a single “your a bigot” illustrates the problem better than 1,000 words of carefully crafted argument.

Some people — and by people I mean straight white men people — are so used to seeing themselves on screen that when a film dares to feature people who aren’t straight white men people, or when someone who isn’t a straight white man dares to write about how great it is to see a film that isn’t written from the perspective of a straight white man, they lose their tiny little minds.

It’s the kind of privileged thinking that leads to some clown making a version of Star Wars: The Last Jedi without “Girlz Powah and other silly stuff”. Among other things the edit removes “female officers commanding people around/having ideas”, scenes where a woman “is making some important statement” and “Leia’s nitpicking”.

I do like Last Jedi director Rian Johnson’s Twitter response:

(Inevitably and rather brilliantly, another user has trolled the trolls by making an edit without the men, an edit that substantially cuts down on “characters whining about not getting their way”.)

If you can suspend your disbelief to watch films set in far-flung galaxies, films featuring people with impossible powers or films full of CGI characters but have a problem with people of colour or women in decent roles then maybe, just maybe, you’re on the dark side.

“When I arrive in Hell, the Devil will sound like a headline”

I’m indebted to my old friend, the inimitable Professor Batty, for telling me about this excellent essay on the internet and reality and our feelings and quite a lot of other things too.

Do it now. Fight the new pace of thinking designed to keep us in Facebook fights and make Facebook more money. Resist getting so wound up by every story that you accelerate off a cliff into apathy. Lengthen the circuit between a candid thought and your anticipation of how it will be received, a circuit constantly shrinking in fear. Try your ideas out with people you are not desperate to impress, so there’s less ego clouding your discussion.

The silence of the trans

It’s not easy being trans. Not only do you have to deal with the various unpleasantnesses that being visibly different entails, but you have to balance the demands of everyday life with constantly, viciously silencing people who want to have a debate about whether you exist, whether you’re sick or thick or whether it’s ok to discriminate against you because you’re weird and icky and stuff.

Take poor Katie Hopkins. Silenced, with nobody but her 832,612 Twitter followers, readers of her forthcoming book and readers of her new right-wing blog to listen to her thoughts on trans people.

Have some sympathy for Janice Turner, whose Times columns about trans people only reach 1,835,000 print readers, 80,000 digital subscribers and the paper’s 1,069,719 Twitter followers on Sundays.

Imagine the pain of running Scots indy blog Wings Over Scotland, where your feelings on Trans issues can only be shared with 300,000 unique monthly visitors, your site’s 53,871 Twitter fans and your personal account’s 6,513 followers.

Feel the pain of Jenni Murray, who can only talk about trans people to 3.69 million BBC radio listeners and 40,200 people on Twitter.

Imagine the heartbreak of Julie Bindel, unable to talk about trans people except for on her book tour, in Guardian articles (153,163 print readers and 22.7 million online), in BBC TV and radio appearances that reach millions and to her 19,000 social media followers.

Try to empathise with poor Piers Morgan, who can only be unpleasant about trans people to his 6,301,837 Twitter followers, the 819,000 people who watch him on Good Morning Britain and the programme’s 413,446 followers, and the couple of million people who watch his Life Stories programmes.

Or try to imagine how it must feel to be Sanchez Manning, writing pieces for the Mail on Sunday that might only be read by 1,248,194 people in print and just 29 million more online.

The next time somebody with a six, seven or even eight-figure readership tells you yet again that sinister trans people are silencing legitimate debate and supports it by showing you a Twitter activist with 327 followers, you might find yourself asking a pretty simple question.

Who’s silencing whom?

(All reader/listener figures from sites’ own advertising packs or reliably sourced news stories)

Don’t take nice to a gun fight

I enjoyed this piece by Lindsay King-Miller in Rolereboot.org.

In You Can’t Kill Racism with Kindness, King-Miller writes: 

“My goal is not to create a country where everyone tolerates each other, agrees to disagree, and goes about their business. I cannot agree to disagree on whether poor people deserve medical care, whether black people deserve safety from police brutality, whether my queer family deserves equal legal protections.

These are matters of right and wrong, not questions of opinion.”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot given the recent moral panics over LGBT* people and trans people in particular: I’ve been very loath to call people exhibiting bigoted behaviour or espousing bigoted views as bigots, because that’s not nice. But I’m doing so as not to harm the feelings of people who are actively trying to stir up hatred against particular minorities.

King-Miller again:

“Calling a racist a racist might make him sad, but it doesn’t oppress him in any way.”

When I posted the link on a forum I hang out in, another poster quoted French feminist writer Christiane Rochefort’s comment that oppressors don’t realise you have a grievance until you pull out the knives. I’m in a less militant mood so I’ll talk about Karl Popper instead.

In 1945, Popper described very well what has been happening with far-right arseholes on Twitter and what’s happening in certain sections of the UK media right now. He called it the “paradox of tolerance”.

The paradox of tolerance is what happens when you tolerate the intolerable: neo-nazis, for example, or bigots.

“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant,” Popper wrote, “if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

He wasn’t arguing that we silenced the intolerant, however, provided that “we can  counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion”. However, “we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.”

This is inevitably caught up with the issue of free speech, which some people seem determined to misunderstand. Free speech says that nobody can stop you from having particular views. But it doesn’t say that you have a right to have a platform for those views.

You can make a painting that’s really anti-semitic but you don’t have the right to have the Louvre replace The Mona Lisa with it.

You can write a book about how lesbians are just awful but you can’t force Diva magazine to review it.

You can write a song about how you really hate working class black people but you can’t force Stormzy to cover it.

And so on.

This is where the controversial topic of no-platforming comes from. No-platforming started off as an anti-fascist tactic, with universities refusing to give a platform to the likes of the National Front and the BNP. We can’t stop you being big old racists, the students said. But we can stop you from being big old racists here.

In an ironic twist, some vocal former no-platformers such as feminist writer Julie Bindel now face no-platforming themselves, from the same kind of angry students that used to no-platform the NF and the BNP. I say “same kind” but thanks to tuition fees the students are also paying customers now, with expectations of what their money should and shouldn’t be spent on. Some of those students, the trans ones and their allies, don’t think it should be spent on giving people who say awful things a platform to promote their book or raise their media profile at the expense of other, more vulnerable people.

We can’t stop you saying awful things, the students are saying. But we can stop you from saying awful things here.

It’s not silencing people. As if. The people being no-platformed reach a collective audience of many millions through national newspapers, BBC TV and radio and social media. Some, like Katie Hopkins, seem unaware of the irony in campaigning against our supposed tolerance for hate speech and then whingeing when people try to no-platform them. As she said on her LBC radio programme:

“Why do we pride ourselves in being a tolerant country when being tolerant seems to mean that we give these individuals free reign to say what they like?

Hopkins’ bosses at LBC clearly agreed, and when she posted a tweet suggesting a “Final Solution” against muslims she lost that particular platform (although it’s sad that the end of her Daily Mail career wasn’t because she called foreigners cockroaches and other repellent things; it’s that her losing-libel-cases habit was too expensive for the paper to stomach. Like a cockroach, she’ll be back).

There’s a great XKCD comic about this very thing.

XKCD free speech

It’s not silencing. It’s just saying not here.

I’m okay if that hurts some bigots’ feelings.

The capital-T truth is about life before death

In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech to students at Kenyon College. It’s one of my very favourite things, and I keep meaning to post a link to it here.

David Foster Wallace: This is Water (PDF)

For the young people who apparently want everything as video, the YouTube version is here.

Sometimes you come across a piece that manages to express something in a way that pierces your soul. It could be a song, or a painting, a throwaway line or a speech given by a writer to a bunch of teenagers. This, for me, is one of those. I’ve read it more times than I’ve listened to Joe Le Taxi, and I’ve listened to Joe Le Taxi a lot.

I don’t want to spoil it — it’s beautifully crafted, terribly sad and incredibly empowering. But I’ll admit that Wallace’s death hit me very hard: I think he succumbed to the very demons his piece helped free me from.

I hope you find it as powerful as I did, and still do.

This is water.

This is water.

The sexual harassment Santa Claus

The news that Time Magazine made the sexual harassment “silence breakers” their Person of the Year (instead of giving it to the Harasser-in-Chief, who clearly thought the accolade should be his) has resulted in pretty much what you’d expect: cries of “not all men”, whataboutery and barely disguised victim blaming.

The reaction to the topic on the Facebook page of BBC Scotland’s Kaye Adams programme this morning was pretty typical. I’ll give you a flavour. See if you can guess which gender the commenters are.


No nice people say “females” instead of “women”.

Women can’t be trusted. They just make this stuff up to ruin men’s careers.

A woman co-worker told me I had a nice bum, and I do, but it’s not fair.

Male models are objectified too but you don’t hear anybody complaining.

“Is it still okay to say hello to a woman or is that sexual harassment?”

Ooh, let’s think. Is saying hello to somebody exactly the same as, say, forcing them to watch you wank onto a potted plant?

“What about the female teachers that have sex with young lads at school?”

We can all play this game. What about sunrise? What about rain? Fucking magnets, how do they work?

I’m not claiming the moral high ground here or claiming to be different from the other guys (although of course I am. There aren’t many Carries out there in guy land). But arguing against people speaking out about harassment is like claiming kiddie-fiddling is the fault of sexy kids. That is not the side of the argument you want to be on.

Not the real Santa.

No, it isn’t all men, but it’s a hell of a lot of them. There’s no sexual harassment Santa Claus, travelling the world abusing all the women all by himself.

If it isn’t you, then it’s somebody you know. Maybe your colleague, your guitar player, your golf pal.

This isn’t just the occasional guy making an awkward but good hearted attempt at wooing (shut up, Morrissey. You’re the indie Katie Hopkins). It’s the lived experience of almost every woman you know. Men, even male models and men in lycra cycling shorts, do not experience the crap that women do.

This isn’t women suddenly speaking up. This is women finally being listened to. If you’re telling them to be quiet, you’re part of the problem.

Don’t expect wisdom from a baby


I’ve belatedly realised that the time when the media really wants to talk to trans people – the “baby trans” phase when they’ve just come out – is both the easiest and the worst possible time to talk to them.

That’s certainly true in my own case. I was interviewed by a few different people when I first came out, and I was so pleased of the attention that I didn’t bother to check whether I was spouting a load of nonsense. With hindsight, I was.

Everything I knew about trans people was based largely on the opinions of non-trans people and a handful of unrepresentative but visible people I’d encountered on the internet. I’d spent many years being told that a handful of extremists and idiots were representative of all trans people, and when I came out I was keen to distance myself from them.

Please like me! I’m not like those other ones! I’m Audrey Hepburn, not Waynetta Slob!

In the many months since I did those interviews I’ve come to realise that when I talked about anybody who wasn’t me, I was talking out of my arse.

As I’ve read more and listened more I’ve discovered how distorted a picture I’d been seeing and how few voices I’d been hearing. My opinions weren’t based on hearing the experiences of trans people; they were based on the opinions of the people who wrote about trans people in newspapers and magazines or talked about them on radio and TV.

As I’ve since discovered, many of those people are biased or even bigoted against trans people; others just don’t do their homework and regurgitate long-discredited arguments. And some just have bad opinions for money.

I thought I knew it all, but now I realise I didn’t know a damn thing.

Swimming in poisoned water

This week is both anti-bullying week and transgender awareness week, so some newspapers have chosen to celebrate both by, er, bullying transgender people (see my previous post). I’m not going to get into the arguments or unpick the bullshit — Alex Sharpe does a superb job of that here.

I’m just going to share a trans person’s tweet I saw yesterday.

So I’m sat on the train and there are four people reading The Sun and two with the Daily Fail in my eyeline… I’ve moved seats! No wonder trans people feel bombarded. #caniliveonthemoon?

Imagine starting your day by seeing six people in the same carriage as you holding newspapers that are doing their damnedest to stir up prejudice against you.

LGB people, muslims and non-EU citizens will recognise the feeling.

And the supposedly grown-up papers aren’t any better: The Times appears to be obsessed with trans people of late, often taking the side of religious evangelicals, while the Telegraph gives space to people like Norman Tebbit, who claimed that gay marriage would lead to him marrying his son.

It’s disproportionate, it’s relentless and it’s causing a great deal of distress for no good reason. And it’s getting worse.

To be trans in the current media climate is to constantly swim in poisoned water. No wonder so many of us end up feeling sick.

It’s about time we all stood up to defend, er, bullying

There’s something very strange happening in the UK media. It’s defending the bullying of children.

Last month, Peter Hitchens claimed in the Mail that banning smacking would “come back and slap us in the face.” The state has too much power, he said, noting that “Fathers, once kings (or despots) in their own homes, have been declared officially unnecessary.” As he explained, mistaking correlation for causation:

In the days of smacking, police walked around alone in tunics with no visible weapons. Now they make their rare public appearances in pairs or squads, clad in stab vests, clubs, pepper sprays and handcuffs.

Because of course absolutely nothing else in the world has changed politically, socially, culturally or economically.

They also roped in Jan Moir to opine, after detailing the barbaric discipline that used to be commonplace in schools and telling the hilarious story of her mum using a kettle “to ding my brother on the bonce”:

we all lived through an age of crime and home-grown or class-based punishment. And it didn’t do us any harm.

Imagine! Some people think whacking a child with a kettle is bad!

Today, to mark anti-bullying week, the Church of England has updated its anti-bullying guidelines for nurseries and primary schools. If a three-year-old wants to play with toys or clothes associated with the other gender,the guidance says, they shouldn’t be told not to or mocked for it.

Here’s the key phrase:

‘A child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment’

The Daily Mail’s front page headline? No, of course it isn’t “let girls wear hard hats”. It’s “Church: let little boys wear tiaras,” because while nobody’s bothered about girls playing with boy stuff a wee boy in a tiara is clearly Satan’s work.

The article notes with disdain that “Schools are also told they cannot use the Christian faith or Bible teachings to justify behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying – for example, identifying a transgender pupil by a sex other than the one they have chosen.”

“Behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying”. So, bullying.

In an interesting coincidence, over the weekend the Mail on Sunday described how a teacher was suspended over allegations about, ahem, behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying.

“I called a trans boy a girl by mistake… and it may cost me my job as a teacher: Maths tutor suspended after praising pupil using the wrong gender,” the headline says.

He’s an evangelical pastor and the complaint against him alleged ongoing inappropriate behaviour, such as trying to shoehorn his religious beliefs into his maths lessons, and concern that he was picking on a trans child by deliberately and frequently misgendering him as well as detaining him unnecessarily. He denies “inappropriately” talking about religion in maths lessons. The word “inappropriately” is doing a lot of work there.

From the article:

He added, however, that he did not feel that he should be made to use the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘him’ and that to force him to do so was a breach of his human rights.

Like many people who find themselves represented by the Christian Legal Centre, whose dread hand is behind this story, the tutor in this story appears to be an arsehole.

The Mail on Sunday – and today, the Sun – has also dragged up (pun fully intended) a story from back in June:

Drag queens are being brought into taxpayer-funded nursery schools so that children as young as two can learn about transgender issues.

The cross-dressers are reading nursery rhymes and singing specially adapted songs ‘to teach children about LGBT tolerance’.

The performances, which are being trialled in a grand total of one nursery, are so newsworthy that the Sun has made them its front page story.

There’s a really horrible final sentence to the Mail’s version, too. Noting that the nursery in question decided to trial the performances in response to increasing hate crimes, it says:

Reported hate crimes rose 29 per cent in the last year, Home Office figures show, although only one in six was considered serious enough for a suspect to be charged.

If you find yourself defending the beating of children and campaigning against anti-bullying initiatives, this video may resonate.