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LGBTQ+ Media

How nice people are turned nasty

This, by Katie J.M. Baker in Lux magazine, is a good analysis of how an apparently benign website, Mumsnet, became a hotbed of anti-trans radicalism. Baker has previously reported on misogynist men online including incels and self-proclaimed Men’s Rights activists.

I think Baker is right in her judgement that women’s genuine anger and trauma – from abusive men, from a healthcare system that doesn’t care about them, from all the bullshit women endure in this deeply broken society – is weaponised by bad actors in exactly the same way the far right recruits angry young men.

The more I learned about Mumsnet, the more the forum reminded me of my past reporting on the ways men are radicalized by the toxic online “manosphere,” where pick-up artists (PUAs) and men’s rights activists (MRAs) recruit followers by exploiting real fears (such as economic anxiety) and blaming marginalized outgroups (women, people of color, Jews) for societal failures. As people get drawn into these communities, they become obsessed with a misguided sense of victimization and start to focus single-mindedly on their newfound worldview.

It seemed to me that was exactly what was happening on Mumsnet: some of these newly “gender critical” Mumsnetters were relatively privileged women who had never felt marginalized until they gave birth and came to feel isolated in their nuclear households and (rightfully!) outraged at the lack of support for mothers in the U.K. They turned to Mumsnet for solidarity, and somehow became fixated on trans women in the process. It was so textbook that Mumsnetters even had their own vernacular, just like MRAs who famously use being “red pilled” as slang for choosing to see the ugly truth.

…Mumsnet’s women’s rights forum didn’t just offer women a safe space to organize. By providing a platform that tolerated TERFism, it had also handed users a convenient scapegoat for all of their problems — not austerity, not misogyny, but the relatively tiny and extremely marginalized and oppressed trans population.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Grifters don’t care about facts

Riley Black, writing for Slate: Stop Trying to Out-Science Transphobes.

But regardless of their aims, transphobes of all stripes appeal to the authority of science—science that is pretty easy to refute.

This is a trap. Allies fall for this time and again. The same conservatives who try to deny my rights based on “science” have also denied that cigarettes cause lung cancer, that humans are driving global climate change, and that evolution is real. They are not dealing in facts.

…What we’re living through is a trans panic akin to the satanic panic of the ’80s and ’90s, when parents and police were convinced there were devil-worshipping cults infiltrating every facet of society. It is not logical. Going over, yet again, how hormone levels, chromosomes, skeletal features, and more vary in many complex ways is not going to make a lick of difference to people who see me and others like me as an abomination, a threat to the nuclear family, or somehow capable of ruining their day because I need to use the women’s room.

As Upton Sinclair put it, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Hundreds of thousands of pounds are pouring into UK anti-trans activism, whether that’s through dark money, freelance fees, book sales or media appearances. Lying about trans people is pretty good for political gain, and it generates a lot of online ad clicks and newspaper sales too. Who’s going to let facts threaten all of that?

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Take your potato and shove it

Another day, another manufactured outrage that’s somehow all trans people’s fault.

Hasbro, owner of the Mr Potato Head toy, is bringing out a new version that will have both male-appearing and female-appearing pieces in the same box so that you can make an entire family. Because the resulting potato heads can be male, female or either or neither, this product isn’t going to be called Mr Potato Head or Mrs Potato Head. It’s just going to be called Potato Head.

Mr Potato Head will still be sold as Mr Potato Head, and Mrs Potato Head will still be Mrs Potato Head. But that’s not what people are being told.

Sky: Mr Potato Head is no more as classic toy goes gender neutral

The Guardian: “Mr Potato Head loses ‘mister” as Hasbro opts for gender-neutral brand name

BBC: Mr Potato Head to lose “Mr” title in gender neutral rebrand

The Scotsman: Potato Head: Toy company remove the Mister from toy’s name in move to update their classic brands.

This, you’re being told, is the latest example of the Snowflake Woke Gender Police threatening civilisation as we know it. According to Piers Morgan, this shows that “woke imbeciles are destroying the world.”

It shows nothing of the sort, of course: it’s a great example of how toys don’t necessarily have to be labelled THIS IS FOR BOYS ONLY and THIS IS FOR GIRLS ONLY. And it’s also a great example of how right-wing contrarians will knowingly spread bullshit to inflame their audiences. Morgan knows he’s talking shite, but he doesn’t care.

The problem with this nonsense is that it gets used as supposed evidence against, you’ve guessed it, the sinister trans lobby. The comments are full of it, so for example on the Metro version of the story: “Yet again the trendy, wokey, snowflake minority are dictating to the majority… soon they’ll be scrapping titles like Mr, Mrs, Miss or even Ms… you can’t even say you prefer one gender over the other… what next? Trans barbie that hides the last turkey in the shop window under its skirt”

I think that last one is supposed to mean Barbie with a penis. Because if there’s one thing trans people want, it’s children’s toys with large, visible genitals.

I mean, honestly. This is nothing to do with us. I spent two hours in a Zoom meeting with over 50 trans people last night, and the topic of discussion wasn’t about the gender of toys or policing people’s language or any of the other things we’re supposedly about: it was about the completely broken trans healthcare system and the horrific delays facing trans people who require life-saving treatment. In a just world the trans healthcare crisis would be a national scandal, but in this one the media would rather just invent shit about us and spread it as widely as they can.

Like Baa Baa Green Sheep and “political correctness gone mad” in previous decades, these stories don’t care about reality: they exist to get people furious about the newspapers’ and broadcasters’ chosen enemies.

I saw an example of that today. Remember the story from the Times a few days ago that lied about inclusive language for pregnant people? (short version: guidance for NHS staff asked them not to be insensitive to trans men; The Times reported it as an NHS ban on the use of the word “mother”) It’s made its way across oceans with the US and Australian right-wing press reporting it as fact. Meanwhile in England, there really was a successful attempt to exclude people with language: the UK government changed the wording of a law specifically to exclude trans men by swapping the gender-neutral word “people” for “women”.

As ever, the people the right wing are telling you to fear are the ones they are silencing, demonising and marginalising. They can take their potatoes and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine.

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Media

Fan mail

I’ve been in online journalism for nearly 23 years now, and during that time I’ve been called lots of things and had the odd death threat from Irvine Welsh fans. But until very recently I never had men tracking me down so they could send emails patronising me. The difference, of course, is gender. I now get the same sort of unsolicited messages as the other women I know in tech journalism, messages that are infantilising, patronising and sexist.

I’ve known since my first online adventures in the early 1990s that the internet is a very different place for women and LGBT+ people than it is for straight men, but it still saddens me.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Distortion and disinformation in a media bubble

A new poll in The Scotsman report that the majority of SNP voters and almost half of all Scots women support the sacking of Joanna Cherry. The ones who don’t are primarily older, more conservative voters, particularly Tory voters.

It also reports, once again, that even after three years of misleading and scaremongering coverage across the entire Scottish media the opposition to trans people’s rights is very much limited to a small but well-connected minority: 44% of women are supportive of gender recognition reform, 27% don’t have an opinion and just 16% are against.

But that 16% gets 99% of the media coverage.

This isn’t always bias, although some of the big hitters in the Scots commentariat are clearly transphobic and reactionary. It’s often laziness and overwork or a desire to create controversy because it’s more exiting to read, watch or listen to.

There’s a good example of that today. New guidance has been issued in one English hospital about inclusive language for pregnant people including trans men. The guidance is explicit: inclusive language is *not* to replace existing terms like “mother” or “breastfeeding”, but staff are asked to consider the use of different language when the expectant person is a trans man or a non-binary person.

Here’s the relevant section:

“A gender-additive approach means using gender-neutral language alongside the language of womanhood, in order to ensure that everyone is represented and included… if we only use gender neutral language, we risk marginalising or erasing the experience of some of the women and people who use our services… we believe in human rights-based care and we can add inclusive language to our current language without subtracting anyone”.

The Times read that and published this:

These days, right, if you say someone’s a woman, you get arrested and thrown in jail.

That isn’t a misunderstanding. That’s malevolence. It is a deliberate distortion by the right-wing press, just like Baa Baa Green Sheep was. It’s already resulted in angry old men calling the hospital to verbally abuse the staff.

Trans healthcare is in crisis right now, and bigotry is affecting trans people’s access to essential services. The media doesn’t find that titillating, so even when it’s covering something serious it tries to turn it into culture war nonsense. For example yesterday, Moya Lothian-Mclean was interviewed on Sky News about a new study into appalling treatment of trans people by domestic violence organisations. The interviewer tried to derail it by asking about inclusive language, because that’s where the outrage button is, but Lothian-Mclean elegantly sidestepped the attempted derail. As writer Paris Lees put it on Twitter:

It’s a dog-whistle. I turned down 4 interview requests. I’m not discussing ‘pc culture gone mad’ when trans people are waiting three years to be seen by a specialist.

I have turned down multiple invitations to talk about GRA reform on air because the intention was to to set up a fight with a Spiked writer or someone who believes I’m being paid by The Jews to destroy civilisation.

I’m not scared of debate – I promise you my knowledge of current UK and Scottish equality law is much deeper than that of any “maybe the real bigots are the people calling bigots bigots” professional contrarian – but by taking part you’re accepting the dishonest framing. It’s the “When did you stop beating your wife?” question where the wife-beating is not questioned. For us, the framing is usually “why are you sick bastards so determined to endanger women?”.

For example, I’ve been asked to come on air to explain GRA reform “and then we’ll have the feminist point of view” from a group of anti-LGBT+, anti-abortion Christian fundamentalists who are about as far from feminism as you can possibly get.

If you go through the evidence submitted by anti-trans groups to the UK government’s committee on GRA reform, there is a stunning lack of basic knowledge about trans people: not just in regards to the law (many of the submissions clearly think the gender recognition act decides whether you get medical treatment; it doesn’t) but in regards to basic biology. And that’s reflected in the media too: this week Metro ran a lifestyle story with the headline “Transgender woman thanks nothing but hormone therapy for her breasts”. Where else do they think boobs come from? The boob fairy?

We have a situation here in the UK where almost everybody talking about trans healthcare, trans people’s lives and trans people’s rights is ignorant about what transition involves, what hormone therapy does, what the law says and pretty much everything else about us. And their dangerous misinformation isn’t just a threat to us. It’s a threat to every other marginalised group.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Tonight we’re going to panic like it’s 1999

Via The Implausible Girl on Twitter, this is from the Sunday World in Ireland in 1999.

You’ll note the horror at “same sex marriages” in the article. Well, it was a long time ago. 22 years, in fact.

Anti-trans activism is using the classic moral panic technique of pretending that something is both new and a threat to children. Trans healthcare is neither.

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Hell in a handcart Media

The Tories’ shameful attacks on journalists

Kimi Chaddah writes in Gal-Dem about the Tory government’s use of social media to attack journalists for simply doing their job.

These Tory attempts to delegitimise journalists parallel the accusatory tone of internet call out culture, which thrives on sowing doubt. Ministers publicly draw attention to individual journalists, rather than a faceless publication, deliberately drawing negative attention their way and attempting to enact a digital “pile on” that calls into question the accuracy of their reporting – and attacks their personal character. While it may not be as overt as telling somebody they should be “fired” or proposing the concept of “alternative facts”, the spectre of Donald Trump haunts British politics. Although the government is not publicly unleashing humiliating verbal tirades where individual reporters are told they’re “terrible”, “fake” and “nasty”, the goal – to discredit all journalists who don’t toe the government line – is the same.

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Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

“Cancelled” has become shorthand for whose lives matter

This, by Jessica Valenti, is angry and true: The People ‘Cancel Culture’ forgot.

That’s why a man who is accused of sexual harassment or abuse is ‘canceled’, while the women who accuse him are said to be taking part in a ‘witch hunt’. It doesn’t matter if those women left their school, jobs, or town because of their abuser’s behavior. In the eyes of cancel culture, they’re the real wrongdoer. They became the perpetrator as soon as they tried to hold someone more powerful than them—in this case, men—accountable.

Despite how ridiculous and clearly illogical this kind of thinking is, it’s also effective. Because who gets called ‘canceled’ has become shorthand for whose lives and happiness matters.

I read Valenti’s piece as various Scots media types posted about how awful it is that Joanna Cherry is getting online abuse. And it is awful. But I don’t recall seeing them making the same posts when the people doing the attacking were Cherry supporters going after young mothers, queer kids, trans women, disabled people and rape crisis volunteers, although they were quick to rally around JK Rowling. And that suggests that only some voices matter: the ones of the affluent, the privileged, the well-connected. The powerful.

If you react with horror at someone telling JK Rowling or Joanna Cherry to fuck off but are just fine with the demonisation and dehumanisation of marginalised groups and attacks on those who stand up for them, you’re not the good person you like to think you are. You’re saying that the only lives that matter are the ones you’d invite to dinner.

Valenti:

When the powerful lose out on privileges, it’s cancel culture—but when anyone is deprived of their rights, it’s just politics.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

How Fox fuels moral panics

Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is one of the most malign forces in the world today, and it specialises in fuelling division. Media Matters has identified a good example of that in the way Fox News has covered President Biden’s anti-discrimination order.

Despite the order’s myriad protections, over the following week, Fox News aired 19 segments — totaling 51 minutes — that miscategorized the order as a move that would destroy women’s sports; only one of those segments even alluded to its nondiscrimination protections.

The order mentions sports only one time, saying, “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

The focus on trans athletes is a key part of the publicly stated Christian Right strategy to separate the T from LGBT.

This is classic moral panic stuff, and it’s baseless: trans people are not suddenly being allowed to access sports. They’ve been doing it for decades. There were anguished op-eds about trans people dominating women’s sports when Renée Richards competed in 1976; 45 years later, the only trans tennis player I’m aware of is, er, Renée Richards. The Olympics has allowed trans people to compete since 2004. There have been no trans Olympians. In the 2016 Olympics in Rio, no transgender athletes qualified.

But Fox is not trying to inform its viewers. It’s trying to inflame them.

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Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

The science of discrimination

In the nineteenth century, scientists were very interested in the differences between men and women. Not because they wanted to know more, but because they wanted to justify oppressing women. So they came up with ever more inventive ways to define who was superior and who was inferior.

As historian Susan Sleeth Mosedale writes in Science Corrupted: Victorian Biologists Consider “The Woman Question”, scientists wanted to attack feminism. As reported by Jstor Daily:

These attacks were often riddled with contradictory evidence and conflicting analysis, Mosedale argues. The scientists “operated in blissful ignorance of their prejudices,” allowing their own “socially conditioned feelings” to guide their application of scientific theories. Biologists grasped for vaguely scientific reasons why women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, get an education, or aspire to anything more than having babies.

So the scientists created an “index of inferiority” to decide who got rights and who didn’t.

One biologist argued, for example, that women “exhale less carbonic acid,” proving them to be mentally and physically “more sluggish” than males. This supported the antifeminist argument that “the sum total of food converted into thought by women can never equal the sum total of food converted into thought by men. It follows, therefore, that men will always think more than women.” Another apparent “mark of female inferiority,” writes Mosedale, was “the relatively low proportion of carbonate of lime in feminine bones: 4.52 parts, compared with 9.98 parts for the male.”

This is, of course, confirmation bias: the scientists set out to prove that women were inferior to men and less deserving of human rights, and they desperately searched for anything they could point to in order to protect their own privileged status. They did similar things with race, and with disability: the horrific history of eugenics was based on pseudoscience.

You don’t need me to point out the parallels with today’s attempts by anti-trans activists, people who use confirmation bias to justify abuse of and discrimination against trans women: their focus on biology and science is only on the biology and science they can weaponise in order to exclude others, not the overwhelming evidence that they are wrong. It’s just saddening to see the same thing happening again and again throughout history.

In 1890, the philosopher David G Ritchie noted that “scientific” discrimination was:

always the favourite sort of argument with the jealous champions of privilege: first to prevent a race or class or sex from acquiring a capacity, and then to justify the refusal of rights on the grounds of this absence—to shut up a bird in a narrow cage and then pretend to argue with it that it is incapable of flying.