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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.

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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.

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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.

Categories
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.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

“Doing nothing is not a neutral option”

Rowan Moore is the architecture critic for The Observer and is also the father of a trans man. I very much doubt that the editor would have published this measured, thoughtful and important piece about having a trans child if Moore weren’t connected to the newspaper, but I’m glad they did.

The court’s logic led it to assert that the impacts of cross-sex hormones, which can sometimes affect fertility and sexual function, should be fully considered by a child at the time they started on blockers – they would have to contemplate the effects not only of the medication on offer, but also of that which would be on offer in the future. The court decided it would be impossible for them adequately to do this, even if their families and doctors were in full agreement, and that the decision should be passed to a judge.

At the same time, the court paid minimal attention to the consequences for trans people of puberty unhindered by blockers. It thought it more important to protect transgender children from blockers, which are reversible, than from the effects of unwanted puberty, which in many ways are not. Doing nothing is not a neutral option and can be harmful, a point that the court did little to acknowledge.

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LGBTQ+ Media

Drama

I’ve watched two very different dramas this week: a theatrical monologue and a TV series. Both were very emotional experiences.

The monologue was Overflow, written by Travis Alabanza and performed by the mesmerising Reece Lyons.

It’s a one-woman show about a trans woman hiding in the ladies to escape violence. It’s not always an easy watch but it has important things to say about allyship, about prejudice and what it’s like to be young and trans. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck after watching it: it dug up a lot of big emotions.

Here’s The Independent’s review of it.

Overflow explores the problematic concept of allyship. The word “ally” isn’t just something you call yourself – it’s about what you do. In a passage reminiscent of Burgerz, Rosie weaves through anecdotes of well-meaning cis people who have failed to act when it mattered most. Top of the list is lifelong friend Charlotte, described ironically as “the best cisgender woman to ever exist and ultimate ally and protector of the trans”, who doesn’t stand up to transphobic rhetoric when she encounters it in the world. This brings up complex, burdensome questions about friendship, like: “Can I be friends with someone who is friends with someone who is transphobic?”

The TV series? Like every other LGBT+ person in the UK, I suspect, I binge-watched It’s A Sin, the new drama by Russell T Davies. The Guardian called it a “masterpiece”; it’s a very powerful drama about the AIDS crisis. That means of course it gets very dark and very sad, but before that darkness descends it’s also one of the most joyous portrayals of gay people’s lives I’ve seen on screen.

It’s also deeply upsetting, especially in other people’s reactions to the characters: this was a time of outspoken, vicious homophobia and anti-gay sentiment soared during the AIDS epidemic. Much of that was driven by the press, which demonised gay men and in the case of The Sunday Times under the editorship of Andrew Neil, claimed that AIDS couldn’t affect straight people.

Here’s writer Russell Davies:

Q. Do you think there are parallels between how HIV Positive people were treated in the 80s and 90s and how trans people are treated now?

Yes, it’s the story of The Other. The heartbreaking thing about the arguments about trans people is that the numbers are so vanishingly small. And if you know any trans people you cannot recognise this portrait of them as predatory and violent and self-seeking or self-serving. It’s heartbreaking to see this get out of control.

Guardian writer and right-wingers’ favourite hate figure Owen Jones posted a jokey tweet suggesting that transphobes should be banned from liking It’s A Sin. But behind the joke is the unpleasant fact that the very papers whose arts critics praised the programme also employ the columnists who incite fear and hatred of trans people. Many of the people who are so viciously hateful of us are just as hateful of gay men and women. They’ve just learnt not to say that bit out loud.