Today is international trans day of visibility, and the excellent Overtake asked me to write a piece about what it’s like to go out in public as yourself for the first time. I hope you find it as funny as I did writing it.
Here’s a happy story: Jake and Hannah got married this week. Jake’s an actor, Hannah’s an army officer and the photos show a clearly delighted couple in love. I don’t know Hannah but I’m connected to Jake on Facebook and he strikes me as a thoroughly excellent human being, so it’s really lovely to see the wedding pics.
Even if they’re on the front page of the Sun.
Jake and Hannah are both trans, and their wedding’s made all the papers. The coverage is positive, the Sun’s astonishingly disrespectful headline aside, and while it falls for a lot of the clichés of trans coverage – such as “before and after” pictures and clunky language – it’s a ray of sunshine in an otherwise pretty toxic media environment.
I hope Jake and Hannah are very happy together, and that I’ll live to see the day when two people getting married isn’t newsworthy.
The thoroughly repellent Richard Littlejohn has written yet another anti-trans piece in the papers. It’s not significant in itself; it’s the usual bile from a man who rails against “vicious trolls” while being a vicious troll.
But it’s significant because it’s been published five years since another Littlejohn column was implicated in the death of a trans woman.
Lucy Meadows was 32. She taught year six, pupils aged 10-11, at the St Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School in Accrington, in England. She had a young son.
And in March 2013 she killed herself.
Lucy left a note, which said:
“I try to do things the right way to make people feel more comfortable with it. I have simply had enough of living. I have no regrets other than leaving behind those who are dear to me and of causing them pain in doing so. I would like to thank everyone who has had an impact in my life.”
Lucy had left another note, this one at the front door. Warning, it said. The house is full of carbon monoxide. Don’t come in.
By all accounts, that was typical of her. Thoughtful. Caring about other people, even at the very end.
The coroner confirmed the cause of death: cardio respiratory failure due to carbon monoxide toxicity. But while he said that Lucy had taken her own life, he had another message to share.
“To the members of the press, I say shame,” Michael Singleton, the coroner, said. “Shame on all of you.”
Lucy hadn’t been born Lucy, and she transitioned to live as a woman full-time in Christmas 2012. Her school was very supportive. Head teacher Karen Hardman spoke to each primary school class about the change their teacher would be going through, and it was mentioned as an aside in the school’s Christmas newsletter: “[Name] has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman.”
One parent wasn’t happy and contacted the local newspaper, the Accrington Observer. The story went national. Meadows’ transition was “inappropriate” and children were “too young” to be “dealing with that.”
What should have been a private matter was front page news. The press argued that because the school had written parents a letter, the story was in the public domain. And because of that, they made Meadows’ life hell.
The first and most visible consequence of “press interest” is the press pack turning up on your doorstep. They appeared, en masse, to besiege Lucy in her home. Reporters. Photographers. Camera crew. You name it.
…It might have been less bad if the press could have been relied on to report honestly. But as Lucy noted at the time, they weren’t interested in the many, many positive comments that parents gave out in her support. No: they cared only about the man with the confused child and his petition.
Nor was it just biased reporting. Some columnists – the Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn led the way – simply used their columns, read by millions of people to attack a woman who wanted only to live her life in peace.
Deliberately misgendering Meadows as “he” throughout the piece and “deadnaming” her — that is, using her given name rather than her female name — Littlejohn’s piece began with the headline “He’s not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job” and became less tolerant as it went on.
“The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its ‘commitment to diversity and equality’ above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents,” Littlejohn wrote. “It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats. These are primary school children, for heaven’s sake. Most them still believe in Father Christmas. Let them enjoy their childhood. They will lose their innocence soon enough.”
He continued: “[Deadname] is entitled to his gender reassignment surgery, but he isn’t entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children. By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen’s, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years.”
That’s not just a dog whistle. That’s a whole pet shop.
And in March 2013, Lucy Meadows was dead.
There were petitions to have Littlejohn fired and complaints to the press complaints commission, but the Daily Mail stood by its star columnist, as newspapers do unless the libel bills get too much. A spokesman said: “Richard Littlejohn’s column emphatically defended the rights of people to have sex change operations but echoed some parents’ concerns about whether it was right to for children to have to confront such complex gender problems at such a vulnerable young age.”1
The Mail is so proud of the article that it has quietly deleted it from its online archive.
The coroner didn’t agree that the coverage was fair. It “sought to humiliate and ridicule” Meadows, he said.
Lucy Meadows was not somebody who had thrust herself into the public limelight. She was not a celebrity. She had done nothing wrong. Her only crime was to be different. Not by choice but by some trick of nature. And yet the press saw fit to treat her in the way that they did.2
And it’s still happening.
1 If you’ve ever complained about newspaper articles to the regulator IPSO, you’ll know that their definitions of unacceptable behaviour are so narrow it seems that no publication is ever guilty of anything.
Following on from yesterday’s daft Sunday Times story, Owl Stefania writes in iNews in defence of using the correct pronouns.
It’s just the compassionate and right thing to do. Because in the end, why would anyone deliberately go out of their way to harm another human being?
There does appear to be a double standard in operation.
People seem fine calling drag queens “she” and “her”; for example, most of the coverage I’ve seen about Celebrity Big Brother winner Courtney Act calls her “Courtney” and uses “she/her”, even though Courtney is Shane offstage and doesn’t identify as female.
But if trans people ask for the same courtesy, they’re somehow wicked.
It can’t be authenticity we’re worried about. We don’t seem to have a problem with Bono, born Paul Hewson, even though he took his name from a hearing aid shop. Guitarist The Edge was born David Evans, and took his name from an imaginary character in an imaginary village.
Fish, formerly of Marillion, isn’t a fish.
Snoop Dogg isn’t a dog.
Ice-T isn’t made of ice or tea.
To the best of my knowledge, Sting doesn’t.
And that’s before we list the many women who’ve changed their name, from Miley Cyrus (Hope) and Jodie Foster (Alicia) to Whoopi Goldberg (Caryn Johnson), Shania Twain (Eilleen Edwards) and bell hooks (Gloria Watkins).
Of course, these are pseudonyms, noms de plume or stage names. But all the world’s a stage.
If you met any of the people I’ve mentioned in real life you wouldn’t insist on calling them by their birth names because that’d be rude and their people would probably have you thrown down the nearest staircase.
There’s no reason to call anybody by anything other than their preferred name: if you insist on doing otherwise, you’re an arse.
It’s Sunday, which means anti-trans pieces in The Mail on Sunday and in The Times. This week’s effort is pretty poor, even by The Times’ increasingly poor standards.
Oh my god! The TRANSGENDER EMAIL!
What horrors lie inside?
Students and academics are being encouraged to sign their emails with their names, titles, telephone numbers and whether they prefer to be known as he or she — or another option.
The addition of “he/him”, “she/her” or “they/them” to the end of emails is intended to “normalise the use of gender pronouns” — and prevent transgender students from being wrongly addressed.
Students at Oxford are also being invited to declare their preferred pronouns before speaking at union meetings.
The horror, the horror.
There is a long and noble tradition of giving people a right good kicking in print, but it’s rarely done as well as this.
Writing in Current Affairs magazine, Nathan J Robinson sharpens his stiletto and gets stuck into Jordan Peterson, a rabble-rouser who alternates between stating the bleeding obvious and making completely unhinged claims while hiding it all behind a veil of academic language.
I could quote all of it, but I’ll just quote one bit.
Having safely established that Jordan Peterson is an intellectual fraud who uses a lot of words to say almost nothing, we can now turn back to the original question: how can a man incapable of relaying the content of a children’s book become the most influential thinker of his moment?
Metro asked me to write about International Women’s Day from the perspective of a trans person.
There’s no method to this madness, no reason for it. Men aren’t from Mars, women aren’t from Venus, and nobody’s made of slugs, snails or puppy dogs’ tails, let alone sugar and spice and all things nice. The only reason we value supposedly masculine traits and roles over supposedly feminine ones, the only reason women are treated so badly, is because – surprise! – the people who’ve traditionally decided what’s important are a bunch of guys.
Good news for anybody stuck in 1818: The Sun and The Times have both shared the incredible revelation that according to “snowflake students”, the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus should be pitied.
Here’s The Sun:
Next the snowflakes will be telling us that The Metamorphosis wasn’t really about cockroaches and that Jonathan Swift didn’t really want us to eat children.
As the kids might put it: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I recently cancelled my long-standing subscription to The Times and Sunday Times because I was getting fed up with its selective reporting.
As any writer knows, you can change a story by choosing what to include and what not to include – so if you leave out important details you can create a misleading impression.
I can’t comment on subjects I don’t know about, but when the Times/ST reports on trans-related subjects it does that all the time.
As I’ve written before, parts of the UK media automatically side with people who bully children, and trans children in particular. And in recent months The Times and Sunday Times have been particularly bad.
Here’s an example from yesterday: Police Called In Over Gender Row.
Police were called when a tutor refused to address a transgender pupil by the correct pronoun, it emerged yesterday. Officers became involved because the behaviour counted as a hate crime, it was alleged.
The article quotes Susie Green of the charity Mermaids:
“Recently we had to get the police involved because a young student was being regularly misgendered by his tutor. The tutor dismissed it until he was informed that it counted as a hate crime. The matter has now been resolved by the police.”
And that’s pretty much it. I’m quite sure many people would read that and think “Police? For God’s sake, what an overreaction.”
Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a charity which supports transgender children and their families, told how the teacher had laughed in the child’s face and said “if you don’t want to be called a girl then don’t look like one”.
She said that the teacher and school’s management ignored three months of pleas from the transgender child and their parents and dismissed their requests, until she was informed by police that her actions constituted a hate crime.
…She said that the child was so distressed by the teacher’s actions that their mental health suffered, and they took two weeks off school with anxiety and depression.
The pupil’s parents contacted Mermaids, and with their help, escalated the matter to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the police.
Ms Green said: “We spoke to a member of the police force, who contacted the CPS and clarified the position. The CPS said it was a hate crime.” [Emphasis mine]
Reading that, it’s a completely different story: here we have a teacher who deliberately flouts the Equality Act 2010, who deliberately bullies a child for three months and who only stopped when they were informed that they could be prosecuted.
In this version I’d suggest that the reaction is likely to be “Police? Quite right. What an arsehole.”
The majority of people aren’t trans and don’t have trans kids, of course, so whether The Times has some kind of anti-trans agenda may not seem relevant to them. But if the paper is willing to mislead its readers about something as easily checked as this, what else is it misleading you about?
We’re coming out of digital detox season, where newspaper columnists share the incredible insight that you can get a lot of stuff done if you don’t spend all your time dicking about on the internet. But as the developers of the excellent iA Writer app point out, taking a break is good but going offline permanently is hardly desirable or practical.
…you can’t escape digital culture as long as you live in a society that lives on digital fuel. If you block email you’ll have trouble holding onto most jobs. If you have no cellphone people just won’t get in touch with you anymore. Who calls landlines these days? However long your digital Sabbatical, you will inevitably get sucked back in. And so will your kids.
What you can do, they argue, is to make your digital life more meaningful. They use the analogy of being a tourist walking down a busy street in a foreign city: the people yelling to get your attention aren’t generally the people you should be paying attention to. As in life, so online.
The challenge when you are in is to not become passive. To change from consumer to maker, following to self-thinking, quoter to commentator, liker to publisher, but mostly, from getting angry about headlines of articles you haven’t read to reading precisely, asking questions, researching, fact-checking, thinking clearly and writing carefully.
These are the developers of a writing app, so they’re talking primarily to writers. But it’s sensible advice generally. It’s easy to fall into a passive role online, to consume only the content that’s pushed to you. In the era of social media that’s often the lowest quality content.
The article talks about blogs, and the changes to blogging culture that have seen blogs and blogging become very much a niche activity (incidentally, almost 20 years ago I wrote my first ever piece of published journalism about the then-new niche trend of people publishing online “journals”. It’s come full circle and is a niche once more).
One of the reasons blogging has fallen from favour, and there are many others, is that commenting – what used to be the lifeblood of blogging, the conversations that began when your post finished – became poisoned. Drive-by bullshit from complete strangers. Spammers and hackers trying to drive traffic to other websites. And marketing.
God, the marketing.
Even now, there isn’t a single day when I don’t get approached by somebody wanting to publish a guest post to my blog, or asking me to replace a dead link from a post I published in 2005 with a link to their site, or an offer of an infographic, or any of the other things that I say I don’t publish on the sodding contact page of this website.
So the comments had to go.
Comments were the first core function that got gamed. For trolls, PR companies using persona software, SEO blackhats, spammers, and dogs pretending to be humans the comments section was free sex. Commenting costs nothing. Managing comments sections is so expensive that even big media organizations can no longer afford them.
I also stopped blogging here for some time because I felt I was saying what I wanted to say on social media. But whether that was true or not, what I was saying wasn’t being read. Unless you upset somebody famous a tweet is just a drop in Twitter’s Niagara Falls, a Facebook post something that a handful of people will see if Facebook deems your post worthy of their attention.
it’s writing as opposed to liking, thinking as opposed to reacting, owning your traffic as opposed to building up your Facebook followers that one day a Zuckerberg will take away from you when it suits his needs.
What I’m finding works best is to mix things up, to continue with short, sharp, knee-jerk stuff on social media and to post more interesting things by others here (as well as to post my own longer, more rambly thoughts). I still share the links on social media, but I don’t hand over the entire content to Facebook or Twitter: it remains here, where it can be discovered long after social media sites’ short attention spans have moved on.
Writing gets real when it is read. Before that, it is a dream in letters.
A dream in letters. I like that.