There’s something rotten in the SNP

Between 2017 and 2018, the Scottish Government consulted on proposed reforms to the gender recognition process to make life slightly less shitty for trans and non-binary people. The public response was overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed changes, with women’s groups dealing with some of the most vulnerable women in society offering very clear and public support.

For no good reason, without evidence and often with complete and utter lack of understanding of existing and proposed legislation, some SNP MSPs now claim that the changes will redefine the meaning of sex in law and harm women. It’s the culmination of an ongoing campaign of anti-trans scaremongering in the Scotsman, which publishes a letter from those MSPs today.

Stephen Paton on Twitter:

This morning, several SNP MSPs signed a letter calling for further debate on trans equality. Meanwhile, Holyrood held an event last night that gave MSPs the chance to speak candidly with trans people – and not a single one of the signatories came.

Rhiannon Spear of the TIE Campaign for inclusive education:

Great thread from @Cmacf76 here.

I note that not one of the MSPs in the letter attended an event in the ScotParl last night to hear from trans folk + to have their questions answered. 🤷 #ComeOutForTransEquality https://twitter.com/Cmacf76/status/1120952836723023872

Laura Waddell, writer and publisher:

Here are the public responses to the GRA consultation. I highly recommend having a browse, particularly of organisations who provide services and work with children and women. Anyone framing this as a ‘war on woman’ does everyone a disservice. https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Justice/law/17867/gender-recognition-review/review-of-gender-recognition-act-2004-list-of-orga/published-responses-from-organisations

…Politicians who’ve waded into the GRA discussion in recent months have encouraged ‘debate’ to turn nastier than it was before by framing it disingenuously as a ‘war on women.’ But the completely *bizarre* timing suggests there are other things at play too.

The Equality Network:

To the 15 @theSNP politicians who signed that letter in the Scotsman today: Trans people don’t want to change the definitions of male and female; they simply want to be recognised, and treated with dignity, as the sex they are.
#equalrecognition

Duncan Hothersall, Labour activist:

I point out that those offering support for the changes include Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap, Rape Crisis Scotland, Zero Tolerance and Equate Scotland, and those opposing include Christian Concern, the Free Church of Scotland and the Christian Institute.

Of all the pernicious lies told about this subject, among the worst is that “nobody knew this was happening”. Support for this reform of the GRA was explicitly declared in 2016 party manifestos from SNP, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems, and the 2018 consultation engaged very widely.

Come on in, the water’s lovely

Glasgow Life has issued a statement regarding the scaremongering articles about its changing rooms policy.

You will be shocked to discover that the articles weren’t true.

Glasgow Life’s staff guidance on accessing sports facilities and services by transgender people was produced and distributed in 2015. Since then, we have had more than 20 million attendances across our sport facilities and no reports of inappropriate behaviour in regard to trans customers. Trans men and trans women have been using our facilities for many years without incident.

About those women-only gym sessions:

Contrary to reports, Glasgow Life does not run any ‘women only gym sessions’ – our gym sessions and classes are open to all, regardless of gender.

And those women-only swimming pool changing rooms:

Our venues provide a mix of changing room facilities. A significant proportion of our changing facilities are unisex and open to all, with secure, private cubicles. Where facilities have male and female changing facilities, private cubicles are provided, where possible. Our staff are happy to assist with any requests in regard to provision of private changing facilities. If anyone, at any time, feels unsure or uncomfortable in using our services, they should immediately contact a member of staff for assistance.

The Herald, The Star, The Scotsman and The Sun all ran the original scaremongering, and yet I can’t see any sign of a correction, let alone one with equal prominence, today.

Singal minded

There’s an interesting piece in The New Republic by Josephine Livingstone, who analyses the idea that debate is always a good thing. She begins by looking at a US journalist called Jesse Singal, who’s notorious in LGBT circles for what appears to be an ongoing campaign of damaging misinformation about trans people and trans teenagers in particular.

When readers get angry with him, which happens often, he sees them as curtailing a productive conversation that he has prompted in the spirit of a free and vigorous exchange of ideas.

…Singal and others who are critical of the social justice left—a group that ranges across the ideological spectrum and includes Bari Weiss, Ben Shapiro, Daphne Merkin, and Katie Roiphe—accuse the left of being footstampingly insistent on their views, to the detriment of healthy debate. In fact, it is the “debate me, coward” crowd that has made it impossible to have arguments in good faith, because they demand, unwittingly or not, to set the terms.

Livingstone rather brilliantly describes this as “vacuous fight-picking” and “a howling canyon filled with misdirected energy”, using the familiar idea that we must hear both sides of any story in order to form our own opinions.

But these people are not interested in letting people hear both sides. They want you to hear their side and only their side, and if you disagree with them they’ll shout you down and accuse you of trying to silence them.

It is telling that critics of the social justice movement are obsessed with free speech and debate: It is the one inviolable principle they can fall back on when argument on the actual issues fails.

All too often, the argument being made is based on (deliberate or accidental) misunderstanding, or straightforward bad faith: so for example many so-called debates about trans people simply ignore decades of research or dig up long-debunked talking points. Again and again demonstrably false claims are presented as incontestable fact: the number of trans people who detransition, the medicine given (or not given) to young people, the content of existing and proposed legislation.

And it’s usually asymmetric. Journalists have power that other people do not; a journalist or public figure with tens of thousands of social media followers has a disproportionate amount of power compared to the people they may write about. For example, the supposed quality press in Scotland and elsewhere consistently regurgitates the claims of extreme anti-trans activists about legal or medical issues but never asks legal experts or medical experts whether those claims are true and certainly doesn’t give trans people the right of reply.

The truth is out there, but too many journalists prefer “truthiness”: what feels true to them, not what’s actually true.

People like Singal can bang on about free speech and debate endlessly without ever conceding a) that the deck may be stacked in their favor, and b) that certain ideas may be beyond their understanding.

And this is why marginalised people can become so angry. Singal’s work, and similarly distorted reporting, has often been comprehensively demolished by people with a greater understanding and a less blinkered view of the things being written about. But they aren’t the ones given the column inches to fill.

Livingstone:

The exhaustion that comes of teaching something over and over again, only to witness people re-educated by poorly-read journalists, is profound. Exhaustion makes a person angry. Anger makes a person seem like a hyperzealot. You cannot believe that somebody is asking you to go around the same block—the very same block!—yet another time.

The violence causes silence

I didn’t know Lyra McKee, the extraordinary young woman shot dead by terrorists in Derry this week, but some of my friends did. They’re devastated. The loss of a friend is always a tragedy, but to lose them in such circumstances is particularly horrific.

McKee’s death has been marked by some fine, angry, fearless writing. This, by Paraic O’Donnell, is one such tribute.

‘The violence causes silence’ – ‘Zombie’, by The Cranberries, gave us one of the most dreadful rhymes in rock music, and one of its starkest truths. When a journalist is murdered, as Lyra McKee was, we see the dark corollary of this truth, the viciousness of the circle. In the North, as she knew better than most, it was never a secret. The Provos used to put it on their trashy posters, next to a sniper in a gimp mask and baggy army surplus: ‘Whatever you say, say nothing.’

In the North, the silence isn’t even silent. It’s violence taking you aside, wanting a word with you. It’s violence saying the quiet part out loud.

…Lyra McKee was one of us. She was our people. She didn’t think she was, not at first – Belfast isn’t the easiest place in the world to grow up gay – but she found a way to belong here, a way to tell her story. She was our people because that includes a lot now, and it included her. It’s not like it used to be. But it doesn’t include them, not any more. Whatever you say, say that.

Not a jolly good Fellow

You can tell a lot about the UK newspaper industry by the people the Society of Editors chooses to garland in its annual UK Press Awards. This year, as if anointing the Mail on Sunday’s Sanchez Manning “specialist journalist of the year” for her ongoing campaign of anti-trans scaremongering and vilification wasn’t bad enough, the creator of this repellent cartoon was made a fellow of the Society of Editors.

Now you might think that showing sinister, hook-nosed figures marching over borders and depicting foreigners as vermin is a chilling echo of the Nazi propaganda cartoons of the late 1930s. And you might think that a political cartoonist with five decades in the newspaper industry might have at least a working knowledge of the history of political cartooning. But you’d be wrong, because Mac just happened to replicate Nazi propaganda by accident.

He had quite a few accidents, it seems. One cartoon, in which Mac responded to the NHS recruiting overseas doctors by showing a black immigrant “witch doctor” frightening a white NHS patient, resulted in an apology from the Daily Mail to the British Medical Association. Many others portrayed black people as big-lipped, boggle-eyed, loincloth-wearing savages. In 2010 Mac illustrated “multiculturalism” by showing a man marrying a farm animal, and in 2015 he depicted the newly deceased entertainer Cilla Black being forced to wait at the pearly gates because “there are thousands of illegals trying to get in.” In 2017 he equated refugee boat people with monkeys.

There’s an irony here. The society of editors, which claims to represent the very best of the UK newspaper industry, has missed a very important piece of news: it isn’t 1971 any more.

Update

The thing about diversity is that without it, you can be blinkered. I’ve seen many white, cis, straight men defending Mac’s worst cartoons on the grounds that they don’t think the cartoons are racist, or homophobic, or offensive generally. And with the greatest respect to those people, if you’re not a member of a minority group then you don’t get to say whether it’s offensive to that minority or not. Just because something doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect people who are different to you.

Despite some positive efforts, the British media remains overwhelmingly white: while the population is only 80% white British, the media is 94% white; muslims account for 5% of the population but just 0.4% of journalists; 3% of the population is black but only 0.2% of journalists are. It’s sexist, too – women are outnumbered by men and paid significantly less than their male peers.

Ironically enough, that lack of diversity was demonstrated last night by the inaugural diversity award. It went to a white man. A gay white man (the excellent Patrick Strudwick of Buzzfeed), admittedly, but hardly a sign that the media establishment values writers from other ethnic backgrounds. As someone pointed out on social media, there were more people of colour serving wine than sitting at the tables, let alone being nominated for any awards.

Writing on Gal-Dem, Micha Frazer-Carroll writes about the British media’s diversity problem.

The awards have been running since 1962 and are some of the most prestigious in the industry – but not one black woman or non-binary journalist featured on the list of 157 entrants this year. To add insult to injury, just three people of colour’s names made the cut.

…If people of colour only scrape into the lowest positions in news and media organisations, it’s naturally less likely that our ideas will ultimately get airtime… this is a problem that can’t be radically overhauled by simply appealing to “diversity”, particularly if it’s only in the lowest ranks of an organisation. Meanwhile, actively harmful coverage of marginalised groups within the very same papers doesn’t create an environment that feels safe for us. That includes the rampant transphobia that’s swept the mainstream press in recent years and seen the likes of Janice Turner – who claimed that children had been “sacrificed” for trans rights – up for journalism awards.

You’re not special. You’re lucky

Writing for the Association of Independent Professionals and Self Employed, Ben Capper wants to share his hard-won wisdom: when it comes to freelancing, there’s no such thing as luck.

His tale of nine months freelancing reads very much like a tale of luck: his ex-boss had moved to a new gig, giving him his first sizeable project; while stuck on a train, he decided to check LinkedIn and found a job ad. But Capper argues that luck has nothing to do with it. You make your own luck.

While Capper has a whole nine months of experience, Adam Banks has 18 years.

Ben has been freelancing for nine months and benefited from considerable luck.

I’ve freelanced for 18 years and know many other freelancers. It has everything to do with luck. It’s vital to understand this when the time comes that yours runs out. Don’t blame yourself. Cling on x

I’ve been a freelance for 20 years now, and I can honestly say that luck has been much more important than talent or hard work. Not just luck, but privilege too. For example, BBC Scotland recently ran courses to help women get invited to talk about stuff on air. As a man, I didn’t have to do any courses; simply working for a magazine was qualification enough to be invited on air. That was over 15 years ago and I’m still doing it.

Capper again:

You can create the business you want, the work-life balance you want, and the client list you want; and it’s entirely in your hands.

That isn’t true. Working hard is good. Being open to opportunities is good. But luck still plays a part, and privilege has a huge influence on how “lucky” you are.

For example, in 20 years of freelancing I have been lucky not to have doors slammed in my face because of my race, or because of my gender, or because of my background. As someone who appeared to be a straight, white, reasonably well educated cisgender man I was never discriminated against. Lucky me.

I mean it: lucky me. Would I have been invited on air as often if I’d had a thick Scots Asian accent, or if I’d come out as trans 20 years ago? Would my career have been different if I’d been subject to the sexism and the online abuse my female peers have been forced to endure for years?

I think it can be hard for some of us to admit just how much a factor luck and privilege have played in our careers. Our ego much prefers to believe that we’re where we are because we’re smarter and work harder than everybody else, that we’ve pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, but that isn’t true. There are plenty of people who are smarter than us and work harder than us, but they didn’t get the opportunities that we did because those opportunities were never open to them.

In mythology, hubris led to nemesis: people who thought they’d outsmarted the gods would soon be the on the receiving end of a godly arse-kicking. In employment, it works in much the same way: if you don’t believe that luck plays a part in what you do, you won’t be prepared for the day when your luck runs out. And as every freelancer who’s been doing this for more than 9 months can attest, sooner or later the luck does run out.

Craig Grannell, another long-term freelancer:

There’s a lot of luck in freelancing.

I’ve got major clients from an unlikely combination of connections, reputation, and timing.

But I’ve also twice lost 50% of my income in single emails/calls pre-announcing mag closures.

The road is bumpy, and you can’t easily plan for it.

A sinister agenda

One of the most widely circulated anti-trans stories is that Soham child murder Ian Huntley is trans. The Star reported it 10 months ago, and it’s regularly trotted out by anti-trans groups and repeated in newspapers.

Look what Jeremy Vine posted today.

It’s from yesterday’s Star.

Like the vast majority of such stories, it was a complete fabrication. Good luck waiting for the retractions from The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman, The Sunday Times’ Janice Turner, The Telegraph, Fair Play For Women, The Spectator’s James Kirkup…

The point here is not that bad people cannot be trans, or that trans people cannot be bad. The point is that some newspapers, journalists and celebrities are not objective or ethical when it comes to writing about trans people, and will print pretty much anything if it supports the narrative of a sinister transgender agenda. The Huntley story was always, obviously dubious, and yet none of the people who wrote about it bothered to do the simplest bit of journalism: get on the phone and find out if it was true.

This is happening far too often for it to be anything other than malicious. UK newspapers have repeatedly had to retract stories about trans people because the stories were untrue. Those stories have been used by anti-trans bigots to campaign against trans people’s rights, and to spread fear and hatred of trans people. This particular story produces 95,000 Google results and is used so frequently that ten months since publication, anti-trans activists were posting about it on Twitter this morning – just before Vine posted the photo of the retraction.

The stories, and the fear and hatred they engender, live on long after the inevitable retractions.

For frack’s sake

The Times, on Twitter:

Almost 50 geoscientists have urged the government to commission an urgent review of the fracking earthquake limit, which they suggest should be raised to allow the industry to expand

Sam Knight, a writer, also on Twitter:

Of the 48 people that signed the letter, I could not confidently identify 9. I think one works for BP and another works for Shell. Many are not experts in any recognisable way. But it doesn’t really matter. Because, of the remaining 39, all have links to gas and oil companies.

…Several signatories openly brag about their industry funded research. Many used to work for oil and gas companies. Quite a few still work for those companies. And others are not even practising scientists, but directors of a business in the energy sector.

This isn’t just yet another example of how The Times and its sister titles often publish advocacy and rarely bother to check credentials. It’s part of a wider problem where supposedly independent experts are nothing of the sort.

The Taxpayer’s Alliance is a good example. It keeps its funding secret because it doesn’t represent the ordinary working stiffs it claims to; it’s an advocacy group for the super-rich, who fund it out of their very deep pockets.

Whether it’s the super-rich pretending to be ordinary people, religious fundamentalists claiming to be ordinary parents or anybody else with an agenda pretending they don’t, every time they’re given a platform the platform provider is failing its viewers, its listeners or its readers.

The Sunday Times printed nonsense? Time for my shocked face

What’s that? The Sunday Times has printed a load of old bollocks again? I’m shocked! Shocked!

My lecture yesterday was about calls for internet regulation, and I mentioned the media panics over “suicide sites” in 2001, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016… you get the idea. We’re in the middle of another panic now.

Enter the Sunday Times, which this weekend claimed we are raising a “suicidal generation” and that it’s all social media’s fault.

Tom Chivers isn’t impressed:

This is – and I don’t want to get too technical here, but bear with me – absolute bollocks from top to bottom.

The truth is that while there are certainly tragedies, the actual number of teenagers who kill themselves is very small – and because the numbers are so small, even the slightest change can be made to look like a dramatic shift.

Especially if you cherry-pick the numbers, as the Sunday Times did.

The ST compared the most recent figures with 2010, which had the lowest rate of teen suicides since 1981. Chivers again:

You could, if you wanted to, use the same trick to tell the exact opposite story. Facebook was first released in 2004, when the suicide rate among 15- to 19-year-olds in England and Wales was 4.7. But after six years of social media being available, it had dropped to 3.1! It’s a life-saver, no?

The Sunday Times piece suffers from two key problems. One, social media isn’t causing a suicide epidemic among teenagers. And two, there isn’t a suicide epidemic among teenagers.

If you look at 10- to 29-year-olds, it’s gone from a consistent plateau of about 15 per 100,000 from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, down to about nine per 100,000 by about 2004, and that’s where it’s stayed, pretty much. There’s a similar story among the population as a whole.

Every suicide is a tragedy, but to peddle myths isn’t helping anybody. In fact, it might very well be letting the real culprits off the hook. As Natasha Devon MBE, who works with teenagers, posted on Twitter, the top reasons teenagers tell her their mental heath is suffering don’t include social media at all. They are:

1. Academic anxiety;
2. Lack of community support;
3. Problems at home;
4. No one to talk to;
5. Loss of activities which helped them cope (eg sport/music);
6. Worries about future.

That doesn’t make for such an exciting headline. Reality rarely does.

The kids are alright

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of the thinky thoughts of anti-trans columnists, we had some actual research into children, gender dysphoria and gender identity?

Look what The Atlantic found!

Since 2013, Kristina Olson, a psychologist at the University of Washington, has been running a large, long-term study to track the health and well-being of transgender children—those who identify as a different gender from the one they were assigned at birth. Since the study’s launch, Olson has also heard from the parents of gender-nonconforming kids, who consistently defy gender stereotypes but have not socially transitioned. They might include boys who like wearing dresses or girls who play with trucks, but who have not, for example, changed the pronouns they use.

I’ve been a fan of the author, Ed Yong, for a long time: he’s a very talented and conscientious science writer. This is typical of his work: he’s taken Olson’s study and looked into it in some detail.

Unlike newspaper columnists, who offer zero evidence with 100% confidence, Olson offers detailed evidence but is also quick to point out the limitations of the study. Nevertheless, it’s interesting: children’s gender identity appears to be a pretty good predictor of whether they’ll turn out to be trans. From the article:

Charlotte Tate, a psychologist from San Francisco State University, says that this quantitative research supports what she and other transgender scholars have long noted through qualitative work: There really is something distinctive and different about the kids who eventually go on to transition. From interviews with trans people, “one of the most consistent themes is that at some early point, sometimes as early as age 3 to 5, there’s this feeling that the individual is part of another gender group,” Tate says. When told that they’re part of their assigned gender, “they’ll say, ‘No, that’s not right. That doesn’t fit me.’ They have self-knowledge that’s private and that they’re trying to communicate.”

This bit is key:

Olson’s team also showed that those differences in gender identity are the cause of social transitions—and not, as some have suggested, their consequence.

In other words, children are not coerced into having a particular gender identity: you can put Jimmy in as many dresses as you want but if Jimmy isn’t trans, he won’t suddenly become trans or develop gender dysphoria.

Older trans people are going “no shit, Sherlock” at this point: if it were possible to persuade people to change their gender identity, there wouldn’t be any trans people. You can’t talk people into or out of being trans any more than you can pray the gay away: some of us tried not to be trans for decades, and will spend decades trying to deal with the damage from that.

Once again there are very strong parallels between today’s harmful anti-trans bullshit and previously harmful anti-gay bullshit. That’s something the Atlantic article makes explicit, describing the work of American psychologist Evelyn Hooker.

In the 1950s, when many psychologists saw homosexuality as a mental illness (largely because they had only ever worked with gay people who had records of arrest or mental-health problems), Hooker surveyed a more representative sample and found that gay and straight men don’t differ in their mental health. That was instrumental in getting homosexuality removed from a list of mental-health disorders in 1987. “We’re sitting in a similar moment today with transgenderism,” says Devor. “The mental-health issues that we see are largely the result of living a life that blocks your expression of your gender. My view is that the work coming out of Olson’s group will have an Evelyn Hooker effect.”

I’m not naive enough to think this will have any effect on the mainstream media coverage of trans people in general and trans kids in particular: the moral panic is too well established. But it’s yet more evidence of the growing gap between the reality-based community and the commentariat. All too often, the you-couldn’t-make-it-up brigade are doing exactly that.