Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Facebook is spreading hate

Last year, Ofcom found that 49% of the UK population used social media to access news reporting; the Pew Research Center reported a similar figure, 55%, in the US.

Much of the news people see and share on social media is highly partisan, and it’s often highly inaccurate too. Right-wing bullshit factories have come to dominate the online news sphere.

A new study by Media Matters shows how that affects people’s knowledge and understanding of trans people.

NBC News:

Anti-transgender Facebook content shared by right-wing news sources generated more engagement than content from pro-transgender or neutral sources combined…

“Facebook users are getting a totally biased and factually inaccurate understanding of the multitude of issues that impact trans people”.

Sigh.

Of the top ten sources of trans-related news, seven were avowedly anti-trans; of the 66 million shares, 43 million were of content from anti-trans websites such as the Daily Caller.

This is an American study but the phenomenon is global: the vast majority of trans-related articles and opinion pieces I see shared by British people on social media, particularly Facebook, are from right-wing publications based either in the US or the UK.

Gizmodo:

we know from a 2019 Pew Research poll that Facebook has a nearly even split—35% and 34% respectively—between users that consider themselves some sort of liberal or some sort of conservative. But we know from other research that those with a conservative bent are more far likely to share (and fall for) news articles that reinforce their preexisting point-of-view, even if they’re sensationalistic or downright debunkable. 

…because a good half of Americans get at least some of their news on Facebook, that means that the bulk of people are reading stories about the transgender community that, again, paints them as icky leches on society, instead of just normal people living their normal lives.

Categories
Media

Paper money

The Guardian is laying off 180 staff. Inevitably and horribly, some people on the internet are being dicks about it and celebrating the imminent unemployment of sales staff, junior editorial staff and so on.

These people aren’t losing their jobs because of the paper’s content. They’re losing their jobs partly because of the paper’s business model. Like all similar media, the money tap has dried up because of coronavirus. But unlike many similar media operations, The Guardian is particularly exposed because of a serious of decisions it’s made in the past and because of its current business model: to give all of its content away for free and make money from selling ads and running events, the two things you cannot make money from during a pandemic.

But the majority of discussion about this on social media is not on why The Guardian would rather lay off hundreds of people than introduce a paywall. It’s gone all culture war. I’ve lost count of the journalists who’ve essentially said that if you don’t want to take out a subscription to save the paper, you are an easily offended snowflake who hates journalism and is an enemy of democracy.

Which is exactly the kind of attitude that makes some people unwilling to subscribe to The Guardian.

Here’s publisher and commentator Laura Waddell, on Twitter.

Readers are increasingly asked not to buy a product but to support a principle – that the paper should exist, why it should exist. An organisation – of any kind – cannot ask the public to donate to support their principles without having those principles scrutinised.

The message being put across here is not “buy this product because it is good”. It’s “donate to the cause”. I don’t hate journalism and I’m not an enemy of democracy, but as I’ve written a few times in recent years I don’t feel that The Guardian is a cause I feel comfortable supporting.

It’s not because it occasionally exposes me to a point of view that I disagree with. It’s that for nearly three years now it has taken a very clear editorial stance on trans people, a stance that has been publicly criticised by its US newsroom and 1/5th of its UK staff, a stance that I don’t believe is any different from or any less harmful than that of The Daily Mail.

I don’t buy that paper either, and yet I don’t see any left-wing people claiming that people who don’t buy the Mail are easily offended snowflakes who are enemies of democracy.

The Guardian’s preferred solution to its financial issues encapsulates the problem: it would rather destroy its superb arts and books coverage than cull the extremely well-paid columnists who write endless pieces about people being mean to their friends on Twitter.

Waddell:

You cannot say to the public – buy a paper to support these principles – its very existence, a free press, quality reporting – but criticise them for holding their own views as to what principles they will pay money to support or not support.

 

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

Discomfort

A new study by Ipsos MORI reports that 7 in 10 Britons believe trans people face discrimination, that only 1 in 10 believe trans rights “have gone too far”, and that 6 in 10 women agree that gender and biological sex are not always linked. Given the tone and volume of anti-trans coverage in recent years that’s somewhat encouraging.

I wrote the other day about the “yuk factor”. The poll provides some evidence that it exists.

And as with all of these surveys, there’s a demographic gap. The older you are and the more right-wing you are, the more anti-trans you’re likely to be. That demographic, of course, is also the demographic that buys the papers and reads the websites that churn out constant anti-trans scaremongering. Funny, that.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

“Those with money, power, and influence have the advantage”

A personal and powerful essay by Katelyn Burns who, like me, is a late transitioning trans woman.

As a child, I could not see positive examples of trans women having meaningful lives, so I could not be a trans woman who had a meaningful life.

I’m a bit older than Katelyn so I didn’t discover the internet until later: she was a teen and I was in my twenties. But this is nevertheless very familiar.

I had trouble finding helpful information. Search engines weren’t really a thing and most of the AOL chatrooms I found were just forums for “tranny chasers” to have cybersex with trans women. Not a healthy environment for a scared 14 year old closeted trans girl.

I dove further into the closet.

There’s a phrase I like: we cannot be what we cannot see. One of the reasons it seems that there are suddenly more trans people in the world is that there are more visible trans people in the world. Earlier today I saw one anti-trans Twitter user express her disbelief that trans women were around before she was born: “But I’m 42,” she harrumphed.

We were always here. But for a long time we didn’t know there were others like us.

Despite the transphobes’ best efforts, there is now more representation, more visibility and more information for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people who would previously believe that there was nobody else on Earth who felt the way they feel.

To those who aren’t trans, it may feel like trans people and issues are everywhere. And that’s true. We have trans actors and actresses playing leading roles on TV, even on those over-the-air channels I received as a youngster. Our issues are debated in national publications. Books written by trans people are more available than ever.

If I was a child now, even in the mountain-hill house with no cable, there’s just no way I wouldn’t have had access to positive trans content.

…It’s pretty clear that the dramatic increase in child referrals to youth gender clinics has grown out of the increased positive media exposure of trans people in general. Looking at the numbers, it appears that the children of the past, like me, who didn’t have any idea that you could even be trans, are learning about trans identities at younger and younger ages.

If you go by the most common estimate for the percentage of trans adults as a share of the general population, currently about 0.6 percent, the number of children being referred for gender services in the UK remains below that number as percent of all children. In other words, it’s the same people who previously would have waited into adulthood to transition just deciding to come out earlier in life.

Many of us grew up unaware that there were other people just like us, and that people just like us could be happy and loved. And that, at last, is changing.

There are some very vocal people who don’t want us to have any information, who don’t want us to have any support, who don’t even want us to have any healthcare. Just today, they’re using the hashtag #OnlyFemalesGetCervicalCancer on social media to punch down on trans men and non-binary people, people who already encounter discrimination and gatekeeping in medicine. I know a few trans men whose experience of screening services is horrific. The message is clear: we’d rather see trans men and non-binary people die of cancer than get screening.

These are people whose attitudes towards the “genuine” trans people they pretend to care about was summed up in this tweet by a non-binary mum on Twitter:

trans kids – “you’re too young to know!”

trans teens – “you just need to go through puberty first to be sure!”

trans adults – “why is this just coming up now?”

every step of the way there’s an excuse to try and keep trans people from living an authentic life and its all fkn bs

The justification changes but the core belief – that trans people do not know their own minds, that what they experience is not real, that they are fakes and frauds who do not deserve acceptance, support, healthcare or even basic human rights – is constant. It is the same world view as the climate change deniers, the anti-vaxxers, the anti-maskers, and every other kind of conspiracy theorist: I know what I believe, and the world should conform to my beliefs.

These people and the people who amplify them have power that trans and non-binary people do not.

For example, today The Scotsman ran its second consecutive opinion column in two days supporting JK Rowling against those terrible trans “activists” (never “people”. That’s reserved for transphobes). Today’s columnist notes that the author is a “dear friend” of his.

That one was pretty mild. The day before, in the same newspaper, another columnist slammed trans people as misogynists, said trans women could never have any insight into being women and should not talk about feminism, and namechecked a whole bunch of demonstrably anti-trans activists including the head of the anti-trans hate group LGB Alliance, the anti-trans hate group For Women Scotland (whose founder called trans women “sick fucks… fucking blackface actors” and peddled antisemitic conspiracy theories) and an anti-trans extremist whose demands for the legal right to bully trans people at work were memorably described by a tribunal judge as “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

This is the norm in the newspaper industry, and with the wider media ecosystem it so often sets the agenda for. There are no trans equivalents of Nick Cohen, Suzanne Moore, Julie Bindel, Janice Turner, Douglas Murray, Brendan O’Neill, Toby Young, James Kirkup, Kevin McKenna or any of the very many other high profile figures who regularly use their platforms to misrepresent trans people or to falsely claim that trans people’s rights (as Janice Turner would put it, “trans activists’ demands“, because all trans people are activists and rights are only for cisgender people) conflict with women’s rights.

Burns:

To those unaffected, all is seen is words against words in the abstract, surely something worth cheering for. But for folks at the bottom, with enough time and encouragement from those at the top, those words metastasize into violence. Examples abound. In a different context, hilarious memes exchanged on white nationalist message boards about driving cars into crowds of protestors turn into actual terror attacks. Intellectual debates over whether trans women are women lead to mobs of men beating up trans women. Concerned parents take their children’s internet away.

…In our world, debate is a one way street.

 

 

 

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Subtext and context

In an excellent Twitter thread, Slate writer Lili Loofbourow explains why it’s pretty much impossible to have a debate on the internet.

“Why would you refuse to debate someone who’s simply saying that All Lives Matter?” is the kind of question an Enlightenment subject longing for a robust exchange of ideas might ask. Well, the reason is that most of us know, through bitter experience, that it’s a waste of time.

It wouldn’t be a true exchange. We know by now what “All Lives Matter” signals and that what it signals is orthogonal to what it says. Your fluency in this garbage means you take shortcuts: you don’t have to refute the text to leap to the subtext, which is the real issue.

Loofbourow gives the example of a man being condemned for wearing a Hawaiian shirt at a protest.

It might indeed look like cancel culture gone mad. He’s just standing there! Civilly! Offering support to Black Lives Matter protesters, of all things! Can’t we all, whatever our disagreements, come together in support of a good cause?

Sounds reasonable. But the Hawaiian shirt is the adopted uniform of far-right thugs who want to start a second US Civil War, and in this context that’s the message it is being used to send. If you’re not aware of the existence of those thugs, let alone their signifiers, you won’t see it.

The phrase “All Lives Matter” is similar. It seems perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? But the message is that Black Lives Don’t Matter. Imagine phoning up the fire brigade when your house is burning and being told All Houses Matter.

We like to think that in online discussions, both sides are approaching the subject in good faith. That both sides are approaching the discussion with sincerity, with openness and with a genuine desire to find the truth, even if that means they have to change their views. And of course, that’s not how it works.

Bad actors take advantage of that.

There are three elements to a message such as a social media post: text, subtext and context. The text is the content of the post, such as “All Lives Matter”. The subtext is the message those words are intended to convey, such as “Black Lives Don’t Matter”. And the context is where the text comes from: the culture, the assumptions, the wider story.

To stick with “All Lives Matter”, the context of that phrase is that it is almost exclusively used to dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement and to try and silence Black people.

The equivalent for me is “What rights don’t trans people have?” The text seems like a perfectly reasonable question but online, it is very rarely asked in good faith.

In this case, the context is that in almost every case the questioner knows exactly which rights trans people don’t have (the right to healthcare, the right to family life, the right to a private life, the right to protection from discrimination and violence, etc) but doesn’t care. They are not coming to learn; they are coming to fight.

There are certain terms that bad actors use again and again (a deliberate strategy of normalisation) that indicate a bad faith argument. In trans-related discourse they include “gender ideology”, which was coined by the Catholic Church to battle LGBT+ equality, and “women’s sex-based rights”, which was coined by the US religious right to exclude trans women from discussions of women’s legal and human rights. Both terms are used almost exclusively by people who are anti-trans and often anti-LGBT+ and anti-women’s reproductive freedom too.

The text is designed to seem reasonable. But it’s the Hawaiian shirt at the Black Lives Matter rally.

Loofbourow:

…there’s a history here: platforms got flooded by devil’s advocates who wasted the time of people with real investments–cruelly, for sport. That tends to weed out good faith engagement.

Add to this that most arguments worth having have been had and witnessed 1000x already on these platforms, in several permutations. We know their tired choreographies, the moves and countermoves. At this point we mostly enjoy the style of whichever dunk we happen to agree with.

This isn’t great. People talk past each other, assume bad faith. But it’s not the fault of “illiberalism” that good faith is in short supply. And if that’s where your analysis begins, I can’t actually tell whether you’re naive or trolling. And I’m no longer sure which is worse.

 

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

A distraction

An interesting poll in PinkNews: despite more than two years of relentless and increasingly vicious scaremongering in pretty much the entire national media and online, most UK women are still in favour of self-ID for trans people: 57%, compared to 21% against.

It’s welcome, of course, and it echoes many other polls (and trans people’s experiences) that show most women don’t believe the lurid claims of the pressure groups that pretend to speak for them, but at the same time it’s frustrating to see reporting and polling about trans “issues” that focus on the things bigots want to talk about, not the things that are important.

Self-ID is a minor administrative thing that not only isn’t relevant to cisgender people, but that isn’t particularly important to trans people either. Sure, we’d like the process of legal gender recognition to be less humiliating and expensive and for it to be inclusive of non-binary people. And yes, gender recognition certificates can help protect us against some forms of discrimination.

But on the list of things trans people want to focus on, to address, to talk about, the gender recognition process is near the bottom of the list.

We’re only talking about it because other people won’t stop shouting about it.

There is only so much oxygen in media, and they’re using it all up.

My news app brings me stories about trans issues. For several weeks now, the trans-related coverage has been overwhelmed by a single celebrity whose views on trans people are no different from and no more insightful than any run-of-the-mill transphobe on Twitter. But of course, she’s famous.

It’s Caitlyn Jenner all over again. A few years ago it seemed like the only articles anybody was allowed to write about trans people were either based on some awful thing Caitlyn Jenner said or some awful thing someone else said about Caitlyn Jenner. Meanwhile the important stuff didn’t make the papers at all. Why would it? A celebrity has an opinion!

It’s not just the coverage. It’s that it sets the agenda for other media: the celebrity’s opinion is either the hook, or the only thing the presenter wants to talk about and will let the guest talk about.

It often feels very much like this:

Expert: Well, John, the big concern is that a woman who needs hormone treatment can go to her GP and get a prescription that day – unless she’s trans, in which case it can take three or even four years to get the same medication. And that’s dangerous because –”

Presenter: “But this celebrity, who’s really just an ordinary concerned parent, says trans people drink the blood of freshly slaughtered children. How much children’s blood do they drink?”

Expert: “What? That’s ridiculous. Of course they don’t drink the –”

Presenter: “When did they stop drinking the blood of freshly slaughtered children?”

This isn’t helping anybody, and it certainly isn’t educating and informing. It’s a distraction.

As Toni Morrison famously said about racism:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media Technology

The wrong kind of body

This collection of photos is fascinating: it’s the Athlete series by Howard Schatz, and it shows bodies. Big bodies, little bodies, stocky bodies, thin bodies, light-skinned bodies, dark-skinned bodies… the only thing they have in common is that the people pictured are all elite athletes.

The collection has been doing the rounds again as a reaction to the reaction to a female character in The Last of Us Part 2: Abby, a soldier.

This is Abby.

She’s hardly a 32-stone sumo wrestler, is she? But having slightly bigger shoulders than some women and a walk that didn’t wiggle was enough for some less enlightened players to start bellowing unhappily: “She’s trans! Get her out of my game!”

She isn’t trans.

Let’s skip past the “and anyway, so what if she was?” discussion because what I want to talk about is the idea that women don’t look like that.

Of course women look like that. I enjoyed a MetaFilter discussion of this because it featured very many women who said they looked either like Abby, or that compared to them Abby was a little delicate princess. All kinds of women look like all kinds of things because women, like men, are human beings that come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

Clearly, some of the people who assumed Abby was trans have a very narrow view of what a woman should look like, and that view is no doubt informed at least in part by the really bloody awful portrayal of so many female characters in video games. Such as:

I’ve certainly played video games where the male characters prepare for battle by wearing giant metal suits of armour and the female ones don that battle-tested combination of push-up bras, thigh-high stockings and stiletto heels.

But it’s not just video games. We make judgements about other people very, very quickly, and in the case of gender we make those judgements on a few very basic visual cues. So Abby has big shoulders, developed biceps and narrow hips; clearly, she’s a man.

For some people, that was enough to make them very angry simply because she did not meet their expectation of how a woman should look. The Venn diagram of those people and of the arseholes currently sending death threats to Laura Bailey, the actor who did Abby’s voice, has some overlap.

Patricia Hernandez, writing in Polygon:

much of the hate visible on social media isn’t just about the story and Abby’s likability compared to Ellie and Joel, it’s fixated on Abby’s jacked-up body.

…Perhaps the grossest result of all of this is the insistence that Abby could only look like this if her character was trans, as if only folks who are assigned male at birth could possibly have big muscles.

This is why it’s so dangerous to foster a climate where people believe it’s acceptable or even necessary to watch out for supposed imposters in places such as public toilets. Especially when some of those people proudly claim that they will commit violence against any person they decide shouldn’t be there.

That isn’t an empty threat. In Oregon last year, Lauren Jackson was beaten so badly by a self-appointed bathroom policeman he broke her jaw. In Puerto Rico this February, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz was stalked and murdered after someone reported her to the police for using the women’s bathroom in McDonalds. Last year in North Carolina, two women were charged with sexual battery and second-degree kidnapping after attacking a trans woman in the toilet of a bar. And here, anti-trans activists openly discuss committing acts of violence against any trans women who might cross their path. I’ve even seen one describe the six-inch knife she says she carries specifically for the purpose of stabbing any trans woman she might encounter in a toilet.

Bravado? Empty posturing? Maybe. But with anti-trans hate crimes increasing, it’d be foolish to dismiss it.

I’ve more or less given up trying to persuade people that trans people’s safety matters; too many people clearly think it doesn’t. But if I can’t persuade you to care about people like me, maybe I can persuade you to care about the cisgender women who will be yelled at and possibly even attacked by the same dangerous obsessives. The people who claim “we can always tell” keep on proving that they can’t.

We have seen bathroom policing in other parts of the world and it always ends up harming women: women with short hair, women with big shoulders, women with the wrong colour of skin, women with the wrong kind of body.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

“Why has it taken you so long if you’re serious?”

This Twitter thread by Helen Belcher, who has been analysing media coverage of trans people for many years, is worth your time. I’ve posted the text below.

Most trans people I know tried for years not to be trans. The personal cost was often thought to be too high. So when some “white knight” rides in to say people like me are “lazy” and basically wannabe gay people, it understandably enrages many.

Waiting lists to see medics are measured in years. Put that on top of the years trying not to be trans, and you start to see how much of our lives can start to feel wasted, just because of the fears imposed by others.

That’s why medics are largely moving to a model where they start to trust the person they see in front of them, rather than the hostile questioning like I got from the first medics I saw. Questions, ironically, like “why has it taken you so long if you’re serious?”

It means that people start to work with the medics rather than learning scripts, such as the one I was encouraged to learn, which run high risks of hiding real dangers.

And, if someone decides that transition is not for them, and I suspect many still do before they get very far, that’s fine. The problem was that the medical model tended to focus on one clear surgical destination, and some now accept that that’s not always appropriate.

All of this turgid, repetitive “debate” is predicated on the basis that being trans is a “bad outcome”, rather than it simply being what it is. There’s no kudos in being trans, and there should be no kudos in not being trans either.

No trans person I know thinks it’s even possible to convert someone to be trans, yet the antis are full of people who want to convert some not to be trans, but never outline their criteria for how they know – just like they can apparently always identify trans women – they can’t.

I also had a few years where I was treated as an issue rather than a person. Consider how dehumanising that is. Yet that’s what this turgid “debate” keeps trying to go back to – replacing pragmatic laws which allow people to live their lives with philosophically pure ones.

If your philosophical debate only harms one group of people, and bears no resemblance to what actually happens on the ground, and relies on fears being whipped up, then it’s not worth the air used to broadcast it.

Categories
Media

“We refuse to be tainted as activists”

Soledad O’Brien’s op-ed in the New York Times is an attempt to expose an uncomfortable truth: news media needs a #MeToo movement.

I left CNN more than seven years ago. But I watch its coverage, and that of other news networks — the panel-driven journalism that sometimes gives voice to liars and white supremacists; the excuse of “balance” to embolden and normalize bigots and bigotry by posing them as the “other side.” When I criticize CNN (as I do frequently on social media), the company attacks me as “more of a liberal activist than a journalist,” a common dig against journalists of color who criticize newsroom management.

…The thin ranks of people of color in American newsrooms have often meant us-and-them reporting, where everyone from architecture critics to real estate writers, from entertainment reporters to sports anchors, talk about the world as if the people listening or reading their work are exclusively white.

There are simply not enough of us in the newsroom to object effectively — not in TV, print or online, certainly not in management. So our only option is to mimic the protester’s strategy: Talk directly to the public and just talk loud.

…We refuse to be benched or tainted as activists or deemed incapable of objectivity, while white reporters are hailed for their “perspective” on stories.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

“Dear Baroness Nicholson”

This, by Munroe Bergdorf, is really something.

While this poisonous conversation may constitute an amusement to those who are in a position to pit their privilege against a minority, for people like me, it is an extremely painful onslaught on the very core of who we are.

It would be insulting your intelligence as well as my own and the intelligence of those who follow us both, to suggest that your tweets were posted in error. They were not out of character for a high profile politician who has a long and proven record tweeting what I consider to be cruel taunts and unfounded allegations against trans people, including a child, and trans organisations such as Mermaids, for whom I am a proud patron.

…I worry that your activity during the last few hours speaks to the truth behind your apology. That you are more concerned for your own reputation as complaints gather and grow by your name than you are for any need to reconcile our considerable differences.