I fought the law

Last night I knowingly and deliberately broke the law. It wasn’t quite Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with a lead pipe; it was me and my best friend in Kelvingrove Park with a nice bottle of red wine.

In Glasgow and the surrounding area, drinking in public has been illegal since 1996 under sections 201-203 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act. The law was tightened further in 2008 to include the carrying of open containers, even if the alcohol has already been consumed. So every nice day we see tons of police going around places like Kelvingrove, ordering people to pour away their plonk for fear of a fine of up to £500. The bylaw applies in every public place and is only relaxed on New Year’s Eve between 6pm and 6am the following morning. That’s a throwback to the days when George Square hosted a huge Hogmanay party.

The law was introduced because in the 1990s, Glasgow had still to shake off its No Mean City reputation. Public drinking was a public order problem, especially around football matches, and there was also a big problem with underage drinkers. Glasgow’s ban was partly motivated by the evidence from other parts of Scotland such as Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, which experienced a 46% drop in violent crime after implementing a public drinking ban.

Image from Twitter: Kelvingrove Park, Easter weekend 2019

The ban is widely ignored (hello!) and there’s still trouble. Every time the sun shines, Kelvingrove Park fills with drunks and litter; this weekend a teenage boy was facially disfigured in a fight. The last time I rode my bike through the park I saw almost as much broken glass as grass.

But judging by social media, the policing this weekend was massively over the top and there does appear to be a double standard in operation: while the police had set up a mobile command centre and brought vans and horses to Kelvingrove, there was no such presence in the nearby Botanic Gardens. There, as some people pointed out on Twitter, students and “yummy mummies” could sip their M&S mojitos in peace.

School’s out

This is Garnock Academy, the secondary school (high school for my American friends) I attended in the 1980s. It’s near a town called Beith.

Like all schools of the era, there were no LGBT pupils or teachers. Or at least, there were no openly LGBT pupils or teachers; the ones who were LGBT kept their heads down. This was the era of Section 28, the law implemented just as I was leaving school that prohibited teachers from discussing LGBT issues for fear they’d be accused of “promoting” LGBT life.

I wasn’t happy there. I doubt I’d have been happy anywhere. It was an era of vicious homophobia, and the homophobia printed in the newspapers echoed in the playgrounds. “Gay” wasn’t just a taunt but a trailer: it was the shout that announced the bullies’ arrival. I heard it a lot.

I’ve linked elsewhere to people’s stories of growing up LGBT, and while the details differ there’s a common theme: we grew up believing there was something wrong with us, with a deep sense of shame and guilt about being ourselves. Instead of learning to thrive, we learned to hide, both metaphorically and literally. We policed our own behaviour and tried our best to avoid the bullies.

Garnock Academy is long gone – bulldozed a few years ago with a brand new school, Garnock Campus, opening up on the other side of town – but its effects linger.

Yesterday, on a whim, I popped into one of my favourite places: Category Is Books in Glasgow’s South side. It’s Scotland’s only LGBT bookshop (one of only two in the whole UK) and has quickly become a hub for the LGBT community; I’ve been there for book and fanzine launches as well as adding to my collection of enamel pin badges.

It’s the kind of place where you bump into people you know, and yesterday was no exception: I was delighted to see a few friends there, so what was supposed to be a five-minute visit turned into an hour of chatting with my friends and other customers. One of them was a young woman who really reminded me of my daughter: fiery, funny and fast-talking with that tweenage thing where your brain is moving too fast and your mouth is struggling to keep up with all the things you have to say. Like my daughter she’s confident in a way I never was, a firework in human form.

One of the things she talked about was her school. She laughed as she talked about being known as “the gay kid” in her class, something she’s clearly proud of. The school has an LGBT Club, where she’s made friends with other gay kids (and straight kids who just come along for the chat), and LGBT Champions, of which she’s one. She’s clearly thriving there, happy in her own skin.

“Your school sounds amazing!” I said. “What one is it you go to?”

“Garnock Campus,” she said. “It’s near a town called Beith.”

“I know the people he hates so much are basically the same people as me”

There’s an interesting piece in NY Magazine about the corrosive effects of highly partisan news.

I heard from more than a hundred people who felt like they could relate to what they all seemed to think of as a kind of ideological brain poisoning. They chose Fox News over their family, people told me. They chose Fox News over me.

It’s not just Fox, and not just America: the article notes that stories also came of families broken by left-wing partisanship, and by publications such as the UK’s Daily Mail – but Fox has a huge reach and is arguably the most biased of all the major news outlets.

Whatever the root, it’s incredibly saddening

“Maybe he was always like this, but lacked the exhaust chamber to say out loud what he was thinking. I’ll never know,” one person told me. “It just sucks because I know the people he hates so much are basically the same people as me.”

That’s nice

There is a lot online about gender dysphoria, the discomfort or even horror some trans people have about the gender they were assigned at birth. But there’s a flip side when you get to be your real self: gender euphoria, the feeling that at least for the moment, everything is the way it should be.

I’m writing this sat on a bench on a sunny spring morning in Glasgow, the city I love. Because it’s Glasgow it’s still cold, but the sun is warm on my skin. The colours are spectacular: the blue of the sky, the white of the clouds, the bright green of new leaves and new grass. I’m dressed for the season, bare-legged in a fun, flippy floral skirt teamed up with a plain t-shirt and a cardigan; today is a good makeup day, simple rather than striking or spectacularly hopeless, and for once I’m feeling pretty good about my appearance. I’m doing one of my favourite things: people-watching, enjoying the simple pleasure of seeing the world walk by and wondering what each stranger’s story is.

The late Kurt Vonnegut wrote of a relative who would often exclaim: if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. Vonnegut urges all of us to do the same, to recognise the little moments of happiness, to celebrate life’s joys, big and small.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

This is where your debate leads

In response to Transgender Day of Visibility yesterday, I saw multiple social media threads hijacked by cisgender straight man, many of whom demanded to know why we needed transgender visibility day but not straight pride days. They demanded to know: what rights don’t trans people have?

How about the right to live free from abuse and violence?

This happened yesterday, while grown men were posting vomit emoji in response to transgender day of visibility posts.

In Essex, a transgender teenager was verbally abused by three teenage boys, who slashed the teenager’s face. The victim was treated in hospital for their injuries.

This is what dehumanising LGBT people leads to: a frightened kid surrounded, abused and slashed on a Sunday afternoon.


A lonely path

When I came out, I knew it would probably mean spending the rest of my life alone.

A new study suggests I’m right.

Two Canadian researchers recently asked almost 1000 cisgender folks if they would date a trans person in a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

…Virtually all heterosexuals excluded trans folks from their dating pool: only 1.8% of straight women and 3.3% of straight men chose a trans person of either binary gender. But most non-heterosexuals weren’t down for dating a trans person either, with only 11.5% of gay men and 29% of lesbians being trans-inclusive in their dating preferences. Bisexual/queer/nonbinary participants (these were all combined into one group) were most open to having a trans partner, but even among them, almost half (48%) did not select either ‘trans man’ or ‘trans woman.’

It’s not a surprising finding, although as with any study there are various caveats and considerations. But it’s indicative of the way we’re seen by wider society. As the Them.us article puts it:

The high rates of trans exclusion from potential dating pools are undoubtedly due in part to cisnormativity, cissexism, and transphobia — all of which lead to lack of knowledge about transgender people and their bodies, discomfort with these unknowns, and fear of being discriminated against by proxy of one’s romantic partner.

It’s very hard to accept yourself when you know that many others don’t see you as normal, let alone desirable.



Just an ordinary day

How’s your day going?

Just after midnight, I saw The Economist tweet this.

It turns out that the article was about Japan, and it has since been corrected with a less inflammatory headline. But as the writer Diana Tourjeé pointed out, “should trans people be sterilised?” is part of the regular media discourse on trans people alongside whether we should be banned from public toilets, whether we should be allowed to participate in sports, whether we should be acknowledged in the history books and in education, whether we should be allowed in homeless shelters, whether we should be given life-saving healthcare, whether we should be allowed correct identity documents, whether we should be allowed to serve in the military, whether we should be given normal health screening, whether killing us should be a hate crime, whether we should be allowed to adopt or raise children, whether we should be protected from discrimination. After all, “they chose this. They are sick. They are perverts. They are not normal.”

Responding to the thread another journalist, Katelyn Burns, noted that “Every single one of these questions in this thread has been the subject of major media coverage, op eds in large publications, or proposed in legislation over the last 6 months.”

On my way back from the school run, I listened to Radio Scotland where the discussion was about gender neutral toilets, a largely cost-based decision by local councils building new schools. Much of the discussion was about trans people; online, some listeners condemned the PC agenda, trans people etc. One approvingly shared links to news articles about parents getting “LGBT rights classes” dropped: “We desperately need a revolution” against LGBT people, he said.

Back home, on Twitter I saw Andrea Leadsom apparently supporting parental “choice” about whether or not children get to know that LGBT people exist, and I saw footage of Donald Trump nodding approvingly while Brazil’s bigoted president said he and Trump stand “side by side” in the war on “gender ideology”. Gender ideology is a meaningless phrase beloved by the hard right to describe all kinds of things they disapprove of: trans people, mainly, but also equal marriage, immigrants and women’s reproductive rights.

Also on Twitter, I saw that one Scottish school has canned its inclusive education because of it featured this poem:

Despite my best efforts my news app continues to show me right-wing newspapers, one of which is defending a woman who accused the CEO of trans charity Mermaids of “mutilating” her child and promoting “child abuse”. Almost all of the press and TV coverage has portrayed this not as vicious libel, but as a nice Catholic lady being victimised for using the wrong pronouns.

This is exceptionally common online: anti-trans activists will conduct a prolonged campaign of bullying against trans people or allies, and when it gets bad enough for the police to get involved they run to the papers claiming they’re being picked on for using the wrong pronouns. The police don’t give a shit what pronouns you use, but they do investigate harassment and malicious communications. The misreporting simply fuels anti-trans hatred.

My news app also gives me the terrible news that not only is Ricky Gervais still alive, but that his latest material includes more stuff punching down on trans people.

All of this before 11am on an entirely typical day.  I am so, so tired of this.