Why I block

Yesterday, the anti-trans group For Women Scotland accused publisher Laura Waddell of running a “misogynist blocklist” to prevent Twitter users from reading and replying to her posts. Like other claims the group makes – this is the same organisation that accused a cat of sectarianism a few weeks back – it wasn’t true. Like many people on Twitter, Waddell manually blocks individual accounts when she can no longer be arsed with their bullshit. Their account was one of them after previous interactions on the social network.

Blocking people can be crucial on Twitter. If you don’t do it, your feed can quickly fill with awful people trying to ruin your day. I block thousands of people, bigots and trolls of all stripes, using an automated list of known offenders – racist abusers, anti-trans bigots, sea lions (people who pretend to be arguing in good faith but just waste enormous amounts of time) and so on.

Sea lions are among the worst, because they’re the midges of social media: individually insignificant but hugely annoying in groups. Here’s a good cartoon about them.

I’m sure some perfectly nice people are also blocked by accident but I have neither the time nor the inclination to manually go through a list of thousands of people. Unfortunately accidental blocks are the collateral damage caused by bigots and trolls’ online abuse. If Twitter actually enforced its own rules against abuse, hate speech and harassment there’d be no need for a block feature at all.

Yesterday the Equality Network posted a tweet about gender recognition and was quickly piled on by the anti-trans crowd. As the organisation posted today:

We firmly believe that the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act can be done without affecting the rights of women or others, and we are happy to see that genuinely discussed and to engage. However some of the responses to our tweet [yesterday] illustrate a different agenda…

The important word here is “genuinely”. Many of the people who pile on trans people and trans allies online are not looking for a genuine discussion; they are coming with a script of pre-decided talking points and have absolutely no interest in the answers. They aren’t coming for a debate. They believe they are waging a war.

This graphic has been doing the rounds on Twitter lately. It’s the “I don’t hate minority X, but…” bingo card, designed to show the patterns that appear again and again and again online. “I don’t hate black/trans/gay people, but we need to protect our children from predators”. “Asian/Trans/women are just too easily offended.” “Black/trans/gay people are erasing us”. “I believe in equality but this lot have gone too far”.

Bear in mind that these aren’t just the odd tweet. People from minority groups and their allies can be on the receiving end of dozens, sometimes hundreds of messages all saying the same thing: I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG DEBATE ME NOW COWARD.

What’s a girl to do?

To take the current example over gender recognition reform, many people are completely wrong about the law. They conflate the Gender Recognition Act with the Equality Act, are unaware of the context within human rights legislation, have no understanding of what self-ID actually means, are unaware of the medical, scientific and legal status of trans people and so on.

Some people believe things that aren’t true because they’ve been misled by bad actors. They think trans children are given surgery (they aren’t), that they’re fast-tracked and forced to identify as trans (nope), that puberty blockers are new, experimental drugs (nope) or that children are prescribed cross-sex hormones (nope again).

If they are willing to discuss these things, to look at the evidence, then of course you can have a worthwhile debate. But if they’re just going to shout “fake news”, accuse trans women of being predatory, violent men and call you a handmaiden of the patriarchy (or worse) because someone on the internet told them to, they’re a complete waste of your time, energy and oxygen. You cannot have a legitimate, constructive or useful debate with somebody who is acting in bad faith.

Some people on the internet are stupid. Some are wicked. Some are both. You have no obligation to put up with their bullshit.

Unless you’re operating it on behalf of an organisation, your Twitter feed (or any other social media presence) is yours, and you decide what you want in it. Think of it as a table in a pub: you’re there talking to your pals. If a bunch of people were to come over and loudly demand you debate them right here, right now, you’d tell them to fuck off. And that’s pretty much what blocking does. It doesn’t censor people. It just stops them from being able to annoy you.

In the case of trans issues, if someone refuses to accept that trans people are not mentally ill, they are no different from flat-earthers. If they refuse to accept that biology is more complicated than they learned in primary school, they are no different from climate change deniers. If they claim that protecting trans people from discrimination will erase women, they are no different from the racists who peddle the “white genocide” conspiracy theory. If they claim trans people are being funded by George Soros, they are no different from any other anti-semite.

These people may deserve your pity, but they do not deserve your attention.

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.

Damned lies and statistics

In my previous post I wrote about the easily debunked claims used against trans people. I should probably provide some evidence.

First up, here’s some actual stats on detransitioning among trans people. The source is the NHS in London from 2016 to 2017, the sample size 3,488, the detransition rate 0.47%.

Not 80%, the figure you see again and again in op-eds about trans people. 0.47%.

The 80% figure is long-debunked nonsense.

And here’s item number two, an analysis on the “rapid onset gender dysphoria” study that’s been quoted in multiple newspapers to suggest that trans people are only going through this shit because they think it’s cool.

Some highlights:

…reflects a certain preexisting non-neutrality bias

…The article continues to pathologize gender dysphoria and affirmation of trans identification through social network peers and online environments as an example of “deviancy training,” and describing it as an unhealthy pattern of reinforcement with trans-identified peers and linking it with a behavior that is “deceiving parents and doctors”

…Providing this premise prior during the consent process provides an opportunity for motivating a specific group of parental-respondents, particularly those who agree with the premise, to elect to participate in the survey. Furthermore, providing the premise of the study in this way sets expectations of the survey before parental-respondents can even begin to provide their answers

…Also of concern is the demographic profile of the parental-respondents in this paper. The parental-respondents displayed very narrow demographic stratification despite being sampled from a very specific venue: 82.8% were female sex at birth, 91.4% were White, 99.2% were non-Hispanic, 66.1% were aged 46–60, and 70.9% had attended college. Notably, 76.5% believed that their child’s trans identification is not correct, and recruitment relied heavily on three particular Web sites known to be frequented by parents specifically voicing out and promoting the concept of “ROGD.” Thus, these are not just “worried parents,” but rather a sample of predominantly White mothers who have strong oppositional beliefs about their children’s trans identification and who harbor suspicions about their children having “ROGD.”

…it is plausible that these data may contain multiple responses from the same parental-respondent.

In other words, it’s a shitshow of Andrew Wakefield proportions, horrifically biased propaganda pretending to be science.

Then there’s trans women in sport, where some 55,000 Olympians have competed since trans people were allowed to participate more than a decade and a half ago, and in the US NCAA athletics where more than 450,000 athletes have competed, without any sign of men enduring chemical castration for a year so they can compete against women.

And then…

You get the idea.

Finding the facts takes seconds. If someone isn’t doing it it’s because they’re incompetent or malevolent.

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.

Trans people don’t swim

Today’s Glasgow Herald has an offensively framed, scaremongering article about trans people in council swimming pools causing an invasion of “cross-dressing males”. It’s labelled new and exclusive, but it’s neither. As Duncan Hothersall put it on Twitter:

Not exclusive. Not new. Simply the result of an active anti-trans campaigner seeking out the most scaremongering situation possible and pitching it to a newspaper desperate for clicks. We need to talk about these issues and resolve them; this sort of coverage doesn’t help.

I wrote about the reality last year: people like me don’t use public swimming pools because we’re scared of people like you.

I’m not scared of much any more, but I’m scared [of] public humiliation. Scared that someone will be scared of me. Scared that even in gender-neutral changing facilities where the only time I’m naked is in a locked, private cubicle, someone will loudly object to my being there and claim I’m somehow dangerous.

Dangerously clumsy, maybe. But dangerous? The only risk from my presence anywhere near a swimming pool is if I fall on you or belly flop nearby.

Two weeks ago, I swam in a hotel pool. It’s the first time I’ve been swimming in three years, and it was wonderful. Maybe next year I’ll go on holiday and be able to swim again.

“outsiders are coming to steal our icepoles, destroy our long held traditions and do crimes”

The ever-inflammatory A Thousand Flowers has made SNP politician Joan McAlpine their Wanker of the Week. ATF’s language, as ever, is robust – but it’s tame compared to the stuff McAlpine’s fellow travellers say and do on Twitter to trans people and any woman who doesn’t think trans people are demons.

One of the points ATF makes is that “I support equal marriage” is the new “some of my friends are black”.

You don’t get to leverage supporting one part of a community years ago as an excuse to undermine a more marginalised part of that community now.  As a gay person, I’m not going to accept a straight cis politician using past support for limited legal rights for gay and lesbians people to justify their current anti trans nonsense.  If you mess with the T, you’re messing with Big Gay Me and anyone else in the LGBT community who won’t abandon our trans siblings when their rights are on the line. Judge a society – and a person – by how they treat the most marginalised, not how they treat those with more power.

ATF has been criticised in the past for its language. Such tone policing (avoiding debate by attacking the way somebody speaks instead of addressing what they say; Everyday Feminism has a great comic strip about it) is really common in discussions about trans people: trans people will be called all kinds of unspeakable things, shouted down and piled on, and when they inevitably snap and tell someone to fuck off it’s proof that trans people are all violent aggressors. Minorities aren’t allowed to get angry no matter how badly and blatantly they’re provoked.

Tone policing is used to protect privilege, to silence marginalised voices.

McAlpine’s response to be called on her nonsense fits a pattern where opponents of trans rights grind down trans people, then try to label the slightest bit of anger as “misogyny” “male aggression” and “machismo.”  But history tells us something else: when you target marginalised groups, they don’t politely sit back and take it forever.  That’s not how resistance to a violently unequal society works.  As the old adage/historically accurate fact goes: Stonewall was a riot.  No debating occurred, at least not with the polis (but of course, loads of  useless “allies”/half arsed gay rights groups said it was terrible and damaged the cause and made us look bad yada yada).   Joan’s yet to condemn the Suffragettes who argued in the marketplace of ideas repeatedly bombed and blew up stuff enroute to winning their rights for their “toxic masculinity” because that isn’t what happened – and it’s not what’s happening when trans people stand up for themselves now.

Intolerance dressed up as concern

It’s not surprising to see yet another anti-trans op-ed in The Scotsman; once again it portrays all trans people as abusive internet trolls in killer heels, trampling on the anti-trans women who are just lovely people who care about all kinds of stuff.

But even by those low standards, it’s galling to see the horrific practice of female genital mutilation being used to demonise trans people.

[one woman’s] life was destroyed by female genital mutilation (FGM), an unspeakably cruel practice that regards female biology as “unclean” and “unworthy”. In far too many cultures, men still decide what is a “real” woman.

Leaving aside the sheer offensiveness of the argument (and the framing: “men still decide what is a ‘real’ woman” is a dog whistle: it’s meant to characterise trans women as men), it’s perfectly possible to support trans rights and fight against horrors such as FGM.

It’s also possible to campaign against trans rights and also campaign against FGM. So you’d expect the “protect women” crowd to be doing just that.

So let’s talk about the anti-trans crowd, the ones who only care about protecting women and girls and definitely aren’t motivated by transphobia when they hold meetings where speakers call us “bastards” and “parasites”.

Let’s focus on the examples of horrors detailed in the Scotsman article.

How much time and money do the anti-trans “feminist” organisations, the ones raising money with crowdfunding campaigns and t-shirt sales, spend campaigning against female genital mutilation?

Zero.

How much time and money do they spend on fighting domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and girls that leaves 140 women murdered by men in the UK every year?

Zero.

How much time and money do they spend on fighting against poverty wages for women, the gender wage gap and the underrepresentation of women in STEM subjects?

Zero.

I’ll add a few the writer missed. How much time and money do they spend on campaigning to end the systemic, endemic abuse of women in prison by other inmates and even staff, or the system that sends a disproportionate number of women to prison for minor offences?

Zero.

How much time and money do they spend on campaigning for equal marriage and women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland?

Zero.

Can you see the pattern emerging here?

It’s almost as if this isn’t about protecting women at all.

Maybe we should wear pink triangles too

Am I missing something, or is this idea incredibly, dangerously bad?

Labour’s LGBT+ advisor calls for UK-wide ‘safe spaces’ for transgender people

Mr Watson wants Ministers to give Local Authorities the powers to outline special zones for transgender people so they can socialise safely with family, friends and the wider LGBT+ community.

I’m hoping that something has become horrendously garbled between meeting and press release, and that the call is for councils to fund safe meeting places and organisations such as the excellent LGBT Health & Wellbeing. But I doubt it.

“I’m urging the Government to devolve powers to Mayors and Local Authorities across Britain so they can designate safe spaces for trans people. It could be part of a long-term solution in making them feel comfortable within their communities while promoting social cohesion.”

There’s a lot to unpick in just that paragraph.

We have a word for “designated safe spaces” for minorities. It’s “ghetto”.

Think about it for a moment. He wants councils to create special zones for transgender people where they can “socialise”. What about the bits that aren’t special? Are we to be excluded from them? By implication, if you have some areas that are “safe spaces” for trans people, the areas without that designation are and should remain unsafe.

Second, “making them feel comfortable in their communities”. What communities? My community is Partick, musicians and alcoholics. How exactly will a designated Be Trans Here And You Probably Won’t Get Beaten Up zone in the Merchant City going to make me “feel comfortable” in the bit of Glasgow where I actually live, work and socialise?

And as for promoting social cohesion: you don’t promote social cohesion by othering and segregating minorities in much the same way you don’t promote fire safety awareness by burning down everybody’s house.

This idea is “a bid to protect [us] from the worrying rise in hate crime.” Here’s how you do that. You chuck the bigots out of your own party. You stop fearing the wrath of Murdoch and introduce a system of press regulation that actually works on behalf of the public, not the publications. And more than anything, you enforce the laws on hate speech and hate crimes that we already have.