“We” didn’t miss anything

This week, The New York Times made a podcast called “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, and How We Missed It”. Esquire’s Charles P Pierce is not amused: who, exactly, does the NYT mean by “we”?

To take the simplest argument first, “we,” of course, did no such thing, unless “we” is a very limited—and very white—plural pronoun. The violence on the right certainly made itself obvious in Oklahoma City, and at the Atlanta Olympics, and at various gay bars and women’s health clinics, and in Barrett Slepian’s kitchen, and in the hills of North Carolina, where Eric Rudolph stayed on the lam for five years and in which he had stashed 250 pounds of explosives for future escapades.

Pierce – rightly, I think – argues that the problem isn’t that these things aren’t noticed, or flagged up. It’s that the people who warn about them are ignored by a largely urban, white, straight media class.

One of the best examples of that is the rise of the hard right in online spaces, where women and minorities have been yelling about the problems for many years now. Because the abuse didn’t affect people who weren’t women or minorities, media didn’t give a shit. This has been going on for a long time, and its reach is enormous.

Here’s Matt Miller, also in Esquire, on how online trolls have poisoned Star Wars fandom.

These “trolls” are the anonymous, despicable beating heart of America. They are holding up a mirror to our society. They are insuring that the worst of us have a voice to incite real change. They elected an amoral, racist golden toilet for a president. And that same sickness has bled into something once as harmless as a children’s space movie.

Something that’d be funny if it weren’t so serious is the way anti-trans people so frequently follow the same script: starting off by being hateful towards us before – surprise! – being hateful to other groups too. So the anti-trans legislators in the US start with us and then target cisgender women and trans men’s reproductive freedom. Anti-trans cultural commentators turn out to be misogynist. Anti-trans voices variously include domestic abusers, racists and anti-Semites.

It’s become a bleak running joke in some trans circles when yet another vicious bigot turns out to be viciously bigoted against more than one minority. That’s the thing about bigotries. They tend to travel together.

I wrote about neo-Nazi ideology yesterday, and that’s a good example of the kind of thing that gets completely ignored until it explodes into real-world violence. It’s of particular interest to me because neo-nazis online are very specifically and openly attempting to groom “gender critical” – ie anti-trans – women because they believe these women are very close to being “red pilled” and becoming “tradwives”.

Red pilling, if you’re not down with idiots, is an idea from the film The Matrix: if you take the red pill you will see the world as it really is. The fact that The Matrix was directed by two trans women, the red pill is based on estrogen tablets and the whole sodding film is quite probably a trans allegory escapes these dolts, because neo-Nazis aren’t very clever.

And “tradwife”? A tradwife is a woman who rejects feminism and embodies “wifely” qualities of submission, chastity and domestic servitude.

The idea that any self-respecting feminist would be in cahoots with these woman-hating tools is mind-boggling, and yet here we are.

Again and again the most vocal anti-trans voices echo the tropes of the religious right and the alt-right, shaming women for supposedly inappropriate behaviour. reinforcing the biological essentialism that feminism fought so hard against and supporting serial abusers of women because their enemy’s enemy is their friend. To see feminist groups in open alliance with evangelical, anti-women groups is quite something to behold.

This isn’t just happening in anti-trans circles. Neo-nazis have deliberately targeted anywhere they think they can find vulnerable, angry people: not just forums of angry women but for young, angry men who can’t get laid, forums for people with mental health issues, forums where people are lost and desperately need somebody coming along to take them under their wing.

The problem with hate is not that nobody’s talking about it. It’s that by and large, the media isn’t listening to the people who are desperately trying to sound the alarm: women, ethnic minorities, LGBTI people, disabled people. And when rhetoric becomes reality, when online radicalisation makes a Christian shoot up a synagogue or a straight guy shoot up a gay bar or an “incel” drive a truck into a crowd of shoppers, they wail “how did this happen? How did we miss this?”

You missed it because you weren’t listening.

Bigots don’t read books. They burn them

Here we go again. In the latest bout of anti-trans madness, washed-up comedy writers are comparing trans people to Nazis to the delight of their many thousands of followers. In the aftermath, Scots MSP and newspaper columnist Joan McAlpine approvingly retweets an anti-trans group – a group that had been invited to the Scots Parliament to discuss gender recognition reform – saying much the same thing. The same group is currently putting anti-trans posters in toilets in Scottish bars.

According to the group, “there’s transactivists who are going to claim they were the victims of Nazis. We need to be clear, the LGBT victims were lesbians & gay men, not people who identify as trans.”

Nope. Trans people were sent to the concentration camps too, usually because the Nazis considered them to be gay. They weren’t big on nuance.

Cisgender, straight white women were okay though. Some of them got to be the camp guards.

The women here are Helferinnen, women auxiliaries. The photo is from Solahuette, a kind of holiday resort for the staff of Auschwitz.

 

Let’s have some history, shall we?

Before the Nazis came to power, Germany was a centre of excellence for trans knowledge. One of the most notable people in the field was Magnus Hirschfield, whose institute for sexual science carried out extensive research into the psychology and biology of trans people. Hirschfield was the first person to systematically describe and work with people he termed transvestites and transsexuals; what we’d call trans people today.

Timeline.com:

By the early 1930s, people came from around the world to undergo reassignment surgery in Berlin. Then Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1931. Two years later, his brownshirts broke into Hirschfeld’s institute and burned his journals and research. When Hirschfeld was out of Germany on tour, the Nazi student group marched on the Institute. Over 20,000 books were set aflame, as well as medical diagrams and photographs crucial to understanding sex reassignment surgery. Hirschfeld and his colleagues were Jewish, but it wasn’t just that. Hitler also publicly raged against the “vice” of homosexuality and the “degenerate” lives of transsexuals. They weakened the Aryan cause.

Mia Mulder is a scholar of this particular part of history, and she sets out the detail on Twitter.

It is true that trans people were not categorized specifically as trans by the nazis (with few exceptions), because *they* saw trans people as Gay or lesbian due to a common misunderstanding in medicinal history to link gender and sexual orientation.

… This institute and Magnus himself advocated for LGBT rights in Weimar Germany, provided safe haven for many lgbt people and developed early methods of trans transitioning healthcare, many developed versions of which still exist today.

The Nazis targeted this place and saw no practical difference between LGBT people. They saw us all as sexual degenerates. They were nazis, they’re kind of dicks that way.

Were trans people targeted as a separate category? Mostly, no: they were considered gay or lesbian and given the same pink triangles. But there were exceptions. Sometimes trans people were targeted.

In November 11, 1933 the head of the Hamburg police was told to pay special attention to transvestites (a term which then means trans people as well as cross dressers) and bring them to concentration camps.

in 1938, a german medical journal recommended that the “phenomena of transvestism” be exterminated from public life and said that the current measures (concentration camps) were good enough for this task.

…during the bookburning of the entire library of the institute, the one thing they made sure to not burn was the member roster, which contained names and addresses which they used to round up as many people as they could and shuffle into concentration camps.

That roster, incidentally, is one reason trans people really, really don’t like the idea of any kind of register of trans people being created.

To say trans people weren’t targeted by the Nazis is patently untrue. In fact, it’s Holocaust denial: as soon as you ignore the evidence of what the Nazis did because you hate one of the groups they targeted, you open up the door to others: the homophobes, the racists, the anti-semites.

As a feminist woman I know put it (no name or link because I don’t want to send extremists her way):

This is not difference of opinion, or “debate” or “discussion” or “concern for women.” It is Nazi revisionism and it is fuelled by hatred and it should concern anyone opposed to far right rhetoric creeping into our democracy.

The Holocaust is not, and should never be, something to “debate”.

“Our side concocted the ‘bathroom safety’ argument”

There’s an interesting opinion piece by an unnamed member of MassResistance, part of the anti-LGBT movement that suffered a landslide defeat in its attempts to repeal trans rights in Massachusetts. It includes a telling admission of something that’s widely known but rarely written down.

The rallying cry of the pro-family groups trying to repeal the law was the well-known “bathroom safety” argument – that in addition to transgenders, this law allows male sexual predators to lurk in women’s restrooms to prey on girls and women. This was technically true, but was largely contrived.

“Largely contrived” is an understatement. The only dangerous people in bathrooms in the US appear to be right-wing politicians and anti-trans activists.

MassResistance tried to get the campaign to adopt other discredited anti-trans arguments, but ‘Massachusetts “conservative” news outlets were skittish about deviating from the relatively comfortable “bathroom safety” argument.’

The group would have preferred to use three different arguments, which are somewhat familiar.

(1) the LGBT movement’s “civil rights” argument has no basis whatsoever; (2) that “transgenderism” is actually a mental disorder and a destructive ideology, and (3) this law forces people to accept an absurd lie – men can never become women.

All three are wrong. Trans people deserve the same civil rights as anybody else, and that includes the right to use public facilities and to live free from discrimination. Thanks to a little thing we like to call “evidence”, the medical and psychiatric establishment says that being trans isn’t a mental illness; it’s just part of the variety of human brains and bodies. And people born in male bodies clearly can and do become women if there’s a mismatch between their outward characteristics and their identity.

It’s an interesting look at what lives under a rock. The unnamed poster feels that the campaign against equal marriage wasn’t nearly nasty enough:

…they refused to argue that homosexuality was immoral, had terrible health risks, was fraught with addiction and mental health problems, etc.

Instead, they concocted less offensive arguments such as, “Every child needs a father and a mother” and “the word ‘marriage’ is special” – and used them almost exclusively.

And the poster fears history repeating.

Our side concocted the “bathroom safety” male predator argument as a way to avoid an uncomfortable battle over LGBT ideology, and still fire up people’s emotions. It worked in Houston a few years ago.

But the LGBT lobby has now figured out how to beat it.

Love wins.

Words have consequences

The Daily Mail:

 

Elsewhere in an American high school, members of staff attempt to break into a locked toilet stall because a trans  teenager is in it. In a different school, a lesbian student is beaten up because of her boyish presentation. In October a lesbian woman was kicked out of a bowling alley for looking ‘too masculine’. The same thing happened in North Carolina in June, when a lesbian woman was thrown out of a bathroom by the police: “You got no ID? Get out!” In May, a woman was harassed in a toilet because she was wearing a baseball cap: ‘the woman went up to Aimee and said “you’re disgusting” and “you don’t belong here” before flipping her off.’

This is what happens when you demonise people, when you tell people that someone’s very presence is a threat to you and to your children. For some people, “looking a bit trans” is sufficient grounds for action against a complete stranger who’s minding their own business.

It’s not just people like me. It’s particularly horrific for refugees, especially since the whole Brexit mess began. The Overton Window, the range of political discourse that’s considered acceptable in society, has moved so far to the right that supposedly mainstream political parties are echoing the manifestos of the BNP and other far right groups from previous decades. What used to be unacceptable racism is now “asking difficult questions”.

That demonisation has consequences big and small, and it always, always ends up with people getting attacked. For example, this week we saw horrific footage of a Syrian kid being “waterboarded” by bullies; it’s the latest in a campaign of abuse that’s seen him being doused with water, verbally abused and his hair set on fire, as well as physical violence. His sister has been bullied too.

The same Daily Mail that’s so concerned about Rain Dove was also concerned about this kid: after years of demonising refugees, the Mail can’t imagine why anybody would pick on a child just because he’s Syrian. The Sun thinks it’s a shocking crime too. That’s the same Sun that paid Katie Hopkins to call immigrants “cockroaches”.

You’ve got to admire the process here. First of all, newspapers help to create a climate of fear and hatred. Then, they get to run shocked stories when people act on that fear and hatred.

These publications aren’t just reporting hate crime. They’re fostering it.

“What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here”

One of the weird things about being trans – and it’s one thing from a long list – is that if you’re male to female, you move from a life of great privilege to one where you’re among a minority. That’s not to say pre-transition you live a life of great power and glory, but in everything from career assumptions to how safe you feel walking home from the pub you inhabit a very different world from the one women do and the one you’ll come out into.

That can cause dissonance sometimes, or at least it does for me.

Here are two examples. One, a friend asked me to do a talk to some students. And two, I signed up for a mailing list dedicated to music.

These are things I’ve done before, but this time they were different. In example one, the person organising the talks has a policy to always look for lecturers from minority groups (it’s a field dominated by straight white guys). And in example two, the group is for women in music.

It’s very strange. In both cases I’ve been specifically included – my friend invited me partly because she knew I’d be up for it, and partly because as a trans person I’m part of a minority; the mailing list says it is for women and “people who identify as women” – but I still feel as if somebody’s wired my impostor syndrome to the National Grid. I’m worried that in the first case I’m taking the place of someone more deserving; in the second that I won’t have anything valuable to offer and that I’m going to be viewed with a certain degree of suspicion due to my previous life as a bloke.

More than anything, I feel embarrassed by privilege I don’t have any more.

A lot of this is internalised transphobia, I know: today, like every other day, national papers have run pieces suggesting that trans women are just men trying  to fraudulently gain access to women’s spaces. Even though I know it’s bullshit, four decades of that stuff means that a lot of it sticks.

But I think it’s also that to be trans and transition as an adult can leave you in a strange place. It certainly did for me. I was never any good at being male, but I spent too long living in that identity for me to ever feel comfortable being female or to feel that I deserve to be included in anything affirmative. It may say Great Britain on my passport but I’m a citizen of nowhere.

God, save me from your idiot followers

SNP MSP John Mason is outraged by plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act.

In a letter to Glasgow’s Herald newspaper, Mr Mason says he is deeply concerned that Scotland is “trying to override science” by recognising that trans people exist.

I’ll save you the scientific evidence, which I’ve linked to endlessly, and simply post this example of Mr Mason’s other robust pro-science views.

Update: Just after I posted this, the following article from Tidsskriftet (the Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association) appeared in my news feed.

the ideas of purity that are partly rooted in national conservatism and partly in religious fundamentalism are not echoed by science.

The timing amused me. Maybe that was part of God’s plan.

Scottish Government analysis of Gender Recognition Act reform

A bit of light Friday reading for anybody interested in trans rights: the Scottish Government has published its analysis of its consultation over possible reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.

It’s interesting for all kinds of reasons, including numbers: the anti-trans hysteria hadn’t really got into gear in time for this one, so there were just under 16,000 responses compared to more than 100,000 for the English consultation. Despite that, the (small) majority of responses were from people and organisations outside Scotland who would not be affected by any changes.

Overall, 49% of respondents to the consultation are resident in Scotland, with 38% resident in the rest of the UK and the remaining 13% resident elsewhere in the world.

A phrase that comes up again and again in the analysis is that a particular point of view – inevitably, an anti-trans one – was largely put forward by respondents from outside Scotland.

Nevertheless, sober voices prevailed.

The majority of respondents, 60% of those answering the question, agreed with the proposal to introduce a self-declaratory system for legal gender recognition.

Doing the right thing

This is wonderful. The TIE Campaign on Twitter:

It’s not perfect. Private schools are exempt. But if you aren’t LGBT and didn’t go to school in the era of Section 28, it’s hard to express just how incredibly big a deal this is.

The Daily Record, Scotland’s favourite newspaper. This nonsense, which is bad enough, was over Section 28 repeal in 2000: things were even more toxic in the 1980s.

When I went to school, 70% of people thought LGBT people were abominations. The Government, aided and abetted by the tabloids, deliberately fostered anti-gay prejudice of the “they are coming for your children” variety. I’ve written more about that era here.

Section 28 made it illegal for local authorities – who ran state schools – to “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” By “promote”, the legislation meant “describe”. LGBT kids didn’t get proper sex and relationship education and many in-school support groups shut down fearing prosecution.

And now, we have our government vowing to protect LGBT kids and putting measures in place to do just that.

As David Jamieson reports for Commonspace: (the site’s been having some issues so it might not load)

Tie Campaign co-founder Jordan Daly said: “After three years of campaigning, we are delighted that LGBT-inclusive education will now become a reality in all of Scotland’s state schools.

“This means that all young people will learn about the LGBT community; their contributions to our society, the history of our equal rights movements, and the impact of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic prejudice and bullying.

“The implementation of LGBT-inclusive education across all state schools is a world first, and in a time of global uncertainty, this sends a strong and clear message to LGBT young people that they are valued here in Scotland.

This will save lives. I love this country so much sometimes.

Oh lord, save me from sniggering bigotry

Imagine this.

It’s 2018 and a publicity-seeking entrepreneur embarks on a high-profile court case.

“If it’s okay for black men to marry white women, then it should be OK for me to marry my pet pig,” he chuckles. Newspapers and radio make it their light-hearted story of the week.

No? Let’s try this one.

It’s 2018 and a publicity-seeking entrepreneur embarks on a high-profile court case.

“If it’s okay for lesbian women to marry, then it should be OK for me to marry my dog,” he sniggers. Newspapers and radio make it their light-hearted story of the week.

No?

It’s 2018 and a publicity-seeking entrepreneur embarks on a high-profile court case.

“If it’s okay for disabled people to get special parking spaces, then it should be OK for me to identify as disabled,” he snorts. Newspapers and radio make it their light-hearted story of the week.

Still not with me?

It’s 2018 and a publicity-seeking entrepreneur embarks on a high-profile court case.

“If it’s okay for trans people to change their legal genders, then it should be OK for me to change my legal date of birth,” he snorts. Newspapers and radio make it their light-hearted story of the week.

That one happened.

The guy’s intent doesn’t matter; it’s irrelevant whether he genuinely feels hard done by or if he’s using this to promote something. There is no substantive difference between the coverage of this story and repeating the “I identify as an attack helicopter” abuse trans people get on social media. It reinforces the trope that trans people are tricksters or mentally ill, that legal gender is something people change on a whim.

Meanwhile in news you probably didn’t see today, Reuters reports that UK doctors push one in five trans people to discredited “pray the gay away” conversion therapy and that LGBT patients experience “shockingly high levels of hostility and unfair treatment” in their dealings with healthcare professionals.

That’s trans folks’ light-hearted story of the week, and every week.

How advertising regulation doesn’t work

Last month, the extremely dodgy anti-trans group Fair Play For Women dropped a five-figure sum on a full page advert in the Metro claiming that reforms to the Gender Recognition Act would threaten women’s safety. It was cynical. It was designed to whip up hatred. And it was absolute bullshit.

Some of us complained to the Advertising Standards Agency, which regulates print advertising. They’ve just sent me their verdict.

With regards to the complaint you made, also along with several other complainants, we understand that you are concerned that the ad misleadingly implied that women will be at risk as a result of the Gender Recognition Act consultation. After assessing the ad in light of this concern, we think it may have broken the Advertising Rules on misleadingness and we have taken steps the address this.

Unfortunately the verdict is irrelevant and the steps – telling the group not to make such claims again – are pointless. The advertisement ran, the government consultation is now closed. Trans people were silenced; unfortunately the bigots weren’t.