On names and pronouns: don’t be an arse

Following on from yesterday’s daft Sunday Times story, Owl Stefania writes in iNews in defence of using the correct pronouns.

It’s just the compassionate and right thing to do. Because in the end, why would anyone deliberately go out of their way to harm another human being?

There does appear to be a double standard in operation.

People seem fine calling drag queens “she” and “her”; for example, most of the coverage I’ve seen about Celebrity Big Brother winner Courtney Act calls her “Courtney” and uses “she/her”, even though Courtney is Shane offstage and doesn’t identify as female.

But if trans people ask for the same courtesy, they’re somehow wicked.

It can’t be authenticity we’re worried about. We don’t seem to have a problem with Bono, born Paul Hewson, even though he took his name from a hearing aid shop. Guitarist The Edge was born David Evans, and took his name from an imaginary character in an imaginary village.

Fish, formerly of Marillion, isn’t a fish.

Snoop Dogg isn’t a dog.

Ice-T isn’t made of ice or tea.

To the best of my knowledge, Sting doesn’t.

And that’s before we list the many women who’ve changed their name, from Miley Cyrus (Hope) and Jodie Foster (Alicia) to Whoopi Goldberg (Caryn Johnson), Shania Twain (Eilleen Edwards) and bell hooks (Gloria Watkins).

Of course, these are pseudonyms, noms de plume or stage names. But all the world’s a stage.

If you met any of the people I’ve mentioned in real life you wouldn’t insist on calling them by their birth names because that’d be rude and their people would probably have you thrown down the nearest staircase.

There’s no reason to call anybody by anything other than their preferred name: if you insist on doing otherwise, you’re an arse.

Parasites and the turkeys voting for Xmas

I love this cartoon by Paul Noth in The New Yorker.

This week the Conservative MP David Davies (not the successful one; that’s David Davis. This one’s the MP for Monmouth) held a meeting of anti-trans militants in the House of Commons. The speakers are well known for their extreme views.

As Newsweek reports (the UK media hasn’t covered it beyond LGBT magazine Pink News; it contradicts the narrative of brave women standing up against wicked trans):

An academic who reportedly compared trans people to parasites during an event held at the British Parliament has been accused by LGBT rights advocates of using “fascist” and “dehumanizing” language.

I’ve read pretty detailed reports of what was said at the meeting and none of it was surprising, but it’s surprising that it was welcomed in the House of Commons.

Or maybe it isn’t, because Davies’ voting record is spectacularly anti-LGBT and arguably anti-women too. He was famously described as being on the “far right of the Conservative party”, is a climate change sceptic, was a passionate opponent of equal marriage, has problems with charities such as Save The Children and has repeatedly voted against legislation to make LGBT people’s lives and poor people’s lives better.

You might think he’s an arsehole. I couldn’t possibly comment. But supporting anti-trans bigots is hardly a stretch for him.

Still, it’s ironic to see one of the meeting’s organisers happily posing with Davies and thanking him on Twitter for “standing up for lesbians”, when his entire political career is based on doing exactly the opposite.

But then, it’s also ironic to see the same activists gleefully fuelling anti-trans hit pieces in right-wing newspapers, those famed supporters of women’s equality and LGBT rights.

I can’t help thinking that in the future, the activists rushing into alliances with hard-right conservatives here and in the US will become like the Twitter joke: “I can’t believe leopards are eating my face, says the woman who voted for the Leopards Eating Your Face Party.”

But disgust makes people do strange things, and disgust is clearly the background here. “Parasites” may be a relative newcomer, but the sentiment behind it isn’t.

The members of the Gender Cynical wiki on the social media site Reddit collated the various terms and allegations made against trans people by self-declared “gender critical” people on just that website. When you see them all listed it’s really something.⁠1

As the wiki notes (with references for each; often, lots and lots of references), our heroes claim trans people — and primarily trans women — are:

Dangerous, rapists, “the bad guys”, “easy to spot”, “paedophile rights activists”, “men’s rights activists”, “men’s rights activists with a sissy fetish”, “like men’s rights activists who go on shooting sprees”, mentally ill, too mentally ill to consent to changing sex, too mentally ill to work, too mentally ill to fly planes, disgusted by mentally ill people, insane, psychopaths, sociopaths, untrustworthy, delusional, obsessed with Wikipedia, narcissists, whiny women, screeching, shrieking, a bunch of entitled assholes, a cult, armed robbers, just another dangerous fad, submissives, “natural slaves”, unworthy of empathy, openly paedophilic, autistic, sexually exhibitionistic, stereotypical, not stereotypical enough, “correctively raping young lesbians”, “lying and deceptive creeps appropriating the experiences of an oppressed class they cannot ever be a part of”, contagious, predators, death metal fans who befriend men, representatives of rapists, in need of humiliation, sick, disgusting, unnatural, drag queens, a deviant minority, more socially accepted than gay people, mistaken, subhuman, male supremacists, male supremacist victims of psychological warfare, inherently sexualised, an elite aristocracy funded by 76 large corporations, femme gay men, straight men with low self esteem, socially awkward autistic men who hate lesbians, hysterical, fetishists, “outright perverts and criminals”, abusers, latent mass murderers, “the worst thing to happen to gay people since AIDS”.

It’s quite the list. I’m surprised nobody’s claiming we can’t swim or that we have lower IQs.

Bear this in mind the next time you hear these people say they want a reasoned debate.

1 https://www.reddit.com/r/GenderCynical/wiki/index

Preference vs prejudice and the politics of disgust

There’s a fascinating piece by philosopher Amia Srinivasan in the London Review of Books about sex, sexuality and entitlement.

It’s wide ranging and covers everything from “incels” – self-proclaimed “involuntary celibates” who believe they can’t get laid because women are evil – to LGBTQ people.

The core question is whether anybody is entitled to sex, and of course the answer to that is no.

But that doesn’t mean sex and sexual preferences don’t have a political element. Apologies in advance if I get any terminology wrong; I’m not well versed in the correct language to use in these topics.

Consider the supreme fuckability of ‘hot blonde sluts’ and East Asian women, the comparative unfuckability of black women and Asian men, the fetishisation and fear of black male sexuality, the sexual disgust expressed towards disabled, trans and fat bodies. These too are political facts, which a truly intersectional feminism should demand that we take seriously. But the sex-positive gaze, unmoored from Willis’s call to ambivalence, threatens to neutralise these facts, treating them as pre-political givens. In other words, the sex-positive gaze risks covering not only for misogyny, but for racism, ableism, transphobia, and every other oppressive system that makes its way into the bedroom through the seemingly innocuous mechanism of ‘personal preference’.

Srinivasan talks about the so-called “cotton ceiling”, an unfortunate term for the othering of trans women. It’s been wrongly and maliciously characterised as trans women demanding lesbians have sex with them.

The term was coined by trans porn star Drew DeVeax in 2012 to describe what she felt was a tendency in feminist and queer spaces to welcome trans women in theory, but to think of them as weird, icky and totally unfuckable in practice. Getting past the cotton ceiling, then, would mean women believing that trans women could be sexually attractive — that trans women were women, not things.

Similar discussions happen around ableism or fat shaming, where people who don’t conform to a particular societal norm may feel that they are tolerated but not considered desirable.

Nobody’s demanding anything when they talk about this stuff. They’re just pointing out that what you prefer in the bedroom may be shaped by what you experience outside the bedroom – and that what you prefer in the bedroom may also shape how you act outside the bedroom.

Whatever gets you through the night

Let’s say you aren’t attracted to fat women. That’s a preference. We all have preferences, because that’s how people work. My particular preference is funny, smart, beautiful women who don’t fancy me, because God has a sick sense of humour. I can’t say I’ve ever been attracted to a man, the odd pop star excepted (have you seen the band REM put through a gender swap? Michael Stipe would have made a beautiful woman, because he was and still is a beautiful man). But I don’t think guys are disgusting. They just don’t float my boat.

Let’s take another example: maybe you love big girls but not big trans girls.  Again, a preference. But where does that preference come from? Is it just your personal thing, or is it because you’ve spent decades seeing men on screen vomiting after being “tricked” by a trans woman because trans women are disgusting?

Pass the sick bag

One of the most famous scenes in Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is when Carrey discovers he has kissed somebody who’s trans. This revelation causes him to throw up twice into the toilet bowl and then clean his teeth so vigorously he goes through an entire tube of toothpaste.

It happened in The Crying Game too, and in Naked Gun 33⅓. Horror at trans women is also played for laughs in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Hangover Part II and in a particularly repellent example, in the cartoon The Cleveland Show. The “trans as disgusting trickster” trope is widespread on social media.

Still, it makes a change from portraying trans people as murderers. For decades popular culture has treated trans people in a very negative way.

So it’s worth considering where preferences may come from. Are you just not into somebody, or have you been conditioned to believe that gay people, or trans people, or fat people are somehow lesser people or worthy of disgust?

This matters. There are many kinds of people I’m not usually attracted to, but I don’t think any of them are disgusting. They’re just not my type.

That’s the difference between preference and prejudice.

Guys not floating my boat is a preference. Thinking guys are disgusting, or that guys who like guys are disgusting, is a prejudice.

Not being into big women is a preference. Believing that big women are disgusting and lazy is prejudice.

Not wanting to sleep with a non-op trans woman is a preference. Believing nobody could want to sleep with a trans woman because trans women are disgusting is prejudice.

The politics of disgust

Being prejudiced doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll discriminate against a group of people, although it often does. But it does make it much more likely that you’ll support discrimination against that group. The politics of disgust – focusing on “dole scroungers” and single mums, promiscuous gay men and trans people – is widespread and keeps papers like the Daily Mail in business.

Disgust is a visceral, powerful, dangerous thing. If an entire class of people disgust you, that means you see them as lesser humans.

Here’s an example of disgust in action. The “gay panic” defence (and its successor, trans panic) has been used in court to justify murder: “it turned out he was gay. I was so disgusted that I panicked and stabbed him 37 times”. Such a defence has been used in around half of the states in the US, and only two states have explicitly prohibited it.

This isn’t ancient history. Just last week, a sex offender called Mark Lewis escaped prosecution for killing a young, black trans woman. He claims that they had been kissing, and when she grabbed his backside he panicked and pushed her into the river, where she drowned. He didn’t try to help her.

There’s no doubt that he did it. He said so, twice. But thanks to a bungled prosecution that focused not on his manslaughter charge but the much lesser crime of failing to register as a sex offender, he’s a free man who can’t be prosecuted over the death. The manslaughter of Kenne McFadden is a “terrible tragedy”. Just one of those things.

But it isn’t. Lewis’s lawyers claimed self defence, and they were confident that had the case been tried by jury they would have won in that arena too. As his attorney put it: “what my client actually did was push a person off of him who was touching him in an offensive manner.”

Call me cynical, but whenever somebody I’m kissing grabs my backside I don’t immediately panic, push them in a river and watch them die.

And this is where the personal becomes political. Would Lewis have been disgusted, would he have reacted the way he did, if Kenne McFadden had been white and cisgender, not black and transgender? Would the defence be so sure of victory? Would the prosecution have been allowed to make such boneheaded decisions? Would it still be just one of those things, a terrible tragedy in a country where such tragedies happen far too often?

Maybe. But I doubt it.

Ricky Gervais lacks humanity

Ray Burmiston/Netflix

I don’t find Ricky Gervais funny. I thought the US remake of The Office was much better than the original, largely because he wasn’t in it: I couldn’t shift the feeling that his portrayal of a boorish, charmless arsehole wasn’t acting. I’ve been proved right many times since.

Writing in Vulture.com, Matt Zoller Seitz takes issue with his latest stand-up special, Humanity, mainly because like Gervais’s previous stand-up shows large swathes of it are tedious and unfunny. But he also takes issue with the topic that dominates the show: Gervais’ belief that he’s being persecuted.

Gervais devotes much of this special — which lasts about an hour and 20 minutes — to complaining that the world keeps telling him what he can and can’t say.

That’s a man worth £55 million, on stage in front of devoted fans, being filmed for a Netflix special that’ll be shown worldwide.

Nobody is denying a platform for Gervais, Chappelle, Chris Rock, or even Louis C.K. (who had a Netflix special last year, a few months before his career imploded). They’re free to say whatever they want during their routines, and Netflix is free to give them time and space in which to say it. What seems to infuriate these comedians, however, is that audiences can talk back more easily now and say, “I don’t like that,” or “I didn’t find that funny,” or “That seemed cruel to me.

We’re back to misunderstanding free speech. Free speech says the government can’t put you in jail for having an opinion. It doesn’t say you should be free from criticism.

What comedians like Gervais object to is being made to think about what they’ve said, and potentially feel regret or guilt over having made a poor choice of material or words. That their initial impulse is to feel anger and resentment at the person raising an objection is telling.

…What these comedians are demanding is that we respect their feelings while they exercise their constitutionally safeguarded prerogative to hurt other people’s feelings. That’s not a level playing field. It’s the power dynamic preferred by a playground bully, in which all the discomfort flows in one direction: away from them.

There’s something particularly risible about a multi-millionaire picking on marginalised groups and then claiming to be a victim.

I haven’t got lazyitis

Quack! Quack! Quack!

There’s a well known trick in the bullshit community: if you give something a scientific or medical sounding name, you can persuade some people that bullshit isn’t bullshit. It’s a technique used by quacks and scoundrels and rapacious corporations alike.

Today’s example is “rapid onset gender dysphoria”, which is appearing in various right wing newspapers and on social media.

The idea is that the sudden visibility of trans people isn’t because visible role models, online information and social media support encourages people to come out (hello!) when they’d previously stayed miserable in the closet.

No, it’s because trans is a magic space disease you can catch from internets.

The short version: bullshit!

The longer version: bulllllllllllllllllllllllshit!

The Advocate does an excellent takedown of the supposed science:

The entire theory is based on a single poster abstract in 2017 by Dr. Lisa Littman. Poster abstracts are often published when not only is the material too weak to be a journal article, but of insufficient quality to even be accepted for oral presentation at a conference. As such, the academic bar for a poster abstract getting accepted is very low. It was, however, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Littman’s abstract suffers from so many methodological flaws, logical errors, and unacknowledged biases that it fits firmly in the category of junk science.

Please do read the whole thing, but the executive summary is this: so-called rapid onset gender dysphoria is based on a survey of anti-trans activists on three anti-trans websites. Asked whether they believed being trans was something kids caught from the internet, those activists – who suggest being trans can be cured by yoga, among other nonsense – said yes. Those responses were then used to “prove” that being trans is something kids caught from the internet.

The same “social contagion” argument was used to describe the increased visibility of left-handed people in the 20th Century. Look at the scary graph!

The answer was simpler: when we stopped bullying left-handed people, left-handed people felt safer and stopped pretending to be right-handed.

As the BBC reports, quoting Chris McManus, professor of psychology and medical education at University College London:

“The natural rate of left-handedness is around 10% or 11%, but the rate was pushed down artificially during the Victorian period,” says Chris McManus.

“You can see it going down from about 1800 onwards through to about 1900.”

Not only would left-handed people have been encouraged not to be during this period, life was also pretty difficult for them and they quickly became very conspicuous.

“They went to work in factories using machines designed for right-handers – and the left-handers looked awkward,” says McManus.

“And then compulsory schooling came along and they were obliged to sit in classrooms and try and write with their right hand using an ink pen and they made a mess. The result of all of this was that left-handers became stigmatised – regarded as cack-handed, stupid.”

So, some of the people who had died on those Californian lists may well have been born left-handed, but spent most of their lives acting and identifying as right-handers.

What this so-called theory is trying to explain is something we already have a perfectly good term for: coming out.

Trans people are quite used to other people’s pseudoscientific bullshit. For example, a long-discredited theory called autogynephilia posits that all trans people fall into two categories: gay men who want to be women so they can have sex with men, and straight men who are turned on by the thought of being women. What about trans men? They’re all confused lesbians.

That one has been kicking about since the 80s and is still used by anti-trans activists today despite being repeatedly and comprehensively debunked; if rapid onset gender dysphoria doesn’t gain similar traction we’ll get some other pseudoscientific bullshit claiming we have madeupitis, Shatner’s Bassoon Deficiency or some other invented condition that the quick to print and slow to think can put in their articles.

Whatever they call it, it’ll be flummadiddle, skimble-skamble and arkymalarky.

(The blog title’s from Lazyitis by Manchester band Happy Mondays)

“The world is very different when you walk in women’s shoes”

Metro asked me to write about International Women’s Day from the perspective of a trans person.

There’s no method to this madness, no reason for it. Men aren’t from Mars, women aren’t from Venus, and nobody’s made of slugs, snails or puppy dogs’ tails, let alone sugar and spice and all things nice. The only reason we value supposedly masculine traits and roles over supposedly feminine ones, the only reason women are treated so badly, is because – surprise! – the people who’ve traditionally decided what’s important are a bunch of guys.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

I posted the other day about supposed trans-species people, but I think my point got a bit lost.

  • Transgender people are real.
  • Werewolves, elves and dragons aren’t.

There’s no such thing as a dragon spectrum, where some people are a little bit dragon and others quite a lot.

There’s no chromosome that makes you an elf.

No hormone that’ll make you a werewolf.

Whereas transgender people are part of the infinite variety of human brains and bodies.

Think of it like making soup: a slight change in the recipe, in the quality of the ingredients, in the way you cook, in the amount of seasoning you add or the time you cook can have a big effect on the end result.

What’s true for minestrone is equally true for human beings. Our biological soup has room for all kinds of variations.

How journalism should work

Imagine if journalists writing articles about things spoke to people with expert knowledge of those things.

That’s what Caitlin Logan does.

To find out what concerns Scottish women’s groups may have about gender reform, trans people and self-ID, she spoke to women’s groups: Engender, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, the Young Women’s Movement (YWCA Scotland), Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, Forth Valley Rape Crisis, Edinburgh Women’s Aid, and Shakti Women’s Aid.

This is what a trans debate should look like: sober, sensible, well-informed. The reason we don’t get that debate is because all too often, the only opinions sought by journalists are from bigots and cranks.

The Scottish Government’s consultation on gender reform ends this Thursday, and has been the subject of a co-ordinated campaign by said bigots and cranks. If you have a more reasoned opinion, it’d be great if you could add your voice. 

Here’s what the Equality Network has to say in its open letter to LGB people, our friends and our families.

This is a debate about how some of the most marginalised people in our community are treated. It’s about making things just that little bit easier for trans people. It’s about dignity but most of all its about making Scotland a more equal place.

As Logan’s article makes it clear, a great deal of what you’ve read about the proposed reforms simply isn’t true.

A mental elf issue

Here’s one of my favourite jokes.

A man walks into a bar and orders a drink. He looks at the other patrons and realises that the man next to him has a small orange for a head.

“Excuse me,” he says. “I can’t help noticing that –”

“I have a small orange for a head?”


“Would you like to know why?”

“Yes. Yes, please.”

“Well, once upon a time I found a grimy old lamp. I cleaned it up with an old rag and to my great surprise a genie popped out. ‘O Master!’ he said. ‘You have freed me from my prison! I shall grant you three wishes!’ Great, I thought. So I wished for great riches and good health, and he granted me both.”

“My goodness!” said the first man. “So what on earth was your third wish?”

“My third wish?”


“Oh,” said the man. “I just wished I had a small orange for a head.”

The case of Luis Padron reminded me of it, because he too has a small orange for a head.

No, not really. But he’s spent £45,000 to make himself look like an elf.

This, inevitably, is being reported as him being “trans-species”, which he isn’t, because elves don’t exist.

Also, he specifically says he isn’t trans-species. The Daily Mail:

During his appearance on This Morning Luis revealed that he is often described as ‘trans-species’ but says that this is not something he agrees with.

That said, this time last year he reportedly told the Daily Mail that he did consider himself trans-species “in the same way transgender people feel”.

The Mirror went with this headline:

‘Trans-species’ fantasy lover born in wrong body risked life for costly and painful £45,000 transformation into an ELF

Whether Padron believes himself to be trans-species doesn’t really matter, though. Some people do claim to be trans-species, and they’re problematic for trans people.

We’re the last people to want to police other people’s identities, but this stuff is inevitably used to delegitimise trans people: the “identify as” trope that’s used to belittle and mock us.

(Incidentally, there’s a fascinating article to be written about the surgeons who facilitate these transformations, like the US border surgeons who treat the mental illness of body dysmorphia by amputating healthy limbs: there’s a lot of money moving around. But again, this is problematic because people would lump them in with the surgeons who operate on trans people.)

I have absolutely no problem with anybody who wants to look like an elf, or a cat, or Barbie’s partner Ken. But there’s a huge difference between that and being transgender. Identifying as a werewolf, as some people do, is just dicking about on the internet. Getting yourself to look like an elf is akin to wanting a small orange for a head.

This matters because trans people are, as I’ve written before, the target of a wedge strategy attacking all LGBT people. The word “real” is used again and again. Equal marriage is not real marriage. Trans women are not real women. Being trans is not a real thing.

Rights are only for real people.

In other words, this shit has consequences.

Claiming to be trans-species (or trans-racial, a term used in adoptions but appropriated by a white woman called Rachel Dolezal amid much controversy) gives people yet another stick to beat transgender people with.

It filters through the culture, too.

Here’s David Sexton, sniggering in The Standard over books by two people pretending to be animals in order to get book deals:

Transgender has a challenger. Once the Kardashians have become leaders in the field, transgender can hardly claim to be transgressive… Time to move on. A new frontier beckons. Trans-speciesism is the future. There are plenty of people out there who suffer from species dysphoria these days. They feel they are a non-human species trapped in a human body, rather along the lines in which transgender people feel gender dysphoria. We may just be at the start of a major new liberation movement.

Does he finish with the “I identify as…” trope? Of course he does.

For myself, I have long identified as, essentially, a parrot, a blue-fronted Amazon I think: cheerful jabbering and plenty of nuts.

Here are some tweets and comments about Padron’s story.

“See what happens when we give a bit of understanding to nutters? Trans has now moved on to this. But we must accept this as normal in our schools I suppose.”

“He looks like a fairy. Maybe one day he will realise he wants to be a woman.”

“I was waiting for species to be added to the list of trans identities.”

“This BE WHO YOU REALLY ARE trend has got to stop!”

In many cases trans-species is used to argue against the whole trans political-correctness-gone-mad thing, with commenters urging others to check out the videos of virulent alt-right bigots.

This is part of the drip-drip-drip I’ve blogged about previously. Seeing somebody described as “trans-species” on breakfast television might not mean much to you or have any effect on your day, but for us it’s different: it’s yet another thing people use against us, yet more “evidence” that we aren’t real.