A wee problem

The photo above was shared on social media yesterday; it’s from the Spice Girls gig in Manchester. Apparently there were similar scenes at last night’s Pink concert in Glasgow, where not one but two security guards were posted outside the gents to stop women from using the cubicles.

I’m not (just) brilliant. I’m privileged

It’s funny how privilege tends to make people lucky.

Game designer Owen Goss injects a healthy dose of reality into the “if I can do it, you can too!” school of careers advice. As he points out, privilege and luck have a huge role to play.

Indie games are a hard thing to make a living at. And yes, I’ve worked very hard to keep doing what I do, but so have the myriad of other indies who haven’t been as lucky and weren’t able to keep doing it full-time. I know how lucky and privileged I’ve been, and I’m very grateful.

It’s the same in my line of work. I got into tech journalism by accident: the right idea to the right person in the right mood at the right time. I got into broadcasting by being in the right place at the right time; into copywriting because I knew the right people, and so on.

We like to kid ourselves that we’re where we are by virtue of our God-given talent and our work ethic, but a lot of it’s just luck.

And the more privileged you are, the luckier you tend to be.

I’ve written about privilege before. It’s the advantage you have in life from not being something: not being a woman, not being black, not being poor, not being LGBT+ and so on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your life is great; just that those particular factors – your gender, your colour, your class, etc – don’t make it worse.

And I’m enormously privileged. I’m reasonably well educated. I had parental support when I was starting off, and when I hit financial problems that would otherwise have forced me into a different line of work. I haven’t been taken less seriously or harassed because of my gender, refused opportunities because of my colour, discriminated against because of my sexuality, unable to take advantage of educational opportunities because of my parents’ income. Nobody was able to discriminate me because of my gender identity because I didn’t come out as trans until I already had a career.

Privilege is the secret of many people’s success. There was a hilarious example of it yesterday, someone who’d paid off a huge pile of debt: “If I can do it, anyone can!”

The article detailed how the person’s parents bought them a flat which they rented out while living with their parents, using the rental income to drive down the debt.

“If I can do it, anyone whose parents buy them a house and let them live rent-free while they rent it out can!” is slightly less inspirational.

It’s the same in work. “If I can do it, anyone can!” often turns out to rely on a whole network of privilege and tons of luck. And even if you do get in, there are still factors affecting you that might not affect others, factors that can prevent you from building a career in that sector.

One of the biggest ones is money. Some sectors simply don’t pay enough for people to make a full time living from them.

Let’s take my official line of work as an example. I’m a freelance tech journalist, but actual tech journalism is a very small part of what I do now.

That’s because you can’t make a living from it any more.

The rates I’m being offered now are at best 1/3 lower than they were when I started 20 years ago; the length of articles being commissioned has been cut by 2/3. The time involved is unchanged.

When I started off in tech writing in 1998, you’d write a 3,000 word article and be paid somewhere in the region of £420 for it. Now the article, which requires the same amount of work, is £120. You’re often working for well below minimum wage.

And of course the world is a bit more expensive than it was in 1998. Back then the average UK house price was £65,221. Today it’s £226,798. Rents have soared similarly. The average annual gas bill in 1998 was £331 and electricity £388; now they’re £564 and £552. Petrol was 60p a litre; now it’s nudging £1.30.

When I started as a tech freelancer, you could make a living doing it. Now, you mostly can’t. Wages are so low that it’s something you need to do as an add-on to your main career, which in my case is a mix of commercial writing, book publishing, broadcasting and the odd bit of talking. Some of my peers moved sideways into education or PR.

Not everybody has those options.

Again, I’ve benefited from luck. Luck to have got into freelance tech journalism when it could still pay the rent. Luck to have found alternative forms of work before the money started to dry up. Luck to have the particular mix of skills and experience and contacts that gets you hired for copywriting gigs.

This isn’t a whinge. I’m lucky and privileged. And that’s my point.

I think we’re doing younger people a disservice if we don’t admit the power of privilege and luck in our narratives. If we perpetuate the idea that you can do anything if you just try hard enough, we’re ignoring the many factors that hear you say “Yes I can!” and reply “No, you can’t.”

Look at it in wider society, not just my line of work. We’re ignoring the structural factors that affect women and people of colour, the lack of representation, the discrimination and harassment, the old boys network, the problem of low wages and all the other factors that mean other people can’t simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Many of those factors can be challenged and changed, but they won’t be if we pretend they don’t exist.

Many of us, me included, are guilty of thinking the playing field is level because it worked for us. And that means all too often, when we say “I did it and you can too!” what we really say is “I’m okay! Screw you!”

“Menopause as a kind of ungendering”

This, by Darcey Steinke, is fascinating.

Without hormones my femininity is fraying. Twice I’ve been called “sir.” Once by a parking lot attendant and a second time by the young man who bagged my groceries. I did not correct them. Instead I tried to sit with the idea I’d been misgendered. I don’t possess the strong female signifiers I once did. My hair is not long and shiny, my skin is no longer smooth. Plus I do less to support my gender artificially. I wear more androgynous clothing and rarely put on makeup. I’ve lost interest in doing my female gender, propping it up. When I do dress up for a wedding or a bat mitzvah, I feel like a drag queen, performing a gender out of sync with my physicality; but unlike a drag queen, I don’t feel that gender is natural or correct.

“Yes, we’ll be safe. But at what cost?”

This is a powerful piece by Stella Duffy in response to today’s horrific photos of two lesbian women beaten up on a London bus.

THIS is what it’s like. Every fucking day that I am not behind the closed front door of my home. THIS is what it’s like to walk down the street with my wife and know that neither she nor I feel at ease holding each others’ hands let alone making any stronger gesture of love. THIS is what it’s like being queer and has been all of my adult life, most of my teenage life from the time I knew I was ‘different’ and was aware why I felt that way. Not knowing if we’re safe, not knowing what it might feel like to feel safe with my loved one.

In my head there’s nothing but music

Update: I never got to see Prince live, so I’m jealous that the excellent Professor Batty met him. Kinda.

I used to wonder why Prince gave away so many songs, many of which were enormous hits: The Bangles’ Manic Monday, Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U, Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You, Martika’s Love Thy Will Be Done and many, many more.

I think I get it now. He needed to make some room in his own head.

I’m not comparing myself to Prince here – a tendency to wear fishnets and a love of electric guitars is about as far as any comparison goes – but since I’ve got properly back into music I’ve found it almost impossible to cope with the number of songs I’m writing.

Earlier this year, my band set out to record a four-song EP. We ended up recording 13 songs, and then we broke up with our drummer and re-recorded them again. And in the meantime me and bassist Kenny kept writing. And writing. And writing.

Right now I reckon I’ve got 18 songs ready to mix and master, and another 18 in various stages of completeness. And the latter ones are pressuring me about the former. “Forget about those guys!” they say. “You’re with me now!”

I deal with this by ignoring both lots of songs and writing another one instead. I wrote one yesterday. It’s brilliant. Make that 19 other songs in various stages of completeness. It might be 20 by lunchtime. And those are just the songs I’ve written in the last six months or so. I’ve been doing this for years.

Not all of my songs are releasable, I know. Like any musician some of my songs are better than others. But I’m also well aware that some of the songs I’ve written just don’t fit with my band. For example, I’ve got a really great (and really badly recorded) song called I Didn’t Kiss You This Christmas that doesn’t fit the band I’m in. There are many, many more across all kinds of genres.

I doubt I’m alone in this. Music is one of those things where the more you do it, the more you do it: the act of creating something spurs you on to create something else. We’re only human, and we can only do so much.

If you’re Prince, you can pass some of your songs on to others. And if you aren’t, you’ll have to decide which ones to abandon forever.


What does the Bible say about gay people? Not much

You’ve probably heard of Bishop Thomas Tobin from Providence, Rhode Island by now. His tweet telling Catholics not to support Pride Month went viral and attracted a lot of comment, but very little of it was as intelligent and as powerful as this piece by Michael Coren. Coren is a former Catholic and who famously became an Anglican and publicly reversed his position on same-sex marriage.

This was shockingly repugnant language, even from a church that has actively campaigned against LGBTQ equality and now officially rejects even chaste gay men from its seminaries. The stinging irony of the “harmful for children” comment was inescapable, in that the Catholic clergy abuse crisis involved the sexual assault of myriad children and was denied or hidden for decades. Indeed, when Tobin was auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh, the diocese was named in a grand jury report concerning abuse and its obfuscation.

Coren asks an interesting question: does the Bible provide justification for the things Tobin said?

It often surprises people when they learn that the subject is hardly mentioned in the Bible, especially when we remember how much time people like Bishop Tobin devote to it. The Old Testament is often quoted, but without a thorough understanding and with a painful disregard for its authentic nature. These texts are not history, and certainly not some guide to contemporary living—witness the defence of slavery, ethnic cleansing, and the archaic treatment of women. The story of Sodom, for example, is actually about protecting one’s guests, and loving God, rather than condemning gays and lesbians. The homophobic element was injected centuries later by the early medieval church, for all sorts of political and sociological reasons.

…Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality at all, and is in fact startlingly unconcerned with the sex lives of those whom he encounters. The central teaching of the Gospels is love and compassion, and if one group does provoke him to anger it’s the puritans and moralists.

…Part of this narrative goes far beyond the Bible, of course. Horribly damaging church policies towards the LGBTQ community, and to women, Jews, and Indigenous people can often be traced to the need to preserve power and control and have had nothing at all to do with the frequently radical culture of, in particular, the New Testament.

Coren argues that the Bible “doesn’t say very much at all” about LGBT+ people.

What it does say, and sing and shout and demand, is empathy, kindness, and justice.

“Romantic America’s dead and gone.”

A beautiful, sad piece by Jenny Boylan in the NYT on Trump’s latest attack on trans people.

We live in a country in which white supremacists march with torches, in which the president mocks the disabledadvocates violence and calls the press the enemy of the people. Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?

…That’s why I wept. It’s not that he has created this nightmare. It’s that so many people — including ones I love — think it’s all just fine.

Let’s talk about gender recognition, shall we?

Let’s talk about gender recognition. I mean, it’s not as if it’s a controversial subject.

[Carrie looks sideways at the camera while comedy music plays]

Here’s the thing about the WHO’s long-anticipated removal of “transsexualism” and gender dysphoria from its classification of diseases and disorders: if being trans isn’t a mental disorder, which it isn’t, what happens to legislation that’s based on the understanding that being trans is a mental disorder?

What happens to the Gender Recognition Act 2004?

The GRA enables us to change our official paperwork – our birth certificates, our HMRC records and so on – so that it reflects our actual gender, not the one we were assigned at birth, and it makes our assigned gender “protected information”. If you disclose protected information in an official capacity – i.e. if you “out” us – you may be breaking the law.

Why would we need such a thing?

The GRA came about after two trans women, Christine Goodwin and another unnamed litigant, won a landmark legal case against the UK government. Goodwin argued that the government’s refusal to recognise her correct gender violated her right to a private life and her right to marry.

Goodwin had been living in her correct gender since 1985, and had gender confirmation surgery in 1990. However, more than a decade later the UK government insisted that she was a man.

The Department of Social Security refused to give her a new NI number or change the marker on her file from male to female; she was ineligible for the state pension (which at the time started at 60 for women); she felt unable to claim things she was entitled to, such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, because doing so would require her to produce her birth certificate – which still said male. The world was even harsher for trans people in 2002 than it is now, and effectively outing yourself wasn’t something you’d want to do unless you absolutely had to.

Goodwin also argued that by refusing to recognise her gender, the government was depriving her of her right to marry. Despite being a straight trans woman the law considered her to be a gay man, and as such she could not therefore marry a man (the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was still more than a decade in the future).

The court was unanimous. To use a legal term, the UK government were being dicks: there was no good reason to refuse to change Goodwin’s legal status or to let her marry.

Hence the GRA. Without a gender recognition certificate, you can’t change the gender on your birth certificate and you can’t change the gender marker on your HMRC/DWP records (other forms of official ID don’t require it: you don’t need a GRC to change your passport, for example).

To apply for a GRC, you need to “have lived in your acquired gender for at least 2 years”, “intend to live in your acquired gender for the rest of your life” and have been “diagnosed with gender dysphoria (this is also called gender identity disorder, gender incongruence or transsexualism)”.

The form’s here.

In support of your application you need to provide various bits of evidence. One of the most important, compulsory ones is a report “made by a registered medical practitioner or registered psychologist practising in the field of gender dysphoria and must include the details of your diagnosis of gender dysphoria.”

No diagnosis, no report, no GRC.

So we now have a system where the UK law is out of date: gender dysphoria is an outdated term for a variation no longer classified as a disorder by the World Health Organisation.

This is one of the reasons why the GRA needs reform; it’s not the only reason (for example it doesn’t recognise non-binary people), but we’ve known for a long time that the various health organisations were depathologising being trans and that the law would need to change accordingly.

And this is where some people get angry, because we use the phrase “self-identification”. That has been widely and often wilfully misinterpreted.

The existing GRA system already works on the basis of self-ID. It has to. There’s no blood test that tells you you’re trans, no DNA analysis, nothing you can hold up to a lightbox and stroke your chin to. The diagnosis is based entirely on interviews with the person who has come to the conclusion, usually after a great deal of pain and soul-searching, that they’re transgender.

That’s why so many other places (Ireland, California, Malta, Norway, Argentina, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Pakistan, Chile) have dropped the requirement for medical evidence in legal gender recognition: it’s just an unnecessary (and expensive) bit of bureaucracy. After all, we don’t ask gay people to prove they’re really gay before they can marry. Why medicalise trans people when they’re just as capable of knowing their own minds?

Here’s the most likely reform: Instead of an outdated, expensive, complex (and for some, humiliating) application process to persuade a faceless, faraway panel that you’re trans, you complete a statutory declaration saying you’re trans and pay a small admin fee. Unlike a GRC, if you get your statutory declaration under false pretences you can be prosecuted.

I’ve still to see a coherent, factual explanation of why such a change would be detrimental to women. The self-declaration process hasn’t been abused in the various other countries where it’s law. A GRC doesn’t change who can access what (in the UK, that’s the Equality Act’s department; that isn’t under review). And I can’t think of a single reason why a predatory man, or anyone, would complete a bad faith registration. All it does is sort out your government paperwork,  enable you to marry whoever and however you wish and give you a birth certificate that doesn’t out you. A GRC is of no benefit whatsoever to a predator.

Under the current system, I’ll be eligible for a gender recognition certificate later this year. If reform plans aren’t announced then I’ll probably apply for one, because it means I’ll finally have all my government records in sync: my HMRC and DWP records will finally match my NHS ones, my passport and my driving licence and the Electoral Roll.

It’ll make my life very slightly simpler, and it won’t affect yours at all.

It’s almost as if they aren’t really serious

When Theresa May allied with the notoriously anti-LGBT DUP, the government promised significant investment in promoting LGBT rights in Northern Ireland. Channel 4 News has investigated and discovered exactly how much has been spent to promote equality in a country of 1.871 million people.


You may be wondering: what amazing things was this incredible amount of money spent on?

The answer: rainbow-coloured lanyards.

“It was a heady time!”

The New Yorker has published a lovely essay by Emma Rathbone, Before The Internet.

Before the Internet, you could move to a new state and no one at school would know anything about you. You’d have no online history. You could be anyone. You would lean against the lockers with a faraway expression on your face and let people assume whatever they wanted. Like that you were a girly girl but could also be a tomboy. Or that back in your home town you’d been friends with a bunch of crows.