“Forgive yourself. Every goddamn day.”

Over at Ask Polly, Heather Havrilesky responds to a reader who’s finding it hard to find joy any more. 

Engage with this crisis instead of trying to cut it off. Let these feelings in instead of blaming yourself for them. Be more patient with your own sadness. And look for joy everywhere you can, every day, from the first hour you’re awake until the moment you fall asleep. Stop torturing yourself and make joy the first priority of every single day. I know I’m a broken record on that front, but it’s honestly the one clear and solid contribution I feel I have to make to this world: reminding people that just enjoying yourself is important. It matters.

“Biology” as a cover for bigotry

Katelyn Burns writes about the Maya Forstater case for The New Republic.

Cases like this—which pit the actual lives of trans people against the beliefs of somebody who decided to test her colleagues’ patience by posting over 150 anti-trans tweets in a single week—are a win-win for anti-trans activists. If they prevail, they have a new legal basis to treat trans people like garbage without reprisal. If they lose, they can bang on about how trans people are spreading a totalitarian belief system that crushes anyone who might disagree.

Dropping the props

Last night I performed at a small open mic night, doing something I’ve never done before: I sang and played to a small audience without amplification. There was a PA there, but I didn’t use it.

It wasn’t planned: the battery in my guitar was flat so its pickups weren’t sending any signal to the PA system. But given the choice between trying to get a single microphone to pick up my voice and my guitar (something that never works particularly well)  or just doing three songs completely unamplified, I chose the latter, scarier option and stood in the middle of the room as I played three really, really good songs really, really well.

There’s something particularly frightening about doing that. On a stage, there are props you can hide behind. The stage may be raised slightly to elevate you above the audience. There’s a physical distance between the performer and the listeners. On stage there’s a mic stand, and more than anything there’s volume. If people aren’t interested in what you’re doing, if they talk instead of greeting you with the reverential silence you want,  you can just turn it up and drown them out. That’s as true in a tiny basement as it is in a big venue.

But if you step out from behind the mic, if you climb off the raised stage, you can’t rely on those things any more. Your voice and your guitar can’t drown out chat. There’s no reverb to flatter your voice. You’re not elevated or separated from the people in the room. It feels very much like those dreams where you’re standing up in front of an audience and you’re not wearing any pants.

It’s an absolute blast.

To play songs you know are good and sing them not just technically well but with all your heart and soul is always a blast, but it’s particularly so when you can see people connecting with what you’re doing.

Connection is what drives me to make music. I write songs I hope will matter to people the way other people’s songs matter to me. Those songs have helped me through some really tough times: they can be the soundtrack to your greatest moments and your best friend during the worst, and sometimes music is the only voice telling you that you’re not alone. Writing songs is one way I can fulfil the motto: be the person you needed when you were younger.

I tend to be very self-deprecating about the things I do, so when I post here about being the world’s greatest living songwriter or describing myself as “Brian Wilson with tits” I’m clearly having a laugh and sending myself up. But I’ve been writing songs for a very long time, and you don’t do that without having a certain amount of belief in your own abilities. I am a good and sometimes brilliant songwriter, and I think over the years my self-deprecation and my “sorry to bother you, here’s a song, I hope you like it, I hope I’m not annoying you” has prevented some very good songs from reaching the audience they deserve.

In the year to come, I think I’m going to be considerably more annoying.

Boobs from a burger? Now that’s a whopper

The picture above is of the Impossible Whopper, a meat-free burger from Burger King. Like many vegetable, seed and nut-based products, it contains phytoestrogens – structures that are similar, but different to, the estrogen in people.

Here comes the internet.

The above claims, and many like them, are currently circulating on social media. Let’s not get pedantic about the ignorant phrase “a standard hormone replacement therapy shot to become transgender” and focus on the big claim here: this burger will make you female!

Spoiler: no, it won’t.

The article that kicked off this particular panic is from a site called National File, which claims:

the Impossible Burger is a genetically modified organism filled with calorie-dense oils that can make a man grow breasts if eaten in sufficient quantity.

Man boobs aren’t caused by plants, nuts, seeds or soy. The main cause of gynecomastia is obesity, particularly in older men. If you have a largely burger-based diet of any kind, meaty or meat-free, it’s very easy to pack on the pounds: a Whopper is around 660 calories (630 if meat-free). Add large fries (430 calories) and a large Coke (310 calories) and that’s more than half the daily recommended calorie intake for an averagely active and healthy man.

National File:

eating four of the vegetable burgers daily would result in a human male growing breasts

Even if the claim was true, which it isn’t, if you’re eating four fast food burgers a day it’s not cleavage you need to worry about. It’s a coronary.

National File’s article is based on a piece by a doctor, but the doctor isn’t a doctor of humans and his article isn’t in a medical or scientific publication. He’s a South Dakota vet, writing for a trade publication (Tri-State Livestock News) written for and funded by the meat industry – an industry that isn’t too happy about Impossible Burgers and other meat-free products.

You can see why a meat industry magazine might want to try and discredit meat-free food. But why would a political site be so keen to run with the story too? The answer, inevitably, is that the site is connected to the lunatic fringe of the US far right, which is why this story is all across US right-wing media (and why it’s been republished here on the likes of the Daily Mail, which spent over 300 words repeating the claims before quietly admitting that there’s no evidence for any of them).

The story’s author has previously written for the far-right fantasy factory Breitbart and is a regular guest on the Alex Jones show. Yes, the same Alex Jones who famously claimed that the US government is using a magical, Pentagon-funded “gay bomb” to turn people gay:

“The reason there’s so many gay people now is because it’s a chemical warfare operation, and I have the government documents where they said they’re going to encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children”

That was in 2010. A few years later Jones claimed that the government was “putting chemicals in the water that turn the friggin’ frogs gay… the majority of frogs in most areas of the United States are now gay.”

It’s easy to laugh at this, but gay frogs are part of a wider far-right theory called The Great Replacement: brown people and feminists and gay people and trans people are a conspiracy against Honest God-Fearing Straight White Folks to feminise the men (via the aforementioned chemicals in the water supply that turn the friggin’ frogs gay, plus soy milk and meat-free burgers and “gender ideology” and the “gay agenda”) and outbreed the women. The theory’s supporters include senior members of the Trump administration.

When you read it in that context, the Whopper Gives You Tits story isn’t so funny.

Christmas wishes

As someone wrote in a song:

I hope you have a good one; I hope your Christmas is fun
I hope you’re with your family and there’s something for you under the tree
And I hope you thank your lucky stars

I’m thanking my lucky stars this year: in the run-up to Christmas I’ve been able to spend time with people I care about very much, and after a couple of very difficult years I’m looking forward to spending Christmas Day with my children and close family.

Others, I know, are not so fortunate. Some of us will be mourning loved ones they’ve lost, or that they’re estranged from; some will be gritting their teeth to spend time with people who won’t accept them for who they are.

If you’re one of those people, I hope the coming year brings you joy, joy that’s bigger and more powerful than any of the sadness you’ve experienced. If you’ve been rejected, I hope you find the chosen family who can give you the love you so richly deserve. You might not know them yet, but they’re out there. And if you’re one of the people who’s caused or contributed to others’ sadness, I hope 2020 fills you with the love and empathy you lack.

Merry Christmas.

C x

Symbols mean whatever we want them to mean

I’ve just been to pick up my Christmas food order. It was too early to bother with putting on my face or worrying about wigs so I did the lazy-tran thing of slapping on a beanie hat to hide my hairline before jumping in the car.

At the checkout, the man on the till and I noticed each others’ Apple Watch straps simultaneously. His is the pride rainbow; mine is a combination of two straps to make the trans pride colours. And just like that, we went from fairly tired early-morning people to chatting like a couple of old pals.

Symbols matter, whether it’s the strap on your watch or the pin badge on your messenger bag. In the case of my watch strap or the pins on my everyday bag, they’re a cheerful hello to others, a way to communicate without words that you’re on the same page, travelling in the same direction, part of the same family. It’s a way of communicating with people when it might be uncomfortable or unsafe to speak out loud.

Words are symbols too, of course. When I talk about family in this post I don’t mean a biological or legal family; I mean something bigger and more inclusive than that, a family of people that may have very little in common with each other but who nevertheless have something that connects us.

Words are symbols, shorthand for much bigger things. And we must be careful how we use them, because if we use them carelessly we can exclude people or marginalise them.

On Twitter, the writer currently calling themself Merry Magdalene has posted a great thread about pronouns. As they say, “pronouns are not biological; they’re things we use to demarcate classes of people”.

Magdalene’s thread is about the word “woman”, and how it’s shorthand for a collection of different characteristics that together we use to classify someone as female.

There are women without vaginas. Women who do not have periods. Women who cannot give birth. Women who don’t have uteruses. Women whose uteruses do not work. Women with ambiguous genitalia. Phenotypical women with XY chromosomes.

There is no *single* common characteristic.

But if you bundle those experiences together you can build an understanding of what “woman” means in English, functionally: that you’re on one side of a two-sided social structure, within which certain traits predominate but are not universal.

Anti-trans activists generally define “woman” in the tropes of biological essentialism: you can’t be a woman if you don’t menstruate, perhaps, or if you can’t bear children. But that isn’t the gotcha they think it is. It’s just a way of trying to use language to exclude people you personally don’t want in your club, and which can be used to exclude other people too. There are many cisgender women who don’t menstruate, or who can’t bear children.

And it’s no coincidence that many of the people so hung up on dictionary definitions are so violently opposed to the use of the word “cisgender”, in much the same way anti-gay bigots were so opposed to being described as “heterosexual”. Both groups demanded to be called “normal” or “natural” so they could automatically classify everybody else as abnormal or unnatural. That argument isn’t biological. It’s ideological.

“‘trans women’ are men, not women” isn’t a biological statement; it’s an ideological one about who we’re going to apply that word to, who we will admit to the class “woman,” and more to the point, whether these taxonomies can be transgressed.

These taxononomies are highly subjective. Just yesterday Sharron Davies, the former athlete who’s found a new career as an anti-trans activist, argued that real women are “juggling kids, rushing out a wholesome dinner, doing the laundry & cleaning” like it’s 1953.

It wasn’t so long ago we bundled women into asylums on grounds of insanity because they refused to make “wholesome meals” and do the laundry and cleaning for their husbands. And of course there are women still alive who were excluded and even attacked by so-called feminists because they were gay, because they were bisexual or because they were black.

the things we universalize as traits of women are just *one historical bundle* of traits; in the past, there have been behavioral and temperamental tests as well, where nonconforming women were shunted off into side categories like “virago” that explicitly QUALIFY their womanhood in exactly the same way “trans” does.

Like gender, language is fluid. Unlike bigots, it evolves.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Bigots

Today’s story of JK Rowling and an anti-trans tweet is a good example of how lazy reporting reinforces bullshit.

If you missed it (and you probably didn’t; it’s been all over the media today): last night, the author tweeted in support of the anti-trans activist Maya Forstater, claiming that her defeat in a tribunal was an attempt to “force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real”. #IStandWithMaya, she wrote.

That’s been reported as Rowling supporting free speech, but it isn’t.

It’s Rowling telling her 14 million followers to support a bully.

Forstater wasn’t forced out of her job; her employer chose not to renew her fixed term contract. She wasn’t told she couldn’t state that “sex is real”; she was told that she didn’t have the legal right to create a hostile and humiliating environment for her co-workers.

Forstater has said publicly that her case was intended to establish a legal precedent: the precedent she wanted would give anti-trans activists the legal right to be as abusive as they liked towards trans colleagues without consequences.

That isn’t how this is being reported. It’s being reported as “cancel culture”, the sinister “woke mafia” picking on a national treasure.

But Rowling has form for this. She was an unapologetic follower of anti-trans activist Magdalen Berns, who claimed that there was a Jewish-funded conspiracy to turn the world trans and that trans women are “fucking blackface actors” who “aren’t women” but “get sexual kicks from being treated like women. Fuck you and your dirty fucking perversions… you pathetic, sick fuck”. She’s publicly liked anti-trans tweets claiming trans people are “men in dresses” and when called out on it, she had her PR team claim that it was a “clumsy and middle-aged moment” because she doesn’t want to upset her significant LGBT+ fanbase.

By misrepresenting what the Forstater case was actually about, Rowling is fuelling anti-trans sentiment. The reporting over this is perpetuating the myth that women are being silenced by the sinister trans lobby while giving those women global press coverage for their supposedly silenced views.

Here’s journalist Laurie Penny.

Trans people, and trans women in particular, have for years been under attack by dedicated cohort of the British press, egged on by a small group of transphobic extremists. Transphobic views have been normalised in Britain. That’s the context for JK’s comments today.

It’s not what you believe. It’s how you behave

One of the many similarities between anti-trans activists and anti-LGBT evangelicals is their belief that they have an absolute right to be nasty to anybody they disapprove of.

Inevitably, that means some of them lose their jobs for breaking the terms of employment or find their employers unwilling to renew their contracts when those contracts expire. Those people then go running to the papers and to lawyers. The right-wing press here and in the US hails them as free speech martyrs who will be vindicated in court, and when they lose – and they always lose – the same papers are spookily silent or claim conspiracy.

Yesterday, Maya Forstater’s case for unfair dismissal was rejected by a tribunal. Forstater worked for an organisation that campaigns against inequality, and her contract was not renewed when it emerged that she’d been using offensive language about trans people and advocating against their rights.

It’s important to understand what this judgement is about. The full document is here. It is not about freedom of belief.

You can believe anything you like. It’s how you act on those beliefs that matters. So for example you might personally think Dave from accounts is going to hell because of his sexuality, and that’s perfectly legal. Standing up on your desk shouting “FUCK YOU DAVE YOU’RE GOING TO HELL”, not so much.

The claimant alleged that the decision not to renew her contract – a contract, remember, with an organisation that promotes equality – was discriminatory because behaviour her co-workers found offensive was driven by anti-trans beliefs that were “philosophical beliefs” and therefore protected under the Equality Act.

The tribunal found that they were not, and in particular they failed item (v) of the”Grainger criteria”, which define what counts in law as a philosophical belief:

it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

It’s a long and considered judgement but here are some key takeaways:

It is important to note that if a person is guilty unlawful harassment of others that conduct is likely to be the reason for any action taken against them, rather than the holding of a philosophical belief.

Under the Equality Act, it is harassment to engage in “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic” when that conduct violates the other person’s dignity or creates an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for them. Deliberately and aggressively misgendering a trans person or banging on all day about how you hate trans women would meet that definition.

It would also fall foul of Article 17 of the EHCR, which says that your rights do not allow you to “engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms” of others. So for example if you refuse to accept the correct gender of someone with a gender recognition certificate, which gives the holder the right to be recognised as their correct gender, you are breaching Article 17.

In this case, the tribunal noted that when the claimant was told her behaviour was offensive to her co-workers and asked to stop, she said “since these statements are true I will continue to say them.”

Behaviour, not beliefs.

…the Claimant’s view, in its absolutist nature, is incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others.

…if a person has transitioned from male to female and has a Gender Recognition Certificate that person is legally a woman. That is not something that the Claimant is entitled to ignore.

…The Claimant’s position is that even if a trans woman has a Gender Recognition Certificate, she cannot honestly describe herself as a woman. That belief is not worthy of respect in a democratic society. It is incompatible with the human rights of others.

The case is significant because anti-trans activists expected it to set a legal precedent that would allow bigots to bully trans people in their place of work. That’s backfired.

It’s also significant because it was a waste of an estimated £80,000 in crowdfunded donations – donations that would have made a huge difference to charities that work to help vulnerable women and girls.

I think this means I’m a toddler

It’s time for my annual joke: every queen should have two birthdays. Today is my second one of the year, because I legally became Carrie two years ago.

It feels much longer than two years, and sometimes I feel like this.

(click for full size image)

But more often, I feel blessed. This isn’t an easy road to walk but life is good. I’m happy. And that’s largely because of the people I spend my time with.

I feel blessed to know so many wonderful, beautiful, kind and hilarious humans, many of whom I didn’t know before I became me. They have made me feel happy, made me feel safe, and made me shoot expensive gin out of my nose.

I hope they, and you, have a very happy and joyful 2020 when it comes.

As for me, I’m going to the pub soon. After all, it is my birthday.

Gender recognition reform: here we go again

The Scottish Government has published its draft gender recognition reform bill. It’s here. The consultation closes in March 2020.

The Scottish Government does not wish trans people to go through procedures which are demeaning, intrusive, distressing and stressful. That is, quite simply, not right for our citizens.

The draft bill goes into great detail about the possible effects of reform on the rights of women and girls.

The Scottish Government is clear that reforming the GRA does not diminish the rights of women. The Government remains committed to the protection of women as well as achieving equality and challenging discrimination.

…The 2010 [Equality] Act exception for single sex services will not change

…there are a range of exceptions in the 2010 Act which can be used when appropriate to protect women, which might in some specific cases require the exclusion of trans women, if the conditions within the exception are met. These exclusions will not change following GRA reform.

…The key question in this context is very much about whether a change in the system for obtaining legal gender recognition would adversely affect women’s rights. The Scottish Government has concluded that it would not.

In reaching this view, the Scottish Government has considered international experience. As outlined in Annex E, there are a variety of systems for obtaining legal gender recognition in other countries. There is no evidence from overseas which the Scottish Government is aware of which would suggest that moving to a statutory declaration-based system for obtaining legal gender recognition would impact adversely on the rights of women. Under the system which the Scottish Government is proposing for Scotland obtaining legal gender recognition will remain a serious step which could not be undertaken lightly.

You’re going to hear and read a lot of lies about this during the consultation period.

I’m dreading the next three months of media scaremongering and social media abuse.