We were always here

In the early 20th Century, there was a moral panic: the number of people saying they were left-handed rose from 2% of the population to 11%. Left-handed people were routinely demonised, with entire books being published about the newly discovered sickness of left-handedness. The word sinister, which means malicious or devious, is derived from the Latin word for left.

The number of left-handed people in the world has stayed at around 11% ever since. It’s not that there were suddenly more left-handed people. It’s that over a relatively short period of time we stopped forcing left-handed people to pretend they were right-handed and punishing them if they didn’t comply.

It turns out that when you make the world less dangerous for a particular group of people, those people are more likely to reveal who they are instead of staying hidden for fear of consequences.

There’s a new study doing the rounds that shows that the number of gay, lesbian and transgender people is significantly higher among  Generation Z than it is among the preceding generation, the millennials – and the proportion among millennials is higher than it was in Generation Y, which in turn was higher than my generation, Generation X, which in turn was… you get the idea. If you graph the numbers of people comfortably admitting to be gay, bi, pan, lesbian or trans, it’s a steady upwards slope.

It also gives the lie to the idea that trans people are somehow erasing lesbians or forcing lesbians to say they’re trans men instead; the number of people who say they’re lesbian is up from 0.8% in the previous generation to 1.4% now.

Here’s the US version. The UK polling data is very similar and shows the same pattern. 

The fact that there are more LGBT+ people coming out doesn’t mean that there are suddenly more LGBT+ people. It means that fewer LGBT+ people are forced to stay in the closet.

I think many cisgender, straight people are unaware of just how recent the improvements in LGBT+ rights are. The same “gross indecency” law used to persecute gay man, wartime hero and computer pioneer Alan Turing in the 1950s didn’t leave the statute books in Scotland until 2013. Until last year, New York had a “walking while trans” law that saw trans women arrested simply because they were trans in public. Being trans was still classified as a mental illness (as were homosexuality and female hysteria in previous decades) as recently as 2019. Equal marriage didn’t reach Northern Ireland until last year.

We were always here. But for many of us, it wasn’t safe to say so. And in many parts of the world, it still isn’t.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

“We need to say it: this is wrong”

In Umberto Eco’s essay about Ur-fascism, he describes 14 signs of fascism or a pre-fascist state. The list includes the cult of tradition, the rejection of modernism and contempt for the weak; it also includes fear of difference and the obsession with a sinister plot orchestrated by the people who are different.

The UK’s government is showing a worrying number of these signs in its demonisation of Black Lives Matter and its Trump-esque “War on Woke”, but anti-trans activism has been there for some years.

Here’s Sarah Ahmed writing in 2015.

Those who are oppressed – who have to struggle to exist often by virtue of being a member of a group – are often judged as the oppressors. We only have to turn the pages of feminist history to know this. When lesbians demanded entry into feminist spaces, we were called a “lavender menace.” We got in the way of the project of making feminism more acceptable. To be rendered unacceptable is often to be treated as the ones with the power (the power to take something away). I recently heard a heterosexual feminist speak of lesbians in feminism in exactly these terms: as wielding all the power. When black women and women of colour spoke of racism in feminism we were heard, we are heard, as angry, mean and spiteful, as hurting white women’s feelings. The angry woman of colour is not only a feminist killjoy she is often a killer of feminist joy. She gets in the way of how white women occupy feminism.

The current media narrative is one of silencing. People with extraordinary power – politicians, millionaire authors, celebrities – claim to be silenced by a sinister trans lobby, a lobby so powerful that it controls the government, the judiciary and the media despite there being no trans MPs, newspaper editors, newsreaders or judges.

The people who claim to be silenced make their claims loudly, repeatedly and in some cases lucratively as they go on programme after programme or write article after article about how you’re not allowed to share the views they constantly share. As I’ve written before, the sinister trans lobby is paying quite a few anti-trans writers’ mortgages right now.


Whenever people keep being given a platform to say they have no platform, or whenever people speak endlessly about being silenced, you not only have a performative contradiction; you are witnessing a mechanism of power.

Inevitably, many of our supposed free speech warriors are highly litigious. In recent months multiple authors and a politician have threatened people with defamation suits for daring to suggest that loudly expressing anti-trans views and supporting anti-trans hate groups might possibly be transphobic. And those are just the ones we’ve heard about: most SLAPP threats (strategic lawsuits against public participation) require a vow of silence.


These dynamics are familiar to me from my work on racist speech acts (racism is so often defended as freedom of speech). Racists present themselves as injured/ under attack/a minority fighting against a powerful anti-racist lobby that is “busy” suppressing their voices.

For some people the demonisation of the “woke” is a grift, an opportunity to build a media brand on the backs of vulnerable people; for others it’s misdirection, a way to distract attention from things like the UK having the highest per-capita COVID deaths in the world. And for others it’s part of a wider ideology of right-wing populism.

Free speech has thus become a political technology that is used to redefine freedom around the right of some to occupy time and space. It is “the others” who become the oppressors; those who in speaking of a wrong are judged as speaking wrong.

We need to say it: this is wrong.


Fan mail

I’ve been in online journalism for nearly 23 years now, and during that time I’ve been called lots of things and had the odd death threat from Irvine Welsh fans. But until very recently I never had men tracking me down so they could send emails patronising me. The difference, of course, is gender. I now get the same sort of unsolicited messages as the other women I know in tech journalism, messages that are infantilising, patronising and sexist.

I’ve known since my first online adventures in the early 1990s that the internet is a very different place for women and LGBT+ people than it is for straight men, but it still saddens me.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Regulatory capture


British government proposals for strengthening free speech at universities cite an American anti-LGBT ‘hate group’ and a British ‘dark money’-funded think tank that has recommended no-platforming Extinction Rebellion.

The hate group is the Alliance Defending Freedom, which you may remember from its campaign against Scotland’s hate speech laws, or its witnesses in the case that banned puberty blockers for trans teenagers.

The ADF is viciously anti-LGBT+, as its its fellow Christian Right organisation the Heritage Foundation. That has its hooks in the UK government too: in the same month equalities minister Liz Truss decided to ignore public support for GRA reform, she was a guest speaker at a Heritage-funded event. Both groups have pretty obvious links to the highest profile anti-trans groups here too, and are often deeply involved in the legal cases aimed at removing trans people’s healthcare and human rights.

ADF International has spent more than £410,000 on lobbying in the UK since 2017. Last year, openDemocracy revealed that its US parent organisation has spent more than $21m of dark money outside of the US since 2008. The group does not disclose who its donors are, and has gone to the US Supreme Court to defend donor secrecy.

ADF International’s UK office has publicly opposed protest-free ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics, supported calls for “freedom of conscience” provisions to enable medical staff to independently object to providing legal abortion services and were linked to a supposedly ‘grassroots’ campaign opposing assisted dying.

…ADF supports a ‘legal army’ that fights hundreds of court battles around the world, often using freedom of expression and religious freedom arguments.

The organisation has also taken legal action to support opponents of same-sex marriage and a Canadian pastor accused of hate speech for criticising “the promotion of homosexuality”.

The US group has also become increasingly involved in funding disputes in UK universities. In 2019, it threatened legal action against a Scottish student union council after it decided not to recognise an anti-abortion student group.

This money is perverting our politics in an attempt to take human rights backwards.


Mum’s the word. Bigot is another

An excellent piece in The New Republic about the women trying to remove trans girls from sports.

It’s no coincidence that so many Christian Right groups and other anti-LGBT+ groups use “mums” or “mothers” in their statements: we associate motherhood with kindness, not bigotry and cruelty. But of course mothers can be just as bigoted, just as vicious and just as cruel as anybody else.

Somehow, cisgender mothers of cisgender girls have positioned themselves as having a stake in the fight for trans rights. They follow from a cadre of mothers in American civil rights history who have at times successfully repackaged discriminatory policies as necessary in order to protect the children—their children and children of people like them. In the late 1970s, there was Anita Bryant, the conservative orange juice pitchwoman who lobbied against gay rights on the false premise that gay and lesbian teachers were a danger to their (presumed straight) students. Before that, but throughout the post–Brown v. Board of Education era, women in their role as mothers organized to block school integration. Maternalism is a handy shield against being accurately identified as fueling homophobia and racism. Here, the tactic has found a new face in the fight against trans rights. It is one that will be especially pernicious as anti-trans groups on the right scramble for influence in the post-Trump era in which they will have to reconnect their politics to something less obviously bigoted yet no less damaging.

…Alliance Defending Freedom is at the forefront of religious-right groups, who, after losing their war on same-sex marriage, tried to redirect their attack to trans people. Women and children have figured prominently in their campaigns—like those they say would be endangered unless lawsare passed to segregate bathrooms based on sex as assigned at birth, a means of excluding trans and nonbinary people from public accomodations. Historian Gillian Frank has noted the parallels between the myths about trans women making bathrooms unsafe for cis women and girls, which ADF and others have deployed in such campaigns across the United States, and the racist myths pushed by segregationists stoking fears about integration’s purported threat to white women’s virtue and purity. The idea of protecting girls is meant to win, and with it, they can fuel a stigmatizing moral panic about trans people.

ADF is linked to many of the anti-trans efforts in the UK too.

The spectre of trans women (as ever, it’s always women) dominating women’s sports has been invoked since Renée Richards played in the 1970s. Yet not one trans athlete has ever qualified for the Olympics, and the number of trans athletes across all sports is so few I think most people would struggle to name a single one. The few trans people who do participate in athletics are routinely beaten by their cisgender rivals; and the number of trans kids playing competitive sports in schools is microscopic.

But these campaigns are not about facts. They’re about stoking fear.



Justin Myers, aka The Guyliner, has written a really good post about LGBT+ History Month. Like him, I feel that there are big gaps in my knowledge of LGBT+ and feminist history. So it’s nice to be reminded that:

Nobody will judge you for not being exactly sure who threw the first chunks of masonry at Stonewall: all you have to do is show you’re open to discovery, respectful of the achievements made, and that you recognise the lessons available to be learned from those milestones, and the people who made them happen. Facts and feelings matter.

I’ve written before about the period immediately after I came out when I wanted to be seen as one of “the good ones”. I wasn’t one of the difficult ones, the angry ones, the ones who’ll make a fuss. I didn’t realise at the time that if it weren’t for those people, I’d never have been able to come out at all. That’s why I think it’s important to go back: to understand how we got here, and to understand how fragile progress can be.

It’s not uncommon for the newly out to push away what we see as stereotypes or anything that would make straight people turn against us… [but] You can only ignore the politics of being LGBTQ+ for so long before it becomes impossible. Your existence – as a gay person, a trans person, as a bi person, or if you’re non-binary – is political. Men and women – mainly those who are nothing like us and do not understand our lives – sit in wood-panelled rooms making decisions about you. When you can have sex, who you can marry and where, how you can express your gender, your access to health services, how the world learns about you – your freedom to be who you are is one of the most political acts you’ll ever encounter.

Hell in a handcart

“You can’t say anything these days”

This piece by Omar Khan was written a year ago and is even more timely now.

The political right is angry, empowered around the world by electoral gains and successful campaigns. In many ways this is still the establishment, the people who hold the power, regardless of their attempts to pose as ‘populist’ voices. But at the same time they feel under threat from a world where the parameters of acceptable behaviour have gradually shifted. When you have been used to dominance, equality feels like oppression, and when you have been used to pushing other people around with no regard for their feelings, any limits on your own behaviour feels like an assault on your rights.

…Not everybody writes a book; not everybody has the cultural or social capital to do so, or to get their book published, or publicised. If everyone has the theoretical right to freedom of speech, not everybody has the actual ability to be heard. And it is a truism that the people complaining that their freedom of speech has been attacked or denied are often the ones with the loudest voices and biggest platforms.


Scholarship vs scaremongering

This is very useful: a selection of peer-reviewed scholarship about trans and non-binary people.

It is absolutely crucial that media outlets and universities begin to recognise that like climate denial, trans denial is based on unscientific views that are wildly out of step with peer-reviewed scholarship. When GC activists suggest that trans rights ought to be “debated” on the basis of “free speech”, they set the terms of a highly uneven debate between their ideological perspectives vs. actual scholarship. If we focus on the actual scholarship, we see that there are many debates to be had in trans studies around identity, embodiment, race, decolonisation, the relation to non-binary identity, research methods, and more, but those discussions are completely annihilated by GC feminists suggesting that the debate should be about the very legitimacy of trans people in the first place.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

“A stark rise in abuse and hate speech against LGBTI people”

ILGA-Europe is an umbrella organisation for multiple human rights organisations across Europe, and its annual review is deeply worrying. The full report is linked in the quoted text below.

Reporting from every country in the ILGA-Europe ‘Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTI People in Europe and Central Asia 2021’ is a glaring clarification that progress which has been taken for granted is not only increasingly fragile, but particularly vulnerable to exploitation by anti-human rights forces.

According to Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe: “Our Annual Review shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted all of the gaps in terms of lived realities of LGBTI people across Europe and Central Asia. In reports from country after country, we see a stark rise in abuse and hate speech against LGBTI people; many of whom became vulnerable to homelessness have been forced to move back into hostile family and community situations. LGBTI organisations have had to skew their work towards provision of basic necessities like food and shelter as many governments left LGBTI people out of their relief packages; and there has been a resurgence of authorities and officials using LGBT people as scapegoats while authoritarian regimes are empowered to isolate and legislate without due process.”

ILGA-Europe isn’t just talking about the obvious places such as Poland. It’s scathing about the UK too, with both the Westminster and Holyrood governments’ handling of gender recognition consultations and much of the media coming in for particular criticism.

Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Distortion and disinformation in a media bubble

A new poll in The Scotsman report that the majority of SNP voters and almost half of all Scots women support the sacking of Joanna Cherry. The ones who don’t are primarily older, more conservative voters, particularly Tory voters.

It also reports, once again, that even after three years of misleading and scaremongering coverage across the entire Scottish media the opposition to trans people’s rights is very much limited to a small but well-connected minority: 44% of women are supportive of gender recognition reform, 27% don’t have an opinion and just 16% are against.

But that 16% gets 99% of the media coverage.

This isn’t always bias, although some of the big hitters in the Scots commentariat are clearly transphobic and reactionary. It’s often laziness and overwork or a desire to create controversy because it’s more exiting to read, watch or listen to.

There’s a good example of that today. New guidance has been issued in one English hospital about inclusive language for pregnant people including trans men. The guidance is explicit: inclusive language is *not* to replace existing terms like “mother” or “breastfeeding”, but staff are asked to consider the use of different language when the expectant person is a trans man or a non-binary person.

Here’s the relevant section:

“A gender-additive approach means using gender-neutral language alongside the language of womanhood, in order to ensure that everyone is represented and included… if we only use gender neutral language, we risk marginalising or erasing the experience of some of the women and people who use our services… we believe in human rights-based care and we can add inclusive language to our current language without subtracting anyone”.

The Times read that and published this:

These days, right, if you say someone’s a woman, you get arrested and thrown in jail.

That isn’t a misunderstanding. That’s malevolence. It is a deliberate distortion by the right-wing press, just like Baa Baa Green Sheep was. It’s already resulted in angry old men calling the hospital to verbally abuse the staff.

Trans healthcare is in crisis right now, and bigotry is affecting trans people’s access to essential services. The media doesn’t find that titillating, so even when it’s covering something serious it tries to turn it into culture war nonsense. For example yesterday, Moya Lothian-Mclean was interviewed on Sky News about a new study into appalling treatment of trans people by domestic violence organisations. The interviewer tried to derail it by asking about inclusive language, because that’s where the outrage button is, but Lothian-Mclean elegantly sidestepped the attempted derail. As writer Paris Lees put it on Twitter:

It’s a dog-whistle. I turned down 4 interview requests. I’m not discussing ‘pc culture gone mad’ when trans people are waiting three years to be seen by a specialist.

I have turned down multiple invitations to talk about GRA reform on air because the intention was to to set up a fight with a Spiked writer or someone who believes I’m being paid by The Jews to destroy civilisation.

I’m not scared of debate – I promise you my knowledge of current UK and Scottish equality law is much deeper than that of any “maybe the real bigots are the people calling bigots bigots” professional contrarian – but by taking part you’re accepting the dishonest framing. It’s the “When did you stop beating your wife?” question where the wife-beating is not questioned. For us, the framing is usually “why are you sick bastards so determined to endanger women?”.

For example, I’ve been asked to come on air to explain GRA reform “and then we’ll have the feminist point of view” from a group of anti-LGBT+, anti-abortion Christian fundamentalists who are about as far from feminism as you can possibly get.

If you go through the evidence submitted by anti-trans groups to the UK government’s committee on GRA reform, there is a stunning lack of basic knowledge about trans people: not just in regards to the law (many of the submissions clearly think the gender recognition act decides whether you get medical treatment; it doesn’t) but in regards to basic biology. And that’s reflected in the media too: this week Metro ran a lifestyle story with the headline “Transgender woman thanks nothing but hormone therapy for her breasts”. Where else do they think boobs come from? The boob fairy?

We have a situation here in the UK where almost everybody talking about trans healthcare, trans people’s lives and trans people’s rights is ignorant about what transition involves, what hormone therapy does, what the law says and pretty much everything else about us. And their dangerous misinformation isn’t just a threat to us. It’s a threat to every other marginalised group.