There’s nothing reasonable about Be Reasonable

Scotland banned smacking yesterday (and because it was National Poetry Day, it blocked fracking too. You’ve got to get your laughs where you can in the current climate).

Smacking bans are a culture war issue, so with crushing inevitability the BBC in England got Brendan O’Neill from Spiked to talk about it – which is probably an example of bias, because after a few seconds of his tired, predictable contrarianism most viewers would start fondly imagining beating a young Brendan with increasingly large implements, like the famous scene in the film Airplane!, and demanding the law doesn’t criminalise them for doing so.

Here in Scotland we’re smarter and don’t just let any old right-wing troll onto the airwaves. So the BBC interviewed Be Reasonable, the anti-ban pressure group.

The anti-ban pressure group that’s, er, a front for evangelical Christians and stuffed with Brendan’s pals.

James Mackenzie, former head of media for Green MSPs, on Twitter:

Disappointing to see the BBC report the views of “Be Reasonable”, the pro-child abuse lobby group, without explaining who they are.

Who are they?

Let’s ask Bella Caledonia.

A group calling itself ‘Be Reasonable Scotland‘ is a key organiser, and of course the campaign has backing from the likes of the Scottish Daily Express…

It gets murkier. As Tom Dissonance reveals: “PR for the pro-smacking children group is being handled by a Tory PR company who took $$$ from Big Tobacco to downplay the risks of tobacco”. [the original article links to a now-deleted tweet]

Not only that but the two named supporters on Be Reasonable’s site are something called The Family Education Trust’ and ‘The Christian Institute’.

The site has been changed since that was written in 2017, and the Family Education Trust – a right-wing Christian charity that’s variously blamed gay people for AIDS, lobbied against equal marriage and tried to stop sex education being useful or helpful – is no longer listed as a supporter. But the Christian Institute is.

Wikipedia:

While the CI has campaigned on issues including gambling, abortion and euthanasia, it is most notable for its campaigns against homosexuality and gay rights. The CI sought to retain Section 28 and a higher age of consent for homosexuals, and opposed the Civil Partnership Act, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and legislation allowing gay couples to adopt. It has opposed measures to prevent gay people being discriminated against in the provision of services and goods.

The Glasgow Herald, two years ago:

PRO-SMACKING lobby group Be Reasonable Scotland is funded by a network of the fundamentalist Christians, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

[their spokesperson] did confirm that the campaign in Scotland is being paid for by The Family Education Trust and The Christian Institute. “Yes, yes,” she said. “They are the main supporters behind it.”

…The [Christian Institute] has previously campaigned against gambling, abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality, opposing same sex marriages and seeking to raise the age of consent. The charity once produced an organ-donor style plastic card that read: “In the event of my death, I do not want my children to be adopted by homosexuals”.

Nice people.

It’s not just anti-LGBT+, anti-abortion, pro-smacking Christian fundamentalists, though. Let’s look at that supporters page again.

What do Stuart Waiton, Penny Lewis, Ashley Frawley, Ellie Lee and Simon Knight have in common?

They’re Spiked writers.

This, once again, is my shocked face.

Of course, it’s quite possible that these people became Spiked contributors purely so they could spread the word about their campaign.

Possible, but not true. Some have been contributing to the site for nearly two decades; the baby of the group has been a contributor for seven years.

Mackenzie:

On almost every single issue from hitting children to trans rights to the climate to Brexit the Koch Brothers-funded Spiked/LM group is active on the hard right position. What an extraordinary coincidence.

And on almost every single issue they end up on the BBC as “balance” despite taking extremist positions on pretty much everything.

To accidentally feature hard-right activists and religious conservatives pretending to be independent commentators once is unfortunate. To do it again and again is either incompetent or malicious.

How a lie can travel halfway around the world

I mentioned recently that there was yet another junk science story doing the rounds about trans people: it claimed that thousands of deaths were linked to puberty blockers, when the actual number of deaths from puberty blocking were zero. The figures were based on the fact that the same drug is prescribed to help terminally ill people, and those people die.

I assumed that it came from the usual religious extremists, but it didn’t. It came from the Daily Mail, and was then amplified.

Media Matters:

On August 25, right-wing U.K. outlet the Daily Mail published an article that misleadingly claimed that England’s National Health Service (NHS) “is investigating issues around hormone-blocking drugs.” Also known as puberty blockers, hormone-blocking drugs “are medicines that prevent puberty from happening” to help transgender youths’ bodies “better reflect who [they] are.”

The article referenced comments Jackie Doyle-Price, parliamentary under-secretary for health and social care, made to the U.K. House of Commons on July 23, which did not specify that the NHS was investigating any drug or raise alarm about puberty blockers. In fact, she said that “the treatments available on the NHS, particularly for children, are appropriate.”

The article wasn’t successful by Daily Mail standards; fewer than 500 people interacted with it online because it was a non-story. But that was before the religious lot got involved.

The piece was picked up by the National Catholic Register, a kind of Fox News for Catholics, which decided to spice it up a bit. It inserted the claims of “thousands” of deaths and “41,000 adverse events”. This got much more traction: 8,400 Facebook interactions.

The same story was also picked up and spiced up by LifeSiteNews, another right-wing evangelical outlet. It got over 15,000 Facebook interactions. Other evangelical sites got in on the act too.

Then the hard right got involved:

Right-wing outlet The Daily Wire published a misleading September 26 article about puberty blockers which was shared by Facebook pages of other Daily Wire figures, including that of founder Ben Shapiro and podcaster Michael Knowles. The article began by misleadingly claiming, “More than 6,300 adults have died from reactions to a drug that is used as a puberty blocker in gender-confused children, Food & Drug Administration data shows.”

For the next two days, Facebook pages of several anti-trans figures associated with The Daily Wire shared the article in posts that earned more than 135,000 total interactions. The Daily Wire’s anti-trans pundits Shapiro, Knowles, and Matt Walsh posted the article on Facebook several times each, each occurring within several minutes of one another

It becomes a who’s who of pricks: Shapiro, Knowles and Walsh posted to millions of online followers, as did the Daily Wire’s facebook account, and other hard-right sites joined in: TheBlaze, PragerU, WND, InfoWars and a favourite of Donald Trump, OANN.

Collectively these outlets reached tens of millions of people with a story that wasn’t true.

This stuff has consequences. The story has now been used by anti-trans activist groups to lobby against (safe) healthcare for trans kids, and it’s already become a “fact” that anti-trans activists use online.

All from a single, badly written attempt at scaremongering.

Sadly this is nothing new. As the Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters blog notes,

…some of the same parties used this tactic to attack gays and lesbian community – junk science mixed with cherry-picked science and amplified. I’ve covered this “formula” on several occasions and thus have many examples of it.

And he does. Malicious misrepresentation of domestic abuse statistics to claim that lesbians are more violent in their relationships than straight people (they aren’t); gay people are promiscuous and don’t have lasting relationships (the research was from 50 years ago when equal marriage didn’t exist and gay people couldn’t be openly in relationships; the study’s own authors said it it wasn’t likely to be representative of all people); that being gay sends you to an early grave (it doesn’t).

But of course if you tell a lie often enough and confidently enough, people believe it.

HB&HM:

Things have definitely changed. Not the lies, mind you, but the amplification of the lies. The ability of conservatives and the religious right to amplify these lies via their networks give their reach more power. It also makes it more difficult for us to refute the lies before they do our community major damage.

…the religious right and their conservative allies can’t rely on the truth to attack the LGBTQ community. So, unfortunately, they are relying on amplification and repetition of lies to beat us down.

Bad faith at work

Here’s a simple question. What’s the purpose of anti-discrimination legislation?

Is it (a) to protect vulnerable people from discrimination, for example in employment, education or health care? Or is it (b) to enable people to be howling arseholes to vulnerable people?

If you answered (b), you may be a religious extremist.

I’ll preface this with my usual disclaimer: #notallchristians. This isn’t about Christians. It’s about arseholes.

An industrial tribunal has ruled against a disability assessor who wanted to be an arsehole to transgender people. The assessor refused to use trans people’s correct pronouns in defiance of DWP rules and the Equality Act and would rather lose their job than treat people with basic politeness.

The man goes by the title and name of Dr David Mackereth, but as he believes you should be able to call people what you like based on your sincerely held beliefs, I believe that I should call him Mrs Janice McBigotface and give her female pronouns. I sincerely believe that I can be an arsehole too!

Mrs McBigotface was represented by the Christian Legal Centre, whose business is based on representing some of the world’s worst people and losing in court. In the meantime, however, they get lots of headlines that distort the facts of the case and feed into a fictional narrative of Christianity under attack from political correctness gone mad.

This was no exception: for example, newspapers talked of Mrs McBigotface’s refusal “to refer to ‘any 6 foot tall bearded man’ as ‘madam'” in her meetings with DWP supervisors; as the tribunal notes, that exciting quote wasn’t used in any meetings and didn’t appear in any documents or testimony until a year later, by which point the claimant was being coached by the CLC. That was a year after the first lot of press coverage, which clearly wasn’t hysterical enough.

Was Janice “interrogated about her beliefs” as the coverage and her submission claimed? No. Was she asked to “renounce her beliefs”? No. Were there any discussions about six-foot bearded ladies? No. Was she even suspended for her behaviour? No: she stopped coming to work because she “felt too distracted” by the pressure of being asked to be polite to people: “in no sense could that be construed” as a suspension. The tribunal called the claimant “a poor witness whose perception of events was skewed”.

The verdict, which is linked in the BBC story, is perfectly clear. The law protects you from discrimination; it does not enable you to be a complete prick to other people and escape the consequences.

Mrs McBigotface refused to call people by their pronouns, which is a very basic courtesy, in an environment where people are already feeling scared and stressed. That refusal continued even when people had legally changed their sex to female on all official documentation, and McBigotface appears to have taken some satisfaction in talking about  how she was going to lose her job for it.

The impression the tribunal’s notes gives is that Mrs McBigotface was a kind of DWP Ricky Gervais, deliberately misgendering trans people and then, when someone said “Janice, maybe you should stop being such a dick to people, you’ll end up losing your job”, saying “That’s what the PC woke police want, isn’t it? They want to martyr me! But I shall stand proud against the forces of evil and continue to be a total dick to trans people, just like Jesus probably was, or something!”

According to Twitter, finding that it’s okay and legal to sack someone for breaking the law and being a prick to vulnerable people “is just like the Nazis”, “profoundly disturbing” and “a shameful case of religious persecution”.

No it isn’t. It’s much simpler than that. People’s right to religious belief is subject to article 9.2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The tribunal found that by refusing to treat trans people with respect and then demanding an unworkable and offensive triage system for trans clients, the claimant was infringing those rights and freedoms.

It’s really very simple. If  you don’t want to be sacked for being a dick to people, don’t be a dick to people.

Listen to this: Marian Keyes on Radio 4

I caught this by accident today and absolutely adored it: the final episode of Between Ourselves With Marian Keyes, featuring the author reading some of her non-fiction and chatting with Tara Flynn. Some of it was deadly serious, some of it had me laughing like a drain, some of it was the sound of nails being hit firmly on the head (such as, “You’re not being ‘edgy’ if you’re not the one on the edge”). The whole thing was beautifully warm and emotional and human.

Highly recommended: it’s available online until the end of October.

 

Won’t someone think of the Tories?

I sometimes wonder if a master satirist has seized control of parts of the mainstream media. How else to explain the Telegraph’s video that asks us to consider the plight of poor, marginalised, oppressed… Tories?

I’m not joking. The video tells us that the only safe space – a term the Telegraph despises, yet uses without irony here – for young Tories is the Conservative Party Conference. It even pauses to show us the terrible headline: Abused for being a Tory.

In one particularly traumatic event, one young man was called “a *** in a park” by teenagers, presumably of the ruffian variety.

A ****! In a park!

Oh Lordy, trouble so hard, don’t nobody know their troubles but God.

To be fair, the video does include someone saying that they have been told to kill themselves by strangers on the internet. And as someone who has also been told to kill myself by strangers on the internet – interestingly, strangers whose post history indicates that they are Tory supporters; my goodness isn’t that a strange coincidence what are the chances etc etc etc – I know how upsetting that can be.

If these people are being abused randomly online or in public then of course that’s unacceptable.

But.

You knew there was a but coming.

But it seems a bit off to complain that people accuse you of racism, sexism and homophobia if you’re out canvassing for a party that’s clearly racist, sexist and homophobic.

That’s not to say these particular young people are any or all of those things. I’m quite sure the Telegraph has carefully selected them and checked their social media history to make sure they haven’t publicly posted the kinds of terrible, despicable, bigoted things that, er, their party leader would put in a Spectator column.

But.

The abuse they’re getting is probably because they publicly support the party of benefit cuts and hostile environments, the party of Windrush and of slashed spending on disabled support and mental health services, the party of austerity and an enfeebled NHS, a party whose Prime Minister has said terrible things about ethnic minorities and LGBT+ people and whose cabinet largely voted against equal marriage.

It’s a bit like complaining that people are calling you a Nazi just because you’re goose-stepping around the place in a Hugo Boss uniform with a swastika wrapped around one of your biceps. Just because you’re herding minorities onto trains doesn’t mean you aren’t committed to social justice and LGBT+ equality!

There’s an obvious solution, which echoes the advice many Tory people like to offer LGBT+ people who talk about the much more serious and sustained abuse they experience.

Have you tried, you know, not being a Tory?

One of the good ones

Yesterday, Home Secretary Priti Patel threw immigrants under the bus. With obvious delight, she vowed to “end the free movement of people once and for all”; in a deeply sinister dog-whistle she added: “this daughter of immigrants needs no lectures from the North London, metropolitan, liberal elite.”

The phrase “North London metropolitan elite” (also expressed as “North London liberal elite”) is a common far-right dog-whistle, because North London is where many of the Jewish community live.

There are two possible explanations for a senior politician using a well-known dog whistle in a speech. One, they knew exactly what they were doing and used it deliberately, in which case they’re wicked. Or two, they’ve heard others use it and didn’t realise it’s a favourite of anti-semites, in which case they’re incredibly thick.

Either way, it’s pretty scary.

It’s the other part of her sentence I want to talk about here, though. “This daughter of immigrants” needs no lectures on the effect her policies will have on families just like her own, on fuelling the hostile environment that targets families just like her own, on the intolerance she’s helping breed against families just like her own.

What Patel is effectively saying is simple. I’m not like those people. I’m one of the good ones.

Writer Musa Okwonga:

The ethos of the Racial Gatekeeper = my policies against [x] cannot be regressive, because I myself am of [x]. To escape my policies, [x] must be exceptional, like me.

…The problem with Priti Patel’s dog-whistle is that those who hear it will never love her as much as she wants them to.

Such gatekeepers can be found in all kinds of minority groups.

There are some gay men who speak with the evangelical right against gay men; trans women who ally themselves with anti-trans bigots; people of colour who get into bed with openly racist political parties.

“We’re not like those people,” they say to the people they try to ingratiate themselves with. “We’re the good ones.”

And to prove it, they throw their communities under the bus.

Okwonga:

Priti Patel cheerleading for the end of freedom of movement, oblivious to Sajid Javid being thrown under the bus as soon as Trump came to the UK. When fascism enters the room, immigrants get swept under the carpet.

Priti Patel, Sajid Javid, Candace Owens and others are performing the role of “racial gatekeepers”. They validate far-right political positions, thinking that being non-white makes them immune from critique. They’re bouncers for nightclubs to which they’ll never be admitted.

If they weren’t so dangerous I’d have some sympathy, because I think I understand part of the mindset.

You don’t want to be defined by your identity, whether that’s your race or your gender identity or your romantic orientation. You want to be seen as a success, and a success in your own right. You are not your identity.

And how better to prove that than by helping others pick on people just like you?

If that sounds rather playground, well… that’s because it is. And so is the inevitable result, which is that the person who allies themselves with the bullies is hated by by both sides.

People who act as racial (or gay, or trans, or…) gatekeepers are often loathed by the communities they come from and loathed by the people they so desperately want to impress. I won’t name names here but I can think of multiple individuals whose personality is rather like that of a beaten dog that returns to be kicked again and again and again.

The abuse appears to do something strange. It appears to make the people more extreme. The abuse from the community they’re betraying convinces them that they’re in the right, that they’re heroic truth speakers; the abuse they get from their so-called allies makes them more extreme because they convince themselves that it’s really aimed at those people, not the gatekeeper, and if they just tried a bit harder everybody would see that they’re not like those people. They’re one of the good ones.

I’ve experienced it myself: when I first came out a few years ago I was keen to distance myself from those trans people. You know. The weirdos. What I didn’t realise at the time, and what I’m deeply sorry for not understanding at the time, was that the weirdos didn’t really exist. A handful of extreme and completely unrepresentative examples were being used to demonise an entire group, and I’d fallen for it. When I realised this and started to question the stories I was being told, the storytellers turned on me too. I was no longer one of the good ones, no longer a useful idiot to legitimise what I now understand was bigotry (incidentally, that’s one of the reasons I’m so vocal now: I’m trying to compensate for any damage my naivety might have caused).

The problem with trying to be one of the good ones is that your identity is still there. You’re still one of those people.

You’re not there because you’re special.

You’re there because you’re useful.

You don’t have that platform because you’re a skilled politician, an accomplished orator or a great thinker.

You’re there because your presence enables others to hurt people like you without feeling bad about themselves for doing it.

How can it be racist if a black man says it’s a good thing? How can we be accused of being anti-LGBT if a gay guy’s in our party? How can the Prime Minister be misogynist if a woman defends him?

The key thing to remember – having known people with Patel’s worldview – is that being a Racial Gatekeeper is very lonely. It creates a genuine feeling that you are a member of a heroic and hounded minority, even though it is a membership of a cruel club you chose with relish.

The only way to evade the loneliness is to double down at every turn, to adopt views so extreme that that they startle even those you are trying to impress. You say the nastiest things you can with the biggest smile. Drawing fuel from adversity is all you have.

If you spend years doing that – surrounded by people who tell you that you’re better than those [x], since unlike them you worked hard, raised yourself up – you begin to believe your myth, to buy into your sense of destiny. But the people who surround you are still afraid of you.

And the people from your community will pay the price for your ego.

It’s easy to be nice when you have nothing to fear

One of my friends wasn’t born in the UK. Despite having lived here for a very long time, paying lots of money in tax and marrying the love of her life, a lifelong UK citizen, she does not currently know whether she will be allowed to stay in the UK post-Brexit. As you can imagine, this is very frightening and stressful for her and her husband; despite being one of the kindest, nicest people around she occasionally gets pissed off with people on the internet who, against her express wishes, try to argue with her by sending her links to publications that scaremonger about migrants every day.

For this, she is told that she needs to lighten up, give people a break and be more kind.

As she points out, the publications in question are not kind to, and do not give a break to, people like her.

What’s happening here is called tone policing. Tone policing is an ad hominem attack where you attack the emotion behind a message rather than the content of the message itself.

The underlying and fallacious assumption behind tone policing is that there are equal sides to a topic and that all participants have equal skin in the game. But the reality is that there are often topics where there are not equal sides, and where the participants do not have equal skin in the game, and where anger is a perfectly understandable and legitimate response to the malicious horseshit that the other side is throwing around.

Imagine you post a short message on your personal social media account to say that the person you love most in the world is seriously ill in hospital. Now imagine that I respond with a message or a series of messages containing links to publications that “prove” that their illness is either completely invented, the result of their own bad life choices or part of an international conspiracy. One of the articles demonises people like your loved one with a series of vicious slurs before concluding that they should be denied NHS treatment altogether.

Would you (a) respond with kindness and wit, or (b) tell me to take a flying fuck at the moon?

If you went for (b), I’d then respond: why are you being so aggressive? Why can’t you be nice to people? You need to lighten up!

The reason you’d be angry, of course, is because I’m demanding you read inflammatory, incorrect bullshit about something that affects you but not me, and demanding you respond according to standards I’ve decided you have to conform to, whether you want to or not.

That’s tone policing.

Tone policing is particularly prevalent in discussions about people’s rights, where there are not necessarily equal sides where people have equal investment in the issue being discussed. You’ll often find that one side will not be affected at all by the issues under discussion while for the other, it’s a matter of life and death.

For example, people arguing to restrict people’s rights, whether those rights are for gay people, women or EU nationals who’ve made their lives here, can usually stay perfectly calm if these issues don’t affect them in anything other than the most abstract sense.

Some of those people are ignorant. And some are just terrible people. In the latter group you’ll find people tone policing minorities while getting apoplectic because a newsreader hasn’t been wearing a remembrance poppy since September, yelling themselves puce about pop singers’ pronouns, or vowing violence because Gregg’s sells pastry products to vegans.

And more than anything, they get angry at the ungrateful bastards who have the temerity not just to say that things aren’t perfect in this, the best of all possible countries, but to use the word “fuck” when they say it.

This is not a new concept. Martin Luther King wrote about it from Birmingham Jail, saying that people of colour shouldn’t just fear the Klan but also:

the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”

Battling injustice isn’t nice; it isn’t polite; it isn’t kind. As Dr King put it, injustice “can never be cured so long as it is covered up… injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

Tone policing is an attempt to keep injustice covered up, which is why those with power or privilege deploy it so frequently.

Tone policing protects the powerful, not the powerless; it reinforces privilege by refusing to listen to those who question it. It silences people: if they are not sufficiently angry, nobody listens; but the anger that finally gets them heard is then used to discount everything they say. They’re unreasonable, hysterical, a bitch, uppity, an activist, an angry X. Their views, their experiences, their lives are of no consequence.

That’s not to say that anybody’s views should be presented without criticism or challenge. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about people who have nothing to fear in their lives telling genuinely frightened people to lighten up.

About people with extensive privilege telling marginalised groups to be kinder to their tormenters.

About people who are more upset by someone calling a politician or columnist a cunt than the policies that kill people and wreck lives or the rhetoric that gets people beaten to a pulp in the street.

If people’s righteous anger makes you uncomfortable, you should be grateful. Uncomfortable means unafraid: unafraid of being thrown out of the country you live in; unafraid of your hard-won human rights being sacrificed to satisfy extremists; unafraid for your safety, for your family or for your future.

Rather than policing the expression of people who have every reason to be angry, try being grateful that you aren’t having to go through what they’re going through.

And then listen to what they’re trying to tell you.

How to avoid buying fake headphones

Step 1: don’t buy headphones on eBay.

Step 2: there is no step 2.

I did a very un-me thing last week after losing my beloved Sony headphones: I bought a replacement set on eBay instead of paying a little more to get them from somewhere reputable such as John Lewis.

Inevitably, they turned out to be counterfeits.

It’s not always easy to tell, but there are ways to identify fakes even before you listen to them. Slightly blurred text and inconsistent spacing on the packaging is the first tell; the lack of a warranty card is the second. If you compare the cable to a genuine pair it’s thinner and patterned differently; if you look carefully at the body of the headphones you’ll see imperfections in the lacquer.

And of course, they sound shit.

Counterfeits are a huge problem on eBay, and from third party sellers on big name sites: as a rule of thumb, anything under 72% of the usual retail price is probably counterfeit.

It’s a pain, but at least counterfeit headphones won’t kill you. Other counterfeit goods might.

All kinds of electronics are widely faked, and many of those fakes are actively dangerous: battery packs and chargers in particular have been found to be significant fire risks, and you shouldn’t buy them from anywhere you don’t trust or for prices that seem too good to be true.

The Sunday Times plays dirty

It’s Sunday, so of course The Sunday Times is running more hit pieces on trans women.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The clue’s in the caption. Verity Smith isn’t a trans woman. He’s a trans man, assigned female at birth and now transitioning to male.

The juxtaposition of headline and photo are clearly deliberate and malicious: you’re expected to see the words “trans women” at the same time as you see the very male rugby player in the photo.

And when the writer posted it on Twitter he tagged the anti-trans activist group Fair Play For Women (who he interviewed in the piece, enabling them once again to make unsubstantiated and unchallenged claims about “well funded and powerful trans lobby groups”) and the vocally anti-trans athlete Sharron Davies.

It’s notable that the online version – the one people will share – is more inflammatory than the printed one, which doesn’t do the same malicious juxtaposition. Here’s the printed one:

 

The article itself describes “bearded or heavily muscled” trans men, not trans women.

Smith has endured a lot since coming out.  As he told CNN:

“I’ve been escorted off the pitch, outed on the internet, assaulted and pinned down and had blood spat in my mouth and the police wouldn’t do anything about it. That’s been the lowest point for me, just being dragged off the pitch and not being able to walk out there with the rest of my team having not done anything wrong other than be myself.”

Smith’s experience is what the anti-trans activists The Times loves so much would like all trans sports players to go through. First, he had to seek written permission from the sport’s governing body in order to be allowed to play at all. Second, he only plays in the team appropriate for the gender he was assigned at birth, not the gender he actually is. And thirdly, he has endured awful physical and verbal abuse on the pitch, around it and on the internet for which nobody has been held accountable.

And that’s still not enough. He also has to see his image used in a blatant attempt to make people hate and fear trans women.

And it works. The article – and the photo – is already being shared on social media by anti-trans bigots.

I’m not scaremongering; I’m not a snowflake; I’m not paranoid. There is a demonstrable anti-LGBT+ agenda at The Times and The Sunday Times, and while most of their energy is currently directed at trans women they are already beginning to target the rest of the community. This was the Scots editor on Friday:

The language here is telling. Can you believe that they’re teaching kids AS YOUNG AS THREE all about the gays?

What are they being “taught about same-sex couples”?

The first level, designed for preschool to P1, includes slides explaining that “some families have two dads”, and recommends books such as Mommy, Mama and Me, about lesbian parents, and King & King, in which a prince marries a man.

Imagine if children discovered that someone in their class might have same-sex parents.

We have been here before, of course. In the 1980s, the completely innocuous book Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin became the centre of a media-driven moral panic – a panic that would lead to the infamous Section 28, which banned the supposed “promotion” of homosexuality in schools.

Back then, The Sunday Times – which was hardly a friend to gay people at the time – wrote in an editorial: “[Clause 28] is a throwback to a more intolerant age. It has no place in the new Britain.”

In January 1988, it printed an op-ed by Simon Callow. He wrote:

In recent years – so terribly recent – the work of erasing centuries of crude superstition and fear has begun, so that now everybody realises (what was always true anyway) that they know at least a couple of gay people, and that they are, after all, give or take the odd flourish, much like everyone else, sometimes nicer, sometimes nastier – that some children have gay parents, that some brothers have gay sisters, that some employees have gay bosses, that some priests are gay, some teachers, some criminals, some saints.

Thirty years later and the same newspaper is pushing “crude superstition and fear”.

Update, 1 October

A correction has appeared on the digital edition:

Beyond a choke

(Content warning: sexual violence)

Sometimes magazines provide advice that’s genuinely dangerous. Here’s an example from Glamour UK:

The screenshot comes courtesy of the group We Can’t Consent To This, which campaigns against the normalisation of sexual violence against women. Glamour is one of many fashion and health magazines (including men’s magazines) that have talked about choking as if it’s just another normal thing most people do in bed. It isn’t. It’s really dangerous and it kills women.

To talk about choking as if it were the same as the use of fuzzy handcuffs is incredibly irresponsible. There is simply no way you can be sure that choking is safe. In addition to the obvious risk of suffocation there’s the risk of cardiac arrest, and there’s also the risk of very serious injury from a partner who doesn’t know what they’re doing, doesn’t know their own strength and/or who has been drinking or taking drugs.

And that’s assuming that the act is consensual in the first place. All too often it isn’t.

Many women have experienced one-night stands where suddenly they felt a hand around their neck without warning, let alone consent.

Maybe I’m a prude, but I don’t think attempted murder is something we should be trying to normalise here.

And it can be attempted murder. Women die from this.

That’s why We Can’t Consent To This exists. It tells the stories of far too many women: women who were murdered, sometimes incredibly brutally, by men who later claimed that the deaths were simple accidents during “rough sex gone wrong”. If you can read their stories without crying you’ve got a harder heart than me.

Here’s Anna Moore and Coco Khan writing in The Guardian.

Strangulation – fatal and non-fatal – “squeezing”, “neck compression” or, as some call, it “breath-play” – is highly gendered. On average, one woman in the UK is strangled to death by her partner every two weeks, according to Women’s Aid. It is a frequent feature of non-fatal domestic assault, as well as rape and robbery where women are the victims. It is striking how seldom it is seen in crimes against men.

Numerous studies have shown that non-fatal strangulation is one of the highest markers for future homicide

The mainstreaming of a previously very niche practice is largely because of online pornography. Like other industries whose business models have been transformed by the internet, its producers have found they have to produce more extreme content in order to survive, let alone thrive. And that means the mainstreaming of dangerous and degrading practices such as choking.

The Guardian again:

[Porn director Erika Lust] points out that if sex education is inadequate, “young people will go to the internet for answers. Many people’s first exposure to sex is hardcore porn”. This, she says, teaches kids “that men should be rough and demanding, and that degradation is standard.”

And both men’s and women’s magazines amplify it and tell them, hey! This is how everyone does it now!

The inevitable and horrific consequence of that is that women die. Sometimes they die by accident, but more often they die because our culture tells them that they shouldn’t fear a man just because he tries to strangle them from time to time.

Since 2009, the number of women killed in “rough sex games gone wrong” has increased by ninety percent. Two-thirds of those deaths involved strangulation.

I don’t doubt there are some women who find choking intensely erotic. But there’s a reason such “play” has been a niche pursuit for as long as humans have been getting each other off: it’s incredibly dangerous, it’s often the sign that your partner is going to hurt you in other ways and no magazine should be attempting to persuade their readers that it’s akin to messing around with fluffy pink handcuffs.

The handcuffs won’t kill you. A man who wants to choke you might.