If it walks like a fascist and talks like a fascist…

MP David Lammy is being lambasted by the right-wing press for comparing the Brexit-pushing European Research Group to Nazis and suggesting that the Brexit debate has helped spread far-right hatred. You can probably write the articles yourself: leftie commie, traitor to Britain, etc.

Except he’s right. And he’s not the only politician saying so. Here’s that infamous commie, former Tory PM Michael Heseltine:

But you can’t escape this chilling thought: the extremes of the ’30s were born of economic stress, and the thing that is driving the extremism today is the fact that since 2008 we have had frozen living standards and people are looking for alibis.

And if you put together the bureaucrats of Brussels, the immigrants and the foreigners and the elite … all that sort of stuff … it has a sort of basic, chilling appeal for people who are desperately looking for an alternative.

Here’s FT commentator David Allen Green on Twitter.

Those who do not think the rising threats of political violence, strident nationalism, attempts to bypass parliamentary institutions and increasing nastiness towards minorities do *not* indicate the beginning of a turn towards fascism must ask themselves…

…what would?

He continues:

The way fascism manifested itself in the 1920s and 1930s was not the only way it can manifest itself.

Fascism does not only exist in black and white photos and Pathe news reels.

The nastiness adapts to new promising environments.

Think, for example, of the independent institutions which extreme “will of the people” Brexiters have sought to trash:

– parliamentary “saboteurs”
– judicial “enemies of the people”
– civil service “traitors”

Even demanding letters to universities.

This cannot be healthy.

…And look at the routine casual insults and nastiness regarding Jewish people, Muslims, trans people.

Attacks on LGBT education.

And recall the first books to be burned: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institut_f%C3%BCr_Sexualwissenschaft#Nazi_era

Lots of “others” to be de-humanised, despised, mocked.

We all know where 1930s fascism ended, but it seems that many of us have forgotten or choose to forget how it began.

Friends in the media

It’s just another week on the internet, with yet another bunch of women experiencing massive campaigns of online abuse for having the temerity to say they don’t think trans women are monstrous predators. Singer Lisa Moorish is currently under siege and receiving dire threats and abuse from the “protect women” crowd, while comedian Janey Godley made a video after several days of ongoing harassment:

Sally Hines, a professor of sociology and gender identities in the University of Leeds, has long been a target of the anti-trans crowd. She describes what it’s like:

So… You’re in a (supposedly) feminist thread. There is disagreement around sex/gender. You reply briefly (its Twitter not a publication, lecture or an irl sit-down chat). The reply may – though often not -have a little irony, a tad of sarcasm, a bite of humour.

The tweet is taken out of the thread – divorced from its context – and retweeted *multiple* times. People notify others and a pile-on starts. Things very quickly become nasty. Personal and professional attacks escalate.

In the midst of this you are *bombarded* with demands to a)expand and clarify b)answer countless questions on issues aside to the original tweet c)send reading lists d)divulge personal aspects of your life. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Per minute. Per hour. For days. On end.

So there’s the bombardment but there’s the *demand*. Not an invitation or even a request. A hostile insistence to engage NOW. Hostility is key. As is belittlement. It intensifies. Faster. Nastier. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Minute. Hour. Days. On end.

Here are *some* personal examples from the last TWO days. You: shouldn’t have your job; are retarded, crazed, delusional, sick; on drugs; a woman hater; a man; responsible for brain washing/grooming young people; removing women’s rights; aiding the genocide of women and girls.

And *always* the handmaiden. The cock lover. Patriarchy’s slave. The traitor. The female cuckold. The feminist pussy. Be shamed. I *will* shame you. Shaming is the game.

You don’t respond. It multiples. People notify others. It becomes a circus-people trying to please with wit. Trying to impress their own/ please let me make you laugh. Who can be the nastiest? Who can be the one who will WIN? As bullies bond in a playground. Dirt turns to filth.

And the media is @ in to complaints about you. Your funding body and employer are repeatedly @ in. People who liked one of your tweets are targeted insesiently. People who follow you are rounded on. Threats are made.

And on still. More minutes. More hours. More days. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

And some of those people are the very journalists whose names appear on supposedly unbiased articles about trans people.

Many of the people reporting on trans issues have picked a side, usually against trans women. For example, writers for The Herald, The Spectator and The Times/Sunday Times make no secret of their support for anti-trans pressure groups with opaque finances and links to US anti-women, anti-LGBT evangelical groups.

The idea that journalists should be objective seems to have got lost somewhere. Of course journalists have opinions, but their job is to leave those opinions at the door and report the facts. A journalist should not take part in activities or support organisations that limit or affect their ability to be objective and independent.

We all know this. If a writer is being paid by company X, they can’t be trusted to report objectively on issues that affect company X. If a writer is a member of UKIP, they can’t be trusted to report objectively on Brexit. And if a writer makes no secret of hating LGBT people or a subset of LGBT people, they can’t be trusted to report objectively on LGBT issues. By employing propagandists rather than journalists, news media is hammering more nails into its own coffin.

“I know the people he hates so much are basically the same people as me”

There’s an interesting piece in NY Magazine about the corrosive effects of highly partisan news.

I heard from more than a hundred people who felt like they could relate to what they all seemed to think of as a kind of ideological brain poisoning. They chose Fox News over their family, people told me. They chose Fox News over me.

It’s not just Fox, and not just America: the article notes that stories also came of families broken by left-wing partisanship, and by publications such as the UK’s Daily Mail – but Fox has a huge reach and is arguably the most biased of all the major news outlets.

Whatever the root, it’s incredibly saddening

“Maybe he was always like this, but lacked the exhaust chamber to say out loud what he was thinking. I’ll never know,” one person told me. “It just sucks because I know the people he hates so much are basically the same people as me.”

“I can assure you that no one transitions from male to female to get a better deal.”

Writing for the NYT, Jennifer Finney Boylan compares anti-trans rhetoric to anti-immigration rhetoric.

When members of the present administration claim that people like me should be “erased,” are they not saying, in so many words, “Build that wall?” Are they not echoing the cries of every xenophobic bigot throughout history in furiously demanding that I Go Back Where I Came From?

I’m not going back. I’m staying here, in the land I struggled so hard to reach. It is here, as a woman, that I’ve built a home. Is where I began my days really so much more important than where I wound up?

…What the world needs now is not more walls — to keep out the strange, the different, the new. What the world needs now is not hatred — of men, of women, of anyone in between.

What the world needs now is bridges: across rivers, across genders, across every last border that divides us, one soul from another.

Trust me: it’s never a good idea read the comments on these pieces.

Not a jolly good Fellow

You can tell a lot about the UK newspaper industry by the people the Society of Editors chooses to garland in its annual UK Press Awards. This year, as if anointing the Mail on Sunday’s Sanchez Manning “specialist journalist of the year” for her ongoing campaign of anti-trans scaremongering and vilification wasn’t bad enough, the creator of this repellent cartoon was made a fellow of the Society of Editors.

Now you might think that showing sinister, hook-nosed figures marching over borders and depicting foreigners as vermin is a chilling echo of the Nazi propaganda cartoons of the late 1930s. And you might think that a political cartoonist with five decades in the newspaper industry might have at least a working knowledge of the history of political cartooning. But you’d be wrong, because Mac just happened to replicate Nazi propaganda by accident.

He had quite a few accidents, it seems. One cartoon, in which Mac responded to the NHS recruiting overseas doctors by showing a black immigrant “witch doctor” frightening a white NHS patient, resulted in an apology from the Daily Mail to the British Medical Association. Many others portrayed black people as big-lipped, boggle-eyed, loincloth-wearing savages. In 2010 Mac illustrated “multiculturalism” by showing a man marrying a farm animal, and in 2015 he depicted the newly deceased entertainer Cilla Black being forced to wait at the pearly gates because “there are thousands of illegals trying to get in.” In 2017 he equated refugee boat people with monkeys.

There’s an irony here. The society of editors, which claims to represent the very best of the UK newspaper industry, has missed a very important piece of news: it isn’t 1971 any more.

Update

The thing about diversity is that without it, you can be blinkered. I’ve seen many white, cis, straight men defending Mac’s worst cartoons on the grounds that they don’t think the cartoons are racist, or homophobic, or offensive generally. And with the greatest respect to those people, if you’re not a member of a minority group then you don’t get to say whether it’s offensive to that minority or not. Just because something doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect people who are different to you.

Despite some positive efforts, the British media remains overwhelmingly white: while the population is only 80% white British, the media is 94% white; muslims account for 5% of the population but just 0.4% of journalists; 3% of the population is black but only 0.2% of journalists are. It’s sexist, too – women are outnumbered by men and paid significantly less than their male peers.

Ironically enough, that lack of diversity was demonstrated last night by the inaugural diversity award. It went to a white man. A gay white man (the excellent Patrick Strudwick of Buzzfeed), admittedly, but hardly a sign that the media establishment values writers from other ethnic backgrounds. As someone pointed out on social media, there were more people of colour serving wine than sitting at the tables, let alone being nominated for any awards.

Writing on Gal-Dem, Micha Frazer-Carroll writes about the British media’s diversity problem.

The awards have been running since 1962 and are some of the most prestigious in the industry – but not one black woman or non-binary journalist featured on the list of 157 entrants this year. To add insult to injury, just three people of colour’s names made the cut.

…If people of colour only scrape into the lowest positions in news and media organisations, it’s naturally less likely that our ideas will ultimately get airtime… this is a problem that can’t be radically overhauled by simply appealing to “diversity”, particularly if it’s only in the lowest ranks of an organisation. Meanwhile, actively harmful coverage of marginalised groups within the very same papers doesn’t create an environment that feels safe for us. That includes the rampant transphobia that’s swept the mainstream press in recent years and seen the likes of Janice Turner – who claimed that children had been “sacrificed” for trans rights – up for journalism awards.

That’s nice

There is a lot online about gender dysphoria, the discomfort or even horror some trans people have about the gender they were assigned at birth. But there’s a flip side when you get to be your real self: gender euphoria, the feeling that at least for the moment, everything is the way it should be.

I’m writing this sat on a bench on a sunny spring morning in Glasgow, the city I love. Because it’s Glasgow it’s still cold, but the sun is warm on my skin. The colours are spectacular: the blue of the sky, the white of the clouds, the bright green of new leaves and new grass. I’m dressed for the season, bare-legged in a fun, flippy floral skirt teamed up with a plain t-shirt and a cardigan; today is a good makeup day, simple rather than striking or spectacularly hopeless, and for once I’m feeling pretty good about my appearance. I’m doing one of my favourite things: people-watching, enjoying the simple pleasure of seeing the world walk by and wondering what each stranger’s story is.

The late Kurt Vonnegut wrote of a relative who would often exclaim: if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. Vonnegut urges all of us to do the same, to recognise the little moments of happiness, to celebrate life’s joys, big and small.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

How others see us

Most of the discussions about trans people are about us and without us. That means the terms of the debate are set by people who aren’t trans, so misrepresentation, mischaracterisation and myths abound. This isn’t new, but two recently published pieces provide a good illustration of some of the more persistent tropes.

Two of the most influential names in discussions about trans people are Harry Benjamin and Janice Raymond.

This cartoon in Everyday Feminism describes Benjamin’s influence on how we think about trans people:

Benjamin meant well and helped a lot of people, but the “trapped in the wrong body” trope excludes a lot of trans people – including me. I never felt trapped in the wrong body; I felt that there was something terribly wrong, but I didn’t have the hatred and horror of my body that some trans people experience.

This is important, because it keeps people like me from accepting who we are; perhaps if I’d realised you didn’t need severe body dysphoria to be trans I’d have come out many years earlier. And as the cartoon rightly points out. some trans people who do feel severe dysphoria become gatekeepers: you can’t be trans because your experience isn’t identical to mine.

Which brings us neatly to the anti-trans women who advocate against our rights. Because our experiences are not identical to theirs, we are not valid.

Writing in The New York Times, Carol Hay asks: what makes a woman?

But thanks to the past 40 years of work from intersectionalist feminists, we’re finally paying attention to what women of color have been saying since at least the days when Sojourner Truth had to ask if she, too, got to count as a woman: that what it’s like to be a woman varies drastically across social lines of race, socioeconomic class, disability and so on, and that if we try to pretend otherwise, we usually just end up pretending that the experiences of the wealthy, white, straight, able-bodied women who already have more than their fair share of social privilege are the experiences of all women.

The vast majority of anti-trans activists are relatively wealthy, white, straight, able-bodied women who already have more than their fair share of social privilege.

As Hay points out, one of the most influential figures in anti-trans feminism is Janice Raymond. A former nun, Raymond published a book called The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male in 1979. One of the most famous lines in the book, a book Hay characterises as hate speech, says that “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves… Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.” Raymond would eventually apologise for that one some 35 years later; as far as I’m aware she has yet to apologise for campaigning to remove healthcare from trans people and for “the elimination of transsexualism”.

Raymond and her supporters have an unremittingly negative perception of trans women (trans men, as ever, are rarely mentioned because they ruin the argument). We live amazingly happy lives of male privilege and then decide to transition on a whim so we can further the aims of the patriarchy and oppress women. Despite this assertion being absolute bullshit, it’s one of the founding principles of anti-trans activism. We are fakes and frauds, gender tourists appropriating femininity for nefarious aims.

I’m not. The other trans people I know aren’t either.

Since the so-called transgender tipping point of a few years ago we’ve become more visible, and more of us have come out. But that visibility hasn’t been uniformly positive. Much of the discussion has been driven by Janice Raymond’s acolytes, and even the positive stuff has tended to feature yahoos instead of, say, the trans politician Sarah McBride and other equally inspiring, interesting and normal trans people. Instead we get Caitlyn Jenner.

Hay rightly damns Caitlyn Jenner for stupid comments such as “the hardest part of being a woman is figuring out what to wear”, a comment born of the kind of privilege you only get from being incredibly rich and separated from the real world. Jenner has said many idiotic things, and you can understand why some cisgender women might read them and want to kick trans women through a hedge.

But most trans women are not Caitlyn Jenner.

We are not all moving in tolerant circles, and very few of us are successful and solvent enough to afford incredibly expensive surgeries from the world’s greatest specialists. To suggest that Caitlyn Jenner is representative of trans women is rather like suggesting Katie Hopkins is representative of cisgender ones.

Hay:

But if I’m as guilty of entrenching regressive gender stereotypes as anyone else, why do TERFs think it’s trans women who are specially culpable for shoring up gender essentialism? Why aren’t they going after cis women like me, too?

…Talia Mae Bettcher, a professor of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles, demonstrates how trans people are caught in a double bind. If a trans person successfully passes as cis and is later discovered to be trans, they’re seen as an “evil deceiver” who has lied about who they really are. Trans people who are open about being trans, on the other hand, are seen as “make-believers” — cheap counterfeits, pathetically attempting to be something they couldn’t possibly actually be. The problem with this view of trans people as either deceptive or pathetic frauds is that it presupposes that there’s a real thing that trans women are failing to be. And this sounds an awful lot like the biological essentialism that almost all feminists reject.

I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a cisgender woman. I don’t claim to know, and I don’t argue that I didn’t experience male privilege. Of course I did: before I came out I never worried about my personal safety, I wasn’t discriminated against, I wasn’t sexually harassed or the victim of domestic violence… I’m aware that in my years presenting male, I benefited from the privilege that comes with that identity.

But this road runs two ways. If you’re cisgender you don’t know what it’s like to be a trans woman who can’t come out, to be bullied for not conforming to gender stereotypes, to spend years or decades fighting who you are for fear of the terrible consequences, to be demonised so frequently in the newspapers you have to stop reading them, to face not just misogyny but homophobia and transphobia too.

And that’s okay; it’s why we listen to and read stories by people whose experiences are not the same as ours, who do not have the same colour of skin, the same upbringing, the same environment. We recognise that while our experiences may be different, we also have a great deal in common.

The buzzword for that is “intersectional”, understanding that systems of oppression intersect – so the lot of a middle-class, university-educated, straight white woman with a job in the media is very different and a damn sight easier than that of a working-class, gay, woman of colour working two jobs.

Feminism has not always been intersectional: the first wave of feminism, which gave us women’s suffrage, didn’t care about black women; in the US, black women were banned from some marches and forced to walk behind the white women in others. Second-wave feminism (the 1960s to the 1980s) has been criticised for its lack of inclusion for ethnic minorities and LGBT groups too; in 1969 the leader of the National Organisation for Women, Betty Friedan, described lesbians as “the lavender menace”: including “man-hating” lesbians would undermine the feminist cause.

Hay:

When a cis woman complains that trans women haven’t had the same experiences as “real” women-born-women, then, what she’s really saying is, “Trans women haven’t had the same experiences as women like me.”

For as long as there has been feminism, there have been women demanding the exclusion of women who aren’t exactly like them. Despite what you might read in the British papers, most feminists don’t have that worldview: they accept that while trans women’s experiences are very different, we’re all walking the same road.

This is where your debate leads

In response to Transgender Day of Visibility yesterday, I saw multiple social media threads hijacked by cisgender straight man, many of whom demanded to know why we needed transgender visibility day but not straight pride days. They demanded to know: what rights don’t trans people have?

How about the right to live free from abuse and violence?

This happened yesterday, while grown men were posting vomit emoji in response to transgender day of visibility posts.

In Essex, a transgender teenager was verbally abused by three teenage boys, who slashed the teenager’s face. The victim was treated in hospital for their injuries.

This is what dehumanising LGBT people leads to: a frightened kid surrounded, abused and slashed on a Sunday afternoon.

 

“Let it all burn down”

In an extract from his upcoming book Ruined By Design, Mike Monteiro explains the problem with social media and how it ruined the early promise of the internet.

The people who built Twitter (and other services) were a bunch of young men. This is important.

More accurately, they were a bunch of white guys. Those white guys, and I’ll keep giving them the benefit of the doubt and say they did it with the best of intentions, designed the foundation of a platform that would later collapse under the weight of harassment, abuse, death threats, rape threats, doxxing, and the eventual takeover of the alt-right and their racist idiot pumpkin king.

Women are woefully under-represented in the tech sector; ethnic minorities and LGBT people are barely on the radar. So straight white guys build systems that enabled such horrors because as cisgender straight white guys, they haven’t experienced the things that women and minorities experience in life and online.

Incidentally, nobody is saying there’s anything wrong with being a cisgender straight white guy. That’s not what Monteiro is saying, and it’s not what I’m saying. The point here is that people build stuff based on what they know.

Monteiro:

All the white boys in the room, even with the best of intentions, will only ever know what it’s like to make make decisions as a white boy. They will only ever have the experiences of white boys. This is true of anyone. You will design things that fit within your own experiences. Even those that attempt to look outside their own experiences will only ever know what questions to ask based on that experience. Even those doing good research can only ask questions they think to ask. In short, even the most well-meaning white boys don’t know what they don’t know. That’s before we even deal with the ones that aren’t well-meaning. (I see you, Travis.)

You don’t ask “could this be used maliciously by abusive exes?” if you haven’t fled an abusive ex. You don’t ask “could this be used to target gay people?” if you haven’t been targeted as a gay person. And so on.

Twitter never built in a way to deal with harassment because none of the people designing it had ever been harassed, so it didn’t come up. Twitter didn’t build in a way to deal with threats because none of the people designing it had ever gotten a death threat. It didn’t come up. Twitter didn’t build in a way to deal with stalking because no one on the team had ever been stalked. It didn’t come up.

This is one of the key problems with the internet as it is today: it’s been largely built by and for cisgender straight white guys. So for example Facebook enforces a real-name system that bans pseudonyms because cisgender straight white guys don’t need to hide their identities – but women fleeing abusive exes and LGBT people often do. Again and again we see platforms used maliciously because the people who built those platforms didn’t imagine such abuse, and don’t seem too keen on policing it either.

Technology is often portrayed as an unalloyed good, disrupting moribund industries and giving power to the people. But all too often it gives power to the wrong people: the oppressors, not the oppressed.

We designed and built platforms that undermined democracy across the world. We designed and built technology that is used to round up immigrants and refugees and put them in cages. We designed and built platforms that young, stupid, hateful men use to demean and shame women. We designed and built an entire industry that exploits the poor in order to make old rich men even richer.

One of the most telling signs that something is very wrong with social media is the flood of tech firm media founders and executives who won’t let their own children go online much, or at all. As Monteiro says:

When we refuse to let our own children use the fruits of our labor while still cashing the checks we’re earning by addicting other people’s children — all the while rending our garments over “what’s happening to kids today!” — we need to burn all our work down.
Nothing is happening to the children. We are doing something to the children. Let it all burn down, and let those that come after us sift through the ashes to learn from our mistakes.

Two days today

It’s Mother’s Day today (hi mum!), and it’s also international transgender day of visibility. The former is a celebration of mums; the latter, a celebration of their sons and daughters. I know Mother’s Day can be hard for some women, cisgender or transgender: not everybody who desperately wants to be a mum can be one, and of the people who are parents not everyone gets to spend today with their children. I hope that if you’re one of the people who finds today difficult you find a way to be good to yourself today.

International transgender day of visibility is about raising awareness. It’s about reminding people that we are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers. We are your friends, your colleagues, your next door neighbours. And it’s also about raising awareness of the discrimination and intolerance transgender people still face; intolerance that may well be in the pages of the newspapers you read today.

This, from BBC’s The Social, is wonderful.