A matter of Pride

If you’re straight and cisgender, you probably don’t give Pride events much thought: they’re just parties, right? But if you’re LGBT+ you know that they’re much, much more than that. They’re places where, however briefly, you know you’re not alone; places where you aren’t hated or tolerated, but celebrated.

Pride events are among the many casualties of coronavirus this year. Spiller of Tea explains why that’s sad for LGBT+ people.

I’ve read a lot recently about how straight people are missing pubs and restaurants and cafes. This is entirely understandable, and I do sympathise, but imagine if your pubs were the only places in which you could safely relax your mannerisms, speak freely about your home life, or hold your partner’s hand. Then imagine that you lived in a city that only had one pub. Maybe go on to imagine that this single establishment only opened two nights a week, from 10 pm until 6 am, when the majority of old bastards like me are tucked up in bed. One place in the entire locality where, if you don’t like sticky floors, banging music and drinking until it’s light, you’re basically excluded anyway. That is the reality for huge numbers of LGBTQ people in the UK, and Pride is one of the few precious moments of relief we are allowed from this frustrating, constrained existence.

The outside world may have stopped, but homophobia, biphobia and transphobia haven’t. The trolls have more time on their hands, so they’re more vicious than ever. The newspapers continue their assault on trans people (just yesterday The Scotsman ran a column claiming that it was “a biological fact” that trans women are men) and politicians continue to court the bigot demographic. As I was reminded yesterday, people still stare and glare at you in the street.

You may well be bored and lonely, but you probably don’t have people wishing you dead on social media or calling you a deviant in the press.

…in these most difficult of times, when LGBTQ people are facing all of the physical, emotional and financial issues cis-het people are facing, they present an added burden to people who, like the rest of you, are already fast-approaching breaking point.

…This crisis has, distressingly, not even begun to put an end to the attacks our community is so often forced to endure, but what it has achieved is to rob us of one of our most vital coping mechanisms in the face of those attacks. And for that, I will unashamedly mourn its loss.

“How discriminatory do you have to be before you’re called out?”

Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch explains why UK trans people are really scared right now.

For some time trans people have understood the current media debate in the UK isn’t actually about the Gender Recognition Act. Instead, it is about our basic rights to live and move as full members of our society.

…Most trans people I know in the UK are now absolutely terrified.

They understand an arcane procedure for changing legal gender is probably going to be maintained in some form.

But they realize their ability to function in any meaningful way as members of our society is about to be removed

Hormone treatment for Covid-19

I’ve mentioned before that coronavirus appears to be deadlier to men than to women, and that because of that difference some anti-trans bigots have been deliberately hounding trans people with the virus and wishing them dead.

The trans women may get the last laugh, because it’s possible that the hormones they take are helping them battle the virus. Here’s the New York Times.

Men are more likely than women to die of the coronavirus, so scientists are treating them with something women have more of: female sex hormones.

…Last week, doctors on Long Island in New York started treating Covid-19 patients with estrogen in an effort to increase their immune systems, and next week, physicians in Los Angeles will start treating male patients with another hormone that is predominantly found in women, progesterone, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can potentially prevent harmful overreactions of the immune system.

Nobody’s suggesting that estrogen and progesterone are the only factors here. Men take more risks, are more likely to smoke, wash their hands less, and so on. And as the article points out, the difference is also evident among women who are decades past menopause. But it’s interesting nevertheless.

Using coronavirus for a culture war

Rachel Shabi in The Guardian:

the key issue in the right’s current culture war is the lockdown, which is being presented as a freedom-sucking con – much like the EU. Mirroring the dynamics of climate denialism, those challenging the overwhelming consensus of global expertise cast themselves as lockdown “sceptics”. And cleaving to a rightwing populist script, these sceptics say their legitimate concerns are being silenced.

It’s Not The End of the World (But You Can See It From Here)

My band has released a new song, and a video to go with it.

It’s Not The End of the World (But You Can See It From Here) is a lockdown song, and while there’s plenty of bile in there it’s also hopeful: after all, it’s not the end of the world.

The song will go live on the usual streaming and download services over the next few days. It’s also available for free download at bandcamp – havr.bandcamp.com.

Never trust a Tory

The UK government’s new equality minister, Liz Truss, has set out her priorities for the coming months. It isn’t good news for trans people.

This isn’t a surprise. In 2019 Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who spearheaded The Sunday Times’ scaremongering about trans people, was appointed as a key advisor for No. 10. The conservatives have long discussed demonising trans people as a culture war strategy. It’s entirely on brand for the party of Section 28 to want to roll back trans people’s rights.

Truss says the UK government will respond to the Gender Recognition Act “by the summer, and there are three very important principles that I will be putting in place.”

First of all, the protection of single-sex spaces, which is extremely important.

Secondly making sure that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, whilst maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system.

Finally, which is not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act, but is relevant, making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future.

The announcement is already being misreported by the right-wing press, so for example the Telegraph claims that “trans children [are] to be banned from surgery”. Surgery isn’t given to under-18s. The announcement clearly means puberty blockers, which it seems the government wants to withhold from teenagers until after puberty.

“Single-sex spaces” is a dogwhistle. They are not affected by the Gender Recognition Act. The equalities minister of all people should know that.

The second point suggests that letting trans people live free from persecution is conditional rather than universal.

That third point is a direct threat to Gillick competence, which says that you do not have to be an adult to get essential healthcare without parental consent: it’s what enables teenage girls to get contraception. By saying that under-18s lack “decision-making capabilities” even though they are old enough to legally become parents, get married or join the army, it paves the ground for an assault on young women’s reproductive rights.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve said previously that I think the government will do something with gender recognition that they can pitch as progressive but that actually removes trans people’s rights: I think it’s highly likely that they will make the existing gender recognition system very slightly more accessible but change the role of the Gender Recognition Certificate so that if you don’t have one, you are not protected from discrimination.

As the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights put it:

In her speech she says there must be “checks and balances” before trans people can live freely; an ominous admission that we will not be allowed to live without special restrictions, because of the “danger” of us being trans. This is not equality.

Overconfidence and incompetence

Something we’re seeing a lot of during the coronavirus crisis is the rise of the armchair epidemiologist: the men (it’s mainly men) presenting themselves as authoritative voices about things they have no expertise in.

Sarah Weinman, for InsideHook.com:

They are lawyers, former reporters and thriller writers, Silicon Valley technologists, newspaper columnists, economists and doctors who specialize in different parts of medicine. Their utter belief in their own cognitive abilities gives them the false sense that their speculation, and predictive powers, are more informed than the rest of ours.

They’ve been with us for a long time, of course – the blogging world is full of them – but coronavirus has given some of them a much bigger audience, and that has made some of them dangerous. The UK press and social media is full of grifters speaking with great certainty about things they know nothing about, and those things currently include how to deal with a lethal global pandemic.

There is a name for this, and it is the Dunning-Kreuger effect. The effect is often explained as “stupid people are too stupid to know they are stupid”, but it’s more nuanced than that. It’s not that people are stupid. Many of the people who clearly have DK are very clever. It’s that they are blinkered: they lack the knowledge to understand what knowledge they are lacking.

For example, let’s say you’re an economist. If you turn your attention to the likely outcome of the coronavirus, you may come up with different answers than the virologists and epidemiologists do. That doesn’t necessarily mean the virologists and epidemiologists are wrong; it’s much more likely that you’re making ignorant assumptions and rookie mistakes that people in the field don’t make. You don’t know that you’re making them, because this isn’t your area of expertise.

Where the Dunning-Kreuger effect comes into play is when you decide that if the experts disagree with you, it means it is the experts who are wrong.

Who better to speak to about the Dunning-Krueger effect than David Dunning, one of the two professors who coined the term? That’s who Sarah Weinman interviewed.

The problem is that some people can take things they know and misapply it to this new situation. A lot of people think, “Oh, this is a flu,” so they use what is common knowledge of the flu to guide them. But this virus is not the flu. Knowledge is a good thing, but they don’t realize it’s a misapplication.

I used the example of an economist because that’s a field Dunning specifically mentioned.

Confidence comes from knowing something, but not realizing you don’t know everything you need to know. If you’ve been rewarded as a successful economist, you deal with formal models in math, and you have confidence in what you do. This can be true of all of us in our area of expertise.

That confidence may be perfectly justified in economics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have anything valuable to say in other fields.

Elon Musk is a great example of this. The Tesla boss has an electric car company and launches rockets into space. And when a bunch of kids got stuck in a cave in Thailand, Musk rode to the rescue with a special high-tech submarine to save them.

The submarine was useless, because it wasn’t able to navigate the caves. When criticised, Musk called an expert diver – the diver who actually helped rescue the trapped kids – a “pedo”.

Musk has since moved into providing ventilators for coronavirus patients. The machines he supplied are not ventilators. It’s surely just a matter of time before he calls the doctors “pedos” too.

Here’s one example of why these overconfident men are dangerous: Richard Epstein. Epstein has arguably contributed to the US death toll: his prediction that the coronavirus would only kill 500 Americans was widely shared in US conservative circles and helped inform US government policy on how to respond to the potential loss of life.

As NY Mag reports:

A week later, Epstein conceded that he had committed a math error, and the real number would be 5,000 deaths, though “it, too, could prove somewhat optimistic.”

At the time of writing, the US toll is about to pass 50,000 deaths.

…Somehow this experience has not shaken Epstein’s confidence in his own ability to outthink the entire field of epidemiology.

There’s an astonishing interview with Epstein in The New Yorker where he throws a tantrum.

O.K. I’m going to tell you. I think the fact that I am not a great scholar on this and I’m able to find these flaws or these holes in what you wrote is a sign that maybe you should’ve thought harder before writing it.

What it shows is that you are a complete intellectual amateur. Period.

O.K. Can I ask you one more question?

You just don’t know anything about anything. You’re a journalist. Would you like to compare your résumé to mine?

Part of the reason grifters have achieved such prominence is because the people in authority often have the Dunning-Krueger effect too.

The UK government is a stellar example, but you can also see it in things such as authorities urging us not to wear masks because they don’t really prevent you from getting the virus (even though proper ones do, which is why health workers use them, and though they do have a proven effect of reducing the danger of you spreading the virus to others if you don’t realise you have it). When official sources are often wrong, it creates a vacuum that grifters are all too ready to fill with bullshit.

In the MetaFilter discussion of the article, one commenter posted:

Science and these various “experts in stuff” both operate in uncertain environments, but treat uncertainty in totally opposite ways.

…Experts in stuff… use uncertainty as a means to an end, so they generally try to increase it. Since science shows its cards with regards to uncertainty, they can always argue a reasonable level of skepticism of science. Then they can turn around and present some alternative facts and arguments about their own position on the matter. The idea isn’t about the next researcher, or a process to eliminate uncertainty, it’s simply to be convincing. They don’t care if they are right – only if they are perceived as right.

This is why these “experts” can be so troubling to deal with. They’ll stake a claim against anything, as long as it gets them to their goal. Sometimes it’s just to be respected, but sometimes it can be much darker.

Pink shoes for boys

There’s a nice piece in Huffington Post by Kat Rossi.

When my son was 3, I made a mistake. We were at a shoe store in New York City, picking out new sneakers for his rapidly growing tiny feet. He was insistent: The next pair of shoes he was going to wear had to be bright pink. I steered him toward red. He pressed for pink, ignoring the usual varieties of blue for little boys. I am ashamed to admit that I eventually lied and told him that pink wasn’t available in his size. We compromised on orange.

Rossi talks about something many of us have experienced: the way gender roles are policed from a very early age. As I’ve written before, my daughter was informed in nursery school (by a boy, of course) that she wasn’t allowed to be interested in history or dinosaurs because “they’re for boys”; she was also told that her favourite fictional animal, a dragon, was not okay because dragons were for boys. Girls had to have a different fictional animal, a unicorn.

This bit felt very familiar:

My son entered preschool in our new home in Barcelona, Spain, and suddenly there were things girls do and things boys do. Girls dance, and boys play soccer ― or at least that’s what we were being told and shown. I took him to a ballet class where he was the only boy, and he took two days to make the decision of whether he wanted to keep going. No, he told me, because ballet is for girls. No number of Alvin Ailey or Fred Astaire videos, although agreeably cool, could convince him otherwise. Another mom at the school told me that her daughter had dropped soccer for the same reason ― it was for boys, she said.

When my son was a bit younger, he loved nail polish. And then overnight he stopped, because he’d been told that nail polish was for girls. Since then he’s often expressed his horror at the thought of owning anything pink.

Now it was no longer me, but the other influences in his life ― his classmates, teachers, the images he saw around us ― that told him you’re either A or B, girl or boy, and you’re expected to behave accordingly. Despite my attempts to keep the gender stereotypes out of his life, at age 5, he clearly drew a line in his head: On one side were the boys, and on the other, the girls.

The policing and reinforcement of gender stereotypes starts young, and the people who don’t conform – the boys who want pink shoes, the girls who don’t want to be sugar and spice and all things nice – are discouraged in all kinds of ways, big and small.

Asking for pink shoes don’t mean your son is gay, or trans. As Rossi writes:

just because you like something that’s associated with one gender doesn’t mean that you are that gender or want to identify as that gender, and it certainly doesn’t mean anything about your sexual orientation.

But there is an association in some people’s minds between how people express themselves and what their sexuality is, what their gender identity is. And some of those people react very negatively to anybody who doesn’t stay in their designated lane.

That means even if you are an evolved and enlightened human, you can still find yourself in the role of the gender police. You know that shoes or nail polish or anything else that’s been pointlessly gendered doesn’t mean anything, but you also know that other kids – and more to the point, other kids’ parents – often have very different views.

The truth is, I was mostly guided by fear. I was afraid that somehow if he were to show up at our uptown playground wearing pink sneakers, he would be teased mercilessly. I was afraid that he would be hurt ― because he was different.

I think that’s a real shame, because what starts in the playground ends up in the pay packet. As kids grow up, gender stereotypes begin to limit much more than the colour of their shoes.

Did your employer just requisition your home?

A thought-provoking piece by Dr Fiona Jenkins:

Although many employers are certainly being supportive, let’s not forget that those who until recently took their homes for private space are not gaining a privilege right now, but losing a set of prerogatives

…so “working from home” at present means something like this: employers have requisitioned the home as a condition of continuing to work, and they have taken away the office as part of what was previously offered to enable people to work.

I’m putting together some notes just now for people who are new to working at home. I work full-time from home and my work area is set up accordingly, not just with computer equipment but with furniture and accessories, some of which cost a lot of money. I chose my flat with the expectation of working from home, so it has sufficient space to do so; and the costs of working from home have been factored into the money I charge my clients.

But many people who are currently working from home have not got properties that are suitable, do not have appropriate equipment or furniture, and are not being compensated for the extra expenses of working from home – expenses not just including heating but the extra cost of electricity, of possibly requiring better broadband and so on.

And of course, those of us with children have to deal with the fact that schools are closed. I co-parent, so my children are not here all the time; I work on the days they are not. That isn’t an option for couples who may both be working at home.

Jenkins rightly points out that some employers are accommodating. She gives the example of an employer deciding that a 25-hour working from home week is full time. But many are not, and the costs their newly home working employees are incurring may be significant.

Jenkins:

While I am completely behind the move to lockdown, and grateful to have an employer carefully addressing the issues so that we can maintain our core work, I worry that caught up in the urgency of crisis we risk forgetting just how problematic the “working from home” pillar of our strategy for mitigation is in multiple respects. Just because we accept the necessity of action in the context of emergency should not mean that we do not question its further implications and its practice.