Thursday, 19 November 2015

Silenced! .... Permanently.

My opinion of Germaine Greer, and her apologists, just got lower, and here's why...

In my opinion Germaine Greer has blood on her hands, yes blood on her hands. Here's why... While the chattering classes and politely transphobic supporters of a simplistic Toytown approach to "free speech" were applauding Greer's mindless hatred against trans women, one of our number was lying dead on a slab. Vicky Thompson died by suicide on Friday 13th November after being committed to a male prison, only shortly after 150,000 people signed a petition for another trans woman, Tara Hudson, to be moved from a male prison to a female one. 

We can now see that those people who signed, who campaigned, who pressured the Home Office on Tara's behalf should probably be credited with saving Tara's life.

Yet immediately, and quietly, the Home Office was placing another trans woman in a male prison. Vicky Thompson has lived as a woman since her mid-teens and whatever her crime she did not deserve to die, yet the policy of the Home Office seems not to have changed after the uproar over Tara Hudson. It is time for someone to take responsibility, the appropriate minister should resign and there should be a proper public inquiry into her death.

Greer has mindlessly and arrogantly proclaimed that trans women are "men" as often as she could, and has been granted as much access to mainstream media as they could possibly give her. This is the result; 4-5 weeks of anti-trans bigotry everywhere from New Statesman to the Spectator, on our TV screens and spewing from our radios. The chattering classes, the editors and journalists supporting her right to harm trans people have done their work and Vicky Thompson's short life has been ended. 

Oh I'm sure these commentators and editors will absolve themselves by arguing that there is no "evidence" to link what they have done to Vicky's death. But to argue that a stream of bigotry telling everyone and anyone that trans women are "not women" has not had its effect is just mealy-mouthed platitudes. Whoever made the decision about where to place Vicky must have been affected by this torrent of hatred, misinformation and unsupported truisms (lacking in any "evidence") coming from Greer. People never act in a vacuum and the prevailing cultural climate always influences decisions.

So of course I believe Greer is responsible for Vicky's death and will be responsible for many others too if allowed to continue unchallenged. So far very few mainstream media outlets have broken the media consensus about her right to harm us. The people responsible for writing and editing this torrent of simplistic drivel also have blood on their hands.

One of the things people like me have constantly said is that, despite journalists telling me I am opposed to transphobia in the media because I am "offended", that is not the reason. Transphobia kills; trans people have been campaigning against the kind of hatred spouted by Greer for a reason. Vicky Thompson is one of those reasons. She was only 21 for fucks sake! What chance did she have? How many more trans people have to die, how many have to self-harm, how many have to go through community and family rejection, exclusion and bullying, how many have to suffer consequent mental health difficulties, how many have to end up on the streets before people understand that this sort of anti-trans propaganda has a consequence?

STOP PRESS: Please sign and share this petition to have prisons minister sacked...

Friday, 13 November 2015

The significance of Paris Lees on BBC Question Time.

The Objects become subjects...

I have to admit I rarely watch TV at all, it is boring, repetitive and regularly discriminatory. I also do not want to pay a TV licence because the BBC regularly gives too much publicity to a bunch of racists and bigots called UKip. However I am glad I watched Question Time at a friend’s flat last night. It featured Paris Lees. It is always important to see trans people in the media. As the recent Germaine Greer incident has shown, trans people are regularly denied access to mainstream media over important issues that concern us. 

So why is it so important that Paris was on TV last night? There were no questions about any trans issues, the questions were about a mix of issues, but nothing trans related. Anyone could have been on.

Yet this is exactly the point, and something that will make Greer and all the other TERFs really sick; the fact that she was on was entirely unrelated to her being a trans woman. She is a citizen of the UK and deserves to be included in the national debate on all issues like all other trans people. This is the normalisation of trans people. We are not objects of discussion by others, like TERFs and their friends the conservative psychiatrists who have debated and Othered us for decades, a tradition that Greer and the like desperately want to continue. We are subjects.

Increasingly the exclusion of trans people by TERFs is not happening. Obviously the acceptance and inclusion of trans people is not happening at a uniform rate but it is happening and the appearance of Paris on QT is a further step forward for trans inclusion. It shows people in their millions around the country that we are people just like them and that we have opinions about issues other than being trans. The objects of TERF dehumanising objectification have stopped beng objects and started being subjects. 

The significance of Paris Lees on Question Time? The fact that it was not significant made it significant.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Just who is being silenced...?

I have written a lot about the Germaine Greer transpbobia issue recently, this is for a reason. There have been few trans people allowed to write about it in mainstream media. With the exception of a piece in one of the Huffington Post blogs and two articles by trans people who are against no-platforming her, I have seen no trans people talking about this issue in mainstream media, blogs abound but when it comes to the mainstream media platforms trans people who support no-platforming have quite literally been “no-platformed”. Except of course we haven’t, we have been censored, silenced, excluded. Bottom-up, grassroots no-platforming by a students union is not the same as the top-down censorship meted out to trans people on this issue when it comes to very much larger platforms. Greer has been no-platformed and will not be heard by a few hundred people. The lack of trans representation in mainstream media has silenced our voices to millions.

As Sara Ahmed argued, this is the manifestation of power. This is cisgender people’s power being exercised over trans people, cis people silence trans people who object and select only the views of those who agree . Maybe we have become too widely accepted, maybe too many ordinary young people have started to support us, maybe this scares some people…? Maybe the only acceptable trans people are the ones who know their place?

The lack of trans voices on an issue that clearly affects trans people is quite astounding given the huge number of cis people taking the opportunity to speak their minds on this issue. Even the Guardian, a paper which distinguishes itself by normally including more trans voices has not consulted them on this issue. Again and again and again and again cis people voice their opinions about the Greer issue. Where are the trans voices in this? Where are dissenting voices arguing against this media consensus? Media consensuses are bad at the best of times, but when the issue is “free speech”, and the advocates of Greer being allowed to spout transphobia, tell us that trans people should engage in a dialogue on these issues; it becomes oppressive, hypocritical and ultimately undermines their own arguments.

The worst of these so far has been Helen Lewis’s editorial in the New Transphobe, er…sorry, I mean, New Statesman. She tells us she thinks trans women are women, which is good, because if she hadn’t, I would have have assumed otherwise from reading the article.

The way she presented the issues was pretty much from the TERF manual, their issues, from rape crisis centres to trans women in sport, they were presented from the TERF perspective. This is not to mean (disclaimer) that I consider her a TERF but, as a trans woman who has close friends who have been denied help by rape crisis centres, it is clear who she has been primarily influenced by.  Her dismissal of solidarity action by young feminists was verging on the paternalistic and read very much like the TERF arguments that trans people are just a “trend”. A litany of kettle logic arguments from the editor of a media platform that has so alienated trans people that most those trans people who have written for it now regret doing so.

The lack of a trans perspective on an issue that is primarily about trans people’s rights is scary, it exposes a lack of willingness to engage on this issue and badly undermines their claims that the best course of action for trans people would be to engage with and expose Greer’s transphobia. If the way mainstream media has engaged with trans people on this issue is anything to go by this is unlikely to happen. 

Yet it seems now that those who have advocated the “free speech” approach have really made fools of themselves.  Cardiff University has rebooked the event, adding insult to injury, scheduling it just two days before Transgender Day of Remembrance, it is, apparently already “fully booked” so if you are trans and want to challenge Greer on her bigotry, as the “free speech” advocates advise. Tough.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Transphobia: How would "free speech" actually work?

Opposing no-platforming, "free speech" campaigners advocate that trans people challenge the views of transphobes by engaging in debate with them at universities. How would that actually work out in practice..."

The debate about whether transphobic bigots should be allowed to use universities to spread their hatred, disinformation and lies about trans people seems to have missed out some very important issues. 

Firstly the way this issue has been dealt with in mainstream media. Only the Huffington Post published an article by an informed trans writer about this subject, the rest of the media has been unremittingly pro-transphobia, pro-Greer. From the Spectator to the Guardian trans voices have been conspicuous by their absence. Greer on the other hand, has been invited to spout as much hate as she can, and has had it all reported. 

If mainstream media wants to argue against no-platforming of TERFs, fine, but they need to put their own house in order first. In effect they have been silencing trans voices on this issue, not a good position from which to argue against what they disingenuously call “censorship”. It is hypocritical to call for an end to “no-platforming” transphobic bigots without including trans voices in the debate.

Secondly those who argue for the “right” of transphobes to use universities to spread their hatred seem to have some odd, Panglossian vision of how this might happen. So for the sake of argument let's assume Zoe Williams, Bea Campbell and Brendan O'Neill get their way, what would "free speech" at a university look like?

  • A transphobe spouting hatred for 60 minutes followed by a few short questions…? Given that many of the “arguments” deployed by transphobes are deliberate oversimplifications, exposing these requires time to develop an argument, how you can develop an argument when being hurried up and told to phrase it as a question beats me.
  • A transphobe sharing a platform with a trans person who can argue back…? I don’t know many trans people who would be willing to do that. I certainly wouldn’t want to legitimise transphobic bigotry by engaging in any kind of debate on those terms. A debate in which my own right to exist is up for discussion is not a debate on fair terms
  • A panel debate which includes a transphobic bigot a trans person and a couple of neutrals…? See Desmond Tutu. Anyone who claims to be “neutral” in this situation is clearly not neutral. A trap. I would walk away. 
  • A transphobe speaking but with no questions at the end or questions submitted earlier to a “neutral” MC…? A cop-out, no chance of really pressing the transphobe and exposing their inconsistencies, and once again a sliencing of trans voices in a way which makes it appear that we are so dangerous that the speaker needs to be protected from them. See Desmond Tutu again.

Once we start thinking these things through it is clear that, under current circumstances there is no prospect of instigating a free and fair debate with a transphobe in a way that is likely to do what the “free speech” advocates claim to want. In reality any such event will still silence trans voices and not achieve the result they claim, that of challenging and exposing the views of the transphobe. When the practicalities of the “free speech” agenda are examined, the results they argue for, cannot be achieved.

Given how the media is suppressing trans views on this matter anyway it would appear that any event at which a transphobe speaks at a university is bound to result simply in more oppression for trans people, especially trans students, the system is still rigged against us, the only weapon we have to defend ourselves is no-platforming. 

Finally, “free speech” advocates across mainstream media have all suggested that trans people defeat transphobic bigots assertions by force of argument. Perhaps then, they would explain how I am supposed to argue against Greer’s deeply abusive and bigoted statement “Trans women are men.”?

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Transphobes: Censorship and No-platforming are different...

Watching the latest saga in the “Free Speech” debate as TERFs and assorted TERF apologists tried to justify transphobe, and transphobia-denier Germaine Greer speaking at Cardiff University the thought that entered my mind is “Here we go again!” Once again TERFs tried to get a bio-essentialist hater of trans people, especially trans women, the “right” to speak at a university and spread her hatred around to a few more people.

The “Here we go again!” point is important however, because the TERFs long ago lost the argument on this issue; they have done their best to argue that Greer’s (and other TERFs’) rights to “free speech” are being violated. They claim that people at universities should be free to discuss everything and anything, as ususal. They clutch pearls over the spectre of the Trans Cabal 'dictating' to universities to silence “women” or “feminists”, when they actually mean “TERFs” - who do not represent anything more than a tiny minority of women or feminists. Ironically Greer even took to mainstream media to air these views and proclaim how much she is being silenced.

There is almost a kind of ritualistic element to it; repeat, repeat, repeat. Stick to your line, repeat the words ‘censored’, ‘free speech’, ‘banned’, ‘silenced!’  Get petition together to be signed by the great and the good, or at least by a few C-list fading Greats and Goods plus a few people who don’t know what they are signing…

This is the last resort of a group that cannot make a coherent case for their position, repeat the lie until it becomes the truth. Meanwhile as the arguments against their essentialist drivel stack up and go unchallenged, they repeat the buzzwords, avoid debate. 

This has always been the problem for the TERFs; they need to present themselves as the victims of silencing whilst at the same time silencing the voices of trans people. Back in the dark days of the last century, before trans people could organise and fight for our rights the TERFs were attacking trans people. They took every possible opportunity to have a go at trans people. Indeed, before the mid noughties the dominant media narrative about trans people was the TERF narrative. Every effort was invested in ensuring that trans people were unable to come out, transition and be open about who they were. This wasn’t just silencing in the conventional sense of preventing someone from expfressing an opinion, it was silencing in the sense that it attempted to prevent people from being who they were, it was the silencing of the grave, of the quiet suicide, of the knife in the back the brick to the head; better a dead tranny than a live one. Trans people were too often unable to oppose TERF lies not merely because they did not have the online platforms they have now but because they were dead.

Perhaps no-one has noticed but the majority of TERF action now seems to be focussed on getting transphobes to speak at universities. The reason for this, as I have pointed out before, is that university is the environment where most young trans people come out. It provides a relatively safe space for young trans people to come out and transition. No wonder TERFs are targetting this space, they clearly desperately want to make it less safe, to make sure that trans people coming out for the first time have to face fellow students “questioning” them personally, they want to make universities spaces where transphobia is not considered unacceptable. At the most vulnerable moment in their lives trans people should be protected from the abuse and harassment which people like Greer are only too keen to dish out.

The way to preserve these spaces as relatively safe is to continue to no-platform transphobic speakers. Why? Because it does four things: 

  • Firstly it flags up to everyone that this speaker is a transphobic bigot, that the content of his or her output includes hatred for and abuse of trans people. It makes an issue where there would otherwise have been no issue. Crucially it means the issue in question is transphobia not trans people. The issue here has been Germaine Greer, not trans people, as has so often been the case in the past.

  • Secondly it forces them to defend their stance on trans people, ie. to defend bigotry, hatred and discrimination. It puts them on the defensive, again it means the issue is them not trans people. This is important because it frames the starting point of the debate as being their transphobia. They are the problem.

  • Thirdly it exposes the gaps in attitudes towards inclusion, equality and diversity at the institution concerned, as it has done in Cardiff. It forces the university’s management to defend it’s stance, something which, in this case has exposed it as talking the talk but not walking the walk on trans inclusion and equality. 

  • Finally it enables other students, student unions and academic staff, as well as others outside the university to demonstrate their support for trans students and their contempt for transphobes. This is probably more important than most people think. No-platforming represents a vehicle by which fellow students can show their solidarity (yes I know solidarity is an outmoded word but that is in itself a problem) to trans students. Rather than trans students watching some classmates going to listen to a transphobe, and possibly coming away saturated in disinformation having soaked up TERF mendacity, they see fellow students signing petitions and attending meetings and demos to protest against these bigots. The effect of this cannot be underestimated.

The key here is that those who want to justify transphobia have to go on the defensive; the problem then becomes Germaine Greer and Germaine Greer’s bigotry, not young trans students. Greer and her apologists’ simplistic and hypocritical attitudes to “free speech” are put under the microscope.

Ultimately No-platforming is different from censorship or silencing, although many people, particularly TERFs and their friends in the right-wing media want us to think differently. No-platforming is about local people, showing solidarity with those in their midst who are subject to the kinds of lies, abuse and misrepresentation that bigots dish out, deciding they are going to support their peers. It is the very opposite of censorship, it is ensuring that those who are subject to intimidation and abuse in an attempt to silence them, are not put in a position where they are feel uncomfortable either expressing their views or being somewhere on campus. Censorship is top-down, the exercise of power to prevent a point of view being heard at all. No-platforming is bottom-up, it is a collective action of those whose voices are rarely heard. We recently saw a well-known writer come out as trans. They do not have to fear being placed in such a situation, their freedom of expression is not at issue. Ordinary young trans students at university don't always want to loudly proclaim their transness, many simply want to blend in and get on with their lives without harassment. This is what no-platforming is about. Ultimately it is the opposite of censorship, the opposite of silencing. 

An analysis of Germaine Greer's claim about Caitlyn Jenner

So Caitlyn Jenner has “become” a transsexual woman in order to share the limelight of the Kardashans. According to the one who knows all about trans people: Germaine Greer. 

Big news, obviously Greer knows all about Jenner, about
trans people, about the Kardashans and about people’s motivations for doing things. Her conclusion is obviously based on in-depth sociological and psychological research triangulated by the latest data collection techniques and after a careful examination of everything Jenner has said in the last few months. 

Or not. 

Greer’s forensic “explanation” for Jenner’s gender identity cited no research, referred to no quotes from Jenner, or any other members of her family, from her manager, or from anyone else who knows her. In fact Greer’s conclusion is based on… absolutely no evidence whatsoever. Indeed it was probably something she thought up all by herself, on her own, with no-one else to help her...

In this sense however Greer’s “observation”, “explanation” “outburst” or whatever you want to call it, is important, although not in the way she intended it. It is important not merely because it represents a typical example of the TERF narrative but because it also reveals the way Greer thinks and because it exposes some TERF strategies.

TERF narratives, especially from so-called TERF “academics” are invariably characterised by a dearth of evidence to support their assertions, or indeed if they do present any evidence, it is generally as a result of a deliberate misinterpretation, misrepresentation or misuse of contested, and usually discredited data. The output of TERF writers, speakers and assorted other bigots is rarely, if ever, based on anything remotely resembling credible empirical evidence, or indeed any evidence of any kind whatsoever. 

Of course most of the assertions they make are demonstrably false, like Raymond’s absurd, and at long last retracted, claim that trans women rape women’s bodies, which was not only incorrect, deliberately recruiting emotive language to describe trans women, but an inappropriate use of the word “rape” (something she has not apologised for). Yet some more subtly so. Somehow they have come to claim that the mantle of TERF “Radical Feminism” speaks for all Radical Feminists or indeed "all women", when actually it only speaks for a tiny minority of fanatics.

What Greer’s outburst does expose in addition to this is how the TERFs are desperate to talk about Jenner almost to the exclusion of any other trans person. Indeed from reading TERF output you could almost be forgiven for thinking the population of trans people was represented by Caitlyn Jenner as a typical example. In fact Jenner is very much a rarity, vastly outnumbered by thousands of young trans people coming out at younger and younger ages. The problem for the TERFs however is that these young trans people, especially young trans women and girls, don’t fit their narrative so neatly. It is easier to make the claim that Jenner has benefitted from male privilege than it is to make the same claim of, say, Jazz Jennings or the numerous other trans girls and boys who have come out at similar ages, or in their teens, something which is today, vastly more common than a wealthy female celebrity coming out as trans. 

However probably the most revealing thing about Greer’s outburst was how it betrayed her own motivations and insecurities. A has-been celebrity “academic” who once wrote a good book, she has been desperately attempting to stay in the limelight for a very long time, numerous stunts and appearances on “reality” TV shows attest to this. She is desperate to avoid being ignored, insecure about fading away into obscurity, afraid of becoming insignificant.

No humiliation is too much for her to attract a few fleeting seconds of quasi-limelight; she is a woman who will do anything to get on TV or in the papers, everything including making a fool of herself over her bigoted opinions. She has had to lower herself to becoming the “feminist” Katie Hopkins in order to keep her precarious ego satisfied, employing whatever embarrassing and demeaning stunt she can come up with to fend off obscurity.

So when Greer starts telling everyone that trans women are “not women” its veracity, and her motives for saying it need to be taken with all of the above bourne in mind...

Friday, 16 October 2015

Restricted minds and self-delusion.

One of the accusations targeted at trans people for the last century or so was that of mental illness. I mean who could possibly identify as anything other than the gender they were assigned at birth? We have a system of assigning gender at birth which works for most of us, why should trans people be any different? It is their minds that are wrong not their bodies.

This is not just one of those pieces of Weaponised Empty Rhetoric (WER) employed by TERFs and other assorted bigots, it is the view of many others. A typically "commonsense" view of the world where everything is simple and simplicity is best. Its roots are in the Foucauldian type of "scientific" investigation into trans people in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Trans people were the objects of study by psychologists in those days and it is likely that this contributed long-term, to trans people being able to identify and come together as a group.

TERFs have long used the accusation of mental illness as a means to oppress trans people, claiming that "talking therapies" are the solution, as if it is better to play around with someone's mind than alter their body a little, a kind of reverse Cartesian Dualism in which the body takes precedence over the mind, something that reveals the profoundly essentialist basis of their transphobia.

However to see transphobes bombarding a discussion thread with these accusations after a TV news article about older trans people goes well beyond the WER of the TERF, even though you can bet your bottom dollar that some of these comments were from TERFs pseudonymously joining in to stir hatred for trans people. Yet this transphobic hatred is the meat and drink of parody. These people are a pastiche of themselves, a kind of Spitting Image caricature of their own lives. Anonymous behind their Macs, Sonys and Toshibas, they accuse those who differ from the norm as being mentally ill, of suffering from a kind of madness, however in doing so they enact the very things which do cause mental illness in trans people and many other minorities. They, in their ignorance are demonstrating what really causes mental ill health; the acts of bigotry and ignorance which result in social isolation and exclusion of minority groups.

The fact is that trans people have always existed in every civilisation worthy of the name throughout history and continue to exist, in different forms in many cultures around the world indicates the wrongness, ignorance and narrow-mindedness of their "opinions".

Yet it goes beyond this; their ignorance of difference and their intolerance of diversity betrays a mental incapacity to deal with the kinds of people who do not feature in their restricted, Barratt-home, Cornflake-packet, Mail-on Sunday lives. These are people whose existences are sheltered and normalised, their understanding of the world curtailed and impeded by wall-to-wall exposure to the effects of media blandification, their minds diminished by the everyday monotony that neoliberal indoctrination requires, the possibilities in their own lives circumscribed by the narrowness of their own, artificially-imposed microscopic horizons, rendering their own contributions to the world insignificant as they plod through life in harness to the system, yet without realising they are the ones in cages.

These people are the desperate slaves of a system that requires its population to be regimented inside and out, yet which does so in a way that its captives think they are free. Not only are they under the delusion that their opinions are their own but that their viewpoints are not controlled by those who oppress them, who own them.

Now, some might suggest that these people are mentally ill themselves as they are living in a state of delusion that they are free when they are not, that their knowledge and opinions are their own when they are created for them, that they "did it my way" when they have been manipulated not merely to do it someone else's way but to believe they made their own choices. To me that represents a form of mental illness which is all the worse because it is not recognised as such and because it is so widespread.

It is obvious that these people need to resort to cowardly insults and online bullying, when faced with the courage of trans people openly speaking on TV, suggesting their mental health is probably suffering from far greater damage than might have been assumed by their mental incarceration, regimented thinking and inability to understand their own circumstances. It is obvious that, given all this, they are more seriously affected by this restraining, regulating and reductive culture imposed on their minds. They are quite literally expressing hatred, motivated by envy, at those who are different, who have escaped from the cages they inhabit, cages which they build for themselves (directed by others) every day and which they delude themselves represent freedom.

The very act of bullying trans people, of accusing trans people of being mentally ill reveals their own mental and social problems, it exposes their own self-hatred, their own need to bully, their own need to try and harm others in order to feel good themselves. These are people I truly feel sorry for, they are the truly pathetic, the people neoliberalism has betrayed, deceived, imperceptibly manipulated and incarcerated. They peer out from inside their invisible (to them) cages and attempt to sneer at those who are free. They are undeniably in pain, an invisible pain, a pain of constriction, of ignorance and of self-delusion.

Their actions have shown that if anyone is mentally ill, it is they.