Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Great Debate: Should Sarah Ditum Exist?

The debate over whether "Sarah Ditum" should exist has raged for a number of years, and has been central to watercooler talk at the New Statesman for a while now. Should we collude with her in her fantasy claims to be Sarah at all? As a socially constructed identity many feel that she does not really exist, after all anything socially constructed it cannot be real can it?

"Sarah" claims she has felt like Sarah Ditum since she was a child and has as much right to self define as any other person. However many doubt that a person claiming to be a "Sarah Ditum" should be entitled to an important job in such a prestigious national political magazine as NS. Her assertion that she is a "journalist" also appears to be based on dubious claims. Rudimentary knowledge of grammar and knowing how to use email and Word for Mac do not make you a journalist. After all real journalists like Polly Toynbee or Suzanne Moore clearly have very different skills to "Sarah Ditum".

"Sarah" of course insists she has as much right to be a "feminist" and a "journalist" as anyone else, but given that journalism and feminism are both socially constructed her claims can only be regarded as pure whimsy on her part, "feminism" and "journalism" clearly do not exist, they are pure constructs. She even uses a social construct itself derived from other social constructs; "English" to engage in this journalism and feminism, how ridiculous can you get?!

Young trans people.

Of course the above is ridiculous, but it is what Sarah Ditum is expecting young Trans people to go through on a regular basis as they come out, transition and find their feet, taking baby steps out on their own in our harsh and increasingly dysfunctional neoliberal world. Indeed maybe Sarah might like to imagine what life would be like if she had been brought up in a family that didn't accept her for who she was, in a small provincial town which also didn't accept her and went to schools that didn't allow her to be Sarah Ditum. Imagine that she had been brought up being told by all those around her that she was someone else, and that she had to be this other, completely different person, all the time by her parents, teachers, friends, relatives and the media.

Imagine then that, in spite of all this she made it to university and, with the modicum of independence that gave her, she then decided to come out as Sarah Ditum and transition to living full-time as Sarah.  Imagine her joy at finally being able to be herself and live an authentic and livable life.

But lets also imagine that there exists a group of people who are opposed to Sarah Ditums, who speak regularly on campuses and in feminist socs, LGBT socs, journalism socs maybe and other student societies, who oppose her, that tell her that, as a socially constructed entity she has no legitimacy, is clearly fake and that, in fact she represents a threat to other groups on campus if she continues to maintain this, indeed she should not even have the right to use the appropriate toilet. Imagine that these people tell Sarah that they know more about her than she does and, because her lived experience doesn't fit in to their theories, she should be considered a fraud rather than their theories.

As a result of this Sarah finds herself constantly having to argue with other students who have been encouraged to question her legitimacy as a person, she finds that some students openly call her a fraud, use the wrong name and pronouns and subject her to other abusive behaviour. Her life would quickly become a nightmare.

This is the problem; once transphobic "feminists" have been allowed to delegitimise and dehumanise Trans people it does not stop there. This is what happens when Trans Exclusionary "Radical Feminists"(TERFs) decide to engage in debate about trans people. TERFs do not simply sit around and talk in a detached, academic manner about how awful trans people are, they engage in activities designed to harass, harm, silence and intimidate trans people. TERFs regularly out Trans people against their wishes, abuse us online, subject to us to defamation, harassment and much worse.

So Sarah Ditum's New Statesman article (in a column called "politics for tired people." which maybe should be renamed "tired old argumenrts" or "lazy journalism") calling for an end to no-platforming for TERFs on campuses is actually just the most recent example of a long line of articles that have repeatedly accused trans people and their allies of censoring debate and silencing TERFs while conveniently turning a blind eye to the multiple activities of TERFs who persistently work hard to silence trans people. Indeed there have been so many of this type of one-sided article they have almost become a cliche.

Ditum's accusations of censorship would be considerably more credibile if she investigated TERF activity which threatens, abuses, harms and, in particular, silences trans people on a regular basis. 

I have been doing a lot of in-depth research into the lives of young trans people aged between 18 and 28 and from this it is clear that university is one of the key spaces where young trans people can come out and begin transition, it is usually a relatively safe social space for them. It contrasts dramatically with school, which remains largely a very transphobic place with all but one of my research participants being unable to come out in school - and he went to school in Denmark. This makes university even more important as a safe space for young trans people. No wonder the TERFs are targetting it with so much energy.

Sarah Ditum seems to think that our identities are up for discussion, and that a supposedly calm, reasoned, dispassionate, academic  debate about trans peoples identities is actually possible. She is either living on a different planet from me or is totally unaware of her cisgender privilege.

Deliberate misinformation about treatment for trans children
Does she genuinely think that it is ever going to be possible for any debate in which any minority groups identities are questioned, qua identities, to be anything other than intimidatory, harassing and regarded by those whose identities are attacked as anything other than abuse?  There is no fence to sit on here Sarah, you are either in favour of TERFs harassing young trans people or you are against it. Julie Bindel has plenty of opportunities to say what she wants elsewhere. In any case most of her opinions, while readily digestible by the uninitiated have been discredited comprehensively, often and for a long time. This is a plain and simple issue of the rights of young trans people to get on with their lives and education without harassment.

This is not a 'freedom of speech' issue, it is a right to exist issue. Julie Bindel has plenty of opportunities to publish her ideas, and indeed I have a lot of respect for much of her journalism, but on this issue, in my opinion young trans people's right to exist safely comes first.

I wonder if Sarah Ditum is in favour of that.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Duplicitous or £9 notes...?

There seems to be a bit of a TErf offensive going on right now attempting to use “science” to discredit and delegitimize trans people. TErfs are disinterring the old canard of "scientific" gender to tell everyone that trans women can never be ‘real’ women. Our chromosomes are different, they say, we do not menstruate, they say, we cannot have children, they say. As Stavvers explains in her excellent article taking down their biological essentialism, society and technology have evolved to the extent that women, including trans women, no longer need to be defined by biology. Biology is no longer destiny.

 “What about chromosomes?” bleat the TErfs with all the originality of joke in a Christmas cracker. Yawn. You need a laboratory and trained scientists to be able to identify these accurately, they simply cannot be used for the purposes of gender identification in the course of everyday life. Remember it took a team of scientists nine months to come to the opinion that Caster Semenya was female, and even then they would only give an opinion not a definitive answer. Indeed it is highly likely that only a tiny percentage of the population have ever, like Caster, had their chromosomes examined.

So let’s hear it again: TErfs want to use something that is invisible and undetectable in the course of everyday life, to distinguish women from trans women. Priceless.

So if, as Stavvers explains, women no longer need to be tied to biological functions, why have the TErfs started spouting huge quantities of essentialism, something almost every feminist opposes?
The answer can only be that the biological essentialism is not actually what they are focusing on. It is not the point of their argument or the reason they embrace it. 

So in that case what is the point of so-called feminists arguing something that undermines feminism? The answer can only be that these arguments are in fact nothing but a front for transphobia and oppression. They represent nothing more than an attempt to delegitimize trans people with the intention of discriminating against us. These people tell us they do not wish to persecute trans people yet they are attempting to have us classified as 2nd class women, or indeed not the genders we are at all. The TErfs are effectively saying that they have the right to decide who we are that they are the sole arbiters of gender, based on characteristics that are no longer crucial determinants. A kind of gender fascism. In a small taste of this mode of action, a London-based TErf deliberately misgendered me (but not to my face) while threatening one of my friends with violence at an LGBT History month event this week.

In fact the tired TErf trope “trans women are men,” carries with it so much baggage in terms of biological essentialism that it can only be read in terms that are intensely anti-feminist.  In truth a simple deconstruction of this attempt to exclude, delegitimize, erase, disempower, misrepresent and bully trans women is very revealing. It exposes the TErfs’ illogical and ideological obsessive hatred and how the dishonest façade of feminism they hide behind is far greater than any genuine commitment to anything other than oppression of trans people. These people are true fanatics, fixated by their hatred of trans people, trans women in particular.  In their desire to mandate us out of existence, they will misuse whatever they can in order to achieve that aim as they have done in the past.

Recent attacks have demonstrated clearly that some people who claim to be either trans-allies or neutrals are either nothing of the sort or gullible dupes with a level of credibility somewhere between that of J Michael Bailey and a £9 note.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Whose lies?

The following represents my opinion regarding Caleb Hannan's role in the death of Dr V.

One of my close relatives runs a small business. She constantly complains of how some of her larger competitors resort to dishonest means to attract clients, yet no journalist has ever made it his or her business to investigate these practices. This is because they happen all the time. 

In fact you can dig into all sorts of products to find untruths, lies and false claims. Everything from cigarette manufacturers claiming they improved fitness and didn’t cause cancer to thorough misdescriptions of hotels and holiday resorts, perhaps omitting to mention the building site next door or the flightpath over the beach. Occasionally journalists pick up on something like this and, occasionally lies and untruths make it into the media.  But only occasionally.

So when Caleb Hannan produces an article in which he outs a transwoman who has reportedly failed to provide him with evidence that she was telling the truth about her qualifications and past experience when selling a new type of golf club, then he is talking about something that happens regularly, systemically and persistently. 

I know food supplement companies who claim endorsements from doctors, yet we are not told how much those doctors were paid for those endorsements, or indeed whether they would have endorsed those products if they were not paid. Have you ever wondered how someone working out in the fields all day was supposed to eat a Ploughman’s Lunch? Well the truth is that it is highly likely that no ploughman has ever eaten a Ploughman’s Lunch, at least when he was working in the fields, and today he would be unable to afford a quality piece of Cheddar on sumptuous wholemeal bread since the government introduced poverty wages for agricultural workers. It is a marketing ploy, a con invented in the 1960s by which time ploughmen had been replaced by tractor drivers. Apple’s white, open, clean, forward-thinking, hypercool presentation of its philosophy and its products does not sit well with the filthy, oppressive, slave-labour conditions, accusations of bullying, high rate of suicide and poverty wages at its assembly plant in China.

If we were to search for whiter-than-white business purity, to find a business that does not stretch the truth, which does not use less than honest means to push its products in competitive markets then we would have to look very hard indeed. I have been lied to, not just by estate agents, as you might expect, but by salesmen and women of different companies, solicitors, tradesmen, potential employers, IT maintenance services, laser hair removal providers, rail companies and airlines.

When I say ‘lied’ I mean usually that there were things that I needed to know that they were not telling me, and that, unless I asked the exact right question I would not have been told. 

For example:

Q: “How long is the lease?”
A: “It’s around 80 years.”
Q: “How long exactly?”
A: “Erm, let me get back to you…”

… a week later…

Q: “You were going to provide me with exact details of the length of the lease…?”
A: “erm…yes… It’s...errr... 79 years and 8 months.”

Anyone who knows anything about residential properties in the UK and lease extensions will know that there is a huge difference in the cost of renewing a lease (and thus the resale value) on a property with 80 years and one day left on the lease and one with 79 years and 364 days left, (thanks to Cadogan v Sportelli if you must know).

So dishonesty and concealment of the truth are therefore regular players in the commercial world. When Dr V was selling her new golf club Caleb Hannan suggests that some of her claims about her own past were not true, something that Jane Fae has written about here; pointing out that Hannan has not actually verified his claims, particularly in terms of absence of evidence.

What we do know about the product she was selling however is that it was a good product, it worked. It is something that would most likely have sold itself once a few people in the golf world had got their hands on it and won games, improved their handicaps etc. However Dr V needed to get her product out there and used by enough people for this to happen before one of the larger sports equipment makers copied it and drove her out of business. Yes we have patent laws to prevent this from happening but unless you have almost unlimited access to expensive lawyers you won’t stand a chance of enforcing a patent when you are up against a large multinational company. So she had to move fast if she wanted to capitalize on her invention.

Her product is clearly revolutionary and will change the way golf is played, so what is the difference between telling people its inventor went to this or that university and suggesting to people munching overpriced open sandwiches that they are eating something which is traditional and has probably been around for centuries? Especially when you have promised to focus on the product not the producer. In the end the product is good, in spite of the amateur marketing.

Personally I am inclined not to believe Hannan’s claims about Dr V's lies for the simple reason that he has form in being less than thorough and straightforward in his own journalist career. Not only that but he refused point-blank to negotiate the opportunity to go and verify Dr V’s credentials from her previous life, something that could potentially have resulted in his scoop being less sensationalist. And if he had seen evidence that Dr V’s qualifications, which he doubted were true, that would suggest that some of the other things she claimed were also true. In other words his story would have fallen apart like a house of cards. Was this his motivation behind his refusal to explore this further...?

This didn’t appear to matter to Hannan however and consequently he will forever be tainted with questions about DrV’s death, especially since, as I suspect will happen in due course, evidence comes to light about her past which tells a different story to that of Hannan.

One of the things Hannan has clearly failed to research however is the way trans people live. In some parts of the US, like New York or San Francisco it may be possible to live openly as a trans person. However there are many parts of America, and indeed plenty of other countries too, where being openly trans is a death sentence, or at least a route to social and economic marginalisation. So what he tells us is her ‘dishonesty’ about her gender (and which I would describe as ‘honesty’ about her gender; her real gender is female, if she were to present as anything else she would be lying) is in fact a means of protecting herself both physically and emotionally.

Being trans is hard, cisgenderism in our culture means that the world is not set up to accommodate trans people and as a result we suffer from exclusion, delegitimisation and violence. People, especially in the media, seem to consider us legitimate targets for outing when the story has nothing to do with our genders.  Yet Hannan went ahead with outing Dr V when he clearly didn’t know anything about trans people, how we lead our lives, how precarious those lives can be and how dangerous the world can be for trans people.

How do we know this? Well the most telling part of his entire article we this;

“Finally it hit me. Cliché or not, a chill actually ran up my spine.
“Are you trying to tell me that Essay Anne Vanderbilt was once a man?””

In particular what Hannan describes as a “chill” going up his spine suggests the possibility of a number of things;
  • 1.     He knows little or nothing about trans people
  • 2.     He considers trans people to be inherently evil
  • 3.     He considers trans people to be inherently problematic
  • 4.     He considers that being trans is a form of deception. This is reinforced by his subsequent misgendering of Dr V.
  • 5.     He is transphobic.
  • 6.     He lacks empathy for other human beings

What is most striking about Hannan is how, despite deciding out her as trans, he clearly had no idea about what it means to out a trans person. What would the implications have been for her personally? How would that have affected things like her job, her accommodation and her personal safety and security, the people in her neighbourhood? It is also clear from the story that being trans had nothing to do with its substance other than making it difficult for her to substantiate her claims to her qualifications and experience.

Yet Hannan includes her gender identity in his story in the full knowledge that Dr V’s gender is irrelevant to the substance of the case. In my opinion he does this in order to make it more sensational and more likely to sell. In other words Dr V's life was collateral damage in Caleb Hannan's career, he considered that her life did not matter, especially when presented with the opportunity for a sensationalist and prurient story. Trans people are of little consequence, we are less than human. 

Hannan also joins the lowest of the low when he deliberately misgenders her in the article. This is the oldest trick in the book and an opportunity to make your journalism appear 'edgy' and 'transgressive'. Except it is neither, misgendering is a low level moronic move which any idiot can do it. It is about as edgy and transgressive as neoliberalism and as intelligent as George W Bush.

Had he done a little research he would have discovered that many trans people were routinely advised to cover their past, to invent a backstory, move to another city and start a new life. This used to be standard practice for psychologists in gender clinics and many trans people still do it today. Being in “deep stealth” is a means of survival in a world which is hostile to trans people. I know a young trans woman who lives this way despite transitioning only a few months ago. Of course once you tell one lie, others inevitably have to follow, but these are not deliberate, intentional, malicious lies however, they are lies borne of necessity, forced on us by others in society who are intolerant of trans people. Other people's lies by proxy.

Yet Hannan appears to have done no research and made the decision to out Dr V without considering the consequences for her. This is, in my opinion, unforgivable, especially since it was something that was irrelevant to substance of the story. I suspect that this is the most likely explanation of what happened, and the most generous. Because the other is that he did do some research, was aware of the possible consequences for her but did it anyway, which is even more unforgivable. instead he has done nothing more than rehash the tired old 'trans-as-deception' lie.

And let us be honest here, Grantland is also less than pure whiter-than-white over this story. It did not have to publish, or it could have published without outing Dr V. One suspects that the temptation of go for clickbait and associated advertising revenue was the motivation behind it, in my opinion this is thoroughly reprehensible. 

So let's recap. A person who has a less than pure, whiter-than-white past, working for a blog that appears to have less than scrupulous morals about clickbait, has savaged someone else for appearing, also to be less than a pure, whiter-than-white geeky inventor, and exposed part of her life which was irrelevant to this, to sensationalise her and prop up an otherwise non-story. 

Trans people's lives are complicated, business is complicated, journalists constantly set up straw men of uncontaminated, whiter-than-white, purity as the norm in our society, when it is abundantly clear that this is not the case, they then act like outraged saints knocking it down. Except in this case, as with so many "journalists" they are far from uncontaminated by skeletons in their own closets.

No-one comes out of this with clean hands, but the filthy, exploitative and selfish actions of the editor of Grantland and Caleb Hannan, make Dr V appear almost angelic.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Trans children in Denmark

This is my translation of a recent FB post by the mother of a trans child in Denmark, heartbreaking...

“My 6 year old daughter goes to a school where there are at present swimming lessons here in the nursery class .
Which of course should be a good thing , however, we have learned that the swimming pool has informed the school that my daughter can not attend with her girlfriends. Because she has gender identity disorder, she is biologically a boy but lives like and identifies as a girl.
It would be incredibly demeaning to have to change with the boys and it would probably also be a breeding ground for bullying.
Basically I do not understand the requirement that one should follow one's biological sex changing rooms but if that is the requirement , there should also be an option for those for whom using these changing rooms it is not possible.
I simply can not understand that it is not possible to provide a changing facility for her, like a disabled changing room.
All I see is unnecessary discrimination of a little girl who does not understand why she cannot go to swimming with her friends.”

As we can see the problems for trans children are largely caused by adults and their ignorance. It is likely that these problems for her are caused indirectly by the attitudes or percieved attitudes of the parents of other children. I have met this little girl and her mother, and she is just a normal little child who loves everything little girls love. She was wearing a princesses outfit and enjoying the warmth of her mother's hugs and there was absolutely nothing masculine or boyish about her. It is heartbreakig to see this happen and we need to ensure that the attitudes of bigoted and narrow-minded adults stop harming other people's children.

Monday, 28 October 2013

TERFism in crisis.

“TERF” is the acronym for transphobes who hide behind bogus feminist discourse to harass and abuse trans people, previously referred to “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists.” However it has now become apparent that neither the “Exclusionary” nor the “Radical Feminist” parts of this descriptor are accurate. There seems to be a new consensus forming around “Trans Erasing Reactionary Fakefeminists” as a more appropriate reading. Of course this new descriptor has the advantage that it still uses the acronym “TERF” but that is entirely intentional.

Back in the dark days of TERFism, in the 1970s and 80s when TERFs were unopposed by trans people in such large numbers and their declared aim was to see us “morally mandated out of existence” they were quite clear that their main aim was erasure or extermination. Despite the huge numbers of deaths caused by TERF collaboration with the Republican Party to deny trans people in the US access to healthcare, this was not a very effective strategy. It is estimated that the number of openly trans people and stealth trans people in existence has increased by at least 10,000% since Janice Raymond wrote the TERF bible “The Transsexual Empire.”
Even before trans people had become organised to counter their lies and fight back at their policy of placing trans people into situations where they face violence and murder, the failure of TERF policy was manifest. To the horror of the TERFs trans people simply refused to be mandated out of existence. What the TERFs failed to realise was that trans people had nowhere else to go. We could either be ourselves or die one way or another. 

TERFism was in a mess, it had failed and now trans people were starting to become organised via the internet and were opposing TERF ideology wherever we could. Their stream of ever more ridiculous unsupported assertions were being revealed for the lies, half-truths and fabrications that they were. The publication of Sandy Stone’s paper, “The Empire Strikes Back.” effectively discredited Raymond’s core assertion, revealing it as a fantasy fabrication. The discrediting of Raymond through simple arguing back unnerved the TERFs and panic set in producing the subsequent TERF declaration that healthcare for trans people should be made into a human rights violation, something which set off the current dribble of ever more ridiculous statements about trans people. First-dribble TERFism was over, second-dribble TERFism had begun.

However second-dribble TERFism started to suffer, to an even greater extent than first-dribble TERFism, from trans people pointing out the glaring inconsistencies in their “arguments”. TERF ideology, having been forced by the enfeeblement of first-dribble TERFism, to become ever more extreme and ever more farfetched, layed it open to critique by trans people and their allies in a way that can only be described as beyond ridicule. TERFs reeled from humiliation after humiliation heaped on their “arguments” by ordinary trans people on blogs, forums, Twitter and Facebook and even in mainstream media. Having had mainstream media to themselves this was too much to deal with. TERFs became the laughing stock, their credibility, already at a low level, evaporated.

The problem for TERFs is that they suffer from a defective ideology. We all create theories of how the world works and test those theories out against reality periodically. In most cases those theories are altered or replaced by a process of creative thought characterised, by psychologists, as “constructive alternativism.” The problem for TERFs was that they had invested so much, as a group, in TERFism that they could not break out of this ideology and could not risk losing their own self-individualities and social identities that would come with admitting what they all realise deep down is reality; that they are wrong and that their entire belief-system cannot deal with the simple, plain, clear criticism of it put forward by trans people and their allies.

This left them only one alternative, and it is the one we see today; to use their superior socio-economic position to try and silence trans people and prevent trans people from repeating their observations about TERFism which undermine their own sense of selfhood as TERFs and expose them to acute humiliation.  The only problem with this is that, since their own ideology cannot stand up to even the most elementary criticism, they have to rely on the standard method of TERFism; to provoke trans people into a reaction and then turn around to everyone else and say, “look we told you trans people are [insert whatever allegation here]”. So they had to both provoke and silence at the same time. Difficult but possible, hence the introduction of multiple legal threats to silence trans people and allies. These, along with threats to employers, are becoming standard practice now for TERFs. The problem is that provocation is becoming ever harder since trans people are much wiser now, and to be honest most of us ignore TERFs most of the time, there is simply no point in engaging in any discourse with them.

Hence the outing of the trans girl in Colorado by the TERF community. A child who has been threatened with violence and murder by the TERFs' friends on the Tea Party far right. The child in question is now on suicide watch. A sickening, revolting and contemptible act of bullying and cowardice by any standards – except obviously by those of the TERFs. The problem is that such evil acts are the only way TERFs are going to get any kind of attention from any sensible trans people. So this sort of thing is not going to go away. The provocation/silencing method will need to continue or TERFs will simply be unable to exist discursively, their worldview completely shattered.  This is the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and singing loudly in the hope that you don’t hear what people around you are saying while kicking anyone nearby who is smaller than you.

Desperate measures of course, but TERFism is now in a struggle for existence, it cannot continue in the current discursive climate where pretty much any trans person can discredit TERF discourse. There will be no third-dribble TERFism this time it is the TERFs who have nowhere to go. This time the very existence of TERFism is under threat. No ideology can ever exist in a world where it is repeatedly discursively undermined and ridiculed by large numbers of people. As the TERFs diminish to an ever more isolated rump of extremists the only other possibility they have is to pretend to be Radical Feminists and gain access an unsuspecting audience before they have had time to hear the alternative point of view.

In effect TERFism is on course towards ever more vicious and violent acts of cowardice and hatred and lies, they will need to use ever more harmful means to provoke trans people. This will not end until their violence by proxy is exposed. In the meantime it is likely that trans people will be harmed as a direct result of TERF action.