Friday, 19 September 2014

The Scottish Referendum: Reaching The Limits of Toryism

To David Cameron watchers, his response to the No result in the Scottish referendum has been entirely predictable, but also a little scary.

Firstly the predictable part; he has waited until after a vote to announce his new policy. This is entirely consistent with the way he went about privatising the NHS. Cameron should thus be accorded all the respect such a politician who operates in such a way deserves. Secondly his policy looks like it was cobbled together on the back-of-an envelope, last night by a couple of spads and Lynton Crosby. This contrast with Labour’s policy of regional devolution, which has been developed by Ed Miliband over a period of years, and which will work well with Devo Max in Scotland.

One also has to expect a great deal of back-pedalling by the Tories over Devo Max; true to form they will try and go back on their promises, just like they did on the “greenest government ever”, on open government and the Big Society.

The scary part is how this is obviously going to be the start of an ugly election campaign in which the Tories recruit a nasty kind of English nationalism for their campaign. They will lurch even further to the right in order to compete with Ukip; expect things to get racist-lite soon…

However the most important conclusion one can draw from all this is that there is a limit to Toryism. The Tories’ manoeuvring and weasel words, little-Englander nationalism and obfuscation about devolution serve only mask the fact that they are slowly coming to realise that the geographical distribution of the anti-Tory vote means that, not merely Scotland but also Wales, Cornwall, the North West, North East, Yorkshire, the Midlands and London could all seek independence if the Tories keep forcing their unpopular and damaging policies on everyone. If they continue as a right-wing party to compete with Ukip they quite literally risk fragmenting the UK, and not just Scotland and Wales. Yes the Tories can muster enough support in the South East and a few shire counties to win 35% of the vote every now and then and impose their nastiness on everyone else, what the referendum has demonstrated is that there are wider consequences of doing so which they cannot control. The limits of Toryism have been reached.


Maybe once that has happened those former UK constituent parts could get back together again, form a new country, leaving a rump South of England and East Anglia to stew in its own Daily Mail petty little-Englander intolerance. 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Alliances and Oppositions. Trans activism and Stonewall

Still a bit woozy from general anaesthetic after an operation the previous afternoon, and largely keeping myself going through large quantities of coffee, I attended the historic first formal meeting between trans people and Stonewall with the objective of ending the exclusion of trans people from the work of Stonewall. This is why I have had to wait until now to blog my observations from the meeting

Political activism, especially when you are a small minority group must inevitably be about alliances and oppositions. Maximising alliances and minimising oppositions. The prize in this instance, is an alliance that gives us the ability to leverage far greater alliances.

Of necessity, one of the main targets of trans activism in recent years has been the media. huge efforts have been made to counter the negative media narratives and stereotypes presented regularly in the press and on TV. This has has some success; some sections of the media are listening. However there is still a level of misrepresentation of trans people in the media and, as Benefits Street has demonstrated, some sections of the media are not above deliberate misrepresentation, in order to maintain particular dishonest narratives.

People in general only ever know a fraction of what they believe to be true about the world through perusal experience. The rest is mediated. How many people will tell you Staines is a dump but have never actually been there? How many people will say they hate Heather Mills when they have not actually met her? We live in a world in which most of what we “know” does not come from direct experience. Trans people are a tiny minority, and only 13% of the UK population say they have ever knowingly met a trans person. This means that, for the majority, the only way they are going to learn about us is indirectly. This affects the way trans people have to construct our alliances.

The prize from joining with Stonewall is not merely another huge alliance, but the possibility of using that alliance to leverage further alliances. “Some people are trans, get over it” on the side of buses, at football matches and in magazines, trans people included in the work Stonewall does in schools, workplaces and higher education would represent, for the first time, trans people being able to make unmediated alliances with the population as a whole. So far we are restricted to mediated contact, through influencing directors, producers, journalists and editors. Being able to go over the heads of the media gatekeepers is not only powerful in itself in expanding the alliances with and minimising oppositions to trans people’s existences, but it also represents a powerful check on their influence. They will know that a population that has “got over it.” is not going to swallow pathologising, sexualising, transphobic media content. 

So this is one of the prizes. But I wanted to explain personally a little about why I was at that meeting.

I spent a great deal of my life being unable to be the woman I am. I knew I was a girl from a very young age but also understood, through the function of cultural cisgenderism, that I could not be honest about that. Being a primary school teacher also forced me into a closet during working hours in order to preserve my income and pay the mortgage. It has only been since leaving teaching that I have been able to come out and live authentically. 

However I also know a large number of trans women who are stuck in similar situations to the one I was. They are unable to come out because the stakes are too high, or because the stakes are not merely theirs alone but shared with others. Some work in manual jobs and are employed by the day or by the hour in the sort of hand-to-mouth existence that neoliberalism forces onto people. Others have dependents to support, including elderly or disabled relatives and children to feed, clothe and bring up. Some are, like I was, in a job where being trans is to invite the sack through deliberately negative “performance management” or simple non-renewal of contracts. Some live in areas where coming out as trans is to invite bricks through the window, shit or burning newspapers through the letterbox and violence after dark both upon themselves and their families. Some live in small communities where total social exclusion remains a real possibility. I know some trans women who actually wear binders to work in order to present as male for fear (usually justified) that they might lose their jobs.

These are the people I was there for, because I spent too many years of my own life as one of those people myself. Alleviating the suffering and psychological trauma faced by these people. Reducing the harm caused by having the constant Sword of Damocles of being outed hanging over them is something Stonewall has the possibility to achieve.

We now have openly gay and lesbian people in plenty of jobs. MPs, CEOs, in sport, the media, which we didn't have 30 years ago when Margaret Thatcher's Tory government brought in the last piece of homophobic legislation. There are plenty of openly gay and lesbian primary school teachers, including at the last school where I taught and where it was made obvious to me that being openly trans would not be an option. There are dozens of openly gay and lesbian MPs the world over. There is however only one elected trans MP in a national parliament anywhere in the world. The tipping point may have arrived, but the breakthrough has yet to be made in many areas. 

So when Ayla Holdom wrote, in the Guardian about how there has never been a better time to be trans she was not wrong. But we have to remember that progress is always going to be patchy, for different people in different jobs, communities, schools, geographical locations and classes the possibilities will be different. This is why we need Stonewall.

In terms of the actual discussion I would like to make these observations; firstly everyone was acutely aware that there were many trans people who were not at that meeting but who would have liked to have been. This is being addressed by Stonewall and many further meetings are planned with different groups, group sizes and formats. Secondly, I felt that the issue of sustainability probably needed more discussion. We need to know that Stonewall will still be able to fight effectively for trans people in 10 or 15 years time. Hopefully this will come out over the next few months.

However I am very optimistic that this is going to work. Stonewall wants it to work, many in the trans community want it to work, and many people need it to work.



It was also hugely symbolic that there was another meeting taking place in London at the same time. A group of mendacious, abusive and transphobic cis women were reinforcing their oppositions and misrepresenting their alliances. While trans people were making history, the TERFs may not have realised it, but they were in the process of becoming history.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Lipstick Space Invaders

Fed up with Tories, Neolibs, TERFs, Tottenham fans and BBCUkip

Play Space Invaders instead; Shoot 'em down...

     

Use the mouse and the spacebar, highest score so far 30...

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Vigo's interview with Raymond.

Our feminism would make sense
- if it wasn't for those pesky trans people
.
Janice Raymond is widely believed by many trans people to have caused the deaths of hundreds, possibly thousands of trans people in the United States. An obvious choice then to interview about trans people.


Trust me, don't waste your time reading it; 45 minutes of my life I will never get back. Do however keep an eye on the Transadvocate for a detailed critique of this drivel and some factual historical accounts of actual TERF (or as Vigo calls it "gender critical") violence against trans people.

Evidence-free misrepresentations, putting words into other people's mouths, glossing over the violence meted out to trans people by TERFs. The usual fare we are used to in TERF writing

Incidentally, I wonder why two "academics" have to resort to a lengthy article in a self-styled "underground" internet blog rather than publishing peer-reviewed articles.
Have you been morally mandated out
of existence yet...?


Instead of reading this drivel, This video is a hundred times more productive.

As are these two videos.

And in contrast here is an actual trans person talking sense.



I for one have much more important things to worry about than this rehashed rubbish. Here are two of them;




Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Why arguing with TERFs is pointless.

It appears that some online TERFs (Trans Exclusionary "Radical Feminists")have been inferring that I am an “essentialist”. This is a common accusation thrown at many trans people and one that is not merely false but an example of the ‘white-is-black-and-black-is-white” strategy of TERF propaganda. In fact it is the TERFs who are the essentialists, the TERFs who indulge in essentialism. Indeed TERFism is essentialism, a profound essentialism at the core of their ideology, not a peripheral add-on. No wonder they are trying to accuse trans people of essentialism, it is a classic “look over there” tactic.

Of course anyone who has read anything I have written, especially my most recent paper published by the British Psychological Society will realise that not only am I not an essentialist but that I am actively anti-essentialist, having produced a theoretical paper dismantling some neurologists’ and psychologists obsession with a mythical “comorbidity” between trans people and people on the autistic spectrum, by elaborating the concept of Cultural Cisgenderism. Indeed in that piece I am effectively attacking the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, the arch essentialist whose book “The Essential Difference” is, in my view, profoundly anti-feminist.

It is common for TERFs to try and pin the label “essentialist” onto trans people who perceive themselves to have been born this way, or to have an essential self as women, men or non-binary people. This, however is the purest form of dishonesty. Actually the overwhelming majority of people in society subscribe to essentialist beliefs, it is one of society’s prime ideologies. This includes the overwhelming majority of cisgender people. So it is no wonder that some trans people subscribe to this ideology also; not all trans people have done a masters in Gender Studies. The setting of different standards for trans people compared with cis people can however be characterised as pure, straightforward, unadulterated transphobia. In fact, the percentage of trans people who subscribe to the ideology of essentialism is almost certainly very much lower than the percentage of cisgender people who are essentialists.

Of course there is one group who are essentialists who pretend to be social constructivists; speaking the language on the latter while adhering to the beliefs of the former; and that is TERFs. I can think of no other group that does this; an interesting phenomenon for the advanced TERFologist to study.

As I have said before the TERF strategy of arguing black is white is part of their usual flailing around since arguments which have been discredited since the 1970s. As the Transadvocate has thoroughly demonstrated during TERF week, TERFism is a violent essentialist ideology that recruits a variety of dishonest tactics to attack, threaten, abuse, harass, misrepresent and harm trans people. They have resorted to these since the 1970s because their arguments have been comprehensively discredited.

While we are here one thing I have always noticed, since being on social media is that the most sure-fire way of knowing that you are winning an argument is when the other side starts putting words into your mouth. I have had this with Tories, with Kippers, with Separatists, with neocons, with racists, with homophobes and of course with TERFs; it is always the signifier that they have lost and need to start telling me what I haven’t said but would have liked me to have said. 


This is just one of the many reasons why arguing, or trying to reason, with TERFs is pointless. This is why, incidentally, Paris Lees' and other trans people's refusal to debate with TERFs is both brave and sensible. We know from experience that trans people who refuse to engage in "debate" with TERFs are harassed, threatened and abused by TERFs. This does not mean TERF disingenuousness and misinformation about trans people in mainstream media, such as this, should not be countered. We should however ignore the irrelevant blogs by TERFs, which make not difference to public opinion. 

TERFs need to learn that these sort of tactics, which they have engaged in for 45 years, have profoundly weakened their, already unconvincing, case, TERFs also need to learn, as do some in the media, that my identity is not up for debate. Period.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

From Manufacturing Consent to Manipulating Conflict


The media has been slow to adapt to the new technological environment and numerous journalists have lamented the way the public has used social media to respond to their excesses and their failings. Twitter has exploded on occasion as journalists, previously considering themselves untouchable, inhabitants of ivory towers protected by the patronage of a right-wing billionaire proprietor, were free to produce as much hate and disinformation as they liked. They did this in the knowledge that people living in the real world would never have the opportunity to respond, much less to call them out on lies, hate-speech, omissions and all the other tricks they use to distort and misinform.

That changed, almost imperceptibly at first, with the arrival of Twitter and other forms of social media. The Great Unwashed suddenly had a voice. Probably the first media outlets to capitalise on this were ones like the Guardian, which responded by developing its online, interactive Comment is Free section, still one of the best forums for discussion of news issues. Other papers have followed by allowing reader comments below the line but these have never functioned in quite the same way.

Gradually however the media began to realise that posting controversial articles in these areas provoked more comments and as such guaranteed more hits. The more hits an online paper gets the better its advertising revenue so they had an interest in promoting this kind of material.

For broadcast media however, already struggling as advertising revenues drain away to the internet, the problem was that replicating this in their media was difficult. Some started parallel online sites but these simply did not get the volume of hits that online newspapers received. Something clearly had to be done.

The answer was to fabricate conflict situations live on air. Two implacable opponents were deliberately set up against each other. This is something politicians used to get into but their spin doctors and media management teams have generally warned them off these days, and for good reason. That left the general public. Fortunately there are plenty of members of the public, working for special interest groups or part of minority groups who will argue, often rancorously, with each other, live on air. Now, unfortunately for the broadcasters, people in these groups are becoming increasingly wise to this and wary of taking part in these “discussions”. 

The solution? Set people up. Warring parties were enticed into studios for ‘discussions’ or ‘debates’ without knowing who their opponents would be. People were recruited to go on air feeling unprepared but knowing that if they did not they would be ceding the floor to their opponents; better at least to show there is some opposition rather than allow their lies to go unchallenged.

This is the background to the recent behaviour of the media in the case of trans people. Editors have realised that, every time a trans person speaks there is a group of fanatics called TERFs ready to oppose them, and if the trans people get reluctant to speak, get a TERF on in the first instance and force their hand. The notion of “balance” is thus recruited as an excuse to subject trans people to abuse and harassment live on air as a kind of “entertainment”. The purpose of current affairs programmes, to inform and educate, is twisted into drama or soap opera. sacrificed on the altar of ratings, these media outlets no longer function as informative but as sites of live, personalised drama.

Trans people have become one of the media’s target groups as “balance” can be used as an excuse to set up a well-prepared bigot, fresh from chewing the curtains, against some unsuspecting trans person, hoping to educate a world largely ignorant about trans people.

The media is clearly taking this opportunity to make hay while the sun shines. It is no longer acceptable to put a racist up every time a black person is interviewed, or a religious fundamentalist every time a gay man or lesbian is on. Editors know that the timespan is limited in which they can get away with including a transphobe every time a trans person gets the opportunity to get a hearing.

Paris Lees’ refusal to take part in such a set-up (I assume at financial cost to herself also) hopefully marks the end of this window of opportunity for transphobic abuse. The incident, in which she refused to be set up by Newsnight, probably marks a Wendepunkt in media-trans relations. The media will find it much harder to set up trans people from now on. 

Perhaps they should go back to informing and educating and leave the drama and soaps to those who can do them honestly.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Debating my right to exist

Newsnight and Woman's Hour, two BBC stalwart programmes have, in the last seven days, let down trans people badly. Their idea of 'balance' appears to be to let someone who is transphobic, to the extent that they oppose trans people's right to exist, debate with someone who is transgender. This seems to be such a simplistic concept of "balance" that it is almost one for Toytown.

Perhaps, if we put it in context; would they invite a homophobe onto Newnight to debate with a gay man, or a lesbophobe onto Women's Hour to debate with a lesbian? If Michael Cashman or Seb Dance were interviewed would they invite the Westboro Baptist Church along for "balance"? Would they suggest that every time a black or Asian person gets into the news, any feature about them should include a member of the BNP?

The format used by Women's Hour is now familiar fare for the BBC; fanatical transphobe Sheila Jeffreys was effectively allowed to ambush a trans woman, to set the agenda, get all her points across with no intervention from the presenter. A similar thing happened when Julie Burchill ambushed Paris Lees, whose calm and reasoned defence, in this instance, resulted in Burchill throwing her toys out of the pram and hanging up the phone. This isn't "balanced" reporting it is the modern equivalent of throwing Christians to the lions in ancient Rome.

Most of what we know we have never learned from personal experience. We only know what we know from books, the internet or the media. In a recent survey only 13% of the UK population said they were acquainted, in any way, with a trans person. as such it is important that trans people are fairly represented in the media; the media is the only way most people will ever get to learn about trans people. That is why the games Newsnight and Woman's Hour are playing are dangerous and that is why it is important that they are taken to task about them.

The desire, on the part of editors to set up a dramatic clashing argument with fur flying may make for a gripping few minutes of entertainment but it fails to educate anyone about the issues. It is as if these programmes now consider themselves to be entertainment like dramas or soap operas, rather than current affairs programmes. Well I'm not prepared to allow my life to be treated as entertainment by programmes that are supposed to educate and inform. Trans people are people, not your entertainment, not your performing seals. We are not here to be some relief from "serious" news articles about Iraq.

Trans people have to live with abuse from trans haters like Jeffreys all the time. Dealing with the abuse, harassment and emotional violence transphobes cause to us is difficult at the best of times, having to do it live on radio or TV can only be described as torture. Putting people through that sort of mental stress is both unfair and unacceptable. The BBC needs to start taking its responsibilities to trans people seriously firstly by properly training all its staff in trans diversity issues and then not giving the equivalents of the Westboro Baptists Church or the BNP the right to argue with us about our right to exist.