Sunday, 16 February 2020

Defining Transphobia, an important debate for the trans community...

The anti-trans hate groups in the UK have recently made a lot of claiming that they are “not transphobic”. Perhaps based on claims that they have not used phrases like “F*cking Tr*nnies”. They are in fact getting away with being profoundly transphobic by tacitly limiting the definition of transphobia to a very narrow one. But as Patrick Strudwick summed it up, transphobes do not get to define what is or is not transphobia, trans people do.

There has been little debate about this within the trans communities and it is time we started to insist on a proper, robust definition of transphobia that reasonably covers what transphobia actually is and how it is manifested. Simply restricting definitions of transphobia to abuse or simply defining transphobia as a mental state of hatred of fear of trans people is unhelpful. No-one can see inside the minds of transphobes, so the only way to identify transphobia is by their consequent actions. What people do constitutes transphobia as much as, if not more than, abuse. In fact the absence of transphobic abuse does not mean that there is an absence of transphobia. Far from it. Indeed claiming you are not transphobic does not mean you are not transphobic.

For example a cursory glance at Section 28 reveals a distinct lack of homophobic language; it was a profoundly homophobic piece of legislation yet it did not, for example, call gay men "P**fs" etc. It did however mythologise gay men, lesbians and bisexual people as a “danger” and inhibit schools from discussing homophobia or dealing with hate incidents as forcefully as they might otherwise have done.


Overall, a good umbrella definition would be;

"behaviour that will undermine the rights, respect, access to services, or dignity of transgender people"

Having consulted widely with other trans people the following is a more detailed version of this and as close an approximation of how transphobia would seem to be defined at the current moment in time. This is not intended to be a permanently set-in-stone definition of transphobia as the tactics of transphobes will inevitably change and different forms of transphobia will doubtless be invented. 

Not all evil is banal. 

This is an in-the-moment definition of transphobia as it is manifest in the early 21st century in the UK.

1. Attempting to remove trans people's rights

Campaigning to remove rights from trans people. Of course it is never phrased as such but even when phrased as “protecting women’s rights” it is still about removing rights from trans people. Indeed campaigning against trans people’s human and civil rights is transphobia front and central.
The fact that anti-trans campaigners choose to cloak their attempts to remove trans rights in other language suggests they know their true intentions are unacceptable to the majority of people.

Claiming there is a "conflict" between trans people's human rights and those of any other group. This is the classic tactic of haters, fascists and others and has been throughout history. Often the term "concerns" is a signifier for this. Just because you have "concerns" does not mean those concerns are valid. Indeed the fact that the term is being used regularly without evidence suggests they are not.

Misrepresenting those who oppose trans people’s human rights. This is a very  common technique employed by transphobic hate groups. They dishonestly claim that the anti-trans “debate” is about a conflict between “women” or “feminists” and trans people. In fact the transphobes represent only a tiny minority of women or feminists and there are plenty of feminists who argue that transphobes are not feminists at all. Of course there are also men who are transphobic. The defining commonality of those who are members of transphobic groups is not their gender or their (claimed) feminism, it is their transphobia.

Encouraging or facilitating proxy violence against trans people. Whether tacitly, explicitly or through advocating structural oppression. For example campaigning to prevent trans people from
using the toilets that match their gender identity is to attempt to facilitate violence by proxy against trans people by forcing us to out ourselves every time we use the toilet or put ourselves in dangerous situations where we are likely to be attacked or raped. Spreading fear of trans people so as to increase the likelihood of transphobic attacks is another example of this. This is sometimes known as “stochastic terrorism”.

Failing to understand that transphobia is amplified when it is intersectional. Black trans people, disabled trans people and Muslim trans people for example, often run greater risks from being targeted by transphobia than white middle-class people. The denial of culturally-specific trans identities, in addition to the denial of all trans identities, is both transphobic and racist. Structural oppression in the form of racism, for example, makes it more likely that black and minority ethnic trans women are targeted for violence and murder.

Dogwhistle or tacit transphobia is still transphobia. Actions designed to harm or take away trans people's human rights are still transphobic even when not expressed in explicitly transphobic language, or not expressed in language at all.

Attempting to define transphobia as so restricted as to exclude extremely transphobic acts. Defining transphobia as restricted to name-calling for example, is done with the intention of permitting actions like campaigning against trans people's human rights, or spreading fear of trans people, which are transphobic.

Advocating the withdrawal of access, or delay, to transition-related medical treatment for trans people. This needs to be regarded as proxy violence.

Advocating or facilitating any kind of therapy that has the effect, like Conversion Therapy, of trying to change anyone's gender identity. These therapies kill and traumatise.

Deliberately endangering the lives of trans children and young people. Advocating an end to acceptance of trans kids in their identified genders, claiming that trans kids are only going through a phase, attempting to deny medical support to trans kids and failing to protect trans kids from bullying and the consequences of media and hate-group misrepresentation. Using terms such as "contagion" constitutes exclusion bullying by proxy.

2. Misrepresenting trans people

Misrepresenting trans people. Whether by misuse of statistics, research, history or the law, presenting false images of trans people as a group. This includes presenting trans people one-dimensionally and intentionally ignoring positives. Ignoring evidence from other countries that supports trans rights is also profoundly transphobic.

Mythologising trans people as some kind of “threat”. This is what homophobes did in the 1980s to LGB people. Endlessly debating trans people in the media in our absence is the way this manifests itself all too often.

Taking one or two trans people to represent the entire community. This is pretty much the definition of prejudicial discrimination. It is like saying that every white cis woman should have to answer for the crimes of Rose West.

Denying trans people the right to their own language to talk about their situations. For example using terms such as “TIMs” to mean trans women, and using terms like “transwomen” rather than “trans women”. And "Cisgender" is neither an insult nor an identity. The denial of self-determination more widely also constitutes transphobia. 

Using biological essentialism to try and delegitimise trans people. "Man", "Woman" and "Non-binary person" are social/cultural statuses. Trans people have existed for millennia throughout history and in every part of the world. Trans people have as much right to claim their genders based on biology or otherwise as cis people do. Bio-essentialism plays into the hands of extreme right-wing ideologies.

3. Forms of Abuse

Deliberate misgendering. This is abuse. Calling trans women, “men” or trans men “women” is transphobia. Using the wrong pronouns, such as “she” for trans men and “he” for trans women is misgendering. Not using “they/them” (or similar) pronouns for non-binary people is transphobic as is using these terms for binary trans people.

Treating trans people any differently from those who are also the same gender is transphobia. IE, treating trans women as different from cis women is discrimination. 

Expecting trans people to participate in "debates" about their right to exist. Gladiatorial media debates are designed to obscure what trans people need to communicate. Being forced to "debate" your existence is a form of abuse. Trans people being allowed to publish single-person authored articles arguing against the transphobes is different and rarely, if ever, allowed by the media.

4. Systematically excluding trans people from the media and "debates" about trans rights.

Systematically preventing trans people from engaging fully in media “debates” about transphobia and trans rights. A good example of this is The Guardian’s coverage following the publication of the Labour Declaration of Trans Rights. The Guardian has effectively demonstrated an editorial policy aimed at defending WPUK from accusations of transphobia. Trans people and allies who campaign for trans rights are not being included in the debate, for example by being allowed to contribute articles opposing those by Gaby Hinsliff and Catherine Bennett. Selection bias also constitutes transphobia when editors publish only elements of the news that might be supportive of the transphobes’ arguments while excluding those that do not.

Accusing trans people as “silencing” transphobes or “shutting down debate” when the opposite is happeningThis has become a trope of the media in the last two years. The systemic, and almost total, exclusion of trans people campaigning against these transphobic hate groups from the mainstream media is the actual “silencing” and “shutting down debate”.

Expecting trans people to respond calmly to transphobic material or claims, whether explicit or covert. No-one should dispute this, yet
transphobes continually aim to anger trans people to provoke trans people into a reaction that is used against them in the media. This is often called "Provoke and Publicise", and was a technique employed by anti-desegregationisists in Southern states in the US in the 50s and 60s. The symbolism of this is significant.

Finally; as with other minority groups, it is normal to defer to those who experience oppression to decide what constitutes oppression. Members of oppressed groups are the real experts on their own oppression. So, for example if a Muslim tells me something is Islamophobic then it is Islamophobic. 

So when the overwhelming majority of trans people say something is transphobic it should be considered transphobic, indeed not to consider it transphobic would in itself be transphobic as a different standard would be applied to trans people than to other minority groups.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Open Letter to Jo Maugham

Dear Mr Maugham,

I was dismayed to read a number of tweets from you, in which you infer that you take a “balanced” or “neutral” position on trans rights. This letter is to explain to you why I do not believe that your position is either. Not only is the “debate” between trans people and transphobes one on which it is impossible not to take sides – there is no fence to sit on, there is a deep ravine between the two sides – but, by the language you have used you have clearly taken one side.

I am not sure whether you realise that you have firmly taken one side, the side of the transphobes, but you have and the reason you have done so is that you tweet about a “conflict” between trans rights and “women’s” rights. It is this “women’s” that is problematic. The opaquely-funded “women’s concerns” groups that have sprung up over the last three years (I will return to funding later, and it has links with the people you have been fighting against; Leavers), first and foremost do not represent “women”. Women are overwhelmingly in favour of trans rights, especially the right of trans people to self-identify, these groups, in contrast, represent “transphobes”, although of course they aren't going to say that and are going to say they represent "women". They are transphobic groups formed with the sole purpose of denying trans people human and civil rights. They do not even represent “feminists” or “lesbians” as some claim, and they have increasingly developed links with extreme right-wing groups in the US who appear to be behind much of their – considerable – funding. So the fact that you have characterised this as a conflict between “women” and trans people means that you have taken sides with the transphobic groups pretending to be campaigning for women’s rights.

The second issue is the idea that there is a conflict at all. Trans people, and our allies in feminist and LGBT groups around the country are firmly opposed to the notion that there is any “conflict” at all. There is none. The main issue is the one these transphobic groups were set up to fight, that of statutory declaration of gender for trans people. There are a number of jurisdictions around the world, including Ireland, Malta, California and a number of other US states, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay, Denmark, Norway, Mexico City, where statutory declaration of gender is already enacted. In most cases they have been for many years. If these transphobic groups’ claims are to be believed then there would have been hundreds of examples, in these locations, where cis women (the word is “cis” not “natal”) have been disadvantaged or worse, as a result. In fact there have been none. Not even one.

How do I know this? Because there are massive right-wing news organisations around the world, from the Times to the Australian, Fox News, the Daily Mail, some newspapers in Sweden, the Berlusconi media in Italy that are directing considerable resources at harming trans people through selective and misleading propaganda (There is no other word for it). If there had been any of the incidents, anywhere in the world, that these transphobic hate groups are spreading fear about, then they would have been all over the front pages, and everyone would have heard about them. The fact that there have been none is therefore significant.

So the idea that there is a “conflict” between trans rights and women’s rights is simply not true. However the fact that you have tweeted that there are means once again that you have taken sides. Trans people, our allies and most women do not agree that there is a conflict at all. The transphobic groups, including some powerful journalists, say there is. There is either a conflict or there is not, there isn’t a fence to sit on and you have planted both feet firmly on the side of the transphobic groups.

The language that you use has also demonstrated that you have taken sides. “Natal” is a term that the transphobes use. It is intended to infer that cis women (the correct term) are somehow more “natural” than trans women. My suspicion is that you have decided to use this term after some of the transphobes have persuaded you that “cis” is some kind of dirty word, or a “slur”. Your choice of language reveals which side you have taken. “Natal” is used by transphobes “cis” is used by everyone else. There is no fence.

When you use the term “absolutists” to refer to both sides, as if somehow there is a middle ground where trans people can have some rights but not as many as we should have, you are also revealing a bias toward the transphobic sides. A good metaphor here is Brexit. The Leavers are clearly increasingly extreme or absolutist. But to portray Remainers as somehow extreme or absolutist, as some have attempted, would obviously be wrong. We are people who do not want to lose our rights or damage our country for the sake of a global right-wing project to destabilise Europe. Just because there are two sides does not mean that each side’s arguments are of equal value. Remaining in the EU is neither extreme, absolutist nor unreasonable, wanting to leave, especially via a no deal brexit, is very extreme. Wanting the same human rights as cis people is likewise not extreme either.

Screenshot from "Hands Across The Aisle" website in the US,
list of suggested British groups/individuals to support
The parallels with Brexit go beyond this however, and it is worth noting that there are serious issues relating to the funding of these transphobic groups and, as far as I can see all of them have the same kind of opaque funding arrangements of the kind identified by Carole Cadwalldr. Indeed there is a right-wing "Christian" group in the US that is openly directing funding towards UK anti-trans groups. What happened on a large scale in the referendum, is happening on a smaller scale with these transphobic groups. Some have received considerable funds from mysterious and undeclared sources, in the same way that the Brexit Party has.

Now, you may retort that these people who have come and talked to me about curtailing trans rights seem very reasonable. They may do, but that does not make their position reasonable, particularly in the light of what they are proposing. The Brexiteers appeared reasonable to a majority of the electorate in 2016, that did not make them reasonable it just meant they appeared reasonable to some. In effect they want trans people to have fewer rights than cis people. That is both extreme and absolutist. It is neither extreme nor absolutist for me to expect that I should be accorded basic human rights that you and everyone else take for granted.

Finally I am dismayed that people have attempted to get you fired. I am particularly dismayed because transphobes have attempted to get me fired as well, on more than one occasion. In fact I know a number of trans people who have either been threatened with the sack or who have actually lost their jobs because of action like that which you describe. In one instance they tried to have an elected councillor removed by the same dishonest means. 

My definition of having courage to speak out is where one is speaking out against a massive media consensus, which most trans people are trying to do. Most trans people I know are literally frightened to step outside their front doors every morning, especially those of us who are children. That is courage. You have a media platform with huge numbers of Twitter followers, most trans people do not. Indeed we are pretty much excluded from the mainstream media debates about trans rights. The transphobes get plenty of airtime and column inches, trans people do not, and the column inches we do get are generally reserved for "human interest" stories. We simply do not get the opportunity to argue against the dishonest claims of these “concerns” hate groups, if we did the "debate" would have ended long ago. We are literally being prevented from taking part in the media debate about trans rights. You have more opportunity to influence this debate than I do, by a very wide margin.

Now I don’t suppose that you have hitherto regarded yourself as being firmly on the side of the transphobic hate groups, however the fact is that, from the tweets I have seen, you are, firmly, fairly and squarely and in all respects positioned in the transphobes’ camp. I have explained why this is the case and why there is no middle ground. I know you would like there to be but there is not. Either you want me to have full human and civil rights the same as everyone else or you do not. 

You may not have realised that you are firmly on one side, you may consider yourself the kind of person who always sees good in both sides and cannot believe these apparently reasonable people are transphobes, however the fact remains that, in every position you have taken in these tweets you have taken one side, the side of the oppressor. 

Up to now you may have been unaware of this. You no longer have that excuse.

If you would like to discuss this further I am happy to meet with you and talk in a friendly and constructive manner to explain things from the point of view of trans people. You have obviously had contact with those who want to convince you of the case against trans rights, perhaps listening to trans people's point of view might be in order.

Kind regards,

Natacha Kennedy

Friday, 2 August 2019

Thoughts on the Radnor byelection.

The LDs winning in Radnor is a good result and one that will scare some Tory MPs. It demonstrated that a proper Remain Alliance between Greens, LDs and Nationalists can work. There will doubtless be instant  payback in the form of the LDs standing down in places like Camarthen East and Dinefwr, one of the Tory targets currently held by Plaid Cymru. The Labour vote was squeezed as Labour voters lent their votes to the LDs, demonstrating that Remain Alliance has the potential to be bigger than the sum of its parts. 

A look at LD target seats for the next election shows that such an alliance can work but the LDs have only four target seats with majorities less than 1,000. Two Tory, one Labour and one SNP. If we look at target seats with majorities less than 10,000 they have 17 of these, most of them Tory. However there are also a number of other Tory Remain voting seats that are now vulnerable to the LDs, such as Dominic Raab’s seat of Esher and Walton, on the face of it a solid Tory seat, one of the wealthiest in the country but one where there are a lot of Tory Remain voters scared by his gung-ho Brexit attitude to no deal. If we include seats like this, we can expect the LDs to gain at least 20, possibly as many as 30-40 from the Tories at the next election. 

We know that the SNP are almost certain to take 10-12 from the Tories at the next election whatever happens, which leaves the Labour target seats: Labour is second in 42 Tory-held seats with majorities of less that 3,000, add Uxbridge and Ruislip South (Boz Johnson’s constituency which is heavily targeted and has a majority of less than 5,000 after boundary and demographic changes) and there are 43 potential targets 13 of which have majorities under 1,000. The Tories are targeting 15 Labour and two LD seats with majorities under 1,000. So this is where the battlegrounds are going to be, less than 100 seats, there will be very few seats changing hands outside this group, and where they do they are likely to be as a result of the Remain Alliance. 

We are already seeing Labour votes squeezed in places like Radnor because of this, they are likely to be squeezed further in other places where this works, in the same way that LD votes tend to get squeezed in Labour-Tory marginals.

One thing to note here is that, while the LDs will achieve a high rate of success taking Tory Remain seats like those of Dominic Raab by being solidly anti-Brexit, all but four of Labour’s target seats voted Leave, as did all but one of the Labour-held Tory marginals. Now we can expect some changes in all of these, in that the Leave vote nationally has gone down by around 7% and the Remain vote up 7%, it is also important to note that the group that has most changed its mind, apart from farmers, is low-income Labour voters in insecure employment and housing, which means that, in many of these seats there is now a Remain majority, couple that with the fact that Leavers tend to be less ardent about Brexit than Remainers are about stopping it and there are probably fewer things to worry about on that score than some might fear. 

However it is clear that Labour needs to treat its target seats very differently than the LDs treat theirs, and the result of the Peterborough byelection demonstrates how Labour’s approach can work; Labour ruthlessly targeted issues that more obviously matter to the electorate rather than focussing on Brexit, issues such as the NHS, Universal Credit, housing, jobs, education. A Remain Alliance is unlikely to produce many, if any gains in these seats.

This is pretty much how the next election is going to be played out. In 100-odd seats out of 650. That’s how the system works, not my choice but the one we’re stuck with. If the LD and Labour game-plans pay off, then the Tories will lose approximately 70 seats with a handful of gains at the most. 

It will probably mean some kind of parliamentary alliance between Labour, the LDs and the SNP in order for a government to be formed, but that alliance will have, as its common denominator, a second referendum, something all parties are signed up to in full, whatever the circumstances. In this scenario there will be a second referendum, whatever else happens.

But this will only happen if Labour wins its target seats and the LDs win theirs, targeting two different groups of voters; there is nothing in common between the wealthy voters targeted by the LDs in Richmond Park and Esher and Walton on the one hand, and those on low-incomes and insecure housing and employment in Stoke-on Trent and Northampton targeted by Labour on the other. 

Want to stop Brexit, you need to target both. There is no choice here, that is the situation. Do it any other way and Boris will be able to claim his mandate to hit the country with No Deal. Voters in other groups and other areas are, unfortunately, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Contrived Projection: Who is erasing who (and to what end)?

Opinion; Turner's article reveals the anti-trans endgame, and it is chilling.

Janice Turner’s dire piece of anti-trans propaganda in the T*mes yesterday is important. Not important because it is good, or enlightening or even unpredictable, because it is none of those things. It is important because of what it tells us about the direction of anti-trans activism in the UK right now.

On the surface the main issue with Turner’s straightsplainer is that it employs Megan Rapinoe’s success as a world-cup winning footballer as a stick with which to beat trans people. She uses it to push the old anti-trans canard that trans people, simply by existing, are somehow “erasing lesbians”. Now, this is important and I will come back to this in a minute but firstly I would like to deal with the way Turner misrepresents Megan Rapinoe.

Megan Rapinoe has, multiple times, expressed explicit support for trans rights, including the rights of trans children and trans people in sport. Yet Turner ignored this and straightsplained her lesbian identity for use in regurgitating the old “erasure” argument. In doing so she is, in effect, erasing Megan Rapinoe’s support for trans rights; she is erasing the actions of a lesbian who explicitly supports trans people, and who is, in this way, representative of literally thousands of other cis lesbians. In claiming lesbian erasure she is erasing lesbians.

This is worthy of analysis for a number of reasons, firstly because it constitutes a prime example of what I call “Contrived Projection”. This is the established strategy in which anti-trans activists claim trans people and trans allies are doing to them what they are actually doing to us. So in using Megan Rapinoe to claim “lesbian erasure”, Turner is actually erasing the support for trans rights by Megan Rapinoe, and thousands of other lesbians like her. Her claim of lesbian erasure is being made through the erasure of trans-supporting lesbians like Megan.

This is illustrative of the way the anti-trans campaign has waged its vicious but disguised war on trans rights; for example they have repeatedly claimed that their voices are being “silenced”. Yet the media, especially the right-wing media, publishes, on an almost daily basis, a stream of anti-trans material that reflects the transphobic arguments coming out of the “women’s concerns” transphobic groups. At the same time the media systematically excludes the voices of trans people trying to counter these arguments. In other words, by any objective measure the anti-trans groups and their friends in the (mostly right-wing) media have the unrestricted ability to get their message out there, while trans people are prevented from responding. Yet at the same time the accusation that trans people are “silencing” these groups is widely, and unironically, peddled in that very same media. 

There are numerous examples of how Contrived Projection is used by the anti-trans community; presenting trans women as a ‘threat’, presenting trans children as a ‘threat’, claiming that they have “legitimate” concerns, etc while all the time actual attacks on trans people are increasing exponentially. So Turner’s article in the T*mes yesterday is valuable as it provides an illustration of this strategy. 

What is also significant from this article is how desperate it reads. In my reading of it it felt as though Turner was struggling to find something, anything to hang anti-trans sentiment on. This is also representative of much of the output of the anti-trans community. The common themes of which appear to be desperation and fanaticism, and consequently attempts to hang anti-trans activism onto pretty much anything, even when the opposite is true. Maybe this is a function of this overwhelmingly one-sided media coverage; they feel they can get away with anything, or maybe it reflects the fact that there are actually no genuinely good anti-trans arguments out there.

So to return to Turner’s central claim that trans people, by our very existence, are erasing lesbians (despite an increase of about 25% in numbers of women identifying as lesbian 2012 - 2017) this needs further examination. 

Ultimately this claim implies that the only way that lesbians’ existence cannot be erased is by trans people; trans men, trans women and non-binary people, including trans children, ceasing to exist. The inference is that one group needs to stop existing in order to allow another group to be. In other words this claim is based on an exterminationist ideology, and one we have all heard before.

So the anti-trans activists literally want us to cease to exist in order – somehow – for lesbians not to be erased, even though more and more lesbians are coming out (and also supporting trans rights). Quite how we are supposed to be erasing lesbians by our existence, or how by ceasing to exist this fictitious erasure will cease, is never made clear. What is also unclear is how lesbians are simultaneously being erased and increasing in number. And increasing in number at the same time that trans people are also increasing in number. Indeed the actual data - data ignored by Turner - indicates that numbers of trans people and numbers of lesbians are increasing at the same time suggesting that trans liberation and lesbian liberation are actually complimentary. 

What is also evident is that the media "concern" for lesbian rights extends only as far as it can be used to attack trans people. Neither Turner nor the T*mes have mentioned the systematic murder and violence towards lesbians in Chechnya.

However the Implications of the “lesbian erasure” argument are serious, and constitute a disguised exterminationist argument. It enables anti-trans activists to articulate their endgame – that of the eradication or extermination of all trans people – without having to explicitly state that this is what they ultimately want. This is something that needs to be articulated whenever the “lesbian erasure” argument is wheeled out. However it is done it is a disguised exterminationist argument, articulated using Contrived Projection towards their ultimately desired solution to the “problem” of trans people. The fact that this exterminationist ideology is being argued, in however well-disguised a manner, in national media, is an indicator of the direction of travel of the anti-trans community. 

We have been here before…

Monday, 29 April 2019

Lies = "truth": Crossing a Dangerous Rubicon

Opinion: The IPSO ruling that the Times' lies are "not inaccurate" is important for everyone.

The declaration, by IPSO, that a quote that was completely fabricated (as in made up from nothing) by the Times in relation to trans children, did not constitute inaccuracy, because it is a-bit-like-something-some-trans-activist-might-have-said, has a significance well beyond its relevance to the obsessive and hatemongering attacks on trans people by the Times. 

The fact that IPSO has judged that a completely fabricated quotation in the Times did not breach Clause 1 of its Editor's Code (which is about accuracy) has shown that, as a society we have crossed a dangerous Rubicon. Lies are now officially the truth. In effect IPSO has given the go-ahead for any newspaper to make up pretty much anything with complete impunity. 

Obviously this pretty much makes IPSO itself redundant. Ruling that a fabricated quotation is not an inaccuracy means that there really is no point whatsoever in complaining to them about anything to do with accuracy. IPSO is now just a fig leaf for an increasingly dishonest, right-wing and manipulative media. IPSO needs to be disbanded and an alternative form of regulation put in place, beyond the influence of the powerful media barons. The British media has clearly demonstrated that it cannot self-regulate and should not be allowed to again. The Press Complaints Commission failed effectively to regulate the media and IPSO, in a relatively short space of time, has demonstrated that it cannot either.

Just like the PCC, it seems that IPSO has become corrupt and shown that it exists only to serve the interests of the dishonest. One of the most basic elements of reporting the news as opposed to making it up, is getting quotations right. By fabricating this quote, which IPSO admitted the Times has done, the Times has breached the most fundamental basic rules of journalism, the fact that it has got away with it is what is of concern. Of course the Times may have got away with it in terms of not being censured by IPSO but it will rightly suffer from reduced credibility.  

Any society which cannot distinguish between lies and the truth, where fake news becomes the norm, and there are few, if any sources that can be relied on to tell obtain the truth, is a society where democracy can no longer function. In her interview for TED journalist Christiane Amanpour argued that the way to combat fake news was to trust only the proper media outlets. That is now no longer the case, at least in the UK.

At a time when newspaper circulation is falling and when trust in the media is at an all-time low, for IPSO to make such a judgement is highly significant for everyone not just for trans people. Indeed it is chilling in its potential. Editors working on behalf of powerful rightwing billionaires can lie quite happily now in the knowledge that IPSO will give them a free hand. 

Freedom of the press is crucial for a functioning democracy, that freedom is threatened by concentration of power in the hands of the billionaires who control it and direct its content for their own purposes. It is also threatened by lack of trust. The only way for that trust to be maintained is through a truly independent media regulator that rigorously upholds standards and is fully independent of the industry. 

Anything less is the road to totalitarianism.


Finally; and on a different note, it is significant that the case against trans rights cannot be made without resorting to dishonesty and fabrication. But beyond that - as the Times has demonstrated - it also cannot be made without systematically excluding trans people from arguing against its transphobic ideology and without severe selection bias in terms of what it decides to include and exclude. 

So one of the main take-aways is this: If the case against trans rights is so weak that it has to exclude counter arguments, carefully select its "facts" and when it can't do that, fabricate those "facts" it must be very weak indeed. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Safe Space.

The suggestion, earlier this week, by one of Labour’s LGBT+ advisors Anthony Watson, should, in my view, not be completely dismissed out of hand. Yes there are obvious issues with it, ghettoising trans people’s lives will never be the solution, and ghettoising would also have the opposite effect of making all other areas become regarded as places where it is OK to attack trans people (and how to trans people get to so-called safe zones without going through an unsafe zone, and what if we can only afford to live in an ‘unsafe zone’). So the solution, as Watson envisages it, is probably a non-starter. However it needs to be regarded as a starting point from which we can move forward the discussion about transphobia in the UK.

However there are other related issues that need to be discussed
and, from one point of view Watson’s intervention should be seized on as an opportunity to discuss the current wave of hatred and violence directed at trans people, including trans children.

So, if I were going to advocate any safe zone for trans people that safe zone would be virtual, and include the mainstream media, which is responsible for whipping up the hatred currently directed at trans people. Without that, the Times, the Mail, the Express, Mumsnet, the Atlantic, the Sun and other extreme right-wing hate groups will continue to push their lies, misinformation and fabricated fears. The rise in hate-crimes against trans people is directly correlated with the rise in hate spread in these extremist media platforms. These media outlets have magnified the extreme hate put out there by the so-called “women’s concerns” groups, which range from outright, openly fascist hatemongering, to the more subtle ones claiming to be “socialists” who spread hate and fear under an increasingly thin veneer of “feminism”. 

The effects of this media hate-propaganda and these faux-concern groups is clear to see, in the penultimate week of the school spring term three young trans people were attacked, one had his face slashed with a knife, one faced horrific abuse in a shopping centre and another had her head stamped on in an attack in school, an attack that could have been deadly if it hadn’t been stopped. Although they are rarely reported in the media, I am told that suicides of young trans people and trans children are currently running at a rate of around four a year.

The spread of hate from these groups to the extreme right, aided and abetted by the national catastrophe – also media created – that is Brexit, are the main causes of the violence against trans people, and as such no ghettoisation is ever going to protect trans people from its effects. What trans people need is protection from media bullying. The school that excluded the child who stamped on a trans girl’s head was doubtless doing its best to create a safe space for her, yet school management, however hard they try, cannot easily exclude media hate and lies from infecting the minds of the children, often passed down to them from their parents.

So how do we protect trans people from this media-induced violence without threatening the right of free speech? There are a number of possibilities:

1) If we are going to create ‘safe zones’ then shops in those safe zones might not be allowed to sell copies of the worst-offending papers. The faux-concern groups might be banned from meeting there or distributing their hate propaganda there, as might extreme right-wing anti-trans groups. This is however, not a real solution, ghettoisation has never worked in the past so there is no real likelihood that it will ever work in the future.

An alternative to this, along the lines of CLASP, organised in Camden and Islington by Forum+ (Formerly Camden LGBT Forum) where businesses can be encouraged and staff trained, to publicise, and offer, safe spaces to LGBT people under attack might be a way of rolling-out safe spaces without ghettoization.

2) A statutory, and timely, right of reply for groups affected my misleading or dishonest hate-mongering, should be implemented, including dishonest and misleading coverage constructed by selective reporting. The problem with the media is that coverage of most media outlets, like the Times for example, systematically excludes dissenting voices to the extent that there is no opportunity for trans human rights campaigners to correct false information or misleading impressions given. This would address the main cause of media hate.

3) For businesses to stop advertising in these hate-rags, and for campaigns by trans people, through existing groups like Hope Not Hate, to target advertisers who help fund these hatemongering news outlets.

4) For the Equality Act to be extended to cover the activities of IPSO (well actually IPSO needs to be shut down and re-formed it is not fit for purpose) through Leveson 2, which would force them to take action to protect minority groups.

5) For media awards groups to stop giving awards to journalists who publish transphobic material, (and to rescind the ones they have awarded) and for other journalists, following the example of Patrick Strudwick, to call them out on their transphobia. Also journalists who attempt to adopt a “neutral” perspective and advocate “free speech/debate” as Kenan Malik and David Aaronovitch have done, to reconsider their positions and advocate for an end to the current effective censorship of trans people from most of the media, if they want to be taken seriously as journalists/commentators.

The key here is access to the media, something that is being systematically denied by corporate media. While ghetoisation might be a short-term stop-gap which would potentially draw attention to the media-induced violence against trans people, ultimately it is a non-starter. The core of the problem is the media, and any measures like ghettoization, that might distract from the main locus of the problem will, ultimately, just make it worse by giving the media something else to attack.

The safe zone for trans people should be the entire world. The only way to achieve that is to stop transphobic hate in the media.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The Issue is Transphobia

Hbomberguy's fundraiser for Mermaids did an awful lot more than raise $336,000+ for Mermaids, the inspirational charity that supports trans children, and in many cases saves their lives. It also provided, for an all too short a time, a free space for trans people and their allies to discuss the issues facing trans people in general and trans kids in particular. This is important and also very revealing. For the first time in ages online there was a space that allowed trans people and our allies to discuss issues and express ourselves freely. 

This was because the space was not managed, curated, edited, chaired, infiltrated, threatened or controlled by transphobes for once. It wasn't a "discussion" set up by the faux "women's concerns" hate groups. It wasn't a "debate" confected for broadcast media where an ignorant carpet-chewing bigot is set up against a knowledgeable and reasonable trans person or ally. It wasn't an "investigation" by a "journalist" member of the secret anti-trans media cabal, regurgitating their weird groupthink. It didn't include cheap glinning throwaway one-liner misrepresentations of trans people, it didn't have the constant dead-hand threat of having any phrase misused in mainstream media to mean something different from
what was intended. It didn't include voices of the faux "silenced" loudly claiming to be "SILENCED!". It didn't include cis transphobes retrospectively lying about being mistaken for trans guys when they were kids (back in the 1980s? Yeah right!). It didn't include protected Freeze Peach of the kind being provided by York University.

In short it was a conversation, a social media space which was, for a short period, beyond the control of the transphobes. And this is significant, not merely because it demonstrated that, despite the intense media anti-trans campaign (a propaganda wave that deliberately and systematically excluded trans people, yet which described itself as a "debate"), trans people have much more support out there in Real-World Land than the media transphobes think.

It also struck me (although I couldn't spend much time there over the weekend because I had a couple of other projects on the go) that the ultimate root for the discussions was not trans "issues" - we are people not "issues" - but transphobia, cisgenderism, cis-mythologization, trans erasure or whatever other anti-trans processes you might want to define. We are in the midst of a media-orchestrated wave of anti-trans hate centrally-organised by a shady clique of transphobic bigots behind the scenes who are then published by the likes of Murdoch and Rothermere. Bigots whose actions are carefully crafted to connect with social media to produce online bullying and abuse and which all too often play the player rather than the ball. 

That is the issue.

We urgently need to turn the "debate" away from "trans issues" and faux "concerns" and on to the issue of transphobia. Transphobia is the reason Mermaids exists and its life-saving work is needed to prevent children from dying. Obviously the anti-trans lobby wants to stop this lifesaving work, they would rather trans kids just quietly died by suicide like they used to, which is why their media campaign is so focussed on this wonderful charity. Anyone who says that, despite the general ineffectively of the biased media hate-campaign, trans people, especially children, are not being harmed by this propaganda, is being dishonest.

Transphobia is the issue; the rise in transphobia is a media problem and therefore we cannot expect the media to honestly engage in a "debate" about such issues, so trans people need to make space for this ourselves, in the same way hbomberguy did.