Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Just who is being silenced...?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Transphobia: How would "free speech" actually work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An analysis of Germaine Greer's claim about Caitlyn Jenner

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

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

Or not. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 16 October 2015

Restricted minds and self-delusion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 October 2015

No-platforming; "democratic debate" or Weaponised Empty Rhetoric

A lot of people seem to be expressing sympathy with Julie Bindel because she was “banned” from speaking at a university students union in Manchester. In fact she was not “banned” she was no-platformed, which is different; the media likes to use words like “ban” and “censorship” because they are more dramatic and because the media, by-and-large, doesn’t like policies like no-platforming which empower those who are comparably voiceless.

Some people seem to be thinking quite wrong-headedly about this. I have seen one or two falling for the Weaponised Empty Rhetoric (WER) generated by this situation. As I have said above, the first misconception some people seem to have is that this represents “censorship”. No-platforming is a decision by a grassroots democratic organisation that it does not want to allow its facilities used by those who spread discriminatory views about minority groups to use their facilities to spread these views. It actually represents an expression of solidarity. This is another reason the media doesn’t like it, the media, largely owned by those who dominate society by divide-and-rule, always tries to discourage solidarity, which is a means by which the powerless empower themselves and each other.

Censorship is different. Censorship is when, for example BBC News failed to report details of accusations about David Cameron’s dealings with a dead pig. Censorship is when a media organisation, a group of media organisations or a government prevents certain opinions or information from being expressed. Censorship is about the exercise of top-down power, not collective will. This is clearly not the case for Julie Bindel; she regularly writes a column in a national newspaper and in plenty of other places. She is quite obviously not being silenced or censored. What is happening is that a democratic organisation is expressing the will of its members that they believe the kind of opinions or disinformation expressed by her are harmful to a group of its members, and they are not going to throw that group of members under a bus by allowing her to speak.

The fact that Julie Bindel managed to get mainstream media coverage for being “banned” (when it was just “no-platformed”) as Sara Ahmed argued, shows the functioning of power. She is not being silenced, she is getting plenty of publicity from this. Ultimately, as a journalist in a mainstream newspaper, she has considerably wider influence than this student union.

Another misconception about trans people is that, these days trans people have had to go through a lot and are tough enough to deal with the crap provided by these types of speakers. This is a classic example of looking at something from one's own point of view and then applying that to everyone else. This is a mistake. The reality is that this does not account for different people from different backgrounds in different situations. A common falacy which needs to be dispelled, and  ironically one that many have accused Julie of.

My argument, which I have made before, and which no-one has been able to counter, or even tried to argue against, is about why universities and FE colleges are still places which need to be protected for trans people. It obviously needs reiterating and goes as follows;

Schools are still largely unaccepting, unwelcoming and dangerous places for trans children and young people. Some are getting better but they are still largely places where trans children and young people feel excluded, bullied and abused. The situation is quite patchy across the country and kids in different situations, locations and schools are likely to have widely varying experiences of being or coming out as trans.

In fact there are three factors which affect the possibility of coming out as trans if you are under 18;

Local community

The problem for trans kids is that you pretty much need all three (two out of three isn't going to work) of these to be accepting before you can come out and not feel constantly frightened, not be constantly under threat of violence and not be exclusion bullied or worse. Even if only one of these three elements is unaccepting or intolerant, you are pretty much going to find that being yourself is impossible. Quietly keeping your head down and waiting to leave is what many do, until they get to uni or do a course in an FE college.

This means that further and higher education institutions are probably the places where most young trans people come out first. This is where those tiny, cautions, fearful steps out are taken by many, this is probably the main place of coming out for the largest number of young trans people so this environment is one which needs to be protected from; 

  • TERFs, 
  • right-wing libertarians, 
  • well-meaning but mistaken middle-class white men who believe in ‘free speech’  
  • religious trans haters.
University is always held up by the trans haters as an environment where 'free speech' should allow 'free and open discussion' about 'any issue'. The problem is that the trans haters don't engage in 'free speech', they engage in spreading misinformation, disinformation, lies and abuse about trans people. We need to keep the disease of mendaciousness, abuse and deliberate attempts to interfere in the lives of young trans people out of these places. We need to remember that universities have a responsibility to those working for them and studying in them. They also have a responsibility to promote genuine intellectual openness and debate. The output of TERFdom simply doesn't measure up to this standard. TERFs cannot engage in any kind of discussion or debate without manufacturing 'facts', engaging in personal abuse, distorting information and making unfounded assumptions.

TERF output is, as I have characterised it, nothing more than Weaponised Empty Rhetoric. WER does not constitute a logical argument, indeed it is de facto the absence of reasoned argument since it is incoherent, works by selectivity, omission and thrives on spreading disinformation to those who are uninitiated in trans issues. A good example of this is how TERFs embrace two opposing ideologies at the same time, both essentialism and social constructivism, depending on which is convenient. Currently their argument is that, since gender is socially constructed then therefore being trans must be a "choice". 

Toytown arguments like the above are illustrative of the level of debate TERFs wish to bring to universities. They incoherently bandy about conflicting WER simply to try and discredit trans people, hopping from one argument to another successively as each one is discredited. One characteristic of engaging with TERF argumentation is that they cannot sustain an argument in the face of even minimally clued-up opposition. It is like arguing with UKip; unpleasant, unenlightening and pointless.

The idea that including TERF discourse in university is worth doing in the name of 'open, democratic debate' is, literally, not credible. Given the level of argumentation presented in ├╝ber-TERF Sheila Jeffreys' latest flop "Gender Hurts" there is nothing to be gained from including TERF discourse in universities. Add to this the risks inherent in potentially threatening the safety and prospects of young trans people coming out and/or exploring new gender identities in the first tolerant environment they have encountered, then no-platforming should remain in place. It is to the credit of student unions that there are enough students who want to show solidarity with their trans fellow students to keep this provision in place in the face of those with huge amounts of power and influence exerting a great deal of pressure.