Thursday, 25 February 2016

Lies, harm and death

Transphobes in the media: It's not about "offence".

It is becoming clear that the battle for trans rights in the UK is being won, although we are, of course nowhere near finished. There are still plenty of areas where change is needed and where discrimination still occurs; the rights of children, non-binary people, disabled trans people and BAME trans people and prison policy to name but a few. However trans people in the UK are in a better position with regard to having some kind of voice, with being able to express ourselves and counter the lies and deliberate misinformation put about by those who oppose us. 

It cannot be stressed how important this is. Some of us can remember a time when trans people had no voice, no ability to challenge what was said about us. The harm caused by this state of affairs resulted in deaths by suicide (including, almost, my own, after I read The Transsexual Empire, the only book I could find about transsexual people in the 1980s, before the internet) as a result of the social exclusion generated by negative stereotyping of trans people in the media. These texts were produced by people like Janice Raymond, Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel. During the last 40 years up to around 2008 the dominant public image of the average trans person was determined by these people's discourse; their narrative was not seriously challenged in the media to the extent that Julie Bindel could get away with stereotyping us this badly in the Guardian in 2004;

"...those who "transition" seem to become stereotypical in their appearance - fuck-me shoes and birds'-nest hair for the boys; beards, muscles and tattoos for the girls. Think about a world inhabited just by transsexuals. It would look like the set of Grease."

While Germaine Greer has recently demonstrated that this sort of nonsense has not gone away, it has to a large extent been replaced by more subtle mendacities, disinformations and outright lies from such people. However, trans people are now better organised and better able to challenge such narratives in the media, which brings me to the first important point I would like to make here: opposing people like Greer, Bindel, Raymond etc, is not about us being offended, it is about the harmful effects of the lies they peddle. When a TERF or other transphobe makes an appearance in the media, the content of what they say may be mildly offensive to trans people but to be honest most of us hear worse on the bus every now and then. No the problem with the material they are pushing in the media is that it usually contains quite profound untruths and disinformation about trans people. Indeed this is pretty much the norm in terms of TERF output in the media these days. Gone is the deliberate stereotyping; these days there are enough of us around so that most people know we don't look like john Travolta or Olivia Newton-John, today their weapon if choice is the lie.

The problem is that those who oppose the no-platforming policies of students, those who argue, as Julie Bindel did so disingenuously in the guardian recently, are presenting our opposition to their media output, speaking sessions in universities as based on "offence". 

It is not.

Let me be clear about this; I am not opposed to Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Milo Yiannopoulos or anyone else speaking about trans issues on the grounds of "offence". These people may be offensive but that is not the reason why I believe they have no place speaking in our universities or in the media. The reason I oppose them speaking is because they use every opportunity they get, to spread deliberate lies about trans people which cause actual harm to trans people.

These lies include;

  • trans children mostly do not grow up to be trans adults
  • trans children have a medical transition forced upon them at too early a stage
  • trans women use women's toilets, not to pee but to attack women
  • trans women are men
  • trans people are mentally ill
  • trans children are diagnosed too early and don't have time to develop
  • trans people are enemies of feminism
  • trans people reinforce gender stereotypes and the oppression of women
This is why I believe trans activists now need to ensure that these people are not given undeserved airtime to spread these lies and to sharpen our response to them when they do, exposing their lies and being clear that no-platforming is about opposing their practice of spreading harmful disinformation about us, rather than "offence". 

Indeed so many commenters who supported Germaine Greer's "Freezepeach" cited "offence" as our supposed opposition to transphobes in the media and at universities that it is clear the cis journalists and editors have got this entire issue badly wrong, and are misrepresenting trans people quite badly in this respect. I believe one of the main focusses of our interactions with the media should be this disinformation campaign by transphobes, and we should not avoid any opportunity to reinforce the idea that our main objection to transphobes being given a platform is not 'offence'.

The next point I would like to make in relation to this is with regard to places like Russia. Today it was announced that trans people, along with gay men, lesbians and child-abusers, were to be "treated" in new psychiatric hospitals. Let us be under no illusions that these "treatments" are going to include Reparative Therapy of the kind that killed Leelah Alcorn.

Two years ago I was invited by Amnesty International to speak about the problems faced by trans people in Russia. Since I knew very little about the situation and what they would like me to say I consulted with some Russian trans people, difficult, but I got in touch with as many as I could communicate with. Their main message was very clear; they are suffering because of TERF cultural imperialism. The transphobic hate published by the likes of Raymond and Greer under the guise of "feminism" is having an effect in Russia. The problem is that TERFs in Russia have a much louder voice than trans people, indeed trans people there are pretty much in the same position we were here in the early 1980s. In other words TERF disinformation and misinformation about trans people can be spread there with little or no opposition. The result of this, is institutionalised Reparative Therapy and trans people being treated alongside pedophiles. I am in no doubt that trans people will die, and indeed are probably dying already in Russia as a result of TERF cultural imperialism.

So whilst we need to be on our guard in the UK, we need to develop ways of supporting trans people in Russia. That was the very clear message I received from them about what they would like us in the West, to do to support them. They didn't need anything else, they were clear they could fight their own battles, what we need to do is prevent our TERFs from targeting them, because they are not yet in a position to fight back (the choice of battleground by TERFs is always one in which their opponents cannot fight back and where others do their dirty work for them).

The truth is that TERFism kills, that TERFism is predominantly about spreading false information about trans people. This is not a "free speech" issue or an "offence" issue it is about harm, in that sense it is not unlike the free speech implications of shouting "fire" in a crowded cinema.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Schools and creative thinking: The failure of neoliberal education policies.

Today a marketing company advertised for an employee saying only dyslexics need apply. This is a new departure in advertising for employees. Although some people have suggested but it might be illegal, this kind of positive discrimination is in fact perfectly legitimate and within the law. However many people seem to be missing the most important issue here. The reason for their seeking a dyslexic employee. 

The advertising company needed to recruit not specifically a dyslexic person, but a person who is able to think creatively. In in their advert they talked about Richard Branson and Steve jobs as examples of the kind of people they would like to employ. In fact, you don't have to be dyslexic to be creative and to be a creative thinker. The implications of this advert are far more wide ranging and profound. It represents concrete evidence of the failure of our education system, in particular our school system.

The Education Reform Act 1988 began a process of turning our schools into the exam factories that they are today. The first OFSTED inspections and the introduction of league tables, ever more meaningless SAT tests and exams, with teachers and headteachers increasingly held responsible personally for forcing children through these meaningless hoops. Now, academisation has turned our schools even more into exam factories, depriving our children of the skills and attitudes need to survive in real life as these mincing machines spew out identikit children able only to memorise large quantities of random facts for very short periods of time, as Mary Bousted showed with the new key stage two tests in grammar,  punctuation and spelling. The likes of Gove, Baker and Blunkett have combined over the years to produce a neoliberal dystopia in our education system which is now harming children, not merely in terms of their mental health but also now in terms of their employment prospects.

We have now arrived at the ridiculous situation where the creative thinking vital to most businesses and industry has been knocked out of children by this increasingly centralised, authoritarian system. The damage caused not just to our children and young people but also to our economy, is potentially incalculable. Michael Gove’s and Nick Gibb’s fantasies of all children learning grammar by rote (as though in some mythical 1950s grammar school) materialised in the form of these dreadful tests for primary schoolchildren; at the same time destroying children's motivation to learn, turning them off school and distracting from the real qualities needed to survive, thrive, prosper and enjoy life in the 21st-century.

Industry now has so little faith in our education system that it has to go to these more extreme lengths to ensure that they get creative thinkers, problem solvers and people who can look at things in different ways. This can only be regarded as a profound indictment of the neoliberal education policies which have caused so much damage in the last 25 years. It is of course very positive that neurodiversity is being recognised positively by employers at last, but the assumption that the majority of pupils coming through our education system will not be able to think creatively demonstrates the failure over education policy in the last quarter of a century more graphically than anything.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Proportional Representation, Labour and the Tories.

The new electoral boundary changes being foisted on the UK by the Tories are designed, by the Tories, to ensure that Labour can never win an overall majority in the House of Commons again. Combined with other, seemingly unrelated and piecemeal changes, such as voter deregistration, they are working hard, but quietly, to ensure they will have an overall majority in 2020 and beyond regardless of how unpopular they become. Bit like North Korea...

The prospects of Labour forming a majority government are, of course greatly reduced by a deeply unpopular leader who refuses to discuss the issues that voters care about, preferring to play to his gallery which consists of that roughly 0.5% of the electorate that has selected him. However he has started to that think about forming an alliance with other parties, like the Lib Dems, the Greens and the SNP to produce electoral reform resulting in Proportional Representation (PR), a group of left-of-centre parties joining together to beat the Tories at the ballot box and then change the voting system from the current increasingly unfair one, to a fair and proportional one.

It has to be recognised that, with him at the helm, even obtaining this will be difficult as Labour heads for sub 25% territory in the polls. However it is the first sensible thing he has done since becoming leader and as such it should be supported. Interestingly the other major proponent of PR in the Labour Party is Chukka Ummuna. Proportional Representation would be good for the country because, at least in the medium term, it would reverse the situation intended by the Tories. Instead of locking Labour out of power for a generation it would lock the Tories out of power for a generation, as they struggle to form alliances with the UKiPs and the SNP. This is to the good. Imagine if the country had been a Tory-free zone since 1979 instead of being dominated by hard-right Thatcher and Cameron governments. The country would be in a far better condition; we would not have had Gove's disastrous education reforms, rail privatisation, NHS privatisation, cuts to social security and public services on the swinging scale they have been, high levels of unemployment and low pay, increasing child poverty, Section 28... the list is long and painful. The country would be immeasurably better off now if it had not had these Tory governments.

So Labour must start making moves to change the electoral system. A government made up of a group of parties that commands a majority of voters in the UK and which have committed to PR in their manifestos, would be free to implement such a system without a referendum and could then proceed to govern by consensus and persuasion rather than by imposition and fiat. It would be free to undo all the damage that successive Conservative governments have wrought on our social system.

The irony is that, if the Tories hadn't decided to implement their distorted new electoral system designed to keep them in power come what may, then Labour would probably never have started considering PR. This means that ultimately a policy designed to keep them in power could result in them being excluded from power fro a very long time.

Bring it on!

Cologne, Greer, Bea Campbell, free speech and "neo-masculinism".

The so-called "neo-masculinist" groups of "men"; poor dears who are now too scared to hold their meetings have been the subject of much outrage and ridicule. This group of wannabe rapists have finally discovered that the "pick-up artist", Pulling-By-Numbers systems being peddled by creepy wide boys doesn't work on real women. Rather than reconsider their attitudes to women and start to treat us as human beings this group of "men" has decided that it is easier to go the other way and attempt to make their sick fantasies of raping women come true.

However this episode has revealed some glaring hypocrisies. To start with many of the people who were so vociferous about the Cologne incident seem to have been deafeningly silent about these, mostly white, proto-rapists. Yes the outcry over these attitudes is considerably louder when the men exhibiting them have brown skins than when they have white skins. Not all that different from the way white men who murder indiscriminately are described as "loners" whereas a Muslim boy with a clock is treated as a terrorist. 

Not only that but these two occurrences together have  also exposed transphobia. There has been barely a peep out of the media about the way people have tried to prevent the supporters of Roosh V from meeting. This is censorship par excellence yet the likes of Bea Campbell, Richard Dawkins and a host of supporters of Germaine Greer's "right" to hate-speech have been utterly silent about his supporters right to speak. No protests whatever about those opposing their rights to hate-speak. Interesting...

Of course it is right to oppose this vileness. Even just advocating rape actively harms women and contributes to the rape culture so prevalent in our society. In the same way transphobia contributes to actual harm caused to trans people, especially trans children. Like most trans people I oppose both these types of hate-speech. Those who have opposed only one, citing "free speech" for transphobes by not misogynists have exposed themselves to the charge of profound hypocrisy. Or maybe the issue of "free speech" is only relevant to transphobes...?