Friday, 31 March 2017

(In)visibility and The Transphobes' Big Lie

The prevalence of Sarah Ditum's drearily predictable output in New Statesman has probably contributed to it being renamed "New Transphobe" by trans people. So her recent post in social media attempting to use Rachel Dolezal to delegitimise trans people was not exactly unexpected since she appears to have some deep need to weaponise any possible nugget of information against trans people.

However this time her post has proved very useful in reminding me, not only why the Rachel Dolezal case is not comparable to trans people but why one of the TERFs' main lines of attack against trans people is actually a huge lie. The main difference between trans people and Dolezal is that, while trans people have existed for millennia, people like Dolezal have not. CN Lester's outstanding LGBT History Month lecture at Oxford reveals some of this hidden history, and there is plenty more where that came from.

Marjorie Garber's cultural history demonstrates how trans people have existed throughout history, back to the earliest human civilisation, and in every culture. The discovery by archaeologists of a trans woman buried 5000 years ago in what is now Prague shows how trans people have existed for a long time even in Europe. Harold Garfinkel's study of a transsexual woman in the United States in the 1950s also provides plenty of evidence about our existence throughout history.

But we don't even have to look at second-hand evidence; the autobiography of the Chevaliere D'Eon; The Maiden of Tonerre is the true story of a trans woman who transitioned in London in 1777. Pilot Officer Roberta Cowell's memoirs tell of her transition in the years after she saw action as a Spitfire pilot during D-Day. 

What these examples do, is undermine the basic TERF argument that trans people exist as a kind of "movement", as the result of "transgender ideology" and that being trans is a kind of "fad" or "trend". Indeed two of what I regard as the most dishonest and abusive transphobic websites both use the word "trend" in their title. "Gendertrender" seeming to me nothing more than a collection of weaponised abuse, while "Transgender Trend", in my opinion, aims to harm trans children by misleading their parents.

The aim of these sites, by employing titles such as this, is deliberately to mislead. The idea behind the use of these words is to convey the idea that the emergence of trans people, largely as a result of trans activists hard campaigning inn the last 50 years, is just an ephemeral "fad". The danger is clear; by encouraging people, especially parents, believe that their trans children are just being transgender as the result of a "trend" might engage in actions that are harmful to those children. Yet if something as basic as the names of two of the TERFs' most prominent sites is employing the myth of trendiness, this is actually very revealing of their most basic misleading falsehoods.

One of the reasons trans people have been invisible for such a long time has been the ideological oppression brought about by the central ideology of materiality which was ushered in by the Renaissance, and by fascist attempts to maintain this oppression, for example, these well-known images of Nazis burning books were actually taken as the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the pioneers of research into trans people, was destroyed.

Yet trans people are clearly not a
trend, nor do we exist because of any "ideology" or "movement". We have been around for millennia. Obviously it suits those whose fanatical opposition to trans people can only be sustained by multiple misrepresentations of trans people. Misrepresentations that are becoming harder to maintain. Ultimately it is the particular type of transphobia widely known as TERFism that will turn out to be ephemeral. Existing, as it has done for only around half a century this hate-campaign is the "ideological" "movement". The transphobes have used the historic invisibility of trans people against us, the sudden visibility of trans people brought about by trans activists hard work and campaigning gives the impression that we represent a trend, something the transphobes are desperate to maintain. This is one of the reasons why Transgender day of Visibility is so important, because it exposes this big, fundamental lie. But unlike these anti-trans fanatics, trans people have always been here.

Friday, 24 March 2017


So Nigel Farage has said that
people are afraid to speak out about terrorism because they might be accused of "racism".  He has already demonstrated that his ideas on this subject are at variance with the facts; the Westminster attacker was, like Farage, a 51-year-old man from Kent. In other words he was not an immigrant although Farage was, predictably, one of the first to argue that immigration was the reason for the attack. 

Pretty vile stuff I'm sure you will agree, using the death of a policeman and three other people as an excuse to ramp up his racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Yet his main goal is clear; for racist hate-speech to become legitimised. What has hitherto been regarded as unacceptable hate-mongering is what he wants to be regarded as legitimate. He wants to normalise racism.

Cut to so-called "radical" feminists who engage in hate-speech against trans people, which usually involves spreading outright lies or confected faux narratives about us. Beatrix Campbell has used the same kind of rhetoric as Farage in her infamous letter to the Guardian, so have other anti-trans campaigners like Julie Bindel and Germain Greer. Arguing that they must have the right to express transphobic views quickly became a media consensus last year, something that continued even after Milo Yiannopoulos had bullied a trans student in a university in Wisconsin.

The rule seems to be that, if it is hate-speech about trans people, then that is a "free speech" issue. If it is hate-speech about any other group then that is a "hate speech" issue. 

There are two issues here; firstly that the racist hate-speech of Farage should not become normalised in the way that hate-speech against trans people is. His goal is clearly to normalise racism, and probably subsequently many other forms of discrimination and
violence against other minorities. The extreme right clearly consider this an issue which can be used to legitimise their own race hate, and have expressed solidarity with people like Germaine Greer's transphobia.

The second issue is the normalisation of transphobia in the media and the media's current policy of allowing only cisgender people's voices in this "debate" legitimising the coalition of anti-trans voices, now actually formalised, from the alt-right Nazis and "Christian" fundamentalists to so-called "radical" feminists. This alliance is reflected in "radical feminist" Julie Bindel's association with hate-rag the Daily Mail. How she can call herself a "radical" or a "feminist" while writing in an extreme right-wing alt-paper that scapegoats minority groups, especially immigrants is beyond me. Perhaps her brand of feminism is only actually radical in name? Perhaps it isn't even feminism any more?

Whether it is Jenni Murray, Julie Bindel, Elinor Burkett or Milo Yiannopoulos, transphobia in the media has become normalised and the same arguments used to legitimise it that Farage is currently using to try and legitimise racism: "People shouldn't have to fear discussing this subject." "Free speech." "Isn't Murray/Bindel/Yiannopoulos/etc brave to speak out?!" "We only want to debate your existence."

Aside from the obvious issues of media access and silencing of trans voices in mainstream media, the main reason people describe Jenni Murray as "brave" for speaking out is that they know she will be challenged on social media for her views. Didums. This is not a "free speech" issue, it is a "freeze Peach" issue. It is about the right of those privileged enough to have access to mass media being able to spread their views and not called out on their lies, disinformation, inaccuracies and misconceptions.

One of the many consequences of this spate of mainstream media transphobia has been the shooting of a 12-year-old trans girl in a school in Manchester. The news that she has agreed to take part in a restorative justice programme and face her attacker is an act of real courage. This girl has more courage in one of her toenail clippings than Jenni Murray has in her entire being.

The fact that these transphobes are using the same tactics as a fascist to justify their harmful views, should give some people pause for thought.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The art of the Implicit Lie

Sometimes you wonder whether things people say, especially when
they are repeated often (presumably so as to become the truth) are actually believed by those who propagate them. The most significant lie however, is the indirect lie, the lie that piggybacks on another statement, a statement which may well be true within its own terms of reference but which also tells a lie by implication.

The recent spate of articles by transphobes in the one-sided "debate" about whether trans women are "real" women or not manifests a number of prime examples of this; statements that are internally correct but which contain external implications that are misleading. Implicit lies, unlike explicit ones, are both harder to identify and harder to counter and are usually employed when the case one is trying to make is weak. They have been employed in abundance in material published by transphobic "feminists" in mainstream media in recent weeks, and as such these texts present us with a significant number of examples with which to work.

One of the most common manifestations of the implicit lie in recent years has been the TERF focus on Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner is an individual who is so obviously in a privileged position that of course TERFs are going to want to foreground her in any discussion. The implicit lie here is when she is used to (mis)represent all trans women, and because Jenner has at least apparent privilege then QED all trans women therefore have benefitted from male privilege. There were a flurry of TERF articles about Jenner which employed this technique. Murray employs the same technique, only this time avoiding Jenner (probably since transphobes have overused her name so much that they risk their implicit lies explicit) by selecting from the small and decreasing number of late transitioning trans women she implies that all trans women have enjoyed male privilege. Here the implicit lie is, as with Jenner, produced by selection. She could have selected any number of very young trans girls, she could have talked to girls like Sarah-Jane, aged 7, from the Midlands who was introduced to me by her mother when they were visiting the Tavistock and Portman institute in London after Sarah-Jane was  diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Even as a trans person I had difficulty believing that this girl was transgender, there was absolutely nothing masculine about her, she was so clearly a girl, and obviously had been for as long as she could remember, and indeed for as long as her mum could remember. Her male privilege consisted of being forced to wear boys school uniform, to being forced to wear her hair in one ponytail instead of two bunches as she preferred, being called by her old name, and "he" by her teachers even though the school had been shown her deed poll in which her name had been legally changed to Sarah-Jane. This, despite all the children in her class knowing her as Sarah-Jane from out-of-school activities and general play in the street. She was also forced to use the boys toilets and changing rooms, something which traumatised her unbelievably. It took a lot of pressure, both legal and social, to stop the school's bullying of her (and bullying was the only way to describe it).

Sarah-Jane is not alone, there are large numbers of trans children and young people coming to understand themselves as trans. I have met trans girls aged between 5 and 8, and older trans girls who have been out since they were very young. My own research  suggests that while the mean average age for coming to understand oneself as trans is just under 8 years old, and the modal average is just 5 years old. So it is no surprise than that the number of trans girls coming out and living in their true genders is increasing significantly, while the numbers of older transitioners, largely transitioning late because of the social and cultural erasure of trans people prevalent during the 20th century, is in decline.

The lie here is about "male privilege" and, whilst Murray's descriptions may have been internally correct, they also contained implicit lies about trans women, constructed by her selection of material. Sarah-Jane has never had any kind of male privilege, nor has she ever had the kind of socioeconomic privilege Murray possesses. There are plenty of young trans women and trans girls in her position too. Of course there are huge amounts of problems about Murray's use of the concept of privilege as a stick to beat older trans women with too, it is likely that male privilege is non-existent or at least not a benefit, unless also accompanied by cis privilege.

Murray also takes an older transitioner to task because of her concern, as a vicar, about her appearance when meeting her parishioners for the first time. This apparently makes her unfeminist and therefore not a "real" women. Newsflash, just about every woman I know, and most men too, are concerned about their appearance on the first day in a new job, and after transitioning, I would expect the situation to be little different from that. If you work in a job, as I do (and as Murray doesn't) which is public/client facing then appearance is always going to be important, especially for women. That isn't because of trans women it is because of the rest of society. After I transitioned my employer was concerned about my appearance, as was I, when meeting students for the first time. Murray's criticism of another trans women for saying she didn't like unshaved legs is also an implicit lie because it deliberately ignores the large number of cis women who have similar opinions. Again the implicit lie piggybacks on something internally true.

Hadley Freeman presents us with more implicit lies in her article follwomg Murray's as she attempts to subtly make Murray appear to be a victim of sexism;

It is no coincidence then that the implicit lie has become the choice of weapon against trans women by those intent on harming us. If their implicit lies are expressed explicitly they become so easily detectable:

  • "If one trans woman doesn't like hairy legs all trans women are sexist and unfeminist and have male privilege."
  • "No cis woman has ever expressed distate for hairy legs on women."
  • "If one, older trans woman is concerned about her appearance when meeting her flock for the first time since transitioning all trans women are sexist and unfeminist and have male privilege."
  • "All trans women/girls have male privilege because they have all lived for 50 years as men."
  • "Gary Lineker is just as likely to express controversial opinions on Match of the Day as Jenni Murray is on Women's Hour."

In the articles I have cited here there are many more examples of implicit lies. Perhaps this is what trans activists and our allies need to become adept at; making the implicit lie explicit. I have the feeling TERF writers would struggle to produce anything without these dishonest devices. 

Maybe it is something we all need to become adept at exposing. In the age of post truth politics the TERFs are already past-masters at the art of the implicit lie. Doubtless assorted Brexiters, Tories, and the TERF's Trump supporting friends in the US will be deploying these more often also. The educationalist Neil Postman once said "You can't indentify bullshit in the same way you can identify phonemes." So maybe this is a skill we need to teach all our children, but especially our trans children, too.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Jenni Murray: Definitely not a Woman. Just a Bully.

The transphobia industry's Banality of Evil

Caroline, the woman who writes this blog, is adamant that women should always wear skirts, as does this woman. Claire is another woman who is insistent that women should wear skirts, not all the time but always at work. Karen Danczuk additionally thinks that women should accept whatever dress codes are in force at work, including being required to wear high heels.

This must mean that all women are of the same opinion, all women want women to be forced to wear skirts and heels, at least to work and in some instances all the time. Even Jenny Murray, who has just decided that all trans women are not women, because three misguided souls hold opinions about women’s appearances which are not entirely dissimilar to those above.

So if I am not a “real” woman then neither is Jenni Murray. She claims the identity of cisgender woman and, since she is therefore part of the same group as Karen Danczuk et al, she must therefore, by her own logic, not be a real woman either. Interesting since she has appointed herself chief border guard of womanhood.

However it is not merely the noun that is used to describe Murray that, by her own logic is wrong, the adjective is also misplaced too. “Brave” is the descriptor currently being bandied about to describe her attack on trans women, as the “courageous” writer of such drivel. Apparently she is “brave” because she is likely to be tweeted at by large numbers of trans people. Doubtless the risk of being called out and ridiculed by blogs such as this with a readership of a few thousand, is offset by the significant fee she derives from Rupert Murdoch and her pay from the BBC for hosting Cis-woman’s Hour, from the safety of her studio with a listenership in the millions.

Well I don’t think she is brave in the least, not in comparison with the thousands of trans women, most of whom live by considerably less means than her, who step outside their front doors every day to an increasingly hostile world, a world made more hostile by the widely broadcast media pronouncements of people like Jenni Murray. These are the truly courageous ones, the ones who, often living in difficult conditions, doing low-paid work, no work or sex work to keep the wolf from the door, are brave enough to be themselves in the face of discrimination, hatred, exclusion, violence and worse.

For Murray’s rant in a major national newspaper to be described as “brave” one has to stretch credulity beyond breaking point. As part of the industrial-scale assault on trans people it will increase the likelihood of trans women and trans girls being attacked. Just before half term we heard of the 12-year-old trans girl shot with a BB gun at school in Manchester. As a child who has the courage to face her attacker as part of a restorative justice programme, she has shown more courage in her little toenail than Murray will ever have in her entire being. And I know that worse has happened to other trans kids in recent months. Indeed there are trans children living in hiding as we speak because of bullying stemming from the negative media coverage pouring out from the Mail, the Times, the BBC and other “respectable” media platforms. This industrial-scale production of trans-hate is becoming so regular, so mindlessly churned out and so formulaic, by people like Murray, despite its obvious consequences, that Hannah Arendt’s description of the Banality of Evil is increasingly appropriate. “Bravery” is the wrong description for her. “Bullying coward” fits much more appropriately.