Friday, 21 December 2018

Mermaids Press Release

Mermaids often receives emails from journalists asking questions about the work we do. Today we received a request for information from a Times journalist regarding a recent Mermaids diversity training session that was recorded without the knowledge of the trainer.

In the interests of transparency and fairness, and to ensure informed public discussion, we have published the full press query and our answers below.


Dear Susie,
I hope you are well. I'm a journalist at The Times. We've become aware of a recording made during the recent Mermaids session at Newman University in Birmingham.
During the session, [our trainer], the lady leading the discussion makes a number of claims.

She claims: "Your gender identity is formed between 18months and three and a half. We know who we are. That’s in our brain.

She claims that 45% of young trans people commit suicide.

She also suggests that teachers and educators do not have to inform parents, if they are making referrals for trans students over 16.

At one point, she appears to discourage educational professionals from cooperating with the parents of trans pupils.
"Sometimes school may be the only place they can be themselves.
"Sometimes because they can’t be out at home and if the parents find out it can be a safe issue. so you have to be very careful when talking about your cases."

The person who made the recording was told to "take a step down academically" when he scrutinised some of the claims. He felt the seminar was like "a cross between a time share pitch and an evangelist meeting" and felt very alarmed that educational and safeguarding professionals were being told not to think too hard about the claims being made.

How do you respond to these claims?
Grateful for your response,

Thanks very much
Lucy Bannerman


Mermaids Responses....

The Times: Our trainer states: ‘Your gender identity is formed between 18months and three and a half. We know who we are. That’s in our brain.’

Mermaids: This statement is corroborated by the following studies, and the Olson study (2018) also cites numerous additional studies over the past 20 years confirming gender identity in children:

Young children between 18 months and 3 years learn how to use the words 'man' and 'woman' to identify themselves and others (Berk, 2013: 531). In this early stage of childhood, children already relate toys, clothes, colors, and behaviors to gendered identity and express their preference ( Eichstedt et al., 2002).'_knowledge_of_conventional_and_metaphorical_gender_stereotypes

By the age of 3 children show preferences for those that share their gender/sex

The Times: Our trainer claims that ‘45% of young trans people commit suicide.’

Mermaids: This is incorrect. Mermaids, in partnership with Stonewall, references the 2017 School Report in relation to suicide and self-harm statistics:

Unfortunately, the high rates of attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts amongst trans young people are real. The stats quoted from the Pace report are backed up by other more recent research into the experiences of trans young people.

Stonewall’s School Report found that more than two in five trans young people (45 per cent) have at some point attempted to take their own life. For lesbian, gay and bi pupils who are not trans, one in five (22 per cent) have tried to take their own life. In comparison, the NHS estimates that in the general population thirteen per cent of girls aged 16-24 and five per cent of boys aged 16-24 have made such attempts.
Moreover, the report found that LGBT pupils who were bullied at school were significantly more likely to have attempted to take their own life than those who haven’t (37 per cent compared to 17 per cent).

The same report also revealed that nine in ten trans young people (92 per cent) have thought about taking their own life, far higher than the estimate from Young Minds for young people in general, where one in four young people have had these thoughts. And it is also higher than the already high rate for lesbian, gay and bi pupils who are not trans: seven in ten (70 per cent) of whom have thought about taking their own life. It also revealed alarmingly high rates of self-harm amongst trans young people (84%) and lesbian, gay and bi pupils who are not trans (61%).
Our 2017 research is largest data set for trans young people in Britain, but similar rates can be found in other studies for example:
Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People found 59% of young trans people disclosing that they had self-harmed. When asked whether they experience suicidal thoughts and actions, 63% of transgender young people said that they had.

The research consistently demonstrates this is a real problem that thousands of trans young people are facing every day, impacting on their lives and the lives of their family and friends. Sources:

1. School Report
In 2016 Stonewall commissioned the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge to conduct a survey with young people who are lesbian, gay, bi or trans (LGBT), or who think they might be, on their experiences in secondary schools and colleges across Britain. Between November 2016 and February 2017, 3,713 LGBT young people aged 11-19 completed an online questionnaire, and this report presents the findings of this survey, that group included 594 trans young people aged 11-19. With over 3,700 respondents and nearly 600 trans respondents, it is the most comprehensive survey into the current experiences of LGBT pupils in Britain today

2. Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People
Lough Dennell, B.L., Anderson, G., and McDonnell, D. (2018). Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People. LGBT Youth Scotland. Based on responses from 684 LGBT young people in Scotland.

The Times: Our trainer also suggests that ‘teachers and educators do not have to inform parents, if they are making referrals for trans students over 16’.

Mermaids: This statement is in line with Gillick competency. If a child is Gillick competent and is clear they do not want their parents to know of the referral, it would be good practice to document this request and make reasonable adjustments to this effect, to safeguard the child. Any information to be shared with their parents or carers should always be discussed with the child, and their consent should be sought.

The Times: At one point, our trainer appears to ‘discourage educational professionals from cooperating with the parents of trans pupils’.

Mermaids: This statement is taken out of context; many parents are supportive of their transgender children but some are not. Disclosure of a young person’s gender identity to a professional in itself does not constitute a safeguarding risk. However, if the young person does not have supportive parents, then disclosure of their gender identity would constitute a potential safeguarding risk. The Albert Kennedy Trust has documented the following regarding LGBT young people becoming homeless:

The study found that the main reasons were parental rejection, abuse within the family or being exposed to aggression and violence.

The Times: The person who made the recording was told to "take a step down academically" when he scrutinised some of the claims. He felt the seminar was like "a cross between a time share pitch and an evangelist meeting" and felt very alarmed that educational and safeguarding professionals were being told not to think too hard about the claims being made.

Mermaids: The attendee seemed to feel he was entitled to dominate the meeting and his queries were paramount. Our trainer attempted to ensure the session ran to time in the interests of all who attended.

We are incredibly proud of our diversity training sessions and the professional and approachable way our staff deliver them. However, our greatest endorsement is the many parents, children and teachers who tell us how our sessions have helped them better understand the difficulties trans children face, and how to support them to make their lives easier. Our charity aim is to improve the lives of transgender children, and one of the key ways we do this is through giving information to those people who come into contact with young gender-questioning, trans and non-binary people.

If you are a teaching professional, this guidance provided by the National Education Union is also helpful:

Sunday, 25 November 2018

The Faux Silenced...

Opinion: An open letter to Kenan Malik about his article in the Observer today.

Dear Mr Malik,

I was dismayed, saddened and angered by your article in the Observer today, yet another in a long line of articles telling everyone that it is trans people who are “shutting down debate”. 

The “silencing” argument is now a common one and has been made in the Guardian/Observer at least five times in the last five weeks with no opportunity for trans people to counter it. It is an easy argument to make since it is part of the current oppressive media consensus and it is therefore an easy piece to write as it is unlikely to be challenged or contradicted in any mainstream media any time soon. 

In this letter I am going to set aside the objection that it is extremely stressful to sit in a studio, usually with a hostile presenter, and argue for your own right to exist with a transphobe (it's really very bad for one’s mental health). I am also going to ignore the fact that most trans people just want to get on with their lives rather than subject ourselves to “debates” with people we will never talk out of their bigotry (and yes they are bigots, even though they dress this bigotry up in “respectable” language). I’m going to also set aside your assertion that arguing with a bigot will be productive (it will not, ever). I’m also going to set aside the notion that these anti-trans groups have any legitimate arguments (they do not), and I’m going to avoid mentioning the vicious treatment of trans people and our allies (which is very common) when we do enter into any debate about trans people. 

I’m just focus on your idea of “debate”.

When it comes to “debate” about anything in this country the main forum for that debate is the national media. It is obvious that you want to focus this issue on small-scale “debates” held by anti-trans groups in meeting rooms around the country, but these reach a tiny audience and exclude many people. Recently one such event in the north-west barred two trans people I know for example. If you are going to talk about “debate” then the debate, such as it does (not) exist, in the national media is where your arguments need to be focused. The national media is where any meaningful “debate” is held, and consequently it is the national media where the focus of the “silencing” debate needs to be. The national media reaches millions, rather than dozens.

The “I’M BEING SILENCED!” article is a trope that goes back a few years, and which, as Sara Ahmed explains, is actually a self-contradictory one; 

"Whenever people keep being given a platform to say they have no platform, or whenever people speak endlessly about being silenced, you not only have a performative contradiction; you are witnessing a mechanism of power."

The mere fact that those who are claiming to be “silenced” are able to get their complaints reproduced repeatedly, at length and without contradiction in articles in national mainstream media tells you that they are not being silenced in any way. So let’s have a look at the scoresheet in terms of silencing…

I have a friend who is monitoring media output and who has counted well over 100 anti-trans “news” articles just since the first of August. The T*mes alone has published around 65 of these. Yet there have only been a handful of articles in national daily media during this time arguing in favour of trans rights, countering those of the anti-trans activists, all of whose arguments get a regular and uncritical airing. Last Sunday alone there were 10, yes ten anti-trans articles published, with no trans person permitted to respond. Today there were at least five. People whose opinions about trans people are no different from those of Donald Trump are able to get their arguments heard pretty much everywhere without challenge.

What is problematic is that “SILENCING!” and “debate” articles like yours focus entirely on the meetings of transphobic hate groups (groups you describe as “feminist” even though I know loads of feminists who disagree that they are feminist in any way) that have “debates” around the country. Trans people protest these meetings as an act of free speech because they have no access to the media in the way these transphobic groups have, and consequently the only way to make their voices heard is through protest. These protests are the muffled and misrepresented voices of those who are truly silenced, not those of the faux silenced whose opinions appear daily in national media often telling us how SILENCED! they are. 

One of the main problems is the way the media conducts its business. Being allowed to write an article in response to something published in the media is such a rarity that I can only think of a couple of instances of it happening. This is especially a problem when one wants to counter disinformation. The problem for trans people is that most of the anti-trans articles published in the national dailies are full of misleading material and would easily be countered with reference to verifiable facts were we allowed to do so. For example the “conflicting rights” argument that you bring up simply doesn’t stand up to any kind of intellectual challenge. There have been no reported problems in countries like Ireland or Malta where statutory declaration of gender has already been in operation, indeed there has even been empirical research published that undermines this claim, which you fail to mention (and let's face it if you did mention it then your entire argument would vanish in a puff of evidence). 

For the media the “trans debate” is not a debate at all, it is an asset; it enables journalists to produce material that Roz Kaveney has characterised as “The Monetization of Distrust”. Profitable clickbait in other words. If the trans rights argument is ended, which it could easily be, by trans people pulling apart the, actually very flimsy arguments of the anti-trans campaigners, journalists would lose this asset, no more articles of this kind could be churned out on an industrial scale. Journalists would have to resort to going out and finding some actual news. Consequently there is every incentive for the media not to permit trans people to engage in this debate in any meaningful way. This explains why there is so little pro-trans material in the media; if there were, the “debate” would have ended a long time ago, as every argument put forward by the anti-trans activists got taken down with logical argument and evidence. Trans people are literally being harmed by this propaganda in order for the media to make money. Imagine making your money by harming others, including children…

On the rare occasions that trans people do get the opportunity to present their arguments it is in a very different way to that of the anti-trans activists. Anti-trans activists, which include many journalists, regularly publish anti-trans articles in the media where they do not have to respond to any counter-arguments. When trans people are invited to air their arguments in the media, as I have been, it is normally in a “debate” situation in which we are opposed by an anti-trans activist. In other words the anti-trans activists get their ideas circulated in the media without challenge, while we can only get access to the media in a gladiatorial spectacle rather than a debate. Indeed Jane Fae has recently described how those “debates” tend to go; trans people typically get three soundbites, at least two of which are normally responses to an opposing statement. Compare that to the lengthy (and largely dishonest) arguments developed on the anti-trans side regularly and persistently, with no opportunity for us to challenge them anywhere. How can trans people possibly take part in a debate, how can we possibly develop arguments that go beyond brief soundbites when the media excludes us? 

However since you wanted to talk about "debate", let us see an example of when there was a debate; Mr Malik you may not have realised that there was a debate about trans people in parliament this week, hosted by extreme right-wing Tory homophobe and anti-abortionist David TC Davies MP. I can understand why you may have not realised that it was a debate, because the way it got reported in the media you literally would not have known it was one. If you had read Christopher Hope’s “report” in the Telegraph about it, you would have had no idea that it was a debate because only Davies’s views were reported. In fact if you read the Hansard report of this debate it shows that Davies’s arguments were comprehensively pulled to pieces by a number of women MPs. So even if trans people or our allies do engage in a “debate” about trans rights that debate gets comprehensively misreported by the media. What is the point of engaging in any kind of debate if it is going to be unfairly reported like this? The media doesn’t want a “debate” it wants one-sided propaganda.

So I think it is time journalists like yourself started to be a bit more honest about this subject. Yes there is silencing, but it is you, the media, who is doing the silencing, and the people overwhelmingly being silenced are trans people and our allies. To be frank, articles like yours today are a part of that process of silencing, and part of the industrial-scale propaganda against us. 

So my challenge to you Mr Malik is this; first, get this letter published in the Guardian, I am happy to reformat it to fit the “Long Read” article rather than a letter. This might demonstrate that you really do want to engage in a genuine debate. Secondly campaign to have trans people’s voices heard in the media on the same terms as those of those who wish to erase us. Thirdly, call out news platforms like the T*mes, which persistently exclude and misrepresent us, and fourthly support trans people and our allies to respond to the regular false and unfounded claims made by our enemies. 

If you do this you might be able to avoid the charge of being a dishonest, disingenuous, hypocritical, biased propagandist. And if you want a genuine debate about structural and cultural media transphobia, which is the real issue, I am happy to discuss this with you any time.

Kind regards,

Natacha Kennedy

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Fragile Discourses

There is so much wrong with Trevor Phillips’ anti-trans rant in the T*mes that it is difficult to know where to start, indeed a proper take-down with a comprehensive examination of the inaccuracies, dishonesties, tacit motivations and implications would be better reserved for a dissertation in Social Psychology or in the subject now banned in Hungary; Gender Studies.

So first I will take issue with the existence itself of Phillips’ rant. After a year and a half of one-sided anti-trans propaganda by most of the media, but by the T*mes in particular, it is hard to see how this article can be justified by someone who claims to favour ‘equality’ and who is a member of the Labour Party. Out of scores, possibly more than a hundred, anti-trans articles there has been nothing published in the T*mes by any trans person arguing in favour of trans human rights. It has been entirely anti-trans propaganda all the way, and I use the term ‘propaganda’ with great care and deliberation here. 

When one side of a ‘debate’ is presented consistently, unremittingly, relentlessly -and with no opposition permitted from the people the ‘debate’ is about- then it is no longer a "debate", it has become propaganda. The notion that there has been a "debate" over trans rights in the last 18 months is entirely bogus. Trans people have been silenced, prevented from speaking in the media outlets that are talking about us, and the T*mes is the worst of all these, excluding trans people opposed to their point of view comprehensively and systematically.  The media has then argued that the impoverished and marginalised 0.7% of the population that is trans is somehow “silencing” those plucky, remunerated anti-trans “journalists” in the media as well as loads of other people. When you are reminded of this, the whole thing starts to look ridiculous. But it is beyond ridiculous, beyond laughable, it is full-blown oppression in action. The people doing this know what they are doing and are doing it purposely, deliberately and in the full knowledge of what they are doing.

So when contextualised Phillips’ article starts to look a little less like a man giving us his wisdom about equalities and more like someone contributing to an insistent, ruthlessly-organised onslaught of anti-trans propaganda. By contributing an article like this to a paper, the output of which is biased in such a way that none of the people about whom the debate is focussed are allowed to speak, Phillips is not “engaging in legitimate free speech and debate” or whatever he might argue it is, he is contributing to an wilfully oppressive propaganda machine churning out misinformation and disinformation on an industrial scale. He has every right to speak, I have never argued against anyone’s right to say what they want, (although some people have misrepresented me here) but when you are allowed to say what you want and the people about whom you are talking are not, that is not freedom of speech, that is oppression verging on brutal persecution.

This takes me to one of the most bizarre elements of his article, his idea that there are “extreme trans activists” instilling fear into politicians and harassing journalists. Perhaps if trans people were allowed to speak in this debate then we wouldn’t need to resort to calling people out on Twitter or demonstrating outside the offices of the propaganda factories that exclude us. When the newspaper in which he writes has an evident policy of total excluding the voices of trans people arguing against his position then his words become part of this oppressive machinery. This explains the awful mess he has got himself in with the content of his article, a mess that has left him exposed to the accusation of prejudicial and oppressive behaviour.

In one such instance he attempts to link transgender people with “transracial” people, in the US. What he fails to explain is the difference, and his attempt to conflate the two is as disingenuous as it is misleading. As Rogers Brubaker observed, regardless of race, every generation has men, women and non-binary people (only most of these people are not yet recognised). There is no ancestral gender heritage in the same way that there is an ancestral racial heritage. In that sense your racial heritage is not yours to own, it is the product of your ancestors, it is handed down from generation to generation. Attempting to disavow this is very different from declaring that one is a woman, a man or a non-binary person. It is also evident from (subjugated) human history that transgender people have been around, not merely for centuries but for millennia and have existed in every civilisation worthy of the name, and exist today in different forms in different cultures around the world. The same cannot be said for “transracialism”. For Phillips to make this comparison is ugly and smacks of a desperate attempt to delegitimize trans people with a confected and bogus argument.

The worst is yet to come however, unless I am no longer allowed to use the term “transphobic” to describe his writing. He attempts to generalise from one bad individual to the rest of the population of trans people. This is quite literally the textbook definition of prejudice; when one evil individual is taken to represent an entire group, and you make that group take responsibility for that one individual’s actions. In the weeks following 9/11 the same thing happened to Muslims, they were all made to account for the actions of Osama Bin Laden. One can see the same happening here, Phillips is making an entire community take responsibility for the actions of one of its members.

Not only this but his language choices are deliberately transphobic; “men who become women” is, quite frankly, a pathetic attempt to delegitimize trans people which exposes him as a bully-pulpit bigot. This is not the way trans people are, indeed you do not have to spend much time with a trans person to know that trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary people are valid, many of us have identified this way from early childhood and do so at great personal cost to ourselves, so just who is he to tell us who we are? Not only that he raises the bogeyman of “men” pretending to be women in order to enter women’s spaces for nefarious purposes. Trans women are women, and do not go through all the difficulties of identifying as women just to access women's spaces, to argue that way is verging on Janice Raymond-style paranoia. If, of course, he means "cis men" then why should trans women be punished for the crimes of an entirely different group? However, what is a significant omission, and one would have to argue, a convenient one on his part, is how self-identification of gender has not resulted in any of the problems he suggests will occur in any of the jurisdictions where it is already in operation.

Countries like Argentina, Malta, Norway, Mexico City, Portugal, California and Ireland. And policies of gender self-identification have been in operation in some of these places for many years. Personally I have come to expect that anti-trans activists pretend to want "evidence-based debate" while at the same time ignoring the evidence and refusing to enter into any such "debate", and it appears that Phillips is no different. Indeed it is almost a defining feature of this group. 

This most unpalatable element of his screed is part of it most unedifying underlying ideology; the idea that gender is externally imposed; the idea that self-determination should not be allowed, that he (or people like him) should have the right to decide who is a man or a woman or a non-binary person, in effect trans people should have no right to self-determination. For everyone else it is OK, but not trans people.

The implications of his position here need to sink in. This is a true esprit fasciste, and it is not pretty. On the right to self-identification it is not just trans people’s identities that are determined by self-identification; Muslims do so through affirmation of the Shahada, Christians through confirmation ceremonies, Buddhists through ceremonies that manifest themselves in a not dissimilar way to Catholic ones, involving name changes. Unilaterally to decide that trans people are to be denied self-determination while others engage in it as a matter of course is discrimination pure and simple.

It is perhaps fitting that Trevor Phillips’ had this tirade published on the same day that Donald Trump decided to legislate to erase trans people from society by doing the same thing that Phillips is doing; imposing his own definition of gender on the trans population. We have come to expect little more from Trump, that a Labour Party member and former chair of the equality and human rights commission should adopt an identical view to this demagogue is more surprising, and of great concern. 

Despite all this, I do not feel disheartened by this dreadful article. In most respects it is scraping the barrel in terms of the arguments that he deploys, he is quite literally using arguments that are easily countered and indeed can easily be made to look ridiculous. The fact that mainstream media has had to systematically exclude trans people's voices from their 'debate' about trans people is indicative of how fragile their arguments are. Protecting fragile discourses is an indication that those arguments cannot withstand even quite simple interrogation. This shows us the way forward; trans people need to work on getting our voices heard and making them un-ignorable and difficult to misrepresent. This may mean different strategies and even different ways of organising, of monitoring the media and dealing with media platforms. Our arguments are so sound that theirs need protecting from being exposed as dishonest, facile, running counter to the evidence and made in bad faith. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The Ultimate Silencing

The anti-trans rights campaigners have made much this week of their bogus claim of being "silenced". But let's face it when you have been screaming "I'M BEING SILENCED!!!!!" from the pages of multiple national news platforms for a period of many years, you are not being silenced. 

Their reasons for doing this are not difficult to determine; their core arguments, that trans rights conflict with women's rights, simply do not hold water, there is no evidence to support this claim and considerable evidence to the contrary. So their only possible strategy then must be to force peripheral arguments to the fore so that their core arguments do not get examined too closely. So they get multiple letters and articles in papers like the Guardian, a paper which has turned the corner from neutral to full-blown transphobic, shredding it's credibility in the process. These articles allege "silencing". Yet these articles also exclude the voices of trans people preventing us from putting the opposing point of view. You really couldn't make this stuff up, it is beyond parody.

Yet who is really doing the silencing, or at least trying to silence whom...?

What is the most fundamental form of speech? What is the most basic, elemental form of free speech possible? The right to say who you are, the right to define yourself and the right to be recognised - not misrecognised - as the person you are. Asserting your personhood is the most basic right of freedom of speech I can imagine. From it comes everything else. It is such a fundamental right that it (Article 6) is one of only two elements of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that directly relate to freedom of expression.

Without the right and freedom to express who you are, all other rights of free speech become meaningless. 

Yet it is this right, to self-declaration of gender for trans people, that these anti-trans rights campaigners are working to prevent. This is the ultimate in silencing. These people have engaged in an expensive and dubiously-funded campaign to prevent trans people from expressing an important side of their personhood in a meaningful way. This is the ultimate silencing, the ultimate denial of the right to self-expression, the right to say who you are is the most fundamental right and a right that these people are campaigning - largely dishonestly and certainly hypocritically - to prevent.

So next time you see a transphobe claiming loudly and repeatedly that they are being silenced, remember that it is they who are ultimately trying to silence trans people.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Green Party Transphobia - did it ever ago away...?

My opinion of the mess that the Green party has, once again, got itself into.

The Green Party has had a troubled history when it comes to trans issues, indeed I have needed to call them out on it in the past. Recently however it has taken a turn for the worse. 

The issue of Green Party transphobia has once again been exposed by its response to Aimee Challenor's father's conviction for child-rape. This is something entirely unconnected to Aimee's status as a trans person, yet it appears to have been used by Caroline Lucas as an excuse to talk to a group that campaigns against trans rights. Let's be clear here; the issue of Aimee's father is nothing to do with her gender identity yet it was used as an excuse for the party to start talking to anti-trans activists. This is pretty much pure transphobia. Let's recontextualise to a different minority group for a minute;

"The parent of a prominent gay Green Party member has been convicted of a hideous crime, something for which that member is in no way responsible. I know let's talk to the Westboro Baptist Church..."

Caroline Lucas even argued in the Guardian that Aimee's trans status should not matter, yet she herself has appeared to make it matter by seizing the opportunity to talk to transphobes. Meanwhile a number of prominent Green Party members have revealed themselves to be transphobes either openly supporting removing trans people's rights or expressing this in the kind of mealy-mouthed way trans people are used to hearing.

"I support gay rights but we need to hear the Westboro Baptist Church's 'concerns'..."

Perhaps the party has decided to try and profit from the wave of anti-trans propaganda currently being served up daily by transphobic hate groups such as The T*mes, The S*n and the Daily M*il, and the almost total exclusion from mainstream media of voices supporting trans people's human rights. Perhaps they think they can appeal to disaffected Kippers or Tories opposed to Brexit.

However as a Labour Party member (and former Green Party voter, during the Iraq War) I take no pleasure in hearing that Aimee, and large numbers of other trans people have left the Green Party (in Aimee's case to join the Lib Dems). Trans people are affected by many of the issues the Green Party champions such as climate change and opposing Brexit. Allowing the Green Party to slide into infighting over this issue is likely to be the only result as anti-trans activists join and push for the party to endorse their oppressive policies. However I can see how Aimee feels she can no longer remain in a party that has treated her so awfully. My heart goes out to her.

My prediction is that, although the Green Party may see itself as being able to benefit from mainstream media transphobia, transphobic policies are unlikely to appeal to large numbers of Green voters in the same way Ukip's transphobic policies might appeal to large numbers of Ukip voters. I would also predict that the party will struggle to hold onto its only parliamentary seat, that of Caroline Lucas in Brighton.

Maybe this is simply the party trying to differentiate itself from the Labour Party, as Jeremy Corbyn challenges their voter base with policies that appeal more to the liberal-minded and younger voters to whom the Green Party has attempted, in the past, to appeal. Its embracing of transphobia, whether explicitly or the mealy-mouthed version, will further alienate this group of potential voters, whether trans or otherwise. In return it is likely only to pick up a few TERFs and the odd stray Kipper/Tory. A sad end.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Transphobia finally eats itself.

 Amid the torrent of fabrications, misleading interpretations, institutional dishonesty and outright lies that the anti-trans fanatics and their friends on the extreme right and in the right-wing media have put about no-one seems to have noticed how these dishonest bigots have effectively disproved their own case.

A few months ago the transphobes were telling anyone prepared to listen, and certainly any journalist ready to be wilfully misled, that the modest proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act would result in all sorts of terrible things. Everything from dodgy men using the proposed Statutory Declaration of Gender to access women’s spaces to making it impossible to identify as women, or men, or anything ever again, were touted as the consequences of modest bureaucratic changes to enable trans people to access a new birth certificate. Trans women being allowed to access women’s spaces like public loos, rape crisis centres and changing rooms in Topshop would bring chaos to the country and result in a Grave Threat to Women. 

The trouble is these transphobes then found out that laws which protect trans people from discrimination and allow us to use these spaces and services had already been in place, in one form or other, for between 8 and 19 years! Now of course trans people have been telling them this ever since they came out with this drivel, but despite their claims to want a “respectful debate” they ignored us. (This suggests that they have never been in the least bit interested in “respectful debate” but rather in shouting at trans people from the bully pulpits afforded them by those freedom-loving feminists in the Times, Mail, Sun, Express and Spectator.) In other words the terrifying dystopia they had told us would happen with Statutory Declaration of Gender has already happened!!
“OMG! These trannies have been able to use the right loos since 1999 and, if they have been raped or sexually assaulted, obtain the support of rape crisis centres since 2010!” was the shocked response. “How could this be?!
 The question they failed to ask however, was this ;“If trans people have already been protected from discrimination and allowed to use all these facilities all this time how come we didn’t notice?”

So the dystopia they have been warning (or some might say fearmongering) about for a year now, has actually been with us for at least 8 years and they didn’t realise it. No cis men have used it as an excuse to enter women’s spaces for nefarious purposes. Women, whether cis or trans have not been prevented from identifying as women, biology has not been erased, crime stats for trans women remain at a similar level to those of cis women and fish still swim in the seas and rivers and produce baby fish. In fact all the things they told us would happen if trans people were given basic the human rights we obtained in 1999 and 2010 have not happened. 

And not only that but no-one noticed.

  • The transphobic self-identified “feminists” didn’t notice.
  • The right-wing transphobic “journalists” didn’t notice.
  • The extreme right-wing funders behind the anti-trans movement didn’t notice.
  • The general nihilistic bigots and hateful MRAs didn’t notice.
  • The transphobic academics and ideologues didn’t notice.
  • Transphobic union leaders didn’t notice. 
  • Cis men attempting to ingratiate themselves with these self-identified “feminists” didn’t notice.
  • Complete numpties on Twitter didn't notice.

Indeed the only ones who noticed were trans people. 

The transphobes said the world would end with trans rights, yet those trans rights have been in operation for years and the world has not ended. In other words, in their red haze of hatred and stupor of transphobia they have actually disproven their own case. Civilization hasn’t collapsed as they said it would, everything has carried on with almost no-one noticing, just like trans people said it would.

The fact that the transphobes have not noticed that their greatest fears have already been realised and it hasn't affected anyone, is very significant. Though they have already been living in their nightmare of a tolerant and accepting 'dystopia' of trans human rights since before 2010, it has been so awful, so dire, so terrible that… horror of horrors… they… didn’t... even... notice!

All oppressive groups deserve to have the urine extracted at every possible opportunity but the main implication of this is, of course, quite serious. It means that their arguments about ‘concern’ for women’s safety, and their assurances that they are ‘not transphobic’, are, of course revealed as utter hogwash. The truth is that they are not at all concerned with women’s safety, they only pretend to be. The truth is that their claims not to be transphobic bigots are, likewise, as truthful as a Vote Leave expenses declaration.

So if they are not opposing trans people’s human rights in order to protect women, the question to ask is what is the motivation behind what they are doing…?

Well the answer is, of course pretty obvious, they want to harm trans people. They want to remove trans people’s human rights, not because they conflict with anyone else’s rights but because they hate trans people. Let’s face it no transphobe who seriously wants to influence anyone else is going to come straight out and say they are bigots, they are going to pretend to be principled and to have genuine reasons for wanting to oppress us. But let's not delude ourselves , or allow them to delude others. They are transphobes. straight up, pure and simple.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

False equivalence on stilts: Mumsnet's new censorship.

Today Mumsnet have come out with some badly transphobic guidelines which can only be regarded ill-considered at the most generous, profoundly transphobic at worst. They have said they are going to ban transphobia, terms like "TIM" ("Trans-identified male") and the like, although transphobes on Mumsnet are apparently already trying to find ways of producing new abusive and transphobic terms in order to get round this. How many hundreds of mods Mumsnet are going to employ to monitor this is unclear. 

However for false equivalence they have decided ban the term  "cis-". This is not only ridiculous, it is profoundly transphobic and reflects the institutional transphobia endemic at Mumsnet. "Cis-" as a prefix, they claim is offensive to "feminists", swallowing the rhetoric that "cis-" is somehow a form of abuse (in fact it is only a form of abuse if you are a transphobic bigot). Mumsnet are exposing their bias here and it isn't pretty.

The prefix "cis-" was first used in relation to gender by Dr Ernst Burchard, a cisgender doctor - and one of the earliest campaigners for gay rights - in "Lexikon des Gesamten Sexuallebens" published in German in 1914 and the term "cisgender" was first used by a cis male academic called Sigusch in 1998. It was created in order to provide a counterbalance to "trans-" so that people didn't have to say "non-trans" or "normal" when referring to someone who is cisgender. "Cis-" is effectively like the prefix "hetero-" in heterosexual. We don't talk about people who are not gay men or lesbians as "normal" people, so why should be have to do just that for trans people on Mumsnet?

In effect Mumsnet have censored trans people from using their discussion boards because we can no longer name people who are cisgender except in a way that Others us, pathologizes us or marks us out as somehow "abnormal" or not valid. In effect this is an Orwellian kind of censorship at a lexicon level (like "doubleplusgood") from a media platform that has complained noisily about Orwellian "censorship" when trans people called them out on the abuse we have been receiving on Mumsnet.

So it doesn't just reveal Mumsnet's institutional transphobia but their profound hypocrisy also. They cried foul to that other transphobic media platform, The Times, about being held to account for the transphobia in their forums yet have now banned some elements of the very behaviour they said trans people were threatening "censorship" by complaining about. In other words by their own standards of a few weeks ago they now are "censoring" themselves. This is not merely hypocritical, it is pathetic.

They are effectively excluding discussion by trans people and our allies by denying us legitimate terminology; banning a term that is, by the way, in the Oxford English Dictionary. Without being able to use a term like "cisgender" they are effectively making it impossible for trans people to engage in any meaningful debate in important areas. Their attempt to appear even-handed has ended up being oppressive and effectively taking the side of the oppressor. False equivalence is the name of the game, something trans people are very familiar with in the media, particularly broadcast media. And something the CEO of Mumsnet should be very familiar with since her partner is a senior commissioning editor in Channel 4, which recently produced an abusive and demeaning "debate" about my right to exist.

Mumsnet have got it badly wrong, they have demonstrated that
they are institutionally transphobic and in Desmond Tutu's terms are not even taking the side of the oppressor by being neutral, they are taking the side of the oppressor, period. Their motivation for this...? The only conclusion I can come up with is that they want to maintain their abusive transphobic user-base while avoiding complaints of abuse to advertisers; screenshots of transphobic abuse next to adverts make advertisers nervous. It is worth noting that trans people have been complaining about this kind of transphobic abuse on their site for literally years and they have arrogantly ignored us and brushed us off. 

But the implications of Mumsnet's censorship go much further into dangerous territory...

As an academic the last place I would ever want go to discuss my work is of course Mumsnet, but now even if I wanted to I would be unable to since my most recent peer-reviewed publications, and some soon to come not only use terms with the prefix "cis-" ("Cultural cisgenderism" and "Cis-mythologization") throughout but they use them in the title. In effect my research is now banned from Mumsnet. No great loss from my point of view but should we should regard this as the modern equivalent of book-burning? 

When the Nazis started to burn
books in Berlin University in 1933, among the first into the flames were those of Magnus Hirschfeld, a researcher into trans people. The comparison is too obvious not to make.  Indeed I am not the only academic some of whose work it is now prohibited to discuss on Mumsnet; Gavi Ansara's and Peter Hegarty's award-winning research publication "Cisgenderism in psychology: pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to 2008" (which originally coined the term "cisgenderism") is also banned under Mumsnet's new regime as are works by both transgender and cisgender academics including; Dr Ruth Pearce, Prof Dean Spade, Dr Julia Serano, Prof Rogers Brubaker, Prof Susan Stryker, Dr Jemma Tosh, Dr Diane Ehrensaft, Asst Prof Z Nicolazzo, Asst Prof Tobias Raun,  Prof Sara Ahmed, Dr Meg-John BarkerCN Lester... I could go on and on...

To go from complaining to mainstream media about "censorship" to implementing a thoroughly Orwellian censorship regime of its own is quite a feat of hypocrisy even by Mumsnet's own pitiful standards, and something trans people are used to as pretty much the default setting of transphobes. However banning a term that is the equivalent of "heterosexual-" is not only bizarre but profoundly oppressive, the fact that it prevents the discussion of work by a wide range of academics is, in practical terms no great loss, Mumsnet is really just a cesspit of hate and ignorance. The symbolism of it however is very significant indeed.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Rebecca Reid and the Production of Ignorance

I was talking to a non-binary trans student recently and they said that explaining about trans people is easy, it usually took them about 5 minutes. This person’s experience of explaining their gender to other students was probably not difficult, students at my university are intelligent, open-minded and can normally spot bullshit a mile away. I disagreed that it would always take 5 minutes however and the subject of the Production of Ignorance came up.

The Production of Ignorance is a concept I am particularly grateful to talented trans non-binary writer and performer CN Lester for introducing me to. Indeed it is the first chapter (available online here) of their beautifully-written and very informative book “Trans Like Me”.
This is what Rebecca Reid appears to be doing in her Metro article, engaging in the Production of Ignorance about trans people. This happens when she refers to the strange stunt by some women who decided to “identify” as men for the day last Friday and go swimming in a men only swimming session. Apparently this was in protest against the idea that trans people should be allowed the same human rights as everyone else; the right to define their own gender.

The crucial piece of information that Reid fails to mention about this stunt is that no-one is proposing that anyone should be able to do what these women did. Under the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act a declaration of one’s gender will be for life not just for Friday. Indeed once the proposed amendment to the Gender Recognition Act is passed, at least if it is anything like what has already been enacted in Ireland, which I’m told is highly likely, then making a false declaration of gender on a statutory declaration would have landed them with a very large fine or up to two years in jail for perjury - unless they live and identify as men for the rest of their lives.

So when Reid makes much of the fact that these women could identify as men for the day she argues that this means;

“… there’s nothing to stop men from using a false gender identity to gain access to spaces where women are vulnerable, like changing rooms and bathrooms.”

and concludes;

“Which is exactly what these women did when they attended an all male swim, demonstrating that it’s hardly impossible.”

Again, a serious misrepresentation of the issue. It may theoretically be possible to identify as a different gender for a day now but it will certainly not be after reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

In fact there are five other countries in the world which have legislation similar to the proposed provision for self-identification; Argentina, Denmark, Norway, Malta and Ireland. When she describes the fear of some man entering a woman’s changing room or whatever to “prey on” women she omits to tell us that, in these countries there have been no instances of this happening. Yet instead of looking up these verifiable facts, 
she chooses to talk about some trans person swearing on YouTube.

Actually what is also the case right now, and will continue to be the case in the future, is that any swimming pool, if it has good cause, may ask for reasonable identification (like a credit card or drivers licence) of someone's gender if it suspects their behaviour may be inappropriate in single-sex facilities. 

More Production of Ignorance. 

So much for Reid’s assertion that “people” – presumably people not in possession of all the facts – are in fear of “debating” my existence, or at least debating my existence from a point of view of being misinformed. Conversely it is a well-founded fear amongst trans people that the media continually produces misinformation about our lives, as fear that, unlike Reid's "fears" has demonstrable consequences.

This is why I had to disagree with my trans student that it can take a lot longer than five minutes to explain about trans people; because the media is churning out misconception after inaccuracy after dishonesty. Indeed since September the production of ignorance about trans people in the UK media has reached an industrial scale. One might almost characterize this production of ignorance as manufactured with such a degree of regularity that it has become banal. Sit in a nice caff with a Macbook Air and a skinny latte, produce some oppressive copy about trans people, go home, put kids to bed, watch TV... rinse, repeat...

So if Rebecca Reid says she wants to “debate” trans rights she ought to do her homework first. There are plenty of trans groups she could have contacted to ask questions, although I have to admit that trust in journalists is at an all-time low, and is even lower amongst trans people. All About Trans, Trans Media Watch, GIRES, Mermaids, CliniQ, Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence… to name but a few, there are plenty of individuals as well she could have asked to get the real SP. But then her article, if it included the facts would have been a completely different thing.

An observation by Professor Todd Gitlin, perhaps explains all this, he said that the media tends to; 

“... cover the event, not the condition; the conflict, not the consensus; the fact that "advances the story", not the one that explains it.” 

So Reid’s attempt to set up, and then leave open a “debate”, when seen in this way, ticks, or unticks, all these boxes. If "people" fear talking about trans issues, it is probably because they are not being given the real facts to do this, they are being fed disinformation and ignorance, something Reid is in a position to do something about.


I was chatting with another trans woman a few days ago about the swimming pool stunt, and it turned out that neither of us had been swimming in a public swimming bath for more than 15 years. If Reid had talked to any trans organization she would have been put in touch with TAGS, a group that, out of necessity, organises separate swimming sessions for trans people. The “Man Friday” stuntwomen were doing little more than exposing their cis-privilege.

Postscript 2

The company that runs the swimming pool where the stunt in question took place is apparently redeveloping its pools away from having separate gendered changing facilities and going back to what they call the "Village" system of changing with separate cubicles for everyone, a bit like the original Victorian swimming pools had.