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.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Opinion: A transphobic issue, on many different levels

The ridiculous stunt carried out by two individuals who claimed to be men for a day in order to access a men-only swimming session has demonstrated again why we have a transphobia problem in the UK, on many levels.

Firstly the stunt was apparently designed to highlight the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act that will supposedly allow people to identify as one gender for one day and another gender the next day. The problem is that this is not what is being proposed in this reform. Indeed individuals will effectively need to declare that they intend to live in their identified genders permanently for the rest of their lives. This will be backed up by the threat of heavy fines and imprisonment. 

So on this point the stunt was transphobic; it sets up a state of affairs that is never going to happen, and it does so in order to employ fear as a weapon against trans people. From this perspective it is a clear example of what CN Lester identified in their book Trans Like Me as the Production of Ignorance.

Secondly the individuals undertaking this stunt apparently got changed in the men's changing room and were not assaulted in any way. This actually served to undermine their case for separate male-female changing-rooms. Somehow this fact was not reported in the Daily Mail's "news" report of the issue. 

This stunt was also transphobic because it appropriated, and made light of the experiences of trans men, especially pre-operative or non-operative trans men who want to go swimming.

Yet in none of the cases that this incident was reported was it reported as transphobia. It was reported as an example of anti-trans activists making a "point" in opposition to trans people's human rights. The fact that it was reported as such not only suggests that there is a substantial link, and increasingly disingenuous one at that, between the transphobes and the media it also reveals a wider cultural inability to see transphobia as transphobia, much less report it as such. 

The transphobia is thus multilevel and structural as well as constituting a personal act of anti-trans hate on the part of two anti-trans campaigners. As well as being calculatedly and deeply dishonest and this stunt can therefore be regarded as an illustration of the problem of transphobia in the UK at present. Transphobia that is present at different levels; in the media as well as in the small group of anti-trans fanatics. Both of these groups are allowed to work together (despite the latter claiming to be left-wing "feminists" and the former being ultra right-wing Tories) to spread fear and ignorance through deliberate disinformation.

We need to start making an issue of incidents like these, naming them as transphobia rather than as part of some "trans debate". Naming the problem is where it starts.

Friday, 16 March 2018

The real issue is transphobia

Let's be clear, the outburst by a speaker at an anti-trans event on Wednesday, when she called trans people "parasites" demonstrates what trans people have been saying all along - that there is no debate about trans issues to be had. There never has been and never will be. Debating our existence or human rights with transphobes is a non-starter. Especially after this. Any group claiming to want a "debate" is being profoundly dishonest when one party to that that debate perceives it as constituting what Carol Ridell described as "a threat to my living space".

The problem for the anti-trans activists is that their main argument - the notion that self-identification for trans people is going to harm women - is simply not supported by any credible evidence.

Indeed since the transphobes' views have the support of so many well-resourced and powerful organisations, from the Murdoch media empire to ultra-right-wing pseudo-religious groups in the US this is significant. Even though these groups are dripping with money they have still not found any instances of harm caused to women in the countries where gender self-identification has already been implemented. If their arguments were based on fact we could have expected there to have been hundreds of examples, or at least dozens (doubtless plastered all over The Times front page) in Argentina, Norway, Denmark, Malta or Ireland. 

The problem is that how ever respectable a group or journalist or media platform claims to be, by confecting this "debate" they have effectively given permission for haters everywhere to come out of the woodwork and express their hatred and transphobia more openly. In that sense the supposedly "respectable" groups of campaigners against trans rights are actually enabling the production of this transphobic abuse. Their actions of dressing up hate in "acceptable" language gives permission to the haters to be hateful and abusive by dressing it up in a veneer of respectability. They are as complicit in abuse of trans people as the abusers.

So, to recap;

these groups' core argument is unsupported by any evidence, 

there is no possibility of any meaningful debate when the living space of one party to that debate is threatened 


any hint of "respect" has been replaced by insults, hate, personal abuse and harassment of trans people. 


This has now become the issue. The issue is no longer one of trans people's human rights, the issue is transphobia. What Wednesday's abusive hate-fest has shown, once-and-for-all, is that this issue is not "concerns...", indeed the term "concerns" seems to be rapidly developing into a euphemism for "abuse, dishonesty and hatred", it is about fear and misinformation and promoting measures designed to harm trans people and deny us legitimate human rights. So from here on the core issue needs to be regarded as entirely one of transphobia; the hatred and abuse of trans people which has been rendered acceptable by groups calling for "respectable" debate, and in this respect we need to identify how this transphobia is manifested...

Overtly abusive hatred or expressed in euphemistic "respectable" language is transphobia. 

Hatred expressed by the extreme selection and deselection of certain "facts" is transphobia.

The deliberate and abusive misgendering of trans people, is transphobia.

Personal abuse, doxxing, whether of adults or children, online or offline stalking is transphobia.

Making claims about being silenced by trans people when the bulk of the media is publishing anti-trans material is transphobia.

Distortions and dishonest material about trans people is transphobia. 

Abusive language being used by people calling themselves "feminists" is transphobia. 

"Concern" trolling intended to harm trans children or personal abuse directed at those who campaign for trans rights, including cis allies is transphobia.

Fake academic research and "advice" to schools promoting the, frankly quite disgusting, idea that trans children being themselves constitutes "contagion" and are harmful to other kids, is  transphobia.

Rehashing the old arguments directed at gay men and lesbians exhumed from the 1980s, like this one in The Spectator, is transphobia.

People describing themselves as "radical feminists" allying themselves with the forces of the extreme right whose normal modus operandi is to spread hate and division against whatever group is available at the time, is transphobia.

Confected and unevidenced "concerns" to create fear of trans people, is transphobia.

Manufacturing alarmist and false concerns about trans rights is transphobia

Making false claims about trans people, producing misleading statistics or comic up with new "theories about us is transphobia.

So if we are going to have a "debate", going forward any "debate" needs to be about transphobia and the damage it is causing, the hate it is provoking and the harm it is producing, not merely to trans people but to other groups against whom this hatred is likely to be directed next. That is the real "contagion". The debate needs to be firmly centred on how we deal with hatred, abuse, discrimination and disinformation based on transphobia, how we enable trans people to live their lives as freely as anyone else, and how we challenge the spread of deliberate disinformation about trans people.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Parasites; the evidence.

Last night, at a meeting held (probably illegally) in parliament, anti-trans activists claimed that trans women are "parasites" and a threat to "women's liberation" 

Now of course no evidence was supplied to support this ridiculous claim, indeed it is part of a long string of unevidenced claims made by opponents of trans people's human rights. But in this case the claim takes on a significant resonance, because of the man who was enabling them to host this event.

David TC Davies is an ultra-right-wing Tory MP. In my view his voting record shows that he is both homophobic and misogynist; here are some examples;

Here Davies voted against equal marriage. This means that he was voting against the rights of lesbians, whether cis or trans, to marry. This is a serious attack on women. Being able to marry is particularly important for lesbian couples (as it is for gay men) for a number of reasons not least of which is the right to be involved in medical decisions for one's spouse in an medical or health-related emergency. But it is also important from the point of view of inheriting and to have parental rights for any children, whether adopted or produced with sperm donations. It is also particularly relevant in the case of lesbians with partners who are not UK citizens, marriage is usually essential for foreign partners to remain in the UK. This is not insignificant and had Davies had his way many lesbian couples would still be living with significant disadvantages in relation to straight people.

But there is more...

David TC Davies voted against measures that would ensure that women are not disproportionately affected by tax and benefit changes. The cuts in benefits enacted by the Tories, and in particular by George Osborne, have disproportionately affected women. This is a man who has voted against protections for all women, but particularly against protection for women from poorer groups, who are most likely to be affected by tax and benefit cuts. According to the Guardian 86% of the costs of austerity have been borne by women.

But there is more...

Davies voted for measures designed to make it more difficult for lesbians to have children, whether by IVF or sperm donation or any other method, his opposition to same-sex couples, or single women (regardless of sexuality) having children affects men too but, as you can see, he specifically targets women with the "Fertility treatment requires male role model". This is pure, dripping, unreconstructed patriarchal oppression.

So when the anti-trans activists claim that trans women are "parasites" they are completely lacking in any sense of irony. They are working hand in glove with a man who has worked to deny rights to women, in particular cis lesbians but also to force women disproportionately to bear the brunt of economic hardship. 

This is the kind of man these "feminists" are getting into bed with, and, as one of my friends said; "Who you get into bed with shows what your desires are."

The truth is that, if any group are parasites, it is the anti-trans activists, and some may have other similar descriptors for a group that works with an active supporter of patriarchal oppression. They have collaborated with a man whose actions have support the oppression of women and whose actions really are a threat to women's liberation. 


One of the organisers of this event has praised David TC Davies saying; "Thank you @DavidTCDavies for standing up for lesbians" .