Teach about trans people

In our current political climate, I think it’s important for teachers and academics in every discipline to take a stand in favour of diversity and inclusion. One important way we can do that is to highlight contributions in our field by members of minority groups. One way into this in any discipline is by including some history. So in computer science, teachers could mention that Alan Turing was gay and that Grace Hopper, inventor of the compiler (and, indeed of the idea of compiling), was a woman.

When teaching music and presenting a piece of music to students, I give a few biographical notes about the composer which are mostly related to their musical background and influences. This is also a good time to mention any minority status. This is important because students will otherwise tend to assume that everyone is a cis, straight, white man. It can seem a bit weird to mention that someone is gay, for example, without other context. There are a few ways to address this.

If a person’s minority status is known to effected their opportunities, then this is is a good way to bring it up. To take an example, Milton Babbit was going to be the first director of The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. When they realised he was Jewish, they rescinded the offer and hired someone else. After a year, they came back to Babbit and re-offered him the job. It’s good to tell students about this and condemn it, to let them know that discrimination was more recent and widespread than they may have imagined and to give the idea that it was wrong and should be opposed.

Another way to bring up somebody’s status as a minority applies if they were a member of a milieu at least partly defined by minority participation. So, for example, a lot of jazz musicians are black and, indeed, some American forms of free improvisation were called “black music”. In general, mentioning milieus is good because it gives students a sense of larger scenes and places they might do additional research. It also communicates that minority involvement was significant and larger than the few individuals discussed in class.

Otherwise, a way to bring up a person’s membership in minority groups is to just tell students you think it’s important to mention it so they know the field is diverse. This is also good because it demonstrates that inclusion is valuable.

It’s important not to make somebody’s status as a minority the defining thing about them. They’re a topic for the class because they relate to the subject the class is covering, not because they’re a minority. One must strike a balance so as to communicate that minorities have historically been part of a discipline and contributions are important and will continue. Over-emphasising their minority status can backfire and make it seem like they’re being highlighted for being weird and different. I try to bring minority community membership up just once and then not mention it again unless it’s relevant in their work.

With contested identities, such as trans people,talking about their background models how to speak respectfully. It’s important that if a student starts giggling or otherwise treating this as a joke, that they’re told to stop. Here is a guide for how to talk about trans people in the classroom.

  • If the person is not living, you should definitely mention that they were trans.
  • If the person is living, you can only say they were trans if the person has consented to this by being public about their trans status.
  • If a person has transitioned to being a woman, the term to use when talking about them being trans is “trans woman” and the pronoun to use is “she”. If they have transitioned to being a man, the term to use when talking about them being trans is “trans man” and the pronoun to use is “he”. If someone has transitioned to a non-binary gender identity, the term to use when talking about this is “enby” (which is a pronunciation of the initials N.B.) and the pronoun to use is “they”. In every case, if the person has expressed a different label or pronoun, you should follow their preferences.
  • Always use their current pronoun, no matter when in their life you are speaking about them.
  • Do not bring up somebody’s previous name without a good reason. Mention it as little as possible.
  • If any of this makes you feel awkward, practice this part of your classroom presentation on a friend until you feel normal about it.

To give an example of how I might talk about this:

Wendy Carlos has done a lot of work on spatialisation and has some good blog posts about it – I’ve put the links on Moodle. She is an American composer who started out at Columbia-Princeton, but then went in a less experimental/more popular direction. She’s best known for working with Moog synthesiser and worked directly with engineers there to design modules, which she used to do several film sound tracks, including Tron and A Clockwork Orange. She initially made her name with Switched on Bach which was a recording of Bach pieces done on synthesiser. This album was hugely popular, made her famous and made a lot of money. She used some of the proceeds of the album to fund her transition, which she kept secret for nearly a decade- dressing up as a man when she appeared publicly because she feared discrimination. Fortunately, when she finally did disclose in 1979, nothing much bad came of it, but it must have been miserable to spend so many years in (reasonable) fear of a backlash.

The popularity of her work shows a strong popular appetite for new timbres, but in a familiar context, like Bach. We’re going to listen to a piece by her …

When you’re talking about a member of any minority group, it’s best to assume that at least one of your students in a member of that community. the intent is to be respectful and to make that student feel included, while at the same time giving other students the idea that members of this minority groups belong in their field. Never be neutral about discrimination.

It’s impossible to get this right every time. Sometimes talking too much about discrimination can traumatise the students who also experience it, or glossing over it can fail to condemn it forcefully enough. The important thing is to keep trying to include this and to get a feel for the students you’re teaching, as every group and every institution will be different. You may find, for example, that student comments about works by women tend to be more negative than works by men. One way you might address this is to present the works first and ask for comments and only talk about biographies afterwards.

Keep trying things out. We can make a positive difference in our teaching, no matter what our subject it.

Speaking up

Friends, I need you to say something if somebody around you is saying or doing something transphobic. Even if it’s awkward.

Why This is Important

I watched the BBC’s coverage of the election night and they interviewed many Trump supporters. I know these people are not representative of voters as a whole, but just about every single one of them said, without embarrassment, on camera, that they were against transgender people. These folks are largely misinformed and afraid of a false picture of trans people.

It’s dark times in the world. If somebody starts talking badly about minority groups, it may not be just talk. They may be working themselves up to action. Maybe they’re going to say something mean or do something mean or cast a ballot. They may be trying to gauge what people around them think – to determine if there’s consensus before they act. It’s up to you to speak up. Firstly, to let them know there’s not consensus. Secondly, depending on your relationship with them, to bring them around. Unfriending bigots has not worked out. We need, instead, to talk with them.

The SPLC has a great resource on talking to bigots. You should read it, but I’m going to give you some trans-specific devices here as well. (Trigger warnings for trans people.)

If you think this is less important than climate change and nuclear proliferation, remember this is why people said they voted.

Getting Started

There are two easy sentences I want you to have ready, that help with many a situation. Memorise them, Practice them:

‘Trans women are women.’
‘Trans men are men.’

A lot of transphobia involves assertions that we are not really our current gender. We are. Be ready to say it directly.

Modelling

This is a gentle way to challenge transphobia, but alas, is still very awkward. This makes it a good place to start.

In modelling you re-state what somebody just said but with correct language.

Them: I think Bradley Manning is a [hero/traitor].
You: Why do you think Chelsea Manning is a [hero/traitor]?

Them: He was Bradley when he leaked the documents.
You: Yes, she leaked the documents before she transitioned.

When talking about somebody trans, use their current name and pronouns. Don’t say, ‘When Bradley was a man.’ Say, ‘Before Chelsea transitioned.’ This respects her current identity and helps keep people from tripping over pronouns. It’s very hard to get the right pronouns for somebody if you keep switching them up depending on when you’re talking about.

Perhaps your friend gets frustrated:

Them: This isn’t important!
You: It’s important to trans people. I know my trans friend said…

You Have a Trans Friend

We’re friends. I’m your trans friend. I’m giving you permission to use me as rhetorical device in conversations. First we need to talk about when you can use this:

Scenario #1:

Them: Trans people are [ugly|crazy].
You: My trans friend is [fairly unremarkably average looking | in ok mental health].

Yes! This is a good usage of having a trans friend – as a counter-example to a blanket assertion.

Scenario #2:

Them: I think what you just said may actually be kind of transphobic.
You: I have a trans friend!

No! Do not use me as a shield.

Scenario #3:

Them: Oh my god, the weather is too hot!
You: My trans friend likes the heat.

No! Only bring this up where it’s relevant.

Tl;dr: Bring up having a trans friend to challenge blanket assertions and stereotypes.

This is also a way to make things personal. If bigotry could be challenged by facts and statistics, it would already be over. Human connections are key to ending it. This is why Harvey Milk encouraged gay people to come out. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t work as well for trans people, partly because there are so few of us. I need you, my friend, to help humanise us.

Bathrooms

One place people have been campaigning against us is our access to toilets, bathrooms and changing rooms. This is specific to trans women, so having a trans man friend (me) won’t be as useful, but I can give you some pointers.

If somebody you know starts talking about feeling uncomfortable about sharing facilities with trans people, remember your very first two sentences: Trans women are women. Trans men are men.

What we now call ‘rape culture’ used to be referred to as ‘male violence.’ Sometimes people will start talking about ‘male bodied’ people. But: trans women are women. Violence does not stem from bodies. If certain classes of bodies were the sources of violence, then there’s no hope of ever combating it. It would be a biological fact.

Violence comes from culture. Rape culture is what Donald Trump has done and bragged about. It’s not embedded in his physical form.

Trans women inhabit the cultural space of womanhood. Terms like ‘female bodied’ don’t reflect cultural roles. They reflect only what a birth certificate said.

So how do you talk about this?

Them: I’m worried about male bodied people in the changing room.
You: Trans women are also effected by rape culture.

You’ve responded to their fears, you’ve modelled a correct way to talk about trans people and you’ve shown that trans women have fears in common with them. If you want to make a personal humanising connection as the conversation continues, that’s where your trans friend comes in.

Again, I’m not a trans woman. But I (and nearly every trans person I know) have had to physically run away from a scary transphobic incident in a toilet. When I use a public toilet, I get out as fast as possible, which is something I’ve heard most of my trans friends say. Those of you who have been bullied in school bathrooms can relate to this, I’m sure.

I’ve also been barred entry to toilets. Being denied entry to one toilet did not give me access to the other toilet. I just wasn’t allowed to pee at all. But when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go! I used to make a habit of trying to hold it. Part of this involved drinking less water. I got some weird infection from chronic dehydration. Again, this is common among trans people.

If I’m not allowed to pee when out about about, this limits how long I can stay outside my home. If I can’t use a toilet at work or in the train station, I can’t keep my job. Keeping trans people out of public or school toilets keeps us out of public and out of school. Special ‘family’ toilets are great for people who want them and we should build more of them, but they’re not always available and mark us out. I’m a man. I use the men’s room.

I’m sharing this so you can use it – because emotion and human connections matter more than facts and figures. This is not statistics, this is the life of someone you know. Make it personal.

Keep Trying

Conversations are going to be awkward. The first one often won’t change minds. If somebody says something and you’re unsure how to respond, think about it later to come up with a better reply.

Even if it feels like you’ve failed and made things uncomfortable, do remember that you have communicated a lack of consensus. This is important.

Also, if you spoke up in public – say, to challenge a sex change joke, you don’t know who overheard you. Hearing jokes like that sucks. Hearing a subsequent challenge restores hope.

Finally

Feel free to share this. I will try to answer questions in the comments.

Live blog: Open Meeting of Pride London

We’re in the basement of city hall. The room is not very full. Most of the people here are white cis gay men. Everyone at the front appears to be white and not young.

Apparently, at the last meeting some people were thrown out by security, but this time only the chair can eject people.

The board is now introducing itself. The first guy does all the stuff. The woman finds sponsors. Social media. Treasurer. So most of the people deal with office stuff and one guy actually does the festival?

The chair says they are focused on the community. They got control of pride in 2012 and need to be self-financing by 2018. The chair is invoking Orlando. They have some successes. Good at advertising, bigger great, low crime rates, worked with black pride.

Subsidised walking places for NGOs. Did a hustings. Did a lgbt history month event. They are claiming they ran the Soho vigil after Orlando.

They did some survey on survey monkey. 90% of respondents were cis. Most were men. Mostly atheist. Hugely white. 74%

They got respondents through their social media presence. The sample was large.

People come to pride because they want to celebrate. A small number have come to make a statement. Many just come for the parade. Satisfaction with the parade was high.

Volunteers were helpful. Accessibility was lures good. Allies felt more represented in the parade then lesbians did.

People are happy to see corporate involvement.

The community engagement board has some vacancies. You must be a member and official representative of a community group. The board vets every group in the parade.

They’ve got a silver in accessibility and are trying to improve.

‘Pride’s got talent’ continues to grow. It was a ‘very professional’ final (of unpaid talent).

Pride in London has joined international pride organisations. There is now a UK pride organisers conference.

Pride’s got Talent will be split. They want to provide an umbrella for festival events. They will do something for history month and Idahobit.

They want to reach out to women and minority groups including trans people, bme people and young people.

307 groups in the parade.
Announcement podiums through the route.

Trafalgar square had done speakers. The red arrows flew overhead. (Doing great reachout to minority groups…)

Lgbt businesses got involved.

The us ambassador got emotional at the Orlando tribute.

Official after parties raised some funds.

Most volunteers were cis gay white men.

Income is going up. Costs are below income. Funding from the mayor will go down next year.

Most of the costs are on Trafalgar square. Then the parade, then Soho. Then the picnic.

Sponsorship grew this year, including gifts in kind. They got 7 new giant companies to give them stuff. They got money from gay businesses. They collected change etc from people. They will collect for a charity.

They want to diversify their funding. They have grown their fundraising team. Now they’re showing corporate logos.

The communications guy is now talking about good media coverage. Much of this was due to Orlando. The abfab involvement also helped.

Their research got a BBC news story.

They got coverage from a bunch of news outlets. Social media engagement has been high. A million page views. Lots of twitter followers. They have more followers than other pride campaigns. They have an app with lots of downloads.

The proposing bobby story got lots of coverage.

The campaign was #nofilter which was meant to refer to people in the closet. And as a call for people to celebrate the spirit of pride and authenticity.

This was a massive success, they say. They got some free ad agency support. This was the biggest pride campaign ever. They got on telly. They showed some trans couples. They got on MTV. They wanted more women, trans, bi and BME people in their ads. And they won some marketing adverts.

The marketing came in under budget.

They put up billboards on Westfield, put up some films. They took their hash tag nationally.

They are revealing the shocking news that not everyone is 100% out all the time.

Made an impact on the marketing industry. One of the trans people is a soldier. Which is very positive.

Their research indicated that looking at trans soldiers makes cis people more comfortable with trans people. As did the involvement of mainstream brands.

The sponsors were happy.

Now they’re taking questions:

Somebody is adding about the parade route.

They can’t afford to do the festival in a park.

Uk Black Pride wants to know how survey data will be used.

The community board uses it for their review. They want to figure out why black respondents are less satisfied with the event. The data is stated with sponsors and to improve pride, but is not sold. It is also used for their educational outreach.

Now there is a question about parks. The board member is taking about all the parks.

Now somebody is taking about security. The board member is taking about volunteer training.

What happens when the 5 year mandate has been met? The mayor is very committed to pride.

Will pride ever have paid tickets? They want to keep the event as free as possible, so they ask for suggested donations. There is no plan to have paid tickets. They are committed to appropriate crowd control.

What about emergency services in pride? The emergency services are an important part of the city. We are very grateful to emergency services and want them to be part of it.

The 2017 date will be confirmed imminently.

The lgbt cons want to know why political groups are placed at the back of the parade. The board wants every group on the parade to be respected. They try to avoid putting groups next to each other that won’t get along.

Jo is asking also about politics at the back and also about individuals who want to march outside of a group.

The board days they were concerned about health and safety in light of Orlando. If everyone who was concerned about Orlando had marched, it would have brought central London to a standstill. They need to pay for stewarding, which means supporting paid groups first.

Somebody who wants biodegradable confetti cannons on Twitter. They are expensive to clean up.

Somebody wants to know the relationship between the picnic and black pride. Could the parade be as diverse as black pride? Also why was the sound system so crap at the black stage?

There was some poor communication around staging.

The trans representative from the CAB is happy there were more trans people than previously and how will the board increase trans participation? The board member is keen to help on trans stuff and also to speak over the trans representative. They only have so much budget. They want to have a trans cafe, but need to make collective decisions. Their sponsors are really great for trans visibility and we can learn from our sponsors. There are a lot of vacancies and they want trans volunteers.

Responding

Yes, respond!

If you just unfriend somebody, they are allowed to believe they are in a consensus where such jokes are allowable. This helps create a climate of hostility against trans people, especially trans women. It’s important to let people know that dehumanising trans people is not considered acceptable by everyone they know.

How you decide to respond is a bit more complex. Has anyone else responded? If someone else has already responded, how you you further engage depends on how the conversation is going. It may be enough to simply click like on their challenge or post that you agree with them. Jumping into the breach, ready for a flame war, may be counter-productive.

Its also necessary to be aware of who is witnessing a conversation. If you take a micro-aggression and blow it up into a flame war, this will be uncomfortable for people who are members of the effected class. It may be best to start gently and take further discussion to private message, to avoid alarming or harming bystanders. Starting publicly is a good idea for a few reasons, one of which is that it shows open solidarity with people effected by prejudice, in a place where they can see it when (or if) they see the comment that caused you to reply.

And, indeed, starting gently can often be the way forward. White fragility is a thing where if you tell a white person they just did or said something racist, their reaction is often hugely out of proportion. This kind of fragility exists in greater or lesser degrees for other kinds of prejudice as well. It may be that the best way to deal with a transphobic joke is to not mention the word ‘transphobia’, but rather say that you think their joke isn’t funny because it’s unfair or mean.

Where you go from there depends on who you are talking to and the circumstances in which they made an ill-advised comment. Your first priority should be solidarity with people effected by the comment. Your next priority is bringing your friend around, so that they see why they said was problematic and why it’s important to respect people different from themselves.

It isn’t easy speaking up and it’s hard to know the right thing to say. Remember that it’s easier for you than it is for somebody who is the target of hateful speech or jokes. This is a skill and it takes practice and it will go badly at least some of the time. Indeed, as we’re all living in a prejudiced world, sometimes it will go completely wrong and you will end up saying something problematic without meaning to and get yelled at by somebody you meant to be an ally to. You should still speak up.

Speaking up won’t work every time, but it will work some of the time. This is how the world changes and becomes better. Minds can and will be changed

Crucify Him

I recently read the suicide note of Leelah Alcorn and keep thinking about how far we haven’t come since I was a teen. This is my story. It comes with a trigger warning. Don’t read it if you knew me before I was 18 – none of us need that.

Every year on Palm Sunday, the Catholic churches of my youth would do a small bit of drama, where they would semi-act out the scene where Pontius Pilot condemned Jesus to death. The priest played Jesus. Other readers played the other speaking parts. And the congregation played out the braying mob who called for Jesus’s blood. ‘Crucify him!’ we called out in unison. Or rather, chanted in a dull monotone. Repeating the same scene we did every year for the 18 years I was compelled to attend Catholic mass.
My parents were devout Catholics, and so was I by default for my childhood. Before I could read, they took me to a picket at a women’s health clinic, where I carried anti-abortion signs filled with the mysterious symbols of English writing. I went to Catholic school. I played trumpet at mass. I volunteered at my parish, putting together the paper inserts of church bulletins. Church was a place I could go and get some peace away from my family for a bit.
I don’t know if we had more or less dysfunction than other aspirational, middle class families. The popular thing to do in those days was take your misbehaving kids to therapy, so my mother took us. I went to three different shrinks until I was a teenager and I never trusted any of them. They were not there for me. They were there for my parents. Anything I said to them would be repeated on.
For my brother, they wanted to know why he didn’t like school. For me, they wanted to know why I was not conforming to gender roles.
I’ve repeated this story many times to shrinks since, to the point I don’t trust my own memory of it any more. They also weren’t looking to help me, but were working as gatekeepers. They ask about the parts where I didn’t fit in, but they don’t ask about the part that hurt. Here is the part that hurt: I didn’t know what I was – I only knew what I wasn’t. And what I wasn’t was normal. I told my parents at 14 that I liked girls. They were the first people I told. This was a huge mistake. My mother told other parents. Their kids told everyone at school. I was bullied – sometimes by my friends. (They got teased for spending time with me and shielded me from that, mostly, but also became frustrated with it. I had no official support at school, but neither did they. Why would a 14 year old know what to do when getting flack from all sides for even hanging around with somebody who seems so queer?)
It was Catholic school. Everyone was in the closet. The LGBT staff were afraid they would be fired if they came out. The only teacher who addressed LGBT issues at all was the religion teacher. He had us read about Sodom and Gemorrah, because he thought it was funny. When we didn’t understand the story, he claimed that it was God killing all the ‘faries’.
And thus my safe-haven of church evaporated. I’d read Ratzinger’s letter to American bishops about the pastoral care of homosexual persons. I was ‘intrinsically disordered’. I was unwelcome at church, bullied at school and bullied at home.
My mom hadn’t just outed me as school. Family dynamics had shifted considerably. I was no longer the perplexingly non-conformist child. I was the black sheep. My brother, finally freed from that role, relished his newly raised status. He and my mom would trade queerphobic quips and hate speech at the dining table. I felt unolved and unlovable. If I should somehow attract someone on the basis of unnatural lust, they were not welcome. I could never bring a partner home. There was no place for me in the world.
I pondered suicide. If God hated me, he would send me to hell, which would not be an improvement. Or else, he might not exist, in which case there was hope for a life without him. I knew that happy LGBT people existed and if I could make it, I could join them. I pondered running away from home, but decided to hold out until I turned 18.
My parents did love me; they were just really shit at communicating that. My mother’s friends told her to pack me away to conversion therapy. To throw me out of the house and leave me homeless. In the end, the advice she did follow – to bully me straight – was the kindest advice she received. She thought Jesus wanted her to make my life hell, so she did. But not enough to kill me or make me homeless or make my plunge into the minimum wage, insecure life of an emancipated minor.
I turned 18 and I went to university. I’d picked my uni based very largely on how LGBT- friendly it was. I went from being an outcast to being popular. I got into a relationship. But I didn’t know what it felt like for people close to me to be nice to me. The relationship was awful. And I used my social capital to bully other people.
When I was at university was when I first heard that transgender men existed. I was immediately interested. My my girlfriend, who I spent 9 years with overall, forbade transition. She was a lesbian, she said, so if I transitioned, she would leave. I was used to threats, conditional love and non-acceptance, so I agreed. As we bullied away most of my friends, who did I have aside from her?
My life became less and less tenable. And finally we broke up. She’d had enough, I’d had enough. It took a few years of questioning and of me desperately trying to force myself into boxes that didn’t work, before I finally did transition.
This isn’t an ‘it gets better narrative.’ My mother died and I inherited money. I used it to transition and then move to another continent. My life is ok now. It’s really good in fact, but this is not only because I stuck it out. It’s because I have privilege. I can’t make promises to trans kids that things will definitely get better for them. I desperately wish I could. I can say: the future you think you see is not the future you will have if you stick around for it. You will be surprised if you stick around. I really want you to stick around.
When I first moved away from home, at 18, my parents told me not to come back. But it was half-hearted – the kind of rows people have to make separations easier, but with the particular viciousness of our established dynamic. They paid my student feeds. They called me after a week to ask when I was going to visit. They met my girlfriend and came to see her as part of the family. All their threats vanished. Their disapproval slowly melted away. They forgave me. I forgave them. I stayed at my mother’s bedside when she had cancer. There was love there. Some clergy told them not to push me away and in the end, they went with the kinder version of their God. Their love gradually triumphed over their queerphobia.
Not every religious person has access to loving clergy. There are many in pastoral care who will happily sacrifice other people’s families to feed hatred. There are many who will turn their backs on their own families. They can’t face the truth of it, so they call their abuse ‘love’. It’s what Jesus wants.
And so, they stand in a mob, dully shouting ‘crucify him’, at their own children, just like we did at mass every Palm Sunday.
We like to think, when reading history, that we would have provided haven on the Underground Railroad, or joined the Resistance in Nazi-Occupied France or marched with MLK or somehow been on the side of the angels. When we read about privileged allies who helped Others at great personal risk, unless we’re part of the Other, we imagine ourselves as one of the allies. Of course we would have known that something so evil was wrong. But on Palm Sunday, the liturgy forces us to acknowledge the lie of this. ‘Crucify him!’ we say of the ultimate victim – the one we have defined as someone who never did wrong. The news might say ‘he was no angel’ about most innocent victims of state violence, but Jesus was better than an angel. Christians read every year about how the chief priests persuaded the crowds to say Jesus was guilty.
When clergy say Jesus demands violence, cruelty, abuse, neglect, ‘conversion therapy’, homlessness and death for LGBT people, they order parents not to love their children. They say Jesus does not love. They say Jesus is a monster who deserves no loyalty or respect. The world would be better off without such a hateful God. We’d all be better off if they would just crucify him.
Whose side are they on?

Bullying as Journalism

EDIT: ESPN actually is the publisher of the article, since they own Grantland.
Submitted to https://r.espn.go.com/members/contact/tvindex

Dear sir or Madam,

I am writing because I saw an advertisement for you on an article that I think you may not wish to be associated with. You may be aware of article on Grantland in which the journalist, Caleb Hannan, harasses his subject to the point of suicide. He is clearly aware of the harm he knows he causing her and uses it as part of his narrative arc. I’m sure that you do not wish to have your name associated with this kind of horrific bullying. Yet there is a link to you at the top of the page, implying endorsement. I would like to strongly encourage you to end your relationship with Grantland. I would also like to enquire if you have any policies which would apply if one of your own journalists submitted a similar story.

Thank you for your time,

Charles Hutchins

I’m not linking to the article. A ‘journalist’ decided to investigate the inventor of a new kind of putter. He speaks to her former employer who had used the threat of outing to get her to drop a discrimination lawsuit and then decided to out her anyway. He then called up everyone she knew to tell them personally that she was trans and ask them for comment. Having completely socially isolated her, he then calls her on the phone and tells her he’s going to out her in the press. She wrote him an email saying he was engaging in hate crime, which he included in the story. She took her own life, and he made sure to mention that the person who told him about this hated her and quote that person’s misgendering. He straight up caused somebody to die and then reported his role in it without a hint of remorse.
I’ve read some hateful shit. I’ve read bullying. I’ve read things that are intended to make the victim feel bad. But this, this kind of bloodless dispassionate, emotionally blank destruction of another human being is something I’ve never seen before. This is worse than anything I’ve ever encountered before. He kills someone and really is not at all bothered by it.
There’s a link to ESPN at the top of the socippath’s article and so I wrote to them. Their other adverts are automatically served by outbrain and are the same meaningless shit you see at the bottom of every article on earth. I clicked through on something that’s gone viral and the website is making money off of this. Because they have no qualms about bullying someone to death. Because it’s just a trans woman, so who cares.

Julie Bindel

There’s been a new round in the ongoing Julie Bindel vs trans people row. She was scheduled to speak against pornography at freshers week at Manchester, but pulled out because of rape and death threats, which were scary enough that she reported them to the police. I want to be very clear that rape and death threats are wrong. I hope the police catch whoever did it. Obviously, I don’t know if the person who did it is trans or a misguided ‘ally’ or is somebody who is really insecure about feminist discourse on pron. There have been a lot of easily findable abusive tweets from trans people to her, but none I saw were threatening.

There is a lot of confusion in the media and from Ms Bindel herself about why trans people are so very displeased with her. She imagines that it was an extremely rude and insulting article she wrote several years ago, which I won’t bother to quote. Some media has reported that it’s a philosophical disagreement about the origins or cultural significance of trans identities. Both of these things are wrong.

Trans people protest Bindel because every time she has the opportunity to speak about us, she advocates against us receiving appropriate healthcare. She wants to uphold our freedom of how we identify and that’s nice and all, but a lack of appropriate healthcare would be a tremendous crisis. the NHS started covering transition for the same reason that San Francisco Department of Health does: it’s much cheaper to do it than not do it. If there is no legal, prescription access to hormones, this will not stop people from taking them. It will however, prevent them from being appropriately monitored. Unmonitored hormones usage is not particularly safe and cause problems from blood clots to cancer as people get their levels wrong. In the NHS’s case, they found they were treating trans women who had, in desperation, attempted or succeeded in castrating themselves – dealing with the shock, the blood loss, infection and everything else that goes wrong when people try to perform surgery on themselves. In San Francisco, they found that lack of access to hormones lead to the impossibility of passing, which meant that some poor trans women were extremely vulnerable and whose only economic opportunities were in survival street sex work. Their HIV rates were around 70%.

Lack of access to healthcare kills. When she uses her very public platform to prevent us getting treatment, she is advocating that some us die.

In the past, she’s written about trans regret. This is when somebody transitions and then changes their mind. To a cis person, this must seem like the worst thing ever. In reality, the regret rate is around 1%. This is lower than for most medical interventions, including for cancer. For the 99% of people who are happy, they go on to lead productive lives, pay taxes, etc. Trans people tend to be much more economically produce post-transition, to the point where the medical intervention pays for itself in increased tax revenue.

There is a law in the UK called the Gender Recognition Act which prevents discrimination against (many) trans people and provides a mechanism by which people can update their documentation. When this was a bill, she and the Guardian actively campaigned against it, by finding every regretter they could and misrepresenting studies to claim the regret rate is much higher than it actually is.

These days, there are a few trans voices that get columns when issues about us come up, but for a long time the only people writing about us were cis people. Bindel became a public ‘expert’ on us because she already had a column – because she was cis. She’s still more famous than our rising star columnists and she still gets platforms over and over again where she proclaims that her ideology requires us to die. That the diagnosis of gender dysphoria should be eliminated and we be left to our self-identification without any medical support.

I wish that people would stop sending her abusive tweets. I wish people would stop offering her platforms to speak. I think that advocating for the removal of healthcare from a vulnerable population should disqualify one form speaking on any human rights issue.

Vigils and Protests

Hate crimes against trans* people now outnumber hate crimes against LGB people. Because of the increasing globalisation of our struggle, it’s appropriate and important to hold vigils for those killed, whether they were local or half a world away. Let’s be clear, these vigils are protests

Some issues arise. If vigils were not protests, it would be right and appropriate that the family have complete control of the speakers and what happens. This is the case at all funerals and memorial services. However, hate crimes are not isolated incidents. A hate crime is an act meant to target and terrorise an entire community. A vigil is a more public event that must therefore address the larger context in which the person was killed. These events therefore, should have input from the family, but also belong to the community effected.

Anyone can plan a protest or a vigil in regards to hate crimes. Alas, there are many opportunities. Yesterday, I went to a protest/vigil outside the Jamaican High Commission in London in response to the murder of Dwayne Jones. The planners of this event see hate crimes as a global problem and plan many such protests. This is unquestionably a good thing to do. They are fantastic. I’m glad they exist and they take these things on.

However, groups working to call for justice do need to have a bit of training, as was illustrated recently in New York. This is some of what you need to know:

If the person killed was trans, it’s appropriate to have signs and chants that mention homophobia, but you must prominently mention transphobia. These two things are linked, but if somebody was murdered for being trans, it’s confusing and incorrect to make signs that they were murdered for being gay. ‘Trans’ is not a type of ‘gay’. Certainly homophobia is also a problem in places where trans people are murdered, but the issue at hand is transphobia. Again, its ok to link these things. A vigil for a victim of a hate crime is always about the larger climate, but it’s important not to accidentally erase what happened to the individual in question.

Use the correct pronouns. If the pronouns are unclear, go for ‘they’ or something gender neutral. Do not assume that somebody’s birth assignment is the correct way to refer to them.

If you have a trans group in your area, reach out to them or their leaders as soon as you decide to start planning and invite them to the meetings.

At least one of the speakers you have must be trans. If you are in the UK, the Camden LGBT forum may be able to help you find somebody, or the Peter Tatchell Foundation may also be able to help. Also, some of the trans people involved in the planning may be able to speak or know somebody who can.

If the person is a member of a racial or ethnic minority, this should be reflected in who speaks. If they were located overseas, a person from that country or their diaspora should speak.

Remember to invite trans people and trans groups to the protest. If you’re in the UK, send a message to Protest Transphobia.

Reach out to potential allies. If you were planning to protest against hate crimes in Greece, you could reach out to other groups recently targeted there, such as migrants and sex workers. Or a protest about Russia could also include drug addicts, as they also suffer brutal repression under Putin.

What if you can’t do all of these things? Don’t worry. As long as you use the right pronouns and mention transphobia, you’re ok. If you’ve made mistakes about this in the past, don’t worry about them. Now you know.

Edit to add: solidarity

The important key here is solidarity. LGBT-phobia is a problem not unique to any religion or culture. Speakers at the event must not place blame on a either. They can call for social change a change in government policy, but they should not compare any other country negatively to their own. For those based in the UK, remember that homophobia and transphobia in most commonwealth countries came from the colonial law imposed by Britain. If you are in the US, full equality is still lagging. If you’re in Australia, you’ve got major issues with asylum seekers. Etc. There is no country I know of that’s completely safe from hate crimes, so focus on what you want to see change, not on how anybody else should be more like privileged countries or classes. If you are feeling at all smug about your country, just don’t get up to speak. We’re there in solidarity, not judgement.

How to talk about Pvt Manning

Some news outlets seem to have absolutely no idea how to talk about Chelsea Manning, who was known until last week as Bradley Manning and has been sentenced to 35 years in prison after she sent classified documents to wikileaks. They’re confused on how to describe her actions before she announced her social transition and which pronouns they should use to talk about the period in her life when she identified as a gay man.
(hint: see previous paragraph)
Chelsea Manning is already famous under a different name, so it’s fine to mention her former name. But really, don’t get cute about pronouns. It is more confusing, not less, to have a jumble of ‘he’s and ‘she’s. You know from her press release that she wants to go by ‘she’, so use ‘she’ whenever you’re writing about her, no matter what period of her life.
If you want to talk about something inherently gendered, then you might want a wee bit of vocabulary. She identified as a gay man for a while, meaning that’s what she told people she was. Other people at the time read her as male, because that’s how she presented herself. If ‘read’ is too jargony, try ‘viewed’, or ‘perceived.’
You can talk about her childhood, but again, avoid being cute about it. For example, if you want to use the word ‘boyhood’, is there a good reason for it? Is it somehow very important to the sentence or is it a word she used herself? Don’t project gender unless you’re using the subject’s own words or unless its needed. ‘She was a quiet child’ is fine. ‘She was a quiet boy.’ is confusing and unnecessary. ‘She seemed like a normal boy.’ is ok for two reasons – one is that the gender is an important part of the sentence. She didn’t just seem like a normal child, she seemed like a normal boy. The other reason that it’s acceptable is the word ‘seemed.’ She was perceived as a normal boy, which is about how she was viewed, not what she actually was. ‘She was a normal boy’ is not ok because it is factually incorrect (she already knew she wasn’t really a boy) and because it’s confusing and because it’s contrary and coercively assigning a gendered identity that the subject has not assigned themselves.
In summary, use ‘she’ all the time. If you have to use gendered terms to refer to the past, put wiggle words around it: seemed, appeared. (I’m sure journalists are well familiar with such words.)
If Manning keeps making headlines, at some point, it will become appropriate to drop the “who was previously known as Bradley Manning,” much like it’s no longer necessary to mention Wendy Carlos’s former first name. The point of mentioning the old name is not to draw attention to it, but to ensure that the reader knows who is meant.
Normally it’s rude and somewhat irrelevant to talk about the medical aspects of a person’s transition. However, because Manning is going to a prison that has specifically said it plans to violate her rights with regard to appropriate treatment, it’s definitely on topic in this case. Manning has said she wants hormones. She has not said that she wants surgery. It is not necessary to mention that she doesn’t currently want surgery. At some point, the repetition of this fact may become problematic. While media likes to make a big deal of ‘the operation,’ the reality for trans people is that hormones are much more important and that there is not one single dramatic moment during which transition occurs. Not all trans people have operations and there are a variety of operations available, rather than a single, monolithic process. The discourse around ‘the operation’ is a media construction. Which is not to say that trans people don’t often need operations, just that the context has been distorted in popular culture. This distorted context can cause statements about anyone’s lack of plan for surgery to make them seem as if they lack legitimacy or authenticity or further other them. Most trans people start out by seeking hormones and don’t immediately make further plans. Therefore Manning’s statement is entirely unremarkable and should not be treated otherwise.
Finally, and this should be obvious, people have a right to their gender identity that is inherently their own human right, unconnected to whatever else they’ve done in their lives. Whether you think Manning is a hero or a traitor, the only correct way to refer to her is through her current name and pronouns, as she has publicly requested.

An Open Letter

Background information below.

Dear Madam or Sir,

I am writing to ask what trans-run or trans-lead organisations or campaigners you are collaborating with for your campaign to drive mobile billboards around the Daily Mail?

I am also writing to ask you to reconsider this campaign. While I broadly agree with your goals, this campaign is expensive and I think the money could be better spent elsewhere. Due to the effects of economic discrimination, most trans people in the UK are far from rich. Many struggle to meet normal expenses or those transition -related expenses that are not met by the NHS. Obviously, harassment from the Daily Mail makes the daily lives of many trans people that much harder and contributes to the economic discrimination they deal with, and it’s a good use of funds to fight this. However, because these funds are limited, it’s important to be judicious as to how they are spent. Existing community organisations like Trans Media Watch are already running campaigns around newspapers and other British media. They also have relationships with media organisations and MPs. Donating money to them would certainly go further than a short-lived publicity stunt involving mobile billboards.

Indeed, I wonder who the intended audience of the billboard campaign is. Surely the Daily Mail is already aware that they’re full of hate. After Leveson, Parliament is certainly also aware. I would think even the general public is broadly aware of this at the moment. Therefore, it seems this would most succeed in drawing attention to your own organisation rather than the problem at hand. And while I’m sure you’re a very worthy cause and have admirable values, again, I don’t think you should be asking trans people to pay for your advertising campaigns. Would you consider dropping the billboard idea and raising money for a pre-existing trans organisation instead, like TMW, GIRES, Press for Change or one of the many other advocacy or front-line groups that are dedicated to helping trans people or improving our lot politically?

I fear that most of your money will not come from tans people at all, but from those with a strong and commendable interest in being allies, who want to Do Something and feel good about themselves in the process. Again, this is not the most judicious way of directing those well-meant donations. Our allies can feel just as good about themselves if they give to an established, long-running, sustainable campaign that succeeds at meeting it’s goals as they would feel giving to this publicity stunt. Perhaps they might even feel better, as the organisation the decided to support keeps making progress, vs having only a fleeting feeling of do-gooding which dissipates quickly as the Daily Mail continues to be awful after your short billboard stunt ends.

Thank you for your time,
Dr. Charles Céleste Hutchins

I’m not linking to the fund raising campaign that I’m writing to because I would rather not send users to their site. Briefly, this group has decided to raise £5000 to ‘encircl[e] [the Daily Mail’s] headquarters with mobile billboards plastered with the stories of the people whose lives [they have] ruined.’ This is all related to the untimely and tragic death of Lucy Meadows. She was monstered by the press in general, and specifically her home town paper, but outrage has largely fallen on a Rush-Limbuagh-esque columnist named Richard Littlejohn who wrote some rather nasty things about Lucy a few months ago.
There was a candle-lit vigil in front of the Daily Mail headquarters on Monday in reaction to this. Accounts I’ve read say that a large number of cis people showed up to stand in solidarity. Indeed, at the last protest I went to that was in regards to how the media treats trans people, cis people also outnumbered trans people.
I see this absolutely as a positive thing. I’m very happy that we have allies standing with us and that outrages against us are drawing general outrage. However, as with any instance where one is acting as an ally, it’s important to remember that allies are necessarily present in a supporting capacity. This means listening to those with whom one is allied and letting them take the lead and decide the direction of things.
I strongly suspect the the US-based for-profit company running this fund-raising campaign has slightly overstepped the normal boundaries of being an ally and tried to move more into a leadership role. Indeed, as they are for-profit, what is their revenue model? It’s obvious that they, like every petition site, are harvesting our personal information to sell it. How much of the money their raising for this silly stunt are they keeping? How much is going to overhead? How much is allocated for graphic design? Who is doing the graphic design? Who is going to be included and excluded from this billboards? Who decides? Is this even a trans-specific campaign? What is their ultimate goal? To target DM advertisers? Subscribers? To get the paper to entirely re-think their content?
This is all a reminder to pause and think before donating on something, including rage-donations. These can be really powerful and positive, like in the case of Feminist Frequency. But in that case it was very easy to see where to donate. Because Meadows cannot tell us what she wants, we need to be wary of those purporting to speak for her or for the community in general. The most important thing in giving money is not that feeling you get upon having done so, but whether it actually goes to the goal you are trying to support. Are you helping the person targeted? Are you making lasting change? Alas, we can’t help Meadows and I don’t see how this could make lasting change.