Transphobia. It’s not rational.

Is it Transphobia Thursday today? Hot on the heels of Suzanne Moore’s surprising outburst comes this utter turd from the Telegraph by one Ed West: “The transgender taboo is a threat to academic freedom“.

Ed’s argument is that there’s some sort of big conspiracy to silence the Real Scientists who claim that trans isn’t a thing. He seems to have a problem with the fact that we need to be respectful to trans people these days, because SCIENCE.

Unfortunately, Ed’s grasp of science is pisspoor. His first Very Scientific assertion is this:

And yet the strange thing is that, taking aside the fact that “blockers” may affect cognitive ability and bone density, there’s actually no accepted medical proof or consensus that sex change operations actually help someone’s mental health; we may one day find that it does, but we simply don’t know enough at the moment.

First of all, hormone blockers and surgery are two very different things indeed, something which I’m not sure Ed quite grasps as he made that mistake in the paragraph above, too. Secondly, if you click that link, it will take you to a footnote on Wikipedia. Apparently Ed didn’t even want to pretend that he’d actually read the article in this footnote, which is at least a show of intellectual honesty. Despite this, apparently Ed didn’t even bother reading what the footnote was attached to–far from being “no accepted medical proof or consensus”, the linked study concludes that the evidence is of poor quality.

And there’s a reason for that: both ethically and pragmatically, one cannot carry out a randomised controlled trial on many of the medical aspects of transition. RCTs are what is considered “good” quality evidence, but they simply can’t always be done. So, the evidence isn’t always of the level scientists would ideally like, however what’s there suggests that what is done is helpful, which is why it’s available on the NHS.

Next up, Ed cites a book. I haven’t read this book, but from Ed’s summary it sounds like it’s based on a very dated theory which is not accepted by science due to the fact it isn’t particularly scientific:

A few years back Prof Michael Bailey wrote a book about the subject, The Man Who Would Be Queen, detailing a theory which suggested that there were two kinds of transsexualism – “homosexual transsexuals”, who are attracted to men, and “non-homosexual transsexuals”, who are aroused by the image of themselves as a woman.

Indeed, a blue link a bit later reveals that indeed this is based on Blanchard’s transsexualism, which Ed reckons was rejected because of “the implication that transsexuals were men, rather than women in men’s bodies.” In fact, had Ed bothered reading the Wikipedia page he linked to, he would have seen the bulky scientific criticism.

Then there’s the fact that Bailey’s book is probably also crap. Often, scientists publish books when they can’t get things published in journals. Books aren’t subject to the stringent peer review that journal articles are, so if you’ve something scientifically poor, but might appeal to some people as it confirms their prejudices, then publishing a book is the way to go. Far from being a gold standard of evidence, a popular science book is one of the worst things there is.

Having undertaken slightly more research than Ed, I read the Wikipedia page on the book. There’s a lot of scientific criticisms alongside huge concerns about Bailey’s research ethics. This doesn’t stop Ed from insisting the book has merit because fellow popular science author Steven fucking Pinker liked it.

After that, the article kind of unravels. Ed has a brief foray into some gender essentialist nonsense, which is pure, unevidenced “I think” with a little attempt to get a dig in at feminism, and then suggests that maybe the current way of treating gender dysphoria is crap because in France, autism treatment is crap.

Now, there are criticisms to be made of the way that trans people are treated by the medical establishment, but not the way that Ed has. Take a look at the discussions surrounding #transdocfail for how poorly trans people are still treated, and accept that this is likely to be a confounding variable when assessing the efficacy of treatement.

Ed’s bigotry isn’t rational, as much as he’d like to think it is. His true motivation seems to be this:

This is the only explanation acceptable to the media and, indeed, the state, which spends a fair deal of money (which we don’t have) combating transphobia.

He chats shit. He gets called out on it. He doesn’t like it. So he makes up science to try to justify himself. Well, here’s the thing. There’s nothing rational about transphobia.

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@helen_bop has pointed out to me that this article is old. Not, like, from the 1930s old, but a year old. It’s still a shitty, shitty article.

I wish Suzanne Moore would stop digging

The other day, columnist Suzanne Moore wrote a reasonably decent article about anger. I say “reasonably decent”, because it contained a honkingly problematic line:

We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.

This line, when viewed in the context of the sheer number of trans Brazilian women who are murdered, is not a good thing to write, as this blog by Edinburgh Eye–which I recommend you read fully–explains really well. At that point, when this was drawn to Moore’s attention, she could have apologised for a thoughtless, flippant line, apologised, learned something and we could all go on to appreciating her reasonably decent article about anger.

If you’ve read the title of this post, you’ll know this wasn’t the case. Instead, she responded with open, vitriolic transphobia about “cutting dicks off”, and complaints that we were not focusing on the real issues. Fairly standard shit, including whinging about intersectionality, and listing all the books she’s read which somehow shows she definitely can’t possibly be transphobic. I storifyed the first 24 hours of it. You don’t have to take my word for it and can view the whole thing in context.  Particularly notable was when she shared a flippant joke with Caitlin Moran about the whole thing.

I’d hoped that was the end of that, and we could all go back to our lives, but apparently I was wrong, and Moore’s still digging, deeper and deeper.

She wrote an article in the Guardian, complaining about the whole thing. It’s largely a rehashing of the tweets. She starts off with the “some of my best friends are trans” argument in record time, moving swiftly into once again listing some books she’s read that (possibly) show she’s right. Then she dips her toes into how the big mean intersectionals are shutting down discussion, claiming she’s read bell hooks. Then comes Suzanne Moore’s point: that we shouldn’t care about tiny little things like the oppression of trans people and her contribution to it, but we should instead focus on the cuts, literally saying this:

 So to be told that I hate transgender people feels a little … irrelevant. Other people’s genital arrangements are less interesting to me than the breakdown of the social contract. I am asking for anger and for alliances. Less divide and rule. So call me a freak.

For all her having read bell hooks, it looks like Suzanne Moore missed a vital bit:

“The vision of Sisterhood evoked by women’s liberationists was based on the idea of common oppression. Needless to say, it was primarily bourgeois white women, both liberal and radical in perspective, who professed belief in the notion of common oppression. The idea of “common oppression” was a false and corrupt platform disguising and mystifying the true nature of women’s complex and varied social reality…

The emphasis on Sisterhood was often seen as the emotional appeal masking the opportunism of bourgeois white women. It was seen as a cover-up hiding the fact that many women exploit and oppress other women.” -bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

And yes. In her call to unite around the thing she wants us to unite around while sweeping her own contribution to the oppression of other women under the carpet, Moore has been part of the problem hooks highlighted.

Once again, Moore said some shitty things on Twitter:

Not one trans activist has engaged with economic argument or attack on welfare. Why not?

At this point, the utterly fabulous trans activist Roz Kaveney pointed out that she had, amongst participating in her other interests (which included writing the Rhapsody of Blood novels, of which volume 1, Rituals, is now out and you should read it, because it’s excellent. A truly queer, feminist fantasy novel. Sorry for the digression, but it’s brilliant). Roz then gently explained why there was a level of anger about Moore’s initial comments, to which Moore embarked on a bizarre rant about “Latin culture”, and culminated in a rather dismissive “I get that . I must not say the penis thing.

It’s abundantly clear that Moore doesn’t want to learn from this issue, to the point where she just flat-out tweeted this:

I am not going to apologise. Get it?

This sort of reaction is horribly unhelpful and stands in the way of ever being able to unite against other forms of oppression, such as the brutal government attacks on anyone vulnerable. Moore fucked up. It was a minor fuck-up at first, but with her reaction, it escalated into something far uglier and far harder to heal. Moore feels like we can never move ahead if we worry about such trivialities as the oppression of trans people, but the reality is that this oppression is far from trivial. It might seem tiny to Suzanne Moore, but that’s only because it’s something that she doesn’t have to worry about herself. In order to build a movement that can actually unify, though, she should care about it, and should monitor her own contribution to oppression of other people–a lot of whom are women. An apology would be a nice place to start.

Suzanne Moore has shown she holds some nasty views. Some defend her actions as a response to the vociferous criticism she received, yet the level of bigotry in her tweets shows that if these tweets were in anger, they were always there, lurking under the surface. Likewise, if she is being flippant and sarcastic, it denotes a lack of empathy and interest in the struggle of a fellow group of humans.

It’s quite sad, really, because Moore’s article on anger was reasonably decent, and did make some points about gigantic problems in society. It’s a shame, then, that as well as addressing some, she also contributes to others herself. No one oppression is so important that all other oppressions must be neglected and ignored. There is no “let’s do this tomorrow, after we’ve fixed the real stuff.”

This is all real. It’s all important. You can be good on one thing and absolutely terrible on another. And isn’t it better to try not to be terrible on anything?

Nice guys, the friendzone and sexual entitlement

In the wake of the NiceGuysOfOKC tumblr (currently down), the discussion about Nice Guys has flared up again. The Nice Guy is a category of human which can be–and often is–entirely mutually exclusive from “guy who is nice”: Nice Guys are men who consider their lack of dating success to be down to the fact that they’re “too nice”, often bemoaning the fact that they end up in the dreaded “friendzone”, wherein women want to be their friend but nothing more.

Every so often, the world will get together and argue about Nice Guys, with one side seeing Nice Guys as figures of pity, victims of shyness, while the other finds Nice Guys creepy as hell. The lovely @RopesToInfinity–an actual guy who is nice–wrote an excellent piece on the matter, addressing Nice Guys, and there’s a few points of his I’d like to expand upon some more, though you should really read the whole thing:

5) The Friendzone Is Not Really An Actual Thing
If a woman is just your friend and not someone you’re having sex with, that is what we in certain circles call a ‘friend’. Yes, what you have there is a friendship, one between you, a man, and a second person, a woman. This can sometimes happen. The chances are she’s not ‘put’ you there because women get off on torturing men, but because she simply wants to just be friends with you, like you might be with a dude. Sex is not the default interaction between men and women. Sex is a thing that happens between two (or more!) people that express a sexual interest in one another and then gratify it by mutual consent. It’s not something you’re supposed to expect, but which women then cruelly decide to deny you from their lofty position as the gatekeepers of the sexual realm. Friendships with women that feature no sex can be rewarding. Try viewing said woman as a person rather than a target for your dick, and see what happens.

6) You May Not Actually Be That Nice After All
Look, are you REALLY that nice? You’re complaining about women refusing to sleep with you, but you haven’t told them how you feel. Is that nice? You’re friends with a woman, but whenever you do something for her you note it down mentally as yet another thing you’ve done which inexplicably went unrewarded with blowjobs, as if it should have been. Is that nice? Think long and hard about your expectations of women, and whether they’re reasonable. And consider whether you’re maybe acting with an unearned sense of entitlement. Be aware that what you think of as ‘nice’ (reluctantly listening to a woman’s problems while wishing she’d shut the fuck up already and touch your penis), may not be what she defines ‘nice’ to mean. Perhaps she thinks of a ‘nice guy’ as someone who likes her with no ulterior motive and who isn’t concealing his true feelings for whatever reason.

These two points get to the crux of precisely what is creepy about the Nice Guy: male sexual entitlement. The complaints, bitterness, resentment about the friendzone all boil down to the fact that the Nice Guy believes that, having completed all of the appropriate rituals, he is owed sex and didn’t get it.

We’ve got to the point now where most of us have no sympathy for the man who believes he is entitled to sex because a woman wore a short skirt, yet seem to be lagging behind on men who believe they are entitled to sex because they’ve been really, really fucking nice. There might be a difference in consequences on the latter: rather than raping, he’s more likely to just write long screeds about how females want douchebags and he’s sick of those bitches wasting his time. However, there is the same root cause here, and it’s not something we should be tolerating or indulging.

Being nice isn’t the cheat code to a woman’s knickers, and it’s not OK to be resentful about this fact. Nobody is entitled to sex. Absolutely nobody. If you are a genuinely decent human being, you need to be prepared to hear the word “no”. And you need to be prepared to deal with that “no”, and accept that. If hearing a “no” is soul-crushing, or enraging, or likely to cause resentment, then you really need to work on your own issues before attempting to connect with other human beings in a non-coercive capacity. Rejections happen, and they’re a product of the other person expressing their autonomy. It’s nice not to resent another human’s articulation of non-consent.

However, there is more than just individual responsibility to these Nice Guys: society shares its fair bit of blame. The straight dating scene is mired in icky gender politics and is so patriarchal it hurts. With these patriarchal expectations in place, male sexual entitlement is ever-present, and so of course the Nice Guys have internalised this, too.

Furthermore, the straight dating scene denigrates the importance of friendship, demoting it to “just friends”. In fact, friendship is awesome: you get to hang out with cool people who you like and do interesting and amazing things even if you’re not having sex. Friendship is a deep, emotional connection, and it is a beautiful thing in and of itself.

Once upon a time, when I was a dorky 17-year-old with all sorts of queer thoughts which I didn’t yet understand, I developed a galloping crush on my BFF. She was hetero. I went all Nice Guy on her arse, having been socialised among straights and believing queer sexuality worked pretty much the same way as it does for straights. I was creepy as hell at the time, and I’m kind of ashamed at how I behaved at that time.

Now I’m a dorky 27-year-old, and I got over it. I am still very good friends with the lady in question, which I’m relieved about due to the aforementioned being creepy as hell. And you know what? Being friends is really, really awesome, because I get to hang out with that cool person and do interesting and amazing things, even though we’re not having sex.

Someone wanting to be your friend is not an insult, unless you feel entitled to sex. It should be a fucking honour.

How do we solve a problem like the Nice Guy? We must acknowledge context, but also that this behaviour is not OK. And if you are a Nice Guy, why not do the nice thing, and try to be better?

Things I read this week that I found interesting

New year, and new feature on the blog: here’s some things I read this week–they’re not even necessarily recent posts, but just struck me as relevant–which I enjoyed and I’d like to share with you.

This week, I’ll be honest, I haven’t really done much reading, so it’s a little sparse. Please drop anything into the comments that you think I might like. I will try to read it. Promise.

Violence against women is pandemic (Sam Ambreen) — huge trigger warnings here for rape and gang rape. Sam discusses the Delhi gang rape, racism, and how we mustn’t think violence against women is limited to India.

Why do some feminist spaces tolerate male abusers? and On Hugo Schwyzer: Accountability, not silencing dissent (@graceishuman) — Trigger warnings for abuse. Grace talks about the issues surrounding Jezebel contributor Hugo Schwyzer, a former perpetrator of abuse who seems to be popular among feminists. Last night, she also tweeted some excellent things.

I hate the tone argument (unquiet slumbers) — How can we reject the tone argument while still enabling shy people to speak? Very good exploration.

 

Westminster Council’s proposals for obesity: awful, awful, awful

So, Westminster Council have announced something thoroughly, offensively awful: they want obese people to be monitored to check if they’re using a gym, and if they aren’t, they should have their benefits cut. Seriously. That’s actually a thing they think should be done.

I took the liberty of reading their full report, “A Dose of Localism: the Role of Councils in Public Health“. It’s a very shiny-looking report, with a picture of an apple on the front. The existence of apples, illustrated by a photograph of one, is literally the only thing which is in any way evidence-based within the entire report. There is not even a reference section. The report is entirely what a few wonks think might be a good idea.

My background in psychology is in behaviour change, so a little part of me wondered if maybe there was some sort of evidence base for this level of negative reinforcement. Then my brain woke up, and I realised that of course there isn’t an evidence base for this. When conducting research, one needs to put everything past an ethics board, and there is no ethics board on earth that would approve forcing people to take up exercise by threatening them with losing their homes. In general, it’s sort of frowned upon. In fact, the only place I could find anything positive said about negative reinforcement–of a level which was not as bad as the threat of immiseration and poverty–was on “pro-ana” websites, where people share tips for maintaining eating disorders. I’m not going to link to those, for obvious reasons.

So, it’s utter nonsense, and I am confident that fairly soon we will be seeing anyone who knows jack shit about behaviour change saying “No, don’t do that, it’s awful.” However, this particular little piece of policy kite flying could see itself being implemented despite its distinct lack of evidence base nonetheless.

There is a peculiar mindset among some individuals that they are The Taxpayer, and therefore they get to decide what people they believe they are paying for get to do. They get sulky about helping others, and a part of their minds wishes to see other human beings suffer as they are blinded by resentment. They are already honking at me on Twitter about how there is nothing wrong with threats and a denial of bodily autonomy for others. Evidence means nothing to these people, they just want to punish others for an accident of circumstances meaning they require a little help to survive. It’s illogical, it’s irrational, but it is powerful.

And this is to whom councils and governments pander, these squawking sociopaths. Many of them probably hold the same beliefs themselves. They believe that somehow they have more right to exist freely than others, more right to bodily autonomy, more right to a roof over their head than others. They’re wrong. They got lucky.

I hope that this nonsense from Westminster stays in a drawer somewhere and it does not impact the discourse too heavily, but I fear it will have serious effects. For something that was pulled out of some wonk’s arse, that’s a terrifying thought.

Why we should have seen Jim Davidson’s arrest coming

Jim Davidson has been arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, the police finally getting their shit together and investigating sexual abuse following the revelations about Jimmy Savile. I can’t say I’m surprised.

See, a few months ago, when it was all coming out, Jim Davidson said this:

The Jimmy Savile witch hunt is going a bit silly now. We all are starting to speculate and accuse – even in jest. So no, I don’t know who’s next.

Well, if I was in the pub with the lads it would be a different story. Everyone has had the nod.
Everyone is now an expert. Just pick someone you don’t like and say it’s them. So I’ll be the first one to knock it on the head and belt up. How’s about that then?

Apologies for the Mail link, but I felt this was the best link, as it also included another quote from someone else:

His comments come after Max Clifford claimed dozen of big name stars from the 1960s and 70s have called him ‘frightened to death’ they will become implicated in the widening Savile scandal.
The PR guru said the stars were worried because at their peak they lived a hedonistic lifestyle where young girls threw themselves at them and they ‘never asked for anybody’s birth certificate’.

What does Max Clifford have in common with Jim Davidson, other than the fact that they both are engaging in rape apologism? Clifford, too, was arrested in Operation Yewtree.

I’ve long railed about how rape apologism only benefits rapists. I feel suspicious and frightened when I hear men articulating beliefs that Davidson and Clifford articulate, because I don’t like that implication that men just can’t help themselves, or that there’s anything excusable about violating consent. I am afraid that if they think this, what’s to stop them from raping me under the circumstances they somehow excuse from rape? I cannot say it often enough. Rape apologism only benefits rapists.

Of course, not everyone who engages in rape apologism is a rapist–some merely help rapists by vehemently denying and trivialising rape and acting as though violating consent is a perfectly acceptable part of society.

However, some are. Some really, really are. And, as Max Clifford himself said, they’re “frightened to death” about being held accountable for what they have done.

I do not know the exact nature of the allegations against Jim Davidson or Max Clifford. Whatever happens, though, at the very least, they are complicit in the abuse perpetrated by Savile with their little statements. They were there, willing to defend rape, to contribute to a culture wherein rape is seen to be all right. Whatever happens, there is written evidence from them to attest to this fact. Whatever happens, they are involved due to the defences that they both provided.

Of course, nobody gets arrested for rape apologism, and they shouldn’t be. But remember this: whether they have raped or not, the rape apologists help only rapists.