I spent most of today at a London conference organized by Trans Media Watch. It proved to be very useful for a number of reasons, and also quite interesting. Here are a few highlights.
The first panel got a bit derailed when Sky, the young person from the National Union of Students, mentioned gender-neutral toilets. Let me explain why this is a potentially contentious issue. I’m very much in favor of gender-neutral toilets being provided as a third option for people who don’t identify as either male or female for whatever reason, or who lack the confidence to use bathrooms provided for their preferred gender. I’m also mostly happy with gender-neutral toilets being the only option in most cases (as indeed is commonly the case in cafes, trains, aircraft and private homes), though I appreciate the need for women-only spaces as places of refuge in venues such as pubs and clubs where drunk men may behave badly. Where it gets problematic is if the provision of gender-neutral toilets suddenly results in all trans people being told that they must use them, even if, like Roz and myself, we’ve been happily using the bathrooms provided for our preferred gender for decades. I spoke to Sky during the coffee break, and they assured me that there was no intention of forcing anyone to use gender-neutral toilets against their wishes. In those circumstances I have no objection to people continuing to press for their provision.
The second panel was about the situation in Europe. I was delighted to see delegates present from Germany, Switzerland and Italy (and possibly a few other countries as well), alongside the usual crowd from Britain and Ireland. Thanks in particular to Alecs from TGEU for providing suggestions as to how I might contact trans activists in Ukraine so that I can make an informed decision regarding whether to attend next year’s Eurocon.
Finally we had a panel on regulation of the media featuring lawyer-journalist David Allen Green and Guy Parker of the Advertising Standards Authority. Generally speaking it is very hard to regulate the media, especially if you wish to maintain freedom of speech, and given the ease of publication afforded by the Internet. However, I suggested to the panel that a useful option might be to make newspapers responsible for the content of comment threads on their websites. To my delight, David agreed with me. Personally I think that one of the most useful things that the Leveson Inquiry could do is make the likes of the Daily Malice moderate their comments for hate speech, because that would mean they would no longer have a reason to post “news” that is nothing more than troll bait (for example this).