It’s me, yn Gymraeg!

As part of my process of getting to know the local cultural landscape, I have made friends with a lovely bunch of people called Inclusive Journalism Cymru. They are a group of media professionals who understand that marginalised people are very badly served by the UK’s media landscape, and are seeking to improve things in Wales.

I have written them a little blog post about why trans people, in particular, need this sort of help. Excitingly, they have published it in English and in Welsh. I am not yet good enough at Welsh to have done the tranlsation myself, but I’m very pleased to have it. As far as I’m aware, this is the first piece of writing with my byline on it that has been translated into Welsh. Here’s hoping for a lot more.

Stonewall Has a Vision for Change

This morning Stonewall released their long-anticipated trans rights campaign strategy. It is called A Vision for Change, and you can find the press release and document here.

The first thing to be noted is that this marks a sea change in British LGBT+ politics. The old Stonewall, before Ruth Hunt took over, was very much LG(b)-focused. If trans people were mentioned, it was more likely to be as targets for lesbian or gay transphobes as it was for positive reasons. The new Stonewall is very much trans inclusive. Indeed, it recognizes trans rights as one of the major issues facing the LGBT+ community at the moment. Ruth can take a lot of the credit for this turnaround, but she could not have done it without the backing of the Stonewall staff, or without the help of the group of trans people they recruited to develop their policy (some of whom I am honored to call friends).

It is also worth noting that this support is unconditional. The subtitle of the report is, “Acceptance without exception for trans people”. There is no, “we’ll help you as long as you conform to certain stereotypes,” as there has been in the past.

So what is Stonewall actually going to campaign for? The document lists six specific policy goals:

  • A reformed Gender Recognition Act (it needs a thorough overhaul)
  • A reformed Equality Act (to ensure all trans people are protected)
  • Removal of the infamous “Spousal Veto” from marriage legislation*
  • Action on the so-called “sex by deception” prosecutions which have led to trans people being sent to prison for having sex without disclosing they are trans
  • Legal recognition of non-binary people including, but by no means limited to, an X option on passports
  • Reform of the Asylum system (which is also a priority for LGB people)

Interestingly coverage in the national media has focused solely on the passport issue. This has been so uniform that I suspect it must be the result of a specific briefing from Stonewall (journalists are notoriously busy and will always prefer to be spoon-fed a story). There are potential banana skins here. No one wants this to be made mandatory for all trans people and for it to become a sort of trans id card. However, this is something that many other countries have done (including Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan) so it is easy to shame the government on this point. The government argument that it would upset the Americans is no longer valid because everything upsets the American border control people these days, and hardly anyone wants to go to the USA anyway.

There is, of course, a long way to go. However, Stonewall is a well-respected and highly effective campaigning organization that does have the ear of government and of the media. The trans community has badly needed someone like them to step forward and help for a long time. This is a real opportunity to make progress.

And yes, I am really looking forward to all of the articles in the Guardian and New Statesman complaining about what a dangerous, radical organization Stonewall has become.

* The Spousal Veto is a system that allows an existing spouse to block a change of legal gender, even if the person wishing to change gender has undergone full medical gender reassignment.

Bristol Does Local News

Last night I took myself into Bristol for an event organized by the National Union of Journalists. It was a kick-off for a national campaign aimed at highlighting the importance and value of quality local journalism. There is, perhaps, and argument to be made that this campaign is a decade or two late, and should have taken place when local news services first started getting decimated, but at least new new entrants have sprung up to fill the gap which made for an interesting discussion.

The event took the form of a panel discussion with a truly huge panel. My apologies if I have forgotten anyone, but I recall representatives from the following: the BBC, ITV, Made in Bristol TV, the Bristol Post, the Bristol Cable, the Chew Valley Gazette, Vocalise, the Voice network and the NUJ head office. Conspicuous by their absence were Bristol 24/7. Apparently editor Martin Booth was taken ill during the day and was unable to arrange for a replacement. There was no one there from BCFM Radio. Most of my management at Ujima was at St. George’s for the Courtney Pine concert. I wasn’t on the panel, but I’m sure I could have contributed had I wanted to. More of that later. Also in the audience were two local MPs (Thangan Debbonaire – Lab and Charlotte Leslie – Con), plus three of the candidates for the new Metro Mayor post (Leslie Mansell – Lab, Stephen Williams – LibDem and Darren Hall – Green).

The traditional news outlets all reported a decade or two of constant downsizing. The television networks have made use of new, lightweight technology to train their reporters to do without a cameraman and sound technician. The newsroom at the Post has been reduced to around a third of its former size. They all insisted that they had maintained standards. Some of the audience, including on my Twitter feed, begged to disagree.

The main reason for the change has been loss of revenue streams. Companies such as estate agents, car salesrooms and so on, plus job and home rental adverts, have all migrated to the internet. The Chew Valley Gazette, a weekly paper serving villages in North Somerset, survives mainly because the local broadband service is so bad that local businesses still advertise in print.

While the panel and online peanut galley might debate the quality of existing services, the existence of new, competing services suggests that the public is not entirely happy with the incumbents. Some of the competition is fuels by technology changes. Made in Bristol TV succeeds where previous attempts at local TV failed because it has access to the cable network, giving it far better distribution than previous attempts (I can watch it at home via Sky). The same is true of community radio stations such as Ujima which are available online, and for papers such as Bristol 24/7 and the Cable which can have large amounts of online content to supplement their paper editions.

However, new services do need financial support. Ujima and BCFM rely on advertising and on volunteer staff such as myself. The Gazette is staffed mostly by part-timers. Vocalise, which is distributed free to mainly immigrant communities in central Bristol, is also run by volunteers. I was impressed by Richard Coulter’s Voice network of hyper-local newspapers — each serving just one small area of Bristol — which apparently pays its staff.

The content of the news provided was clearly an issue. There are obviously things that the old guard does well. There was a lot of praise for Geoff Bennett, the Post‘s court reporter, who spends every day following local trials. Other outlets tend to rely on his detailed work for their own reports. There was concern that elsewhere content was being written at a national level and syndicated to local news services, though the Post‘s editor assured us that he was still employing reporters to follow both local soccer teams.

The audience had difficulty separating concerns about local news services with national issues, and to be fair the panel sometimes got confused as well. One question from the floor asked why newspapers these days spend so much time soliciting comment from ill-informed celebrities such as Piers Morgan rather than talking to people who could give expert comment. Ellie Pitt from Made in Bristol TV made the reasonable point that far too many potential commentators are unwilling to give an opinion, whereas the professional big mouth will have an opinion on anything. Against that I’d note that expert commentators tend to want to explain things in detail and present both sides, whereas the media wants a simple and controversial statement.

An issue that was less touched upon was the question of what was reported. Some of this was implicit in the concentration on local news. The national media has little interest in what happens outside of London. The Post will cover what happens in Bristol, but to find out what is happening at St. Werburgh’s Community Centre, or the Malcolm X Centre in St. Pauls, you need to read Vocalise. Only the Gazette will report the results of the Chew Magna Dog Show.

However, there are still plenty of holes in the coverage. The panel, while it did have several women on it, was entirely white save for the woman from Vocalise, a paper which specifically serves immigrant communities. I badly wanted to ask the diversity question, but as a white person myself (albeit one with other diversity credentials) I felt nervous about doing so. Thankfully a Somali man sat near me did the job. The panel made the usual excuses about inability to get specialist staff. Only the NUJ rep seemed to take the question seriously and talk about recruitment, but that’s only part of the problem. If non-white people can’t get the required qualifications, or feel they have no chance of getting jobs, or are afraid of discrimination at work, or think they will be asked to create news solely for white people, then you still won’t solve the problem.

Other minorities have similar issues. I suspect that I might be the only local journalist planning on doing in depth coverage of the Women’s Cricket World Cup, despite many matches being played in Bristol. An approach has been made to Made in Bristol TV about doing an LGBT show, but apparently they have no interest in serving that community. The Cable, being community-owned and focused, is much better at this sort of thing, and I’m pleased to see Bristol 24/7 ramping up its LGBT coverage.

Despite my reservations, I think this was a very useful event. What was clear is that a single panel wasn’t close to covering everything we might have talked about. There was easily enough material to fill a one-day conference. Hopefully the NUJ will look at doing something like that. We do have a thriving journalism course at UWE that could get involved as well.

Drive By Posting

Well, that’s three days of trans awareness training on the trot. All lovely classes.

Of course that means I’m thinking of little else right now, so all I’m good for is another rant. I am resisting the temptation, partly because I like you folks and don’t want to bore you, and partly because the level of woo woo achieved by today’s anti-trans article in the media was enough to make even the disgraced soon to be very few people’s president of the USA blush with embarrassment.

The trouble is that anti-trans people are like anti-vaxxers. They are convinced that anyone who knows anything about trans medical care must either be in it for the money or be an “activist”, and therefore dismiss everything we say as lies. The more evidence we pile up against them, the more convinced they become that some vast conspiracy is at work. It is pointless engaging directly. What we need to do is engage with people whose minds haven’t been locked down under thousands of layers of tinfoil.

However, the good news is that tomorrow is a writer and publisher day. I am going to Bristol University for this conference, which looks like being absolutely awesome (scroll down for the program). I am, of course, that girl: the one who wrote a story about a famous Egyptologist having a talking mummy in her bedroom closet. This is clearly a conference for me.

NatGeo Doesn’t Understand Gender

Social media has been abuzz with the news that National Geographic has done a special issue on gender. I haven’t managed to get a copy yet, but yesterday I saw this tweet from Sophie Walker.

In confess that my first thought was, “on no, now we are going to have people claiming that WEP hates trans people”. Thankfully that doesn’t seen to have happened. My second thought was, “yes, I agree”. But until I had investigated more I didn’t know just how much I agreed.

I know nothing about Avery Jackson, the young trans girl that NatGeo has put on their cover. Possibly she likes pink as much as that photo suggests. There’s nothing wrong with pink. I wear it a lot. But the fact that she’s on that cover with pink hair and all-pink clothes very much seems to say, “look how pink I am, I must be a girl!” I suspect the photo was chosen as the cover — by the magazine, not by Avery — with exactly that message in mind.

This reminds me very much of the focus on appearance that gender clinics had when I transitioned. Twenty years ago, if you turned up for an appointment wearing jeans you would probably get sent home. Dresses, or a smart skirt with twinset and pearls, were the order of the day. Your hair had to be long, your make-up had to be obvious, and the decision about whether you were behaving in an appropriately feminine manner was made by a middle-aged man. These days we have made a lot of progress in helping the doctors understand that presentation and gender are not the same thing. Lots of cis women never wear dresses or makeup. They are no less women because of that, and trans women are no less women if they do the same.

Sadly the media is still a long way behind the curve. Whenever you see an article or program about trans people there is always an emphasis on feminine performance. Newspapers gush about how parents knew their kids were trans because they loved pink and wanted to play with dolls. TV programs always have a shot of the trans woman putting on her makeup. This gives entirely the wrong impression of what being trans is all about.

NatGeo goes further. In this article about why they did a gender issue they have this story:

Nasreen Sheikh lives with her parents and two siblings in a Mumbai slum. She’d like to become a doctor, but already she believes that being female is holding her back. “If I were a boy,” she says, “I would have the chance to make money … and to wear good clothes.”

Wait, what?

Liking pink does not make you a woman. Wanting to wear dresses and makeup doesn’t make you a woman, though it may make you non-binary in some way. The only thing that makes you a woman is the unshakeable belief that you are a woman. Equally wanting to be a doctor, and perhaps be safe from gender-based violence, despite being assigned female at birth, doesn’t make you a man; it makes you feminist.

Even NatGeo could see that there was something wrong with this, that it didn’t quite fit into the trans narrative. But that won’t stop the New Statesman running articles about how trans activists are encouraging parents to have their sons “mutilated” because they don’t like football, and their daughters “mutilated” because they want careers. We are not saying these things, but because the media keeps saying this is what being trans is all about its not surprising that people believe we are.

It is all very frustrating. And NatGeo, despite thinking that it is somehow riding the wave of a gender revolution, is actually providing ammunition to the very people who want that revolution stopped in its tracks.

Please #StandWithMermaids

In the wake of last weekend’s disastrous court case there has been a sustained attack on trans children and their mothers in the British press. Naturally the New Statesman led the way, and the Daily Malice managed to be the most horrible. None of this is surprising, especially the deeply sexist nature of the attacks.

The mothers (and many fathers) who work with Mermaids are not professional charity staff. While they achieve many wonderful things, they don’t have the resources to stand up to this sort of sustained media assault from professional journalists. To help support them, the hashtag #StandWithMermaids has been created on Twitter. There is also an open letter that you can sign.

If you haven’t done thus far, please also sign the petition about last weekend’s court case.

Hugos in the News

One of the effects of the Puppies has been to bring the Hugos to the attention of the mainstream media. A lot of the coverage has, of course, been embarrassing, but now that the Awards are a subject for discussion we are starting to see more serious coverage, and more general interest around the world.

So, for example, I was very pleased to see this coverage of the Awards in a youth-focused news site based in India. Hopefully that is giving young Indian writers dreams of rockets in their future.

Of course Nnedi has a point:

All of the fiction winners this year are really good, and it would be nice to see them get celebrated for that rather than for their dealing yet another defeat to the Puppies.

China at least has got it’s act together and is enthusiastically celebrating a second win. The South China Morning Post majors on the fact that Hao Jingfang beat Stephen King to the trophy, whole The Shanghaiist notes that Hao has two published novels that I hope will now get translated.

Hao, however, is no stranger to mainstream news. Her story was actually cited in The Economist back in July. Another political news site, Quartz, picked up the story after her win.

Newspapers in the Philippines have also taken note of what went down in Kansas City. Here’s The Inquirer celebrating Michi Trota’s win.

Next year, of course, we will get to see what Finnish newspapers make of Worldcon. The Helsinki Sanomat has generally had good coverage of FinnCon so I’m looking forward to seeing what they do for the big show.

The Trans People Cis People Don’t See

One of the things that Berkeley and I do at the start of our trans awareness sessions is a little quiz about trans issues. Partly it is just a mixer, but also we want to get the class thinking about how little they actually know about trans people and their lives. It helps put people in the mood to learn more.

One of the questions we ask is, “Name a famous trans person in the media”. When we ask for the answers we have taken to saying, “and we want someone other than Caitlyn Jenner”, because otherwise she’s all we get. After Cait, the most common name we get is Kellie Maloney. Sometimes we’ll get a few others, but those two are by far the most common choices. The class always has to be prompted to think of a trans man, and often they can’t do so. To date, no one has come up with Paris Lees, despite the fact that she’s been on the BBC’s Question Time once or twice and is a regular columnist in national newspapers.

I’m not trying to get a Paris here. I think she does a great job. But people don’t notice her, and I have been wondering why. Obviously with the guys, the media tends to ignore them, and therefore the public won’t know about them. But Paris has a pretty good media platform. She’s also young, pretty, articulate and outspoken. Why don’t people notice her?

My theory here is that Paris doesn’t fit cis people’s view of what a trans person is. That is, they don’t have a “before” narrative for her. In the public imagination, a trans person is someone who was successful in life as a man, and is now known as a woman. It is the apparent magical transformation that sticks in the mind. The public doesn’t see Paris as a trans person, they see her as a young woman.

A possible exception to this is Laverne Cox, who also doesn’t have a “before” narrative. However, I note that her character in Orange is the New Black does have such a narrative, and even a part played by Laverne’s twin brother.

The problem we have here is that, when cis people think of trans people, it is a stereotype that comes to mind. The media, of course, does everything it can to reinforce that stereotype. Somehow we need to break this narrative, and that’s not going to be easy.

This, On Repeat, All Day

I get that people are angry, but they are not angry in a vacuum.

They are angry because their standard of living is falling, their jobs are disappearing, and their rents are skyrocketing.

They are angry because their social security benefits are being cut and they are fed a constant diet of newspaper articles and TV programs suggesting that other people are gaming the system.

They are angry because they are constantly being told that everything wrong in the world is the fault of other poor people who happen to look different, behave differently, or speak a different language, when they should be angry that social inequality is increasing at a rapid rate.

They are angry because the media will let any lie, no matter how outrageous and hateful, slide by unchallenged if it causes controversy and increases the traffic count on their websites.

Sure people’s freedom is at stake. It is at stake from people who want to take away their civil rights, take away their social security net, and put them on zero hour contracts; and who hope to distract people from these things by endless scaremongering about immigrants.

Stand up, people. It is time to take our country back from Rupert Murdoch and his minions.

Vigil Media Update

The BBC did make the vigil their top story again in the late evening news. There was an interview with the Elected Mayor, Marvin Rees, and while he’s not LGBT+ himself he’s not white so at least we got a bit of diversity in that way.

Made In Bristol also led with the story on their evening news (thanks Ellie!). Their only interview was with Daryn, so decent representation there.

Radio Bristol were at the event doing live video streaming. You can watch the first hour of the event here (sorry, it doesn’t seem to be available outside of Facebook). Sadly they ran into battery problems after an hour, so they missed most of the LGBT+ speakers. Thanks for trying, Caz.

Bristol 24/7 has a report on the event. It looks like their reporter left after the choir performance and missed most of the LGBT+ speakers.

The Bristol Post has a number of reports of the event, including one that proves that some people will pick any excuse not to mourn dead LGBT+ people. They also included this photo of the BGEN contingent.

Photo by Emma Lidiard

Women in Broadcasting on Bristol 24/7

The nice people at Bristol 24/7 (in particular Pamela Parkes) have done an article on, and I quote, “Bristol’s brilliant women broadcasters”. Naturally it doesn’t include all of us: no Paulette, no Mary Milton, no Claire Cavanagh, Laura Rawlings or Alex Lovell. However, it does include a bunch of my colleagues from Ujima, and it includes me. If you want to have a read, and see me having a pop at a BBC institution, you can find the article here.

Trans Inquiry – A Little Backlash

It was entirely expected that the media would use the publication of the government’s Transgender Equality Inquiry Report to say terrible things about trans people. Here are a couple of examples of the sort of thing they get up to.

Firstly poor Jack Monroe got ambushed on Channel 4 News last night. Jack turned up expecting to talk about the report, and was instead forced to “debate” a well-known TERF on the subject of whether all trans people are rapists.

Of course Channel 4 billed this as a “debate” between a trans person and a feminist, as if TERFs speak for all feminists. Which is kind of like asking someone to debate Donald Trump and billing it as a debate with “Americans”.

The claim that trans people are rapists comes, initially, of course from Janice Raymond. However, she was talking purely symbolically. She believes that merely by taking on the public appearance of a woman I am “raping” all women. These days the TERFS prefer to quote a Swedish study from 2011 which they say comes to all sort of horrible conclusions about trans women.

Sadly for them, the author of the study doesn’t agree with the TERF interpretation of her work and is rather annoyed about how it is being used. In this interview with The TransAdvocate she explains what her work actually shows.

Nevertheless, this paper keeps on getting cited in anti-trans articles and interviews. Last night it was quoted on Channel 4 by Julia Long, and Jack, having been ambushed, didn’t have the evidence to hand to refute it.

Julia Long, by the way, is one of the TERFs who picketed a London Dyke March in 2014 because Sarah Brown had been invited to speak.

Jack had agreed to appear on the programme for free but Long had apparently asked for a fee:

I put out to tweet linking to the TransAdvocate article asking Channel 4 to tweet the link themselves to show how their guest has misrepresented the paper she was quoting. They did not do so. They did link to a Huffington Post article about the show, but that too failed to expose Long’s dishonesty.

Naturally TERFs on Twitter thought they could “disprove” the TransAdvocate piece by quoting the original paper.

Meanwhile I understand that several media outlets have been going on about “sex changes for children”. This, as always, is nonsense. No one gives puberty blockers to a 4-year-old. Unless if course they are actually going through puberty in which case doctors would have no hesitation in prescribing them. Interestingly doctors give out puberty blockers like candy to girls whom they think are developing too quickly, but still claim that the same drugs are too dangerous to give to trans kids.

Also, puberty blockers merely delay puberty. They do not cause a “sex change”, no matter how often tabloid newspapers say they do.

One statistic you will hear quoted in these debates is that 80% of trans kids “grow out of it”. This one is quite dangerous in that it is almost true. The majority of kids who exhibit some sort of gender-variant behavior in childhood grow up to be cis adults. But that includes girls who like playing sport and boys who don’t like playing sport, both of which groups are likely to be viewed as “gender variant” by parents brainwashed by the Pink & Blue nonsense.

If you look only at those kids who express a very strong desire to transition socially, pretty much none of them grow out of it (as far as we can tell, given the small numbers involved). Equally some of the kids who “grow out of it” may end up identifying as non-binary but not want any medical intervention, or may identify as one of LGB. Medical treatment should only be given to kids who need it, and the job of the doctors is to sort out which ones do, not to refuse to treat any of them.

Saying that you shouldn’t treat trans kids because most children who exhibit some gender-variant behavior grow out of it is rather like saying that you shouldn’t treat brain cancer because most patients with a headache can get by on painkillers.

Here’s an actual gender specialist making the same point.

Newspapers – Just Say No

This morning I got contacted by a newspaper asking me to write an article on the trans issue de jour. (Don’t ask, you don’t want to know). I’m not particularly interested in celebrity gossip, but I did think it might be useful to write something about how celebrity transitions, particularly Caitlyn Jenner’s, are something of a double-edged sword. They get us a lot of publicity, but it can often be bad publicity. Jenner, in particular, infuriates many trans activists because her life experiences, and some of her personal values, are so far removed from those of the rest of us.

Anyway, they said they liked my suggestion and I spent a couple of hours writing an article. When it came back from editing it was substantially revised. It was clear that the paper had an angle it wanted from the article, and where I hadn’t provided that they had put words in my mouth. They had also re-worked parts of my article in ways that would have got me crucified on Twitter had it been published. I suspect that they don’t fully understand what they did, because they are not as sensitive to the nuances of trans politics as I am, but trust me it was bad.

So I pulled the article. I have quite enough (unpaid) work to do right now, and I have a sneaking suspicion that carrying on with it would just have resulted in my getting pressured to approve things I didn’t want to say.

Doubtless that means that I won’t get contacted by newspapers again. I’m OK with that. If people aren’t prepared to trust my expertise, and want to sex up things I have written to create controversy, I don’t want to work with them. We’ve gone way beyond the point where we should be grateful for any acknowledgement that we exist. If people want me to work for them for free, they can start by showing a bit of respect rather than thinking they can use me as a front for what they want said on trans issues.

Telegraph and Toilets

Today the Telegraph website has an article about gender-neutral toilets. In general it is pretty good. However, I’m quoted in it, and it makes me out to say something I very much do not agree with.

Update: following discussions with Radhika the post has been updated to much better reflect my views.

The basic issue here is whether trans people should be required to use a gender-neutral toilet. Cis people often get hold of the wrong end of the stick and think that there are three genders: male, female and trans. So they think that the solution to the toilet issue is to create a gender-neutral loo that all trans people are required to use.

The trouble is that there are some trans people who would very much prefer the option of a gender-neutral toilet. That includes those currently in transition who are uncomfortable about which loo to use but may change their minds later, and those who are non-binary and will always want something non-gendered. But there are also trans people who fully identify with one or other of the poles of the gender spectrum and will strongly resent it if anyone tries to make them use a gender-neutral loo.

The point I was trying to get across is that there is no single solution (though a long term trend towards less gendering of everything would be good). I absolutely respect the right of people who want a gender-neutral loo to have one. I just don’t want that to be a requirement for all trans folk.

Of course it is hard to get concepts like this across. I talked to Radhika mainly on Twitter and in a phone call while I was on the train to London on Thursday. Misunderstandings can arise, and she will have been working on a bunch of other pieces between then and this going live. It happens.

If you happen to see anyone on social media calling me out for supposedly being down on non-binary people, please point them this way.

And also, next time you see some trans activist quoted as saying something terrible in the media, ask yourself whether they actually said what they are supposed to have said, or whether it might be a misunderstanding, or a deliberate misquote to create controversy.

Farewell Holly, And Thank You

Holly WoodlawnAs is being reported everywhere it seems, Holly Woodlawn died yesterday. She had been waging a long battle against cancer, and finally succumbed aged 69. She wasn’t the only trans person featured in “Walk on the Wild Side”, but she was the one whom Lou Reed specifically identified as trans, which got me to sit up and take notice about what he was signing about.

I have to say that Holly, Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis (who appears to have been non-binary, though we didn’t use that term back then) were not the best of role models. But they were pretty much all we had back then, and they got the media talking about trans people. That was so much better than being swept under the carpet.

Candy and Holly both died young, but Holly was a fighter. Even cancer had a lot of trouble beating her. 69 is a damn good innings, especially given what she’s been through. Heck, I didn’t expect to make it to 50 when I started to transition. And of course Holly had a long career as an actress entirely separate from her involvement with Andy Warhol. For all sorts of reasons, she is an inspiration to Girls Like Us.

I never met Holly. Neil Gaiman did, and let her know he’d named his eldest daughter after her. Roz Kaveney did too, and she reports today that Holly turned up late at the Stonewall riot but made a point of throwing a brick.

Of course her death means that the media are running obituaries. Trans people are flavor of the month right now. It is instructive to see how they treat her. I got into a long conversation about this with my friend Andrew McKie who, among other things, is an obituary writer for the Telegraph. The point about an obituary is that it is a factual report of the life of the deceased. It is undoubtedly relevant to Holly’s life that she was trans, and I would not expect an obituary to omit that. Deadnaming is another matter entirely.

Lots of people change their names during the lives. Actors, pop stars, authors and so on often go by assumed names. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done so. He didn’t like the name his parents gave him, so he changed it; at age 13: respect. On the other hand, many of these people only use their assumed names in public, and most of them (Mr. Osborne presumably excepted) are not embarrassed by their previous names.

With trans people it is different. The names we are given at birth tie us to the identity forced upon us at birth, and many of us are very keen to get away from them. Journalists know this, and make a deliberate point of including our birth names wherever possible, implying that these are our “real” names, and by extension that they indicate our “real” gender. It is code for saying, “this person is a fraud and a liar”.

(I note in passing that it is common for a certain type of left wing activist to refer to Mr. Osborne as “Gideon”, the name he was given at birth. Exactly the same dynamic is at work here. They are deliberately using a name that their target has indicated a distaste for in order to cause hurt. I’m sure they feel that Mr. Osborne deserves it, but the purpose is clear.)

When you are writing an obituary, you always have to make choices about what to include and what to leave out. Sometimes these are uncomfortable choices. It may be necessary to talk about things that the deceased and their family would much rather forget, because those things define the life — or at least the public life — of the person you are writing about. But at the same time you are writing about someone who has just died, and a certain level of respect is in order. Trivial detail, no matter how titillating, is still trivial.

The salient parts of Holly’s life at that she was an actress, a friend of Andy Warhol, was mentioned in a very famous song, and was a trans pioneer. The name she was given at birth is rather less important. To foreground it at the very start of the obituary (as The Guardian has done), or to include it in a very short mention on radio news (as I understand the BBC has done), is to say that you believe one of the most important things people need to know about Holly is who you think she “really” was. It is, in other words, a deliberate denial of her gender, and an insult.

You can find a fine obituary of Holly at Transgriot.

Meanwhile, In Darkest Somerset

The Guardian breathlessly reports that the UK’s oldest graveyard has been discovered in a cave in Somerset.

Well, not discovered, exactly. That happened in 1797, so they are a trifle late on that piece of breaking news. However, they do have a press release about some scientific tests that show the cave was in use over a period from 10,000 to 6,000 years ago.

I’m slightly disappointed to learn that the graveyard is not still in use by descendants of the original users, but I am sure that someone is busy doing genetic tests on the locals to try to connect them to the burials.

Rumors that some of the skeletons were found to have been buried along with the deceased’s favorite articles from the Daily Mail have been dismissed as a piece of made up nonsense of the sort normally found in tabloid newspapers.

Lies, Damned Lies and Germaine Greer

Many of you will have heard how Germaine Greer was viciously censored by a howling mob of trans women, and banned from speaking at Cardiff University this month. (I quote, for example, “Germaine Greer is banned from speaking to students”, from an article in Saturday’s Times). Here’s what actually happened.

Firstly, Cardiff University did not cancel the lecture. Greer withdrew, so that she could then go running to the media claiming that she had been prevented from speaking. She got a lot of TV time, and articles in newspapers about her almost every day since. She also rescheduled the talk for yesterday. I suspect that having it during Trans Awareness Week had always been the plan. When she was complaining that she was being prevented from speaking she claimed that the talk would be nothing to do with trans women, and yet from this Guardian report it seems as if it was very much about us.

Nevertheless, I expect to continue to see newspaper articles claiming that her talk was cancelled and that she has been prevented from expressing her opinions. When you have that level of access to the media, you can get them to say what you want. And still claim that you are being censored while doing so.

On the plus side, her opinions are so foul and irrational that all of this publicity might be doing us a lot of good.

More Radio

I was on Ujima again yesterday. Paulette has an education-themed show on Thursday mornings and Paul Jacobs, the Service Director for Education at Bristol City Council, has kindly agreed to come in once a month to talk to listeners. I needed to see Paul about next year’s LGBT History Month plans, and this seemed like a good time for a meeting. Of course Paulette saw it as a good chance to interview me.

So I ended up guesting with Ujima Chairman, Roger Griffith, talking about our experiences of education: me as a trans girl in the days before trans was even talked about, him as a black boy in a mostly white school. You can listen to that here. In the second hour Paul bravely took questions from a group of kids from a local school.

While I was on air Judeline phoned in sick, so I offered to take her place in the What the Papers Say panel on the following show. I had time to flick through a few of the day’s papers during the second half of the education show and immediately zeroed in on an article by Dave Aaronovitch in the Times where, in defense of Germaine Greer’s transphobia, he had the cheek to accuse students today of being Stalinists. Anyone who was active in student politics in the late 70s and early 80s will know just how ironic that is. Of course these days Aaronovitch is a shill for Rupert Murdoch. Doubtless he somehow manages to claim that his politics haven’t changed.

Anyway, I may have had a little rant about Greer.

I also made reference to this blog post by Radio Bristol presenter, John Darvall, who has been complaining about how the local media, including the BBC, have reported the death of his daughter. Sadly I don’t think it will change anything. The mainstream media will always hide behind the excuse that they have to simplify everything for the benefit of their listeners, and that the wishes of those whose lives they are reporting, not to mention the truth, always come a distant second.

That segment of the show is available here, and of course don’t forget that in the second hour Paulette and Zuzana reported on their trip to Calais to bring supplies to the refugee camp.