Friday, 2 January 2015

Most trans suicides are murder

(trigger warnings for suicide, both external and internalised trans oppression, parental abuse, religion)

On 28 December, another transgender teenager committed suicide. Statistically, she is likely not to have been the only one in the past month. Leelah Alcorn's suicide note says her parents' response to her assertion of female gender at 14 was to tell her it was "a phase", that "God doesn't make mistakes", and that she "would never truly be a girl", before subjecting her to what is heavily implied to be "reparative therapy". After Leelah turned 16 and her parents Carla and Doug failed to give permission for her to start medical transition, when she publicly "came out as gay" in what she saw as a sort of stepping stone towards social transition, they "took [her] out of public school, took away [her] laptop and phone, and [forbade her from] getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating [her] from [her] friends". By the time they relented enough to let her back in contact with the outside world, her friends had drifted away.

Meanwhile, Leelah had come to the conclusion that she was "never going to transition successfully, even when [she moved] out", no doubt influenced in this by the factual decreased effectiveness of hormone treatment with age - especially in late teens - but also cissexist ideas promoted by the media and the medical establishment of what constitutes "successful" transition, a lack of access to information, thanks to the actions of her parents and "therapists" and the failures of the school system, about how effective such treatment can be even in adulthood, and her parents' abuse. She was also convinced that she would never have enough friends or romance, no doubt influenced by the factual greater isolation transgender people live with on average due to societal transphobia, but also by her parents' and therapists' abuse, her apparent abandonment by the friends she did have, and by a media which promotes a view of transgender people as nothing but punchlines, sex objects, pity objects (and/)or deceivers.

Another suicide victim in recent years whose case has stuck with me is Lucy Meadows. Lucy was a primary school teacher who, when she transitioned over the 2012 Christmas break, was brought to the attention of the local media by transphobic parents such as Wayne Cowie who did not want their attempts to indoctrinate their children with cissexist models of sex and gender to be undermined by contact with an adult whose existence contradicted them. The story was then picked up by Richard Littlejohn, a notoriously bigoted columnist in the more notorious and equally bigoted mass-market Daily Mail. From that point on, she faced paparazzi harassment at every step, and frequently received hate mail.

Although it's unlikely to be recognised as such in the foreseeable future - and indeed the police declared Lucy Meadows' death "not suspicious", which I suppose is technically true only insofar as we know exactly who killed her, how and why - it should be totally uncontroversial to describe their deaths, and others in similar circumstances, as murder. The primary culprits respectively being Leelah Alcorn's parents and "therapists"; and Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, Stuart Pike of the Accrington Observer and the editor who approved their original article, Wayne Cowie and the other transantagonist parents who contacted the media in the first place, and others who took part in the campaign against Lucy Meadows as an individual, as well as the financiers who insisted on collecting the debts mentioned in her suicide note.

However, a case can be made that even such transgender suicides that aren't directly traceable to individualised, targeted abuse by specific people are murder, provided they are traceable to generalised oppression. The media is responsible for the perpetuation of transphobic tropes mentioned above - among others - and the lack of role models available to transgender people. The school system is responsible for perpetuating the commonly believed lie that assigned sex is gender, and the lack of both positive understanding of sex, gender, and transgender identities and experiences, and access to information about what's possible with regards to transition. The medical establishment is responsible for putting bureaucratic and legal barriers in the way of people trying to access medical transition, often essential to alleviate frequently crippling dysphoria, and also along with the institution of the family for creating the precedent at birth for each individual trans person to be misgendered throughout their lives until - in the best case scenario - they are able to successfully assert their own identity. All of those things are responsible for creating the environment in which every trans person is subject to a myriad of microaggressions and often macroaggressions such as physical violence and denial of housing, healthcare, work and income. All of those things contribute directly to trans suicide. All of those institutions are, in their continued resistance to improvement after decades of campaigning for change by trans people and worthwhile cis people, wilfully complicit in murder. In genocide.

Mourn the dead.

Fight like hell for the living.

Friday, 21 February 2014

On privilege and responsibility

If you're not subject to a particular form of oppression, then failing to defer to those who are with regards to what is and isn't contributing to that oppression is similar to driving unsupervised in a residential area having never sat in the driver's seat before. You might not hit or directly endanger anyone... but you're unlikely not to, no matter how much it wasn't your intention to do so. Your lack of malice doesn't make anyone you almost hit less traumatised, and it certainly doesn't make anyone you did hit less maimed. If you don't want to endanger anyone, it's your responsibility to get lessons and actually pay attention to the instructor.

To expand the metaphor further...
Imagine traffic laws are either nonexistant or rarely-enforced, and it's unusual for motorists to take lessons at all. Imagine there's no pavements. Imagine the road network is laid out in such a way that you'd be lucky to walk from one town to the next without having to walk on the motorway. Imagine that public transport cost £50 to travel the same distance while only running at all three times a day. Imagine that someone without a car can expect to have multiple "minor" traffic accidents every year and at least one near miss every time they leave the house, and have a 50% chance of being killed on the road by the time they're 35.
In that scenario, would you be surprised to see a #fuckmotorists hashtag? I think you'd be more surprised not to.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

US High School In "Teenage Girl Uses Gender-Appropriate Bathroom" Horror

Florence High School in Colorado has been at the centre of a smear campaign against a trans student led by the misnamed Pacific Justice Institute, who initially claimed that she had been harassing other girls in the school bathrooms. Along with Fox News, various fringe Christian media, and the Daily Mail (which later withdrew its article, but given that it tried to erase any evidence that it ever existed rather than apologising for it and editing the online edition to begin with high-profile clarification that the allegations are unfounded, it seems to me that it this action was motivated by wanting to save face rather than a crisis of conscience), this endeavour has been supported by Cathy Brennan, a lawyer and professional transphobe who describes herself as a "radical feminist" and "lesbian activist" and who is best known for stalking and outing trans* people; Brennan however went a step further, continuing her usual pattern by naming the kid, while users on sites such as Fox News make threats of horrific physical violence including lynching. Interestingly, Brennan's support for PJI has so far been entirely uncritical of their legal actions in defence of "ex-gay therapy" and the homophobic "Defence of Marriage Act" - so much for "lesbian activist".

Since the story first broke, the school superintendent dismissed the notion that any reports of such behaviour had been made, parents of other kids have testified that their daughters have assured them the girl (who for the sake of anonymity has been referred to as Jane Doe) has not caused any problems (one of whom suggested it might be the work of one particular mother with a conservative agenda), and her fellow students and other sections of the local community have rallied to her defence.

Not that we should be surprised, but it seems that when they can't find evidence - even in the form of anecdotes about isolated cases - to support their favourite narrative that trans people using gender-appropriate facilities endangers cis women (non-trans, to oversimplify it) in public toilets, changing rooms and so forth, whether because trans women ourselves are more likely to be predators or because cis men might pretend to be trans just to access women's spaces, transphobic bigots of all stripes are quite happy to fabricate them, even if they directly destroy the lives of innocent children in the process.  Of course, all the while PJI has been using this story in their "Privacy for All Students" campaign against a California law protecting trans* students' civil rights.

In the midst of all this, a young girl's life is being destroyed.  It has now emerged that Jane has been placed on suicide watch.  The Transadvocate's Cristan Williams has arranged for people to be able to donate to the family to help them deal with Jane's medical and travel expenses, which must be quite significant (see the lack of free healthcare in the US).  Please help support them if you can.

Now that the claims of actual harassment have been so thoroughly discredited, Brennan and the PJI have been left arguing that the presence of a trans girl (their phrase was "biological male") in a girls' restroom is "inherently intimidating and harassing" to the other girls using it.  They've not stopped their campaign in California of course, so presumably the argument at the core of that campaign is now something like "if the right of teenage girls who are transgender to use the teenage girls' bathroom is protected in law, then teenage girls who are transgender might use the the teenage girls' bathroom!!!!!!111". z0mg.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Why the "Men's Rights Movement" is misogynistic

Put simply, men are not systemically oppressed.  Whilst it's true that most male individuals are oppressed as members of the working class, and might also be oppressed as people of colour, members of sexual minorities, migrants, trans people, disabled people, etc., men as a group are not systemically oppressed.

Women might make assumptions about them or be unduly suspicious of them because of their gender, but this is not systemic oppression and is largely a result of women's oppression.  Men might be expected to be promiscuous, dominant, emotionless, physically powerful, but this is a direct cause of women's oppression and oppresses women more than it does men.  Men who are seen as "feminine" might be shamed, but this is because femininity is seen as inferior and is therefore even more inseparable from women's oppression.

Now let's look directly at the so-called men's rights movement's flagship issue: the family courts.  They cite the alleged bias of child custody cases against the father as an example of "female privilege".  I don't have the time to go searching through media reports and statistics which themselves are skewed as often as not and try to sort the fact from the fiction, so I don't know if such a bias actually exists or to what extent... but that isn't the point.  If such a bias exists, then in the big picture it's a rational bias in our existing society in which men are all-powerful in sexual and relationship politics.  It's taken for granted that men are the active, and usually dominant, partners in any heterosexual relationship... so much so that a lot of heterosexuals see the more active partner in a lesbian relationship as "the man"; this assumption is rarely challenged, and any time the reality deviates from it, society does its best to make it into a badge of shame for both parties.  Any woman, particularly a heterosexual woman, who takes charge of her own sexuality is shamed as either a "slut" or a "prude" - often both, as paradoxical as that is.  And the contrast between young girls being largely discouraged from any strenuous physical activity and young boys being constantly bombarded with the "need" to be good at running, good at sports, strong in the arm, above all good at fighting, means that the natural physical advantages of most men over most women are even more pronounced.  In this context, it's scandalously easy for a man to be both an abusive partner and an abusive parent, and certainly far easier than for a woman.  So to campaign for family courts to be "less biased" to women without offering a better solution, whether any individual campaigner is aware of it or not (and I don't doubt that many "men's rights activists" genuinely believe that men are persecuted and are blissfully unaware of their complicity in women's oppression) is to campaign for the last legal recourse of heterosexual women in abusive relationships to be undermined.  Any honest campaigner for an equitable family court system should be first and foremost a campaigner for women's liberation.

Every way in which men are "oppressed as men" is inseparable from women's oppression, and can only be solved or mitigated either through women's liberation or by oppressing women further.  So every "men's rights activist" who is genuinely not misogynistic should be primarily a women's rights activist.  Unfortunately, the "men's rights movement" as a campaigning community almost never mentions women's rights except as a token or in an attack.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Denying trans kids hormone treatment is child abuse

Yes, you read that right. The hormones released at puberty have a significant impact on bodily development, which in turn has a significant impact on the person's ability to be accepted as the gender in which they identify and to maintain a positive body image (which most people's upbringing connects to fitting into arbitrarily defined boundaries of acceptable appearance for members of their identified gender), both of which factors generally have at least a perceptible impact on quality of life. So treatment is often denied to trans kids and teenagers because the clinics want to make sure they have a good quality of life, apparently... sorry, you've lost me. People sometimes regret transitioning, sure - more people regret not having transitioned earlier in life. If there's conflict between the gender a person has been raised as and the one they declare, then the latter has been declared against everything they've been taught to believe about themselves and in defiance of the persecution they know will result. So it's not been declared lightly, and there should be no question about which is more valid. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, what will a reasonable person judge is best for the child? What the child says is best for the child. Not letting them make that decision isn't a neutral option. Even if you're not forcing unwanted gender norms on them, if they're approaching or have started puberty then you're forcing unwanted bodily changes on them, which is frankly even worse cos some of it is permanent, and all of it is at least semi-permanent. It's child abuse.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

On the riots

On Thursday, 4 August, police in Tottenham, north London, shot and killed a man called Mark Duggan, who they tell us was a cocaine dealer, while supposedly trying to arrest him. They stopped the cab in which he was riding, and told the media that he tried to shoot one of the arresting officers who was protected by his radio, which prompted them to return fire; the Guardian later reported that the bullet found in the radio was police-issue, and that the only other gun found on the scene - not police-issue - had been hidden in Duggan's sock throughout the incident and therefore not only had not been fired but could not even have easily been drawn, which makes the incident a gangland-style execution rather than the tragic results of an escape attempt. Duggan was simply the latest in a long tradition of police killings. In the past 13 years, the police have killed an average of around once every 2 weeks; a total of 333 victims.

This, as well as an apparent police policy of stopping and searching young black people at random with enough frequency that in some communities, getting stopped and searched for the first time is seen as a coming of age event, contribute in inner-city areas to a deep hatred of the police stretching back decades to a time when largely-black neighbourhoods were selectively subject to a permanent police state. Meanwhile, the government's austerity programme has seen Jobseekers' Allowance claimants threatened with being forced to work full-time (on top of the time and effort equivalent to full-time work which they're already expected to put in to looking for a proper job) just to recieve the dole, which works out at between £1.34 per hour and £1.52 per hour for under-25-year-olds and between £1.69 and £1.93 per hour for over-25-year-olds at a time of rapidly rising prices, many benefit claimants increasingly insecure in even the benefits they recieve, council tenants insecure in their tenancies, college students have the Education Maintainance Allowance which in many cases is essential to their family's ability to survive removed and at the same time see any possibility of a university education fly out of sight, and thousands of public sector workers made redundant and tens of thousands more in fear that they could be next, creating a mood of desperation among some layers of the working class and more-or-less universal uncertainty. These are the emotions that would have been running high at Tottenham police station on Saturday 6 August when a peaceful protest against police brutality called by Mark Duggan's family turned violent.

Eyewitness reports suggest that the violence on Saturday began when a policeman took his baton to a young woman with no provocation. This could have been an individual act of violence, which would be consistent with the police culture of aggressiveness which anyone with any significant experience of activism (or even who has watched and read the news with their eyes open over the past few years) can attest to; it could just as easily be part of a concerted police strategy to provoke riots in order to produce a public demand for ever more repressive measures on the part of the state. The latter would be consistent with my own experiences in Manchester on Tuesday; passing through the city centre between around 6 and 7pm, I was suprised (but shouldn't have been) to find an unusually large police presence in Market Street, who were systematically searching shoppers and passersby, seemingly with particular attention to black, Middle Eastern and Asian people and anyone in a hood, police standing guard at arbitrary choke points redirecting people, an unusually large volume of police vehicles patrolling the streets - with their sirens running - and while I was in Piccadilly Gardens around a hundred TAU riot police gathered in full riot gear and simply stood there looking menacing for several minutes before they started patrolling the area looking menacing; of course, none of this did anything to ease the already-high tensions. The extent to which police and/or fascist provocateurs were responsible for violence is as yet unknown, but it is known to be standard police practice for police to infiltrate protests, etc. in order to instigate violence; I suspect that much of the more seemingly-aimless violence, particularly that which was convenient for TV crews, was the work of police infiltrators. Aside from demands for the police to be given greater repressive powers, other effects of the riots which may or may not have been deliberate or desired on the part of the police include a rise in racist sentiment among the general populace (despite the fact that as many of the rioters were white as any other ethnic group), as can be demonstrated by the prevelance of racism in many of the comments on this Facebook page (in particular the responses to this post), and an attempt by elements of the English Defence League to take the next step as a fascist paramilitary force by forming organised vigilante gangs (although apparently only about a dozen people turned up in Manchester so it fell on it's arse, I've got no information about how they fared elsewhere though).

If anyone was in any doubt that the police state has benefited from the riots, this video should put those doubts to rest. This was at a small protest against David Cameron visiting the Manchester BBC to talk about the riots; the police questioned every participant and searched some, with no direct pretext at all. Before the riots, would they really have been able to do something like this without a significant public outcry?

Arrestees have been given rediculous sentences: Ursula Nevin was convicted of handling stolen goods for accepting a pair of shorts looted by someone else, and the police celebrated the five-month sentence; Nicolas Robinson got a six-month jail term for taking £3.50 worth of bottled water from a Lidl, because he "was thirsty". Since the riots dying down, councils have started evicting families of people convicted of offences related to the rioting and looting, which David Cameron has attempted to justify in Parliament by making reference to "bad parenting", whilst parents are increasingly forced to work full-time in order to provide for their families, and at the same time Cameron is cutting childcare services and closing youth clubs. If the government wanted to avoid further violence - which it doesn't - then it wouldn't take the road of punishment. Someone who's been to prison is far more likely to reoffend than someone who hasn't, statistically-speaking. And you can easily see why. A prison stay removes people from everyone they know, costs them their job or disrupts their education, and puts them in a situation where the main currency is contrabrand and you have to be "hard" to be respected (and those who aren't respected are likely to get raped, come shower time). When they come out, there's often nowhere for them to go, they've probably lost their house and their job, all but their family and closest friends might have moved on with their lives (the more likely the longer they've been in prison), a criminal record and/or the gap in their employment history created by the prison stay makes it all but impossible to get a legal job or a house. The only doors open to ex-prisoners are the skills they learnt and the contacts they made inside. And life on the street creates further desperation and also makes what was a small chance of changing your situation microscopic, as applications for jobs and benefits invariably require an address. The hopelessness of life on the street often creates a further downward spiral of dispair, and sometimes crime, as people turn to drugs in order to deal with their situation as best they can, at least in the here-and-now.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The struggle in Wisconsin

I just sent the following letter to the Manchester Evening News:

"I am disappointed in the MEN's complete lack of coverage of the historic ongoing fight over workers' rights in Wisconsin, where a bill was passed through the state senate today (Thursday) to ban unionisation in the public sector after delayed for several weeks by a several thousand-strong occupation of the capitol building which was massively supported on the streets and even briefly joined by police officers in defiance of orders to evict them, and where the local trade union federation recently passed a motion to prepare for a general strike to force the act to be repealed. This is an example we can take inspiration from in Britain. If Manchester Town Hall had been occupied yesterday morning (Wednesday) and the Council had been forced to take the time to consider the option of refusing to pass a cuts budget, it might have started a wave of Council rebellions across the country which could have derailed the government's whole agenda, and a national and ultimately global general strike is the only option which will take us out of the quagmire of governments bought out or held hostage by financial speculators and forced to brutalise public services for private profit."