An Ode to Brexit

Ode to Brexit

Tune: Ode to Joy, Ludwig van Beethoven, Words: Sarah Brown

Cameron watched the rise of UKIP
Feared he’d never end them
Came up with a cunning plan
And pledged a referendum

He just assumed Nick Clegg would veto
Blame the Lib Dems, so much fun!
He never stopped to wonder
What would happen if the Tories won

Boris Johnson saw his chance
To be the next Prime Minister
Switched sides; joined with Michael Gove
And hatched a plan most sinister

They both assumed Remain would win it
5 points clear and they’d be done
They never stopped to wonder
What would happen if the Leave vote won

They watched Donald make a fortune
Playing as to lose the game
With a campaign based on nonsense
Surely they would lose the same?

Bent bananas, hate the migrants
Pander to the worst excess
They never stopped to wonder
What would happen if they had success

On the day the country voted
Turnout it was very large
Stupid bastards went and won
And now it’s Springtime For Farage

My Lib Dem Spring Conference 2016 Speech on All Women Shortlists

This is the 3 minute speech I gave to the Lib Dem conference on all women shortlists. It was supporting an amendment which would remove them from a diversity motion we were considering. I took the view that the underlying problem is that the political environment is hostile towards women, and all women shortlists don’t address that, but paper over it.

We lost, but it was quite close, and some told me that my speech had changed their minds, which I suppose is the mark of a successful debate speech.

Conference,

In days of yore, it’s said coal miners took caged canaries down mines, to test the air. Imagine, if you will, one mine that has a problem. Nine miners take down a canary, and the canary, after looking distressed for a bit, dies.

The miners realise they have a problem. “Better get another canary”, says one.

So they do, and that canary dies.

As does the third, and the fourth.

Well word gets round the local canary flock, and when they see the miners coming they make themselves scarce. Now the miners really have a problem.

“I know”, says one of them; “for every five of us who go down, we will reserve another five spaces for canaries.”

“We’ll fill them from all canary shortlists.”

Slowly the miners all get unpleasant health problems, because canary targets don’t clean up toxic air.

I served four years as a councillor. At the end of my term, I feel like I discovered a dirty little secret. I ended my term on antidepressants and so, it seems did a statistically implausible number of my colleagues, in all parties.

Some of us ended up comparing notes: Citalopram or Mirtazapine, which has worse side effects? That sort of thing. How messed up is that?

Maybe we need a spent canaries support group.

Studies show that men often overestimate or overstate their abilities and women underestimate and understate them, and this is reflected in how different genders tend to respond in toxic environments, be it investment banking or be it politics.

We ask a lot of our candidates: organise deliverers, run campaigns, spend x nights a week knocking on y hundred doors. Our local parties often ask for more time than is reasonable. Men will quite often sign up, and then just not do it all. Women, who tend to have less free time to start with, will look at the expected workload and become stressed.

I’m no expert in why the response here is gendered; but it is, and we in all parties have built an environment that unconsciously selects men by tailoring it towards male-typical responses to stress. That’s a bad thing for the men too, by the way, they just tend to respond differently to it.

The problem is not with the women. The problem is with the toxicity of the environment. If we learned anything from New Labour’s love of targets and quotas, it’s that they provide simple solutions to the wrong problem.

Don’t get more canaries. Fix the toxicity.

Government Trans Equality Report; Much to Cheer But Timid in Parts

This morning, the government’s Women and Equalities Committee released its first report on transgender equality, detailing its recommendations. They fall into a few broad areas:

  • Reform of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act
  • Reform of the 2010 Equality Act
  • Reform of healthcare services for trans people
  • “Tackling everyday transphobia”

I’ve had a short while to skim this document and these are my initial impressions. It’s a very long report of nearly 100 pages, but much of it is summarising submitted evidence and explaining the current situation. The committee has helpfully written their recommendations in bold, and those are the sections I’m going to focus on. Zoe O’Connell has also blogged on this and is worth reading.

Before doing that, I’ll note that this is very much a report of our time, and fits with the narrative of the current Conservative government. While noting that the government has work to do, it defends the deeply discriminatory Spousal Veto and only really takes the gloves off when it comes to talking about the NHS.

Taking the parts as they are presented in the document, I’ll start with the Summary:

The report recognises that “High levels of transphobia are experienced by individuals on a daily basis with serious results“, and references the appalling suicide statistics faced by transgender people.

It recognises that the 2004 Gender Recognition Act was “pioneering but is now dated“, and criticises the pathologisation of trans identities and the need for self-determination.

It recognises that the Equality Act is unclear in who it covers, and suggests that the fuzzy concept of “gender reassignment” be relaunched as “gender identity“. Hopefully this will clarify and enhance the position of non binary people.

It has some strong words for the NHS, pulling no punches with “ e NHS is letting down trans people: it is failing in its legal duty“. This seems to refer to both gender identity, and general healthcare services.

Now on to the detailed sections, starting with the Gender Recognition Act. The report:

  • Recognises that the Act has nothing to offer non binary people, stating that “The Government must look into the need to create a legal category“.
  • Urges the government, “within the current parliament” to “bring forward proposals to update the Gender Recognition Act, in line with the principles of gender self-declaration“.
  • Recognises that the Spousal Veto is open to abuse and that this is “deplorable and inexcusable“, but recommends that the veto remain in place.
  • Recommends that gender recognition be available to 16 year olds, but suggests this should be subject to parental consent or Gillick Competency.
  • Notes there have been no prosecutions under Section 22 of the Act (the protection from outing clause), and expresses concern that this may be effectively useless. It suggests the Ministry of Justice “take action to address this“.

There’s some good stuff here. I’m pleased the committee spotted the uselessness of Section 22 as a piece of criminal law that is routinely violated and never enforced, and welcome suggestions that this be tightened up. I welcome the recognition of the need to extend recognition to non-binary people but am disappointed that the committee presents no suggestion as to how this might be attempted. Similarly, while it recognises the need for self determination instead of the current practice of having bureaucrats literally put your gender identity on trial, it presents no suggestions for how this might be done.

In regards to the above, the committee’s report is essentially, “isn’t this terrible? The government ought to do something!”

The attitude towards the Spousal Veto is extremely disappointing. The report notes that Scotland effectively did away with it, but stubbornly insists it must stay, while noting that abuse of it is “deplorable”. Again, it offers no suggestions to how such abuse might be prevented, nor what can be done in the instances where spousal consent is not possible to obtain (e.g. the spouse is in a coma, or cannot be contacted).

This is, perhaps, the most disappointing aspect of the report for me, and the point at which it is at its most timid. The justification for retaining the veto is both paper thin and nothing we haven’t heard before. Stating, “in a marriage where one party transitions, the non-trans spouse does have a legal right to be consulted if it is proposed to change the terms of the marriage contract in consequence“.

Let’s note here what it is that’s being vetoed: it’s not transition itself, nor any of the hormonal or surgical changes that have potentially profound consequences for the nature of what is supposed to be a life-long monogamous sexual relationship.

What is being vetoed is access to equality before the law.

While I will never agree that the veto is anything other than a gross and disgusting infringement on the liberty and humanity of trans people, I would perhaps understand it more if those defending it were able to present an argument that actually made sense. How can you possibly give a spouse power of veto over access to employment nondiscrimination, but not access to genital reconstruction surgery?

On The Equality Act, the report:

  • Suggests that the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” be replaced with “gender identity“.
  • Suggests clarification of the Act so it is obvious that its protections apply to children.
  • Recommends that the granting of a Gender Recognition Certificate prevents the exclusions on access to single sex services and jobs from applying to someone.
  • Recommends “the Government work with Sport England to produce guidance which help sporting groups realise that there are likely to be few occasions where exclusions are justified” from single sex sport competitions.

There’s some really good stuff here. The Equality Act was a rush-job at the end of the 2005-2010 parliament and many (myself included) think that its provisions for trans people are a mess as a result. The single most important change, perhaps, is changing the definition of what’s protected from discrimination from “gender reassignment” to “gender identity“. It is currently very unclear just “how trans” you have to be to be covered by the Act, and this should go a long way towards addressing that, especially for non-binary people.

At present, you can be fired from certain jobs (or prevented from applying for them), and refused access to single-sex services (such as domestic violence shelters and rape-crisis counselling) if you are trans, and this is explicitly legal under the Act. The report proposes removing these exceptions but only if you have a Gender Recognition Certificate. According to some legal experts I have spoken to in the past, this is very much the situation that existed prior to the Act passing in 2010.

This does risk widening the perceived gap between those who have a Gender Recognition Certificate and those who do not though. Given there are no actual proposals for how the Gender Recognition Act might be extended to non-binary people, if this proposal is implemented by itself then it very much maintains non-binary people as “second class” trans people, from a legal standpoint.

It also makes a retained Spousal Veto much nastier by creating the unpleasantly ironic situation where an embittered spouse of a trans person can subject them to domestic abuse while withholding their legal right to access a domestic violence shelter.

There are kinds of discrimination that the Equality Act allows which the report does not address. One such is marriage in church, where if the priest reasonably thinks you are trans, they can refuse to marry you. Another relates to military service. The report has no recommendations to make here.

On The NHS the report:

  • Says there is “too much evidence” of discrimination towards trans people in the NHS.
  • Notes that trans people encounter “significant problems” accessing general healthcare and sometimes encounter “out-and-out prejudice
  • Notes GPs often lack understanding of trans issues and referral pathways and this can lead to “appropriate care not being provided“.
  • Calls for a “root and branch review of failures in professional development, commissioning and incidences of transphobia in healthcare to be published within six months.
  • States that the General Medical Council must provide reassurance that it takes transphobia seriously.
  • Welcomes ongoing depathologisation of trans identities, in the same way that LGB people have been depathologised.
  • Suggests that gender identity services be separated from mental health services, and perhaps become a discipline in their own right.
  • Recognises that while gender recognition on request is something it would support, it would not support the informed consent model for “medical intervention as profound and permanent as genital … surgery
  • Notes the inappropriateness of prescribed gendered codes of dress and mannerisms to access treatment.
  • Demands that the “lack of capacity” which is causing long waiting lists be addressed urgently.
  • Recommends much easier access to puberty blockers for adolescent trans people and notes the urgency this represents.

I have less of a dog in this fight than many, as my own interactions with transition related health services largely finished nearly a decade ago. I do still experience problems accessing general healthcare, and I have campaigned continually on the difficulties trans people face accessing all forms of healthcare, because it’s really important.

I know the recommendation against an informed consent model will be disappointing to many. I’m not going to talk about that in depth here as it’s a complex topic and this is already getting really long.

Many clinicians will likely welcome the possibility of gender identity services becoming a fully fledged discipline in their own right, rather than the poor and neglected stepchild of mental health trusts. I would welcome this too: GIC’s currently live rather like a primary-school aged Harry Potter, shut away in the cupboard under the stairs by an adoptive family that would really rather they weren’t there at all, and if pushed, doesn’t really hold with “that sort of nonsense”. In order for GICs to properly reform and grow, they should be set free.

The last major section is called Tackling Everyday Transphobia. The report:

  • Notes that legal change will “only bite” if there is social change too.
  • Calls for the Ministry of Justice to work with trans people on hate crimes reporting.
  • Calls for the government to strengthen hate crime legislation.
  • States that the requirement for a doctor’s note to obtain an updated-gender passport “must be dropped“.
  • Calls for public bodies to justify those occasions where they record name and gender, and notes there is no such thing as a “legal name” in the UK.
  • States that the UK “must” introduce “an option to record gender as ‘X’ on a passport“.
  • Suggests the government move towards non-gendering of official records as a general principle.
  • Notes it is not appropriate for trans people in prison to be put in solitary confinement just because they are trans.
  • Asks the prison service to clarify its position on trans prisoners and requires prison staff training and that the implementation of policy be monitored.
  • Tasks the Independent Press Standards Organisation and OFCOM with working out how to get trans people to complain about poor representation.
  • Notes harassment of trans people online needs to be taken seriously.
  • Suggests schools need to cover trans issues in Personal, Social and Health Eductation.
  • Asks further education bodies to better promote trans equality.
  • Calls for trans-appropriate training of social workers “as a matter of urgency

This is the single largest section and there’s a lot here. The stuff on official documents is eminently sensible and the call for X markers on passports (with a move towards removing gender on them altogether) is very welcome indeed.

Treatment of trans people in prisons is a festering sore and urgently needs addressing. The committee seems, in its language, to be putting the prison service on notice, and I welcome that.

I think the committee have missed the point on press and media depictions of trans people. The problem isn’t that trans people aren’t complaining; it’s that nothing is done in response. This is symptomatic of a much larger problem with the press in our society, and I’m not optimistic much will happen any time soon.

I couldn’t help but smile at the suggestion trans issues be covered in PHSE. At my school, the only time they were mentioned was to note that people like me “should be locked up”. Things have improved, thank goodness.

Internet harassment really needs to be tackled. I had a nervous breakdown because of it 2 years ago. This report doesn’t suggest any kind of compulsion to do anything about it though. The government, apparently, doesn’t want to tell ISPs what to do (apart from when it comes to spying on us and making them censor LGBT news sites as “porn”).

I will close by apologising for the length, but there was a lot to get through and the committee have done a thorough job.

What they’ve produced is a curate’s egg. There’s some really good stuff in here, but some of it is really disappointing too, particularly the stuff about the Spousal Veto, especially since Scotland proved there is no need for it whatsoever. I can only wonder why the government is so attached to it, particularly since this report, if implemented, gives it more teeth.

And finally, a word of caution. This is not a bill before parliament. It’s a report from a committee, and while it contains a list of recommendations, it doesn’t have the power to implement any of them without ministerial support.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and quite a big one.

But the Spousal Veto guys – sort yourselves out, seriously.

Star Wars – the conspiracy edition

OK. If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens, you probably don’t want to read this, as it contains spoilers.

But I’ve been chatting with friends about the obvious question in Ep VII: Who is Supreme Leader Snoke, and it sort-of developed into a massive conspiracy theory for the whole of the Star Wars saga, which while huge in scale is disturbingly plausible.

Let’s start with Supreme Leader Snoke. At first I thought he was Palpatine, who somehow survived the Death Star or is back from the sea, Obi-Wan style. To try and find evidence for this I went digging in the soundtrack. Remember when John Williams inserted the Emperor’s theme into Episode I, when they’re parading past Palpatine?

Snoke’s theme is a dark monastic chanting affair. Interestingly it has a counterpoint that comes in towards the end, and that counterpoint sounds a lot like the main melody in the Emperor’s theme from Return of the Jedi.

But then there’s also this scene in Episode III, where Palpatine is telling Anakin about Darth Plagueis the Wise. Clearly Palpatine’s master, he was so powerful with the force he could use it to create and manipulate life itself. The guy is basically immortal, only his pupil killed him in his sleep. Oops.

So Plagueis is gone, or is he? The music playing in the background here is very, very, very similar to Snoke’s theme.

And there’s this bit where Kylo Ren (AKA Darth Emo – can you imagine this guy dealing with a printer paper jam? He’d lightsaber the printer to death while screaming that it wasn’t fair) talks of Snoke:

“The Supreme Leader is wise”.

Darth Plagueis the Wise, perhaps?

It seems plausible that Snoke is Plagueis, so what’s his game here?

Conspiracy time

You are Darth Plagueis the Wise, the most powerful Sith Lord, and probably most powerful Force user of all time. You want to rule the galaxy. You are immortal and can afford to play the long game.

You also have a power mad psychopath for an apprentice. He is clearly bent on galactic domination. Aw, bless.

Teach him just what he needs to know, point him at the galactic senate, planting the idea of bringing the Republic down, then let him think he’s killed you, and go into hiding.

Problem is, this guy is going to be a liability once he’s brought the Republic down, so you need an insurance policy: a force user of your own design who is almost programmed from birth to bring your snot-nosed ingrate of an apprentice down once he’s toppled the Republic.

So you use your ability to manipulate the force into creating life to conceive a force user of your own design; a warrior who will be drawn to Palpatine, help him in his initial task, then turn against him and kill him. Because you are basically designing this person from scratch, you can direct his personality so this is likely to go the way you want.

Enter Anakin Skywalker.

The rest is history. Your apprentice, with Anakin’s help, brings down the Republic and renders the Jedi all but extinct. Your apprentice then installs himself as galactic emperor, and your plan enters phase II.

You now need to bring the emperor down. So you pull some strings behind the scene, help create a resistance, or bolster an embryonic one that’s already formed: The Rebel Alliance. Arrange for your ticking time bomb’s son and daughter to get embedded within them, to flip him over into “kill Palpatine” mode. Make sure that things like plans for Palpatine’s super weapons get to them, and generally work behind the scenes to help them out.

And eventually Anakin and Palpatine take other out. Anakin had kids, but that’s OK. You’re immortal, remember? One of them is quite powerful, but he’s a Jedi knight, and they’re not supposed to have kids themselves. The other one gives birth to a new force user. That’s problematic. Better see if you can subvert him and bring him over to the Dark Side for you. Since he’s one quarter Anakin Skywalker, your creation, you kinda know how the guy ticks, so no worries.

Luke Skywalker probably knows he can’t beat you, so he will go off into hiding and you just need to wait for him to die of old age.

And there you are, Supreme Leader of the Galaxy.

The snag

You’ve pulled the strings, orchestrated the events, everything has gone according to your plan. Luke Skywalker is a worry, but not a huge one. You know how he ticks.

But you let the Force’s genie out of the bottle, and it went and did something you didn’t expect. There’s another player in town. A force user so powerful that without any training at all they can go toe to toe with Kylo Ren in battle, and force-dominate a stormtrooper into releasing them from prison.

So who is Rey? Is she Luke’s daughter? I’m not sure. I wonder if Palpatine worked out what his old master had done, and came up with an insurance policy of his own; arrange for someone to be born who would avenge his death.

This is all very far fetched, but at the same time somewhat plausible, and it does tie together lots of loose ends.

I think Supreme Leader Snoke is Darth Plagueis the Wise; I think he orchestrated pretty much everything that happened, including playing both sides in the Empire/Rebel Alliance war; and I think Rey is going to bring him down when Luke Skywalker fails to.

Every Day, I Mislead People About my Origins

Some people present themselves in ways which bely their history, and perhaps, it could be said, who they really are.

We we to be unkind, we might even say that some people present themselves in ways that are downright misleading. They present as something they are not. They are, if we’re being really unkind, frauds.

I am one of these people.

Because, you see, if you met me you would encounter someone presenting as a woman in her 40s, educated, middle class, speaking with a southern accent going on received pronunciation.

But sometimes there is a tell; a little something which, if you know what you’re looking for, will reveal that someone is not quite what they seem.

In my case, I just made a vinaigrette with Henderson’s Relish.

Yes. I was actually born “Up North”.

Deceptive Sarah is deceptive.

My Speech to Lib Dem Autumn Conference 2015, Trans and Intersex Health Charter

I was called to summate this motion. It passed with no votes against.

Good morning conference,

The state of transgender healthcare in this country is a complete pig’s ear. The state of healthcare for intersex people is far worse.

At the first session of the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s inquiry into transgender issues a couple of weeks ago, one MP asked, if she went to her GP and told them she had been struggling with her gender identity and needed help, how long it would take before she got any kind of treatment.

She didn’t get a clear answer, so I’ll give one now. The answer is years.

Years

And that’s for a prescription of HRT drugs which are basically harmless and cost about as much as ibuprofen.

This happens because of systematic neglect by the NHS. It happens because of pig-headed commissioners who would rather squander their budgets on the worsening mental health of trans people desperate for treatment, while they wait years, and while their lives collapse around them. They’ll spend two, three times as much money as it would cost to cure people to keep them in a state of distress.

It happens because clinicians, working at the front line, have told me that they do not get the support they need from their trusts, that they are overworked and under-resourced. That other clinicians think they’re wasting their time working with a bunch of weirdoes.

A recent study revealed that the most dangerous time for a transgender person is immediately after they have requested treatment, because that’s the point at which the dam has burst, and the thing they’ve been suppressing for years has gushed through. If denied help at this point, the study found that around half of them will attempt suicide.

Medical neglect of transgender people is pushing them into suicide.

But however badly transgender people have it, intersex people have it worse in many ways. We have heard about how they are mutilated as babies, often based on whether the length of their sex organ passes an arbitrary threshold.

The scalpel ham-fistedly assigns them as boys if it’s beyond certain length, and girls if it’s not. This often sterilises them in the process. Their parents are told not to discuss it with them as they grow up.

They are then treated with further surgery and a cocktail of hormones to try and force them into the gender role medics chose for them at birth, and then at 18, when they are often suffering from a litany of health problems and traumatised by what is done to them, funding dries up.

Those who subsequently seek gender reassignment, to try and fix what was done to them, often have a harder time accessing it than trans people do. Trans people who, ironically, have almost no access to medical intervention before they are 18.

We have heard that trans people are treated poorly by equalities law. That it’s legal to fire us, that it’s legal to sack us from certain jobs, that it’s difficult to gain legal recognition, and even that process is subject to spousal veto.

Intersex people have no legal recognition at all. At the LGBT+ Lib Dems fringe yesterday, prior to this debate, we heard that intersex people are as common as redheads. The shocking way society treats them represents collective guilty secret shared by us all. The way the medical community treats both trans and intersex people betrays a medical community that has not learned from the decades it spent trying to “normalise” lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Conference, it has to stop, and it has to stop now. Please vote for this motion. Thank you.

Call-Centring to Dispose of Sealions

Hello ladies (and some others, but I think this is going to be mostly of interest to women).

If you are like me, you will be talking along to friends on Twitter, and someone you’ve never spoken to before will jump in to give you their very important insight. Most often, these seem to be cisgender, heterosexual white men, i.e. the group in society most used to assuming their view of the world is right and proper and that by imposing it on you, they are merely educating you.

This phenomenon is so common that it has a name: sealioning.

Arguing with these people tends not to work, they love arguing and eventually accuse you of being “illogical” or “emotional”, and declare themselves the winner. Asking them to go away doesn’t tend to work, because they just get cross.

Well I’ve discovered how to deal with them, and so far it has been foolproof. Introducing, call-centring.

Here’s the idea: you respond to their tweets, but you don’t respond to THEM.

I’ll show you an example. Let’s assume I’m talking to my friends about cats or something, and twitter user, @sealion_1990 jumps in:

@auntysarah: Oh wow, @my_friend just found this really nice picture of some kittens!
@sealion_1990: @auntysarah Actually … sealion sealion mansplain sealion

Now we invoke the call-centre. They play the customer. You play the bored and indifferent call centre hold system/computerised agent. Just like a customer service agent at a real call centre, IT IS VITAL TO STICK TO THE SCRIPT AND NOT ACTUALLY ADDRESS ANYTHING THEY SAY FROM NOW ON. First inform them that they are in the queue:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Thank you for your unsolicited opinion. It has been placed in a queue for consideration. Your queue position is … 9 billion.

Note the use of the .@ reply. This heightens the effect by humiliating them in front of your followers. They just don’t realise they’re being humiliated yet. What follows are actual responses to this technique, but I’ve changed the name. It helps to have a few pictures and vines on hand of you chilling, ignoring the phone, whatever. I keep a few stored ready to go.

@sealion_1990: @auntysarah it was solicited, otherwise you would not have posted it publicly for public response.

They often come out with something like this. DO NOT ENGAGE, hold your position:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 All our operators are busy ignoring other unsolicited opinions. Your opinion is important to us.
IMG_5091

Ooh, you aren’t playing his game. Now he’s getting irritated. He must sneer.

@sealion_1990: @auntysarah I take it you have nothing intelligent to reply back to

The assertion that he is “intelligent” and you just don’t understand. Silly little girl, you need to debate him on his own terms. Not going to happen, time for another canned response:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Press 1 to hear a beep and 2 to hear a different beep. Your opinion is important to us.

Anyone sensible would realise you were mocking them. Anyone sensible would likely give up now, unless somehow their ego was wounded and demands redress!!!!!!

@sealion_1990: @auntysarah no intelligence. You do a good R2D2 impression though.

Let’s throw in a vine. I have one of me humming the allegro from Vivaldi’s Spring. You know, the one call centres always use:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Please continue to hold. Your queue position is now… nine billion … and … one

(You may need to click the volume control to hear the hold music).

We bumped his queue position up by one, too. If he still doesn’t go away, he will say something like:

@sealion_1990: @auntysarah You don’t pass on ideas with rudeness

You have a number of options, you can keep going with canned responses, you can ignore him, or you can block him. What I tend to do is keep a few more canned responses in reserve, such as:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Our engineers have detected a strange whining noise on the line. Please continue to hold.

And

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Ignoring your opinion is sponsored by Tissues for Cissues and Spaghetti Feelz in Menztears Sauce. Please continue to hold.

What pretty much always happens is that they get more and more frustrated until they just go away. If not, when you get bored, finish off with:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Please continue to hold…

Then block them, and move on.

This technique is like kryptonite to sealions, seriously. It completely flummoxes them and it has the advantage that unlike trying to ask them to leave you alone, or actually engaging them, it’s fun.

Go get ’em!

Calling for an End to Trans Conversion Therapy

This is the speech I gave to the 2015 Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, introducing an amendment to the mental health motion to call for an end to transgender conversion therapy.

The amendment passed without opposition.

I’d like to read from a young girl’s Internet diary.

I really need help.

Hi, I’m Leelah, 16 and ever since I was around 4 or 5 I knew I was a girl. As soon as I found out what transgender meant, I came out to my mom. She reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl.

I wanted to see a gender therapist but they wouldn’t let me, they thought it would corrupt my mind. They would only let me see biased therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male. I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless.

Please help me, I don’t know what I should do and I can’t take much more of this. I don’t know if my problem is serious enough that I can contact authorities for help and even if it is I don’t know how much that’ll damage or help my current situation. I’m stuck.

Two months after writing this cry for help on the Internet, transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn took her own life. This was in the US, but it could easily have happened here.

Studies show that when transgender people express a need to undergo gender transition, if they are not able to then 50% will try to kill themselves.

Conversion therapy does not work. This is not opinion, this is established fact. If you try to talk a transgender person out of changing gender, there is a better than evens chance they will try to kill themselves. This is not opinion, this is established fact.

If you subject a transgender person to conversion therapy, you might as well drive them to Beachy Head and tell them to jump. Conversion therapy kills transgender people.

When the NHS, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other bodies signed a memorandum of understanding against conversion therapy for lesbian, bisexual and gay people in January, they called it “unethical and potentially harmful”.

They also left transgender people out.

Well, conference, conversion therapy for transgender people does worse than potentially cause harm: it kills them.

All this amendment asks is that transgender people are given the same protection from dangerous quackery that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are given.

Coercing vulnerable transgender people into discredited conversion therapy is not a valid psychological practice. It is not helping people who are struggling with their gender identity to come to terms with themselves.

It is attempted murder.

Conference, I implore you to support this amendment and put a stop to this appalling practice. Thank you.

Whatever This Nonsense Letter is Complaining About, it is Not Censorship

My attention was drawn this morning to this open letter in the Guardian/Observer/Whatever signed by a long list of notable transphobes and whorephobes, and a few people who really should know better. “We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals”, it says.

It goes on to describe a number of examples of this “censorship and silencing”. They are:

  1. The cancellation of Kate Smuthwaite’s gig at Goldsmith’s College last month.

    There was, it is claimed, “intimidation” over this show, which caused it to be cancelled. However, the organiser of the very same show paints a rather different picture, one where they only sold 8 tickets, where the only suggestions of a picket or protests appear to have been manufactured by Ms Smurthwaite herself (possibly in a misguided attempt to generate some controversy and sell some tickets?)

    This is all because Kate has curated a reputation of being a sex work abolitionist, and tends to be quite abrasive towards sex workers who take the view that they’d like to continue their livelihood in safety, without someone trying to coercively “rescue” them, than you very much.

    The show was cancelled because nobody bought tickets, for whatever reason, but in the two weeks since, the student volunteers who run Goldsmith’s SU and their comedy society have been the targets of some abuse as a result.

    It sounds like someone is being silenced and intimidated here, but I don’t think it’s Kate Smurthwaite.

  2. Calls at the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer.

    I actually know something about this one, because I was involved. The Union Society (an expensive bit of prime real estate in Cambridge City Centre with a debating society attached, known for being somewhere were aspiring political hacks cut their teeth, and not to be mistaken with Cambridge University Students’ Union) did indeed invite Germaine Greer to speak.

    Greer has a long history of transphobic bigotry, and managed to fire herself as a Cambridge lecturer over it. the Students’ Union LGBT+ society, who had a partnership with the Union Society for their weekly socials, felt this was a bit off and wrote to the Union Society outlining their concerns.

    The Union Society noted their concerns by way of reply, and said they would go ahead anyway. In response, the LGBT+ Society and the Women’s Society organised a separate event featuring noted trans feminist writer, Roz Kaveney, at which I also spoke. A couple of students also handed out some leaflets to those going to the Union Society’s Greer event.

    That’s not “silencing” and it’s certainly not “intimidation”. I saw the whole email chain between CUSU LGBT+ and the Union Society. It was all terribly polite and respectful, but the two sides did disagree. That’s ok, that’s allowed.

    The expression of disagreement is a fundamental part of freedom of expression. Shame on the letter signatories for trying to silence it.

  3. Rupert Reed, the Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge, recently got into something of a kerfuffle over comments he made in a blog and on twitter, initially about the use of the word, “cisgender”, but later compounded in a clumsy apology where he shot himself in the foot by suggesting there was a debate to be had about whether trans women should be allowed to use public toilets.

    All that I have done is join many feminists in saying that it is up to women, not anyone else – and certainly not me – to decide who gets let into women-only spaces, such as women’s toilets. All women have a right to be involved in making those decisions.

    Reed apologised again, properly this time. I understand some LGBT people in Cambridge who wanted to vote Green wrote to the local party saying they didn’t think they could while Reed was their candidate and … that’s it.

    The letter to the Guardian says, “The Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists”, but those “arguments put forward by trans activists” are basically just, “can we use the toilet, please?”

    Regardless, telling a politician that you thought something they said was out of order, and you’re not going to vote for them as a result, is not “silencing” and it’s not “intimidation”. What it actually is is democracy. Shame on the letter signatories for opposing it.

  4. Julie Bindel is no platformed by the NUS LGBT.

    No platforming sounds terribly serious. In reality, it basically means, “we won’t invite this person to our stuff, and we won’t appear on the same platform as them.”

    Given Bindel is known for her transphobia and has spoken publicly in support of trans conversion therapy (remember Leelah Alcorn?), it’s hardly surprising that the NUS LGBT don’t want anything to do with her. The thing is, people are allowed to take their ball and go home, and they are allowed to express opinions about public figures and even protest about them. These are fundamental parts of freedom of expression, and not in any way an attack on it.

Some people around the world are actually oppressed because of the things they want to say. They’re not comedians engaging in publicity stunts, washed up academics getting invited to plush debating societies, politicians getting caught saying something stupid or transphobes with more newspaper columns than I can reasonably count. By signing this letter, you do a disservice to those who are actually denied freedom of expression around the world. Shame on you.

Those who signed and have a history of transphobia and whorephobia know what they’re doing and are being deeply cynical here.

To those who signed it because they were told it was about “freedom of speech” and didn’t research the context, I merely ask to please try to be a bit less credulous in future.

Oh, and maybe try to be a bit less “first world problems” about healthy disagreement, ok?

Thanks.

On “Male TERFs”

Many will have noticed the phenomenon of the “male TERF”, that is a man, typically regarded as a left wing progressive, declaring himself a feminist ally, or perhaps even a male feminist, where the feminism he signs up to is the transphobic, whorephobic, anti porn kind.

In response to a furore over comments made by Rupert Read, a Green Party member who seeks to be MP for Cambridge, on Twitter and on his blog, a friend commented to me that the existence of male TERFs made the world “a truly strange place”. I have to say that I disagree. I think it’s entirely a natural place to be.

Mr Read, reassuringly for the trans people, sex workers and avid pornography consumers of Cambridge will likely be fighting UKIP for 4th place come May, but that’s not really the point…

Despite declaring themselves “radical”, the feminists who sign up to the transphobic, whorephobic, anti porn kind of feminism are basically reactionaries. There are few things more conservative than the view that trans people are dirty perverts who shouldn’t be indulged in our supposed delusion, that sex workers are wanton harlots who are certainly to be discouraged, and that masturbation is some kind of social ill that needs eradicating.

These are non-threatening ideologies which do not trouble the patriarchy one iota. Any man holding these views would likely be entirely safe and uncontroversial in espousing them in the surroundings of a conservative 19th century gentlemen’s club.

“Male TERFism” thus gives the “male feminist” the best of both worlds: they get to have the ideological seal of approval which comes from knowing you’re an “ally to women”, even if the women in question also happen to be the worst kind of reactionary bigot hypocrites, while signing up for an ideology which requires them to do nothing that would even draw the ire of the Daily Mail on a bad day.

The only surprising thing about male TERFs is that lots more reactionary men who still want a bit of left wing approval haven’t cottoned onto the wheeze.