Category Archives: queer issues

Obligatory #BiVisibilityDay post

Hi, I’m still bi, even though the workings of fate seem determined to make me a lesbian.

I didn’t really have time to write a whole post today, but here are some of my past Bi Visibility Day posts:

Today’s word of the day is “sapphophobia”

Bisexual adventures with stavvers

In which I am visible and bi

 

Incidentally, here is a fact you probably didn’t know about bisexuals. As you must, surely, know by now (and if you don’t, you’re welcome), the “bi” in bisexual doesn’t mean “attracted to the two binary genders”. What “bi” actually refers to is that we exist in a quantum state, simultaneously existing and not existing until observed and either accepted, or  told that we’re just doing it for attention or whatever. Happy Bi Visibility Day, and may you be a Schoedinger’s cat that is alive and well.


Is Theresa May A Feminist Icon? Listen to KILLJOY FM for why she really, really isn’t

My friend, feminist extraordinaire Ray Filar, has started a really good radio show, and they were kind enough to invite me on the inaugural episode, where we discussed the question, is Theresa May a feminist icon? Me, Ray, and migrant rights activist Antonia Bright of Movement For Justice all agree that she isn’t, and frankly an hour wasn’t long enough to cover all the reasons why (although we made some headway). Take a bit of time to listen to our conversation, covering May’s violences against migrant women, complicity in austerity, why “blue feminism” is a shivering pile of turds, and what feminism needs to be doing instead of cheering on a monster.

Content note: the discussion covers detention, FGM, violence against women and domestic violence.

Listen to KILLJOY FM every Wednesday on Resonance FM, online or on 104.4 in London.

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Kiddle: a search engine which endangers children

Content note: this post discusses child abuse, homophobia and transphobia

A new search engine for kids has been launched, and my goodness, it’s terrifying. 

Kiddle is supposed to help kids navigate the internet safely, using a combination of human editors and Google’s Safe Search. However, it’s also been criticised for blocking searches relating to LGBT issues.

Last night, when I had a bit of a fiddle with it, it seemed to have a bit of a double standard regarding what it just wouldn’t provide results for, and what it decided was Bad:

Before you ask, it wasn’t down to what’s known as The Scunthorpe Problem, a product of automatic filtering which causes innocent words to be blocked.

However, more has changed since last night. While last night, a search using Kiddle for “transgender” returned some results, today it’s been deemed A Bad Word, with the judgmental robot wagging his metallic finger.

Blocking searches pertaining to LGBT issues is dangerous. It keeps young people from accessing resources to help them better understand themselves. Telling them words they’ve heard that they feel might apply to them are bad is more dangerous still: it feeds guilt and shame.

Kiddle’s solution to some (but not all) LGBT-related searches is woefully inadequate and, again, could turn out to be dangerous. Instead of just not returning any results, it now tells children to ask their parents.

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Eagle-eyed readers may spot an issue here: a young person is using the internet to seek answers, they’re probably not in a position to ask their parents the questions they have. Asking could, in fact, put children at risk of violence–physical violence, emotional violence, conversion therapy.

It’s not just LGBT-related searches that are blocked, though. Dr Jill McDevitt tried some common queries that children and young people may have, and found that information about puberty, is-my-body-normal type questions, searches related to menstruation, and searches about abuse were also blocked, sometimes with the Bad Words robot appearing.

The Bad Words robot appears on a search where anything judgmental definitely shouldn’t appear.

When dealing with child abuse, a sensitive approach is necessary. Children are likely to feel shame and guilt, and being told off for using bad words is hardly going to alleviate this.

It gets worse. Say an abused child was looking for contact details of someone who could help. Too bad.

Apparently other helplines and services are similarly blocked, the stern robot repeating over and over that these are bad words that should not be used.

This site is an abusive, controlling parent’s dream, barring their child from access to any possible sources of help. If, by accident, something useful does slip through the net, parents can request blocking a search. I assume that this is what happened within the last 24 hours to the search term “transgender”, which returned results last night, but is A Bad Word today.

So who actually owns Kiddle? In truth, we don’t know. All we know is that it isn’t Google–which is hardly helpful information considering more than 7 billion people on this planet aren’t Google. It’s all very fishy. There’s no transparency on who owns the site, or who’s involved in editing it. Do they know that they are enabling child abuse? Would they be mortified if they did know, or is it their goal all along? For all we know, Kiddle could be run by a paedophile ring hoping to keep kids blissfully ignorant that what’s happening to them is not OK.

In theory, a child-friendly search engine using safe searches and human moderation is a good one, but it cannot and must not block things which parents find unsavoury. Instead, if a child searches for information about sexuality, they should be able to access it. If they want to know about what’s all right and what isn’t, they should damn well be able to access it. Keeping children ignorant only opens them up to abuse. Question why parents (or perhaps just the owners of Kiddle) don’t want children to access information about being queer, or resources for child abuse.

The view of parents as an all-powerful authority over their children, able to control what they see and do not see is a dangerous one in and of itself, but sadly all too prevalent. The only source of hope we can perhaps draw with this Kiddle incident is maybe they won’t be supervising their children online so much, so young people can go about being more digitally-savvy than their parents and find the information they need online themselves.


In which I struggle to care about hetero civil partnerships

This week, a straight couple are challenging a terrible case of discrimination in the high court: they want a civil partnership, like same sex couples can have, but they’re not allowed one.

Now, at first it might seem like it’s a little bit weird that civil partnerships are only available to same sex couples, but actually under a power system which centres and favours heterosexuality, it makes perfect sense. Civil partnerships were brought in as the “lesser” option for same sex couples: marriage without polluting the Very Important Institution Of Marriage with all the gayness. Civil partnerships are pretty much exactly the same as a marriage, legally, except without the word “marriage”.

There’s a comparison here. Basically it’s the same, with a couple of pretty trivial differences: you can’t terminate a civil partnership if one partner had a STI at the time of the formation (though you can with marriage); you can’t terminate civil partnerships due to adultery (which doesn’t exist within civil partnerships); civil partnership certificates have both parents’ names on them (when, to be honest, neither certificate should have anyone’s parents’ names on them); and the register of civil partnerships is electronic. It comes down to words, at the end of the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I can see how this might be appealing to people who consider themselves too modern for marriage, but would like all the perks: the tax breaks, the sneaking around inheritance tax, and so forth. These things are, of course, a product of social engineering on the part of the state, encouraging people into little nuclear family arrangements, into a contract which makes it harder to get out of the arrangement. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty powerful piece of social engineering, and I can see why, if your life can in any way be bent into this little contract, you’d want to do it.

The thing is, it’s hardly an oppression that straight people can’t use the word that same sex couples use for the arrangement they were originally fobbed off with. Is it bad that cohabiting man-and-woman couples don’t have access to various tax things without getting married? Well, not particularly to me–I’m fully expecting not to be in a position wherein I’ll ever have anything for anyone else to inherit, and one of the biggest tax breaks of all is not cohabiting with anyone. But assuming these things do matter to you–why campaign for marriage-under-a-different-name when you could campaign for your cohabitation to be recognised? If you’ve lived together for years and got kids together, why shouldn’t this be recognised without having to get your very specific legal seal of approval? Why not ask for that? 

Not marrying should have the same benefits as marrying, for those who want it. And when I use the word “marry” there, I am including civil partnerships, because they are essentially the same. Support those who choose to stay the fuck out of it, and let them benefit too.

What would be healthier for everyone would be if the institution of marriage (including civil partnership) became irrelevant from a legal standpoint: sure, keep it as something with religious significance, keep it as something with cultural significance, but is it really necessary? Every time the marriage question comes up, I find myself saying no: open up those benefits to anyone in any domestic arrangement, and stop socially engineering relationships. If you don’t want the crap that comes with the word “marriage”, then the path is clear, even if it is a harder one: fight marriage.


Misgendering is editorial policy at the Independent: Lola Phoenix shares their story

Content warning: this post discusses dysphoria, trans healthcare and misgendering

Lola Phoenix is an agender person who needs surgery to correct dysphoria. Because they are agender–they do not identify as any gender– and they have a feminine name, they have been denied treatment from the NHS​. So, like many other trans and non binary people who need surgery, Lola has turned to crowdfunding. Visit Lola’s crowdfunding page, and read why they need help in their own words.

To gain prominence for the crowdfunder, Lola decided to engage with the mainstream media, opting to work with who they thought was a sympathetic journalist. “Initially, I saw a story about GIC wait times in the Independent written by Paul Gallagher and I tweeted him and asked if he was interested in writing about my GIC experience. In my first email, I made it clear that I wanted my pronoun to be respected and I wanted to basically publicise my surgery fundraiser. I went through the whole rigamarole, ​spoke to him on the phone, filled out the questions he sent me, and answered his follow up questions. I even got photographed by one of their photographers and everything! I asked to see the article before it went live and in the one he provided for me, I corrected my pronouns.”

So far, so good. Surely the Independent covered Lola’s story in a way which was acceptable to everyone? Well, no. “The article that went up is not the same and when I asked him to change it, he gave me the spiel about the editorial decision.” Changes to the article included deletion of paragraphs on the issues non binary people face, such as immigration issues, and honorifics. Furthermore, Lola’s pronouns were not changed.

The journalist said “The was decision taken to use ‘she’ etc in the opening few paragraphs to describe you as a child as it was felt this provided clarity for readers coming to the story fresh and make your gender at birth clear. Then when we mention the fact you considered yourself agenda [sic] c. post 16 we stopped using those pronouns.”

Whoever made the editorial decision made a pretty nonsensical one. Having read the article (freezepage here, content warning for misgendering), it is more confusing, using “she” pronouns for Lola in the first six paragraphs–it certainly seems to have confused readers in the comments, who are using the incorrect pronouns. At no point does the article mention Lola’s correct pronouns, and it seems to go out of its way at avoiding using any pronouns whatsoever. Also, it’s a fib that the “she” pronouns–which shouldn’t have been there in the first place–were dropped after it was made clear that Lola is agender. Just one sentence later we get this crap: ‘She no longer wanted to be referred to as “she”.’ Just try to process that sentence for a minute.

Lola was understandably unhappy with this response and took action. “I wrote him back explaining why it wasn’t okay. No response.”

Lola asked explained why the Independent’s current editorial policy is wrong, telling Paul Gallagher, “By misgendering me, you send a clear message to your audience that it’s okay if they misgender me. In your own article, you state that I don’t like being referred to as “she” despite doing so yourself, so it sends a message to the audience that it’s okay for people to continue misgendering me.If that’s an editorial decision your paper wants to make, don’t expect a lot of trans people, especially non-binary people, to feel safe telling their stories to you.”

The email was sent on 30th December; it’s been a week and still no word. Lola hasn’t yet taken any further action, although they were clear in their emails to Gallagher that they would talk publicly about their experience if the matter was not resolved. While they’ve open to contacting editors, they’ve found it difficult to find out who to talk to and had “rubbish luck” in the past.

It’s shameful that the Independent are not even trying to engage any more. If it is indeed editorial policy that people are misgendered to make it easier for a cis audience to understand their stories, this needs to change sharpish. It is completely disrespectful to ignore a person’s pronouns. Lola’s gender assigned at birth is irrelevant to their current situation: one where a binarist, cissexist world is depriving them of the treatment they need. They suspect this bad reporting is down to ignorance.  “I think that they are trying to tell the story clearly and they’re trying to address a primarily cis audience that will be obsessed with what my “birth sex” is. In order to get media coverage for my surgery fundraiser, and talking about being trans in general, that’s kind of par for the course. Cis people are obsessed with it. But if you have to talk about someone’s “birth sex” you can do so and still use the right pronoun for them.”

Far from helping Lola, the Independent are exacerbating the problem. And after all that, the Indy haven’t even linked to Lola’s fundraiser (here it is again!). Lola says they wouldn’t have gone through this process if Gallagher had been open from the start that the article could not link to the fundraiser.

Lola has also tried appealing to the NHS for a breast reduction outside of a GIC, but the requirements for every borough they have ever lived in have excluded Lola due to the fact that their chest isn’t seen as large enough (Over a G cup) or requires a “normal” BMI. The irony being that Lola not only has a thyroid condition which makes it impossible for them to lose weight but also Lola partially wants a reduced chest because having one would make it easier for them to exercise. Lola also has flat feet and a knee condition that makes some form of exercise difficult, which the CCG does not take into account — they purely want the patient’s BMI to make a decision. CCGs in the boroughs Lola has lived in do not consider psychological distress as a factor for getting a breast reduction, despite a recommendation letter from both Lola’s therapist and endocrinologist explaining their thyroid condition.​

Lola has a few things they feel would right this wrong. For themself, a correction to their pronouns, or at the very least an explanation as to why they were repeatedly misgendered in the article. For the community, better journalistic standards are a must, and they suggest some simple changes to writing style: “People’s preferred pronouns should be used at all times. If you need to clarify someone’s “birth sex”, then you can do so by saying “born female” or what have you. But in general, the preferred pronouns need to be use for any person.” And finally, Lola would very much like it if you could help with their fundraising.

Lola is well on their way to raising the funds they need for their surgery, no thanks to the Independent. However, they still need another £3000 to be able to afford the operation and associated fees. Unless gender identity clinics revise their attitude to agender and nonbinary people literally right now, and instantly manage to deal with their lengthy waiting lists, going private is Lola’s only option–and that of many others in the same boat. In a just world, nobody would have to crowdfund essential medical attention, but we have not built that world yet. So please, please consider donating what you can to help Lola access the care that they need.

HelpLola.co.uk


Trans Day of Remembrance: even one death is too many

Content warning: this post discusses transmisogyny, suicide, murder and prison

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, and this year we are remembering 271 trans people who were murdered. Read the list of their names.

Of the victims, the overwhelming majority were trans women of colour. They were killed in brutal, vicious ways: stabbings, stonings, beheadings. We live in a violent world, and trans women of colour are more at risk of visceral violences than many others.

On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn them, and each year we hope that the list will be shorter in the future.

The list only counts those who were directly murdered by the hand of another. This means that many other deaths are not counted: trans people are at a high risk of suicide, as well as HIV, addiction, and many other factors which cause one to die young, far far too young. It is perhaps not even possible to count these deaths.

One sticks out though. The day before TDoR, a news story broke. Vicky Thompson, a trans woman, was sent to a men’s prison. She had said she would kill herself if this happened. A week ago today, she was found dead in a men’s prison. Vicky Thompson’s death comes mere weeks after advocacy and action helped get Tara Hudson moved to a women’s prison. Vicky Thompson was just 21 years old.

The justice system have Vicky Thompson’s blood on her hands. Ministers Michael Gove and Andrew Selous have Vicky Thompson’s blood on their hands. The judges who sent Vicky Thompson to a men’s prison have her blood on their hands. Those who argue that a woman belongs in a men’s prison have Vicky Thompson’s blood on their hands.

Vicky Thompson’s death was as good as a murder. Vicky Thompson did not need to die. Vicky Thompson could have been easily saved, but there are too many who would rather see her dead than lift a finger to ensure that nobody ever dies like her again.

There is a culture of violence against trans women, and it is propped up and enacted by our government. Transphobia and transmisogyny demonstrably kill, and these bigoted, murderous views must die. It is not just words, just an opinion. Transphobic views kill, and they help the murderers get away with it.

Each Transgender Day of Remembrance, I boil with anger and sorrow. Even one death is too many, and trans women are killed in droves. The violence must end.


Please stop asking me to donate blood. They won’t let me.

Content note: this post discusses structural homophobia

I’m an ideal blood donor. I have a blood type which is fairly common, and can be received by 83% of recipients. I don’t tend to get faint, and I have no qualms about needles. I’m not on any medications. I’m Cypriot, which is a useful ethnic group to belong to in terms of blood donation, because people from Cyprus are more likely to live with a genetic disease called thalassaemia which requires regular blood transfusions, and if you’re receiving regular blood transfusions you need more closely matched blood–there are more antibodies in blood than the simple ABO +/- blood types, which don’t matter in a one-off transfusion, but do for frequent transfusions; people from similar ethnic backgrounds are more likely to have them. I have my little bronze card from my regular donating, 3-4 times a year.

But I haven’t been able to give blood recently. According to regulations, my blood is tainted with gay. I have had sex with men who have sex with men. One of my current partners is a man who has sex with men. Basically, I need to stop boning my partner for a year if I’m to give blood again, a position which is pretty damn undesirable because we have really good sex, and the sex we have is pretty much of no concern to the blood services.

For the record, unlike a lot of straight people who are allowed to give blood, my partner and I practice safer sex–together and with others–to the point of paranoia. Unlike a lot of straight people who are allowed to give blood, my partner and I are aware of our status for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis: hell, we’re actually vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. Both of us were toddlers during the epidemic, and became sexually active long after it was a thing.

Yet the blood service don’t want my blood (or his).

It would be easier to be under the exclusion criteria did I not believe in how important it is to donate blood if you can. And I can, for every reason except for structural homophobia leading to bans based on who I fancy and who I love. I was perfectly eligible to give blood during a particularly dark time when I was having all manner of unsafe sex with very promiscuous men who were heterosexual (as far as I was aware). The guidelines for eligibility for blood donation are discriminatory.

I don’t have it in me to hate the blood service for these discriminatory rules though, to shout and scream at them like I usually do with organisations which discriminate against queer folk.

When I see ads–and I see a lot of ads–I just feel a stab of guilt that I can’t help out, doing something little that takes half an hour, could save a life and definitely leads to free coffee and biscuits.Because of shitty algorithm-ing, social media targeted ads like to tell me to give blood: sorry for fucking up your comms plan, NHSBT, but I can’t because you don’t want my blood. 

I realise that this is probably a futile cry, given my followerbase, but on the off chance you are healthy and not on meds, are not a current or former sex worker, have not been to Africa, and are neither a man who has sex with men, nor a person who has ever had sex with one, then go and give blood. It really is important. It really is important, and they really need to change the regulations so those of us who want to donate, can.

They take a calculated risk with heteros, so why not expand the calculated risk?

It’s time to end blanket banning, and accept that, like our blood types being more complex than you might think, there’s a lot more nuance than just queers carry bad blood.