Category Archives: rage at the system

If you support free speech, support Bahar Mustafa

For once, it is no exaggeration to say that free speech is under attack. A young woman has been charged and faces court for a tweet, because a historically oversensitive group has taken offence.

Bahar Mustafa faces charges for “sending a communication conveying a threatening message” and “sending a grossly offensive message via a public communication network” for tweeting the hashtag “#killallwhitemen”.

Let’s put aside the fact that despite repeatedly asking, I could not find a single white man who actually felt threatened by the message (indeed, when I asked, this demographic who are usually falling over themselves to stick their oar in when peculiarly coy). Let’s also put aside the fact that white men do not face any structural oppression on the basis of being white men. Let’s put aside whether or not you’re offended by what Bahar said (remember Voltaire!). Let’s even put aside looking at how nakedly obvious the police have shown who they want to “protect”. Let’s instead look at what this means for free speech and censorship.

The sort of person who usually gets most gobby about free speech and censorship is the sort of person who understands least what free speech and censorship actually means. Both free speech and censorship necessarily involve the state. The state is the only body, really, with the power to censor and the power to quash free speech.

Usually, when people complain about their free speech quashed, what they mean is they can’t spout any old bigoted crap they like without people telling them they’re terrible bigots. Usually when people complain about being censored, what they mean is that someone didn’t invite them to speak somewhere. They’re wrong.

Last time this popped up, I explained the difference between no platforming and censorship thusly:

Censorship is something that comes from the top down: it’s done by the government or the media, those with the power to control who speaks in the public domain. The aim of censorship is to quash dissent, to silence voices speaking out against their aims, and to maintain the status quo. Censorship can only be enacted by those who are capable of doing so: those who have the means of blocking webpages, redacting documents, editing what gets published, and so forth. Censorship is an expression of power.

Let’s compare this to no platforming. No-platforming, in contrast, is bottom up. Those who organise events can democratically and transparently decide who to invite, and who not to. Likewise, people can suggest to organisers that perhaps it is inappropriate to invite a certain person to speak, and democratically and transparently apply pressure to disinvite people. The aim of no platforming is to avoid giving someone who is known to be an active contributor to oppressive power structures any further airing, and to maintain a safer space. It’s a refusal of complicity in oppression. No platforming is enacted by ordinary people: trade unions, pressure groups, activists, and just the regular everyday sibling on the street. It’s a tool we can use because, unlike the government and the media, we have no direct control over public discourse: all we can do is choose who to listen to. It’s important to note that this is an aspect of free speech often overlooked: the power to not listen, and the power to challenge. No platforming is an expression of free speech and democracy.


This is applicable, too, to most free speech discourse. Organising boycotts of, say, comedians telling rape jokes isn’t censorship (but the government banning rape jokes would be). Criticising people who are paid to spout bigotry is not an attack on free speech (but if the government locked Katie Hopkins up, it would be). A group asking people not to use particular words isn’t censorship (but the government banning use of these words would be). Moderating a comment thread isn’t suppressing anyone’s free speech–they can go and say something elsewhere on their own blogs (but if the government decided to vet all communications and nuke them off the internet, it would be). Someone being forced to resign over comments the public took umbrage to isn’t censorship (but the government imprisoning someone for making such comments would be).

What’s happening to Bahar is a genuine, bona fide attack on free speech. The state have decided to step in and threaten someone for speaking up.

White men are often quick to wheel out that Voltaire quote when it comes to defending racism, misogyny or any other form of structural oppression. But there is a strange silence from these quarters–as well as from the likes of Julie Bindel, who has instead found her time better spent in complaining about how she is being censored because University of Manchester Student’s Union cancelled a speech of hers because her bigotry against trans women violated their safer spaces policy.

It seems that those who shout the loudest about free speech when it doesn’t matter are completely unwilling to step up about free speech when it does. 

Is it that they don’t actually believe in free speech, but rather feel a deep, pervasive sense of entitlement for everyone to listen to their special snowflake words? Because that’s sure as shit what it looks like.

Back in 2010, a young man called Paul Chambers tweeted:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

He faced the same charges as Bahar does now.

People dealt with the state’s reaction to Chambers’s tweet by being horrified that the state could try to criminalise these words. People tweeted the words themselves, accompanied by the hashtag #IAmSpartacus. People understood it was an attack on free speech when Chambers was initially convicted, and cheered that things made sense when the conviction was eventually overturned after a second High Court appeal.

Once again, we face a threat to free speech, the state deciding to try to shut someone up for a tweet. We should be seeing those who claim to defend free speech up in arms, showing solidarity with Bahar. Perhaps we should see a new wave of #IAmSpartacus, with #killallwhitemen trending high on twitter–you may not agree with the sentiment, but surely you defend to the death Bahar’s right to say it?

A young woman faces being branded a criminal for saying some words that offended powerful people. This is a real attack on free speech. If you truly, really care about free speech, you must stand with Bahar Mustafa.

Guest blog from 2020: RIP Labour Party

Well, that was the election result I have been expecting since 2015: even worse electoral wipeout than five years ago, under Ed Miliband. They haven’t even managed to control the constituency of the recently-terraformed Moon, where the Predictamatic 3000 was certain in the exit Readings that they’d win by a landslide!

And so the circle of blame that I expected to happen, happened. I think this tweet–note for new readers: Twitter was a primitive social network in 2015. They communicated by typing what they wanted to say. It kind of worked like Gl0bal except without the neural interface and… oh, it’s hard to explain–anyway, this tweet kind of summed up the mindset of the party back in 2015.

FireShot Capture - Ellie Cumbo on Twitte_ - https___twitter.com_EllieCumbo_status_634281783408881668

See, Labour in 2015 was already a cesspit of blame. They blamed left-wing people for losing them the 2015 election by not voting for a party that had endorsed austerity politics. During their leadership contest later that year, a left-wing candidate gained prominence. The left-wing candidate appeared as though he might do the unthinkable, and win back left-wing voters to the party. People joined in droves–people who had been profoundly critical of the Labour Party under its contemporary direction, and saw an opening for it to become something different. They were ejected from the party and denied a vote in the leadership race. They were called “registered supporters”.

That’s right. The Labour Party literally kicked a bunch of people off of their register of supporters for being critical of certain policies, and for feeling unrepresented. The Labour Party literally told supporters “we don’t want your support”.

They told a bunch of people who said, “I’d vote for you if…” to get stuffed.

And now we see the same voices complaining about the wipeout being the fault of left-wing people who didn’t vote for them. Again.

The thing is, of course nobody voted for them. What did they provide people to vote for? Anyone who wanted austerity voted for the Tories, because the Tories present themselves far more credibly as the party of austerity. And those who didn’t voted for smaller parties–or didn’t vote at all, because what’s the fucking point? Labour didn’t create a niche for themselves. They had the opportunity to, and the blew it by telling those who suggested that the niche they could occupy could be opposing the party of government.

Labour lost the 2015 election because of this, and then they lost this year’s election because they were too damn pointless to try to create any kind of reason to vote for them at all.

I’m fucking delighted tbh. I never voted Labour in my life and couldn’t wait to dance on their grave.

I turned 18 in 2003, which was the same year Labour decided to invade Iraq (dubiously legally). I was fucking livid. So I didn’t vote for them in my first general election.

I voted Lib Dem in 2010. That was a terrible idea as it happened, but at that point I’d kind of swallowed the kool-aid on the “austerity is necessary” line, and I’d have rather voted for the party that hadn’t had a horrible track record on civil liberties, invaded another country, and didn’t have a leader who looked like what back then we thought badly-glitching androids would look like every time he smiled. I then discovered a lot more about what austerity really meant, and the absolute scale of the destruction and my politics took a quick turn for the better.

In 2015, the then-Labour leader carved the words “TOUGH ON IMMIGRATION” into stone, and for some reason they thought they lost the election because they weren’t right-wing enough. They went on to help the Tory government to whom they’d handed a majority by legitimising their rhetoric to scale up welfare cuts, rather than making it difficult for them. And the last five years has just been more and more of legitimising the kind of rhetoric which kills, in their position which is less of an opposition and more of outright complicity.

I was relieved when the left-wing candidate didn’t win, because I was concerned he might slow down the party’s inevitable demise, when my whole adult life I’ve felt nothing but a sense of betrayal from them. I am as happy about their death as I was when Thatcher died (I’m so glad she snuffed it before cryogenics became a thing, imagine if they’d resurrected her!). At the end of the day, they would not have made a lick of difference, except they’d wear red ties rather than blue.

Who knows where next. We need to up our own game–as with the last ten years, we need to organise to stop people being killed by the vicious government who want them dead. We need to escalate our efforts in destroying these institutions that allow the message to be broadcast to all that some people deserve to starve. We need to resist, to make it hard for them. And we know this cannot come from within parliament, that the power they have is the power over life and death. So we need to build towards their destruction too. It’s a tough fucking road, and we’re all exhausted, but our survival alone is an act of defiance and spite against them.

Incidentally, the Moon said no to austerity, so maybe we can take a leaf out of a particular Ursula Le Guin book and all go and live there in communal anarchy?

Moon aside, we have options. We always have options, and we need to make the most of them. I suggest we-

Under what powers?

No, that section only applies to-

No, I do not consent to come with you.

[scream, end transmission]

In which I review a book that I read: Trans, by Juliet Jacques

Content warning: this post mentions transmisogyny and misogyny

I was recently sent a copy of a book I’ve been itching to read: Trans, a memoir written by Juliet Jacques, a journalist and all-round interesting person who I’ve had the privilege of meeting a couple of times, and always found myself wishing I knew her better. Now, in a way, I do.

It’s hard to explain what sort of book Trans is, because at face value it’s a memoir of her life before and during transition, in reality it’s far more than that. Trans is a book about art and music and football and journalism. Trans is a political exposition of the prospect of a life of shit jobs and no money, the path that our generation find ourselves treading. Trans is an exploration of the intersections of class and misogyny and transphobia, the political springing from the personal. Trans is a reflective examination of the benefits and pitfall that come with having a platform. Trans is a critique of its own form.

The thing that makes Trans such a brilliant book is that it whets the appetite, leaving the reader with a desire to know more, and gently signposting where you can find it. I have found my reading list for trans and feminist theory grow enormously, as well a whole bunch of films I just need to watch, and a playlist of bands I should probably listen to.

Perhaps because of this constant state of piqued interest, I found myself disappointed when the book ended: it ends abruptly, a pointed choice on the part of the author, for as she says in the epilogue (a conversation with author Sheila Heti), “it really was that anticlimactic” to be discharged from the Gender Identity Clinic to go back to work at an admin job in the same hospital. Yet this is entirely consistent with the style of the book: glimpses of moments, a continuity emerging from a discontinuity. Nothing is sudden, and yet everything is sudden.

I could write loads on this, but Juliet says everything much better than I ever could, so I’ll just say this: read this book. There’s something in it for everyone, and it explains complex political issues accessibly. Juliet writes vibrantly and engagingly, and highly evocatively. I said at the start that she’s an interesting person, and this comes through in her writing. She’s cool, with great taste in music and art–although I’m not so sure about her choice of football club! Everything is presented in bite-sized chunks, making such a deep book nonetheless the kind of thing you can dip into during a short bus journey or on the toilet, or tear through during your commute or on holiday. So, read it. I guarantee you’ll like it.


I won’t be going to Pride tomorrow

Content note: this post discusses homophobia, transphobia and biphobia

Tomorrow sees London’s Pride parade, supposedly a celebration of how brilliant things are. Each year, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, because things are not great. They really, really aren’t, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who yell over the voices that should be heard and dominate our movement.

On a personal level, I wouldn’t feel safe attending the event with either of my partners. For a supposedly inclusive space, Pride in London is peculiarly intolerant of anybody but monosexuals and cis people. Marchers yell “breeders” at bi people, with many overtly expressing that they thing bi people shouldn’t be there.

And then there’s the transphobia, which they say they’ve cleared up, but it doesn’t look like it has. Perhaps “toiletgate”–transmisogyistic barring of trans women from accessing toilet facilities–has been cleared up. but a lot of the trans women I know don’t want to be the guinea pigs in finding this out.

So, even if I went, my friends and partners wouldn’t be there, so what’s the fucking point?

It seems as though a schism is becoming more visible than ever in our community. On one side are the marginalised, the oppressed. On the other are those who don’t give a fuck. This issue was perhaps exemplified in this week’s intervention by Jennicet Gutierrez, and the reaction to it.

Gutierrez is a trans woman and undocumented migrant. At a White House dinner, set up to circlejerk about how very good on LGBT rights Barack Obama is, Gutierrez shouted out truths. She pointed out the violences occurring against LGBT migrants, how they were being detained and deported, facing sexual and physical violence, by Obama’s very own administration. As reward, she was shouted down by the hypocrite she was trying to address, and hauled away by the Secret Service. The audience, who were ostensibly comprised of LGBT people, booed her and showed happiness at her silencing.

Here’s what Gutierrez wanted to say. Read her words, and digest them.

We have little to celebrate, all things considered. Yes, we can get married, and yes, in the US a breakthrough was made where now openly gay people can be killed in combat. Yet these are hardly victories when our siblings are homeless, facing violence, in poverty, in fear.

London’s Pride events ignore all of this. London’s Pride events actively march perpetrators of the violences we face through our streets. There was protest about UKIP marching, but so many more of the marchers are our enemies. The police, Tories, and countless corporations. If you can’t see why it’s inappropriate that they’re there, then you are out of touch with the very real violences which face a lot of us.

We have a lot of work to do, and the Pride parade is like a rainbow flag pinned to a wall covered in cracks. The issues are still there, but it distracts from them, giving the cishet population a feeling of warm fuzzies. Too many LGB people are complicit in distracting from the fights yet to be won: the fights which are barely being fought.

So no, I’m not going, because I know there’s nothing to celebrate, and nothing to be won by being there.

We’re fucked. Now is the time for solidarity.

We could talk about this election until the whole country falls into the sea as it rightly deserves, but there are more pressing things to address.

I hate to go all Sorting Hat on you, but things are probably going to get very bad, and we need to pull together. What we’re going to need is a lot of fucking solidarity to get through the next five years.

The real politics isn’t in the murderers at Westminster, but it’s the little things close to home, the things we need to do to survive, the things we shouldn’t have to.

Check in regularly with vulnerable people: those of us who are disabled, those who are migrants, the young and the elderly, those who find the means of survival ripped away. Resist, loudly, the lies and the blame thrown towards those of us who find ourselves suddenly much more open to attack. Help those around you to survive as much as you can, and do not be afraid to ask for help yourself.

Let’s try to recentre the discourse, and challenge the narratives that got us here. Let’s build our own power outside of Westminster, in our communities, in our homes, and yes, out on the streets, too.

They succeeded because they made their victims into scapegoats. It is absolutely crucial that we reverse this by any means necessary.

Under the Tories, our very survival is a radical act. Each breath we draw is an affront to them, and each sound we make chips away a little more.

In the news this week: cis white men are awful, water is wet

This week has been a week of complete non-surprises.

Today, we’ve seen shocking revelations that Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, is a massive racist who thinks protections against racism should be scrapped. I use the word “shocking” because that’s the word Labour’s press officer used, apparently having not paid any attention to thing this opposition politician has said until today. I doubt anyone who has been following Farage and didn’t learn politics from late night talk radio will be particularly surprised that the leader of the most respectable fascist party is a racist, but the way the media are going on is certainly acting as though this is news.

In other dreadful bigots, Jeremy Clarkson’s been having a less-than-brilliant week. It turns out that a man who has made his fortune saying ghastly bigoted nonsense is a bit of a spoilt brat who punched a producer over not getting a sirloin steak and fondant potatoes (whatever that is) for his tea. Nonetheless, humourless men have been getting their knickers in a twist about his employer’s decision to suspend him, believing a rich man’s right to fondant potatoes to be absolute. I suggest, out of solidarity, they all go and punch their own colleagues in a temper tantrum over dinner.

These two clowns were the obvious awful men, but a special mention goes to Tim Lott, who joins the ranks of Clarkson and Farage in a persecution complex of the dreadful bigot who has noticed the world has moved on past him. Poor Tim is sad because people challenge him when he spouts crap. Poor Tim is so silenced that he is continuing to be paid for parping out the same column for a decade, because ten years ago you also couldn’t be racist about Muslims.

These men are representative of a breed which is, hopefully, dying. They growl and whine that you can’t say anything any more when implicit in their words is the acknowledgement that the world moved on without them. They self-identify as a silent majority, when in fact it’s a small circle of wankers getting paid to be wankers, with a small army of sockpuppets barking like sealions. I am surprised at how few people signed Clarkson’s petition or will vote UKIP, given how this lot seem to imagine themselves as representative of a population.

They’re not, that’s why. They’re a gobby little minority who feel threatened as they awaken to a world that doesn’t want them any more. And that can only be a good thing. I hope it terrifies them.

Solidarity with Aderonke Apata

Content note: This post discusses lesbophobia and treatment of migrant women

Aderonke Apata is a lesbian woman who was born in Nigeria. There, she faced absolute horrors. She was tortured by police, three members of her family were murdered, her girlfriend of 20 years was murdered. Aderonke herself was sentenced to death by stoning by a Sharia court, and due to a homophobic law passed in Nigeria, she faces 14 years in prison if she returns. What happened to Aderonke–and what could happen to her–happened because she is a lesbian woman in a world that would rather lesbian women were dead.

Over here in the UK, the Home Office too would rather send Aderonke to face–at the very least–prison and the very real threat of being killed. They’ve refused to grant Aderonke asylum, a decision which Aderonke is challenging. They refused, even after Aderonke was forced into all sorts of degrading things to “prove” she is a lesbian, such as submitting a DVD and intimate photos of her sex life.

Their reason? Aderonke has children, and had previously been in heterosexual relationships. They are playing on lesbophobic tropes to try to send this vulnerable woman into danger, because they know that society at large thinks horrible things about queer women.

The issue of “provability” is in and of itself a lesbophobic trope. Under heterosexual patriarchy, sex doesn’t actually count unless a man is involved. In terms of “proving” that she is gay, Aderonke must fight a losing battle, because she is trying to battle against a world that doesn’t believe in lesbians anyway.

Aderonke’s relationships with men, many years ago, are unduly weighted as her “real” relationships, negating her true identity as a lesbian and devaluing her relationships with women.

Unfortunately, the definition of “lesbian” is kind of baffling to most people who aren’t queer women who have given this some thought. There is a demand for a “gold star”, for lesbian women to have never even kissed a man, let alone had sex with one. “You can’t be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can’t change your race,” said the barrister against Aderonke, summing up this ridiculous societal attitude pretty fucking well, by accident.

Under heterosexual patriarchy, women are expected to have sex with men. Wanting that is presented as a norm, a default. A hell of a lot of lesbians have had sex and relationships with men, simply because it is expected (and often, because men feel entitled). When there’s a norm presented, most people will at least have a pop at living the normative way. This is even the case in countries where homophobia is nominally, legally Not A Thing, the sort of countries where gays can marry.

The “gold star” drivel has sadly been internalised by some lesbians. It’s used to devalue lesbians and queer women who haven’t managed to figure it all out early, or those of us who are bi. The myth of the gold star is something we desperately need to destroy.

The other thing, of course, that needs smashing, is the idea lesbians are incapable of reproduction. That’s really not the case. A lesbian couple can reproduce all by themselves.

The sad thing in regard to Aderonke’s case is this is not abnormal for the Home Office. The Home Office is where misogyny, homophobia and racism come together to crush women like Aderonke. Ultimately, we’ll stop seeing cases like Aderonke’s only after we have ground that repulsive institution and the ideologies that underpin it into dust.

But in the meantime, there’s some things you can do to help and support Aderonke. You can sign a petition. You can follow the Facebook page for updates about actions in the meatspace and what’s going on with her case. And finally, there’s this beautiful photo project for queer women and femmes to show solidarity. Please help Aderonke, and help women like her by rejecting the structural lesbophobia and racism coming wafting out of the Home Office.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 21,479 other followers