Social Media Activism

Almost all activism is done in real life.

Social media can organise. On social media, a group recruited trans people to record a video to campaign for trans rights. When that video gets shown to cis people it may achieve some good.

Social media can persuade: my JK Rowling post got over a thousand views on its first day, and most of them were cis people, who were listening, pro-trans rights, and wanting to learn more. Some cis people shared it, extending its audience. WordPress gave me a platform, and facebook gave me an audience.

Social media can encourage. We get together in closed groups, all on the same side though with slightly different perspectives, and we argue, and hone our views. There are support groups for people transitioning, and activist groups for people who in many cases have been transitioned longer. We hang out.

The dopamine hit you get when your posts are liked and commented on is a problem. It gets people spending too much time on social media.

Some people post negative stuff, about transphobes doing their thing. This is not activism. If reading transphobic rubbish makes you depressed, that does nobody any good. It can be worthwhile reading transphobic rubbish to refute it- there were lots of answers to JK Rowling, or Maya Forstater– but generally, only the highest profile transphobia needs directly refuted. It is better to tell the truth about trans, without bothering to give attention to transphobes. It is only worth reading the falsehoods if you are going to do something about them that will do some good: persuading others not to read them, getting the truth out, showing how the falsehoods work. The Spectator and The Times produce so much transphobe drivel that much of it is repetitive and worth no attention whatever.

Abuse on Twitter is counterproductive. Telling Margaret Atwood she is a “gender traitor”, a term from “The Handmaid’s Tale”, for tweeting something mildly pro-trans, is not going to persuade her. Phobes needle trans women on twitter trying to get us to say “Fuck off”, then screenshot it and hawk it round, saying “Look! This is what trans activists are like!”

Clicktivism works sometimes. Petitions on the UK parliament site can get a response from the government, and sometimes a debate in Westminster Hall. As they get shared over social media, the short statement why the petition should be granted gets read. People signing it make a commitment to it, and that might psychologically make them more committed to its cause. One petition got 4,150,262 signatures, and for a time watching its numbers increase by hundreds every minute was hypnotic. I sat and watched it, feeling amazement and rueful pleasure, knowing it was not enough. I don’t sign or share petitions, though. The people targetted could just ignore them. They provide data on the people signing them. I don’t do, or share, internet personality quizzes either.

Writing to your MP is more useful than social media sharing.

I am better to read books than news sites. From the UK, one account of the Trump response to Portland demonstrations is enough. The NYT and the Atlantic might produce articles on them daily. Even on issues that affect me directly, one article is enough. Possibly Mr Trump will win in November. Possibly Mr Biden will. I can’t influence the result. Reading about the relevant law, or the judges, or the voter suppression efforts, intrigues me with lots of tiny details without making me more informed on the only important question, who will win. I get the illusion of being informed and engaged without making the situation better. All it does is direct my strong emotions at something far away about which I can do nothing, disengaging me from my actual life. Learning about incipient autocracy in Poland and the threat of it in the US and UK has more value.

I enjoy protest marches, the sense of solidarity, the noise, the placards, and Extinction Rebellion, disrupting traffic round Trafalgar Square and Whitehall may have done good. But bad things are happening in the world, and paying them all my attention is unpleasant without doing any good.

Being a Trans Activist

How can I cope as a trans activist with all the hostility to trans people, especially in lockdown with all the uncertainty?

Someone shared an Etty Hillesum quote: Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world. In Occupied Amsterdam under the Nuremberg Laws, she put that into practice.

Someone wrote, And to claim peace, we must excavate our shadows, make the unconscious conscious, reclaim and accept all parts of self.

Contrast Hilary Mantel’s description of Stephen Gardiner: Master Stephen resents everything about his own situation. He resents that he’s the king’s unacknowledged cousin. He resents that he was put into the church, though the church has done well by him. He resents the fact that someone else has late-night talks with the cardinal, to whom he is confidential secretary. He resents the fact that he’s one of those tall men who are hollow-chested, not much weight behind him; he resents his knowledge that if they met on a dark night, Master Thos. Cromwell would be the one who walked away dusting off his hands and smiling. I know resentment. I know threat and conflict, even fleeing down unknown streets at night. Resentment is curdled anger. Anger may do something about a situation, resentment cannot. Resentment focuses on the “things we cannot change”, but the “wisdom to know the difference” is hard practice, especially if there are few things we can change.

I read that rights for trans women are rights for sex offenders. I object, and read that the statement is unobjectionable, even though I feel anxiety in the supermarket, partly feeling fear, unjustified at the moment, that I might be abused as a trans woman. Etty Hillesum bought toothpaste in a pharmacy, and a public spirited citizen challenged her: as a Jew, was she entitled to buy that? She replied she was. And there are public spirited men wanting to stand up for the rights of women against perverts, by which they mean me, and so far I only meet them on line.

I sat in the Quaker meeting, on Zoom, in my exercise. It is possible to challenge an ASA ruling: can I do that? I want the people who pay to tell everyone that I am dangerous, or might be so that no-one should take the risk, rebuked. And I can’t face doing the reading or the writing to make that happen. The answer comes: I can do it, if I can let go of attachment to outcomes. Taking advantage of a video call where I can mute the microphone, I repeat that to myself aloud. “You want to cling to it, and you stop further messages,” my friend said. Perhaps; and I want to accept it, take it into myself, and act on it, because surrendering the need for a particular outcome is difficult. I have seen that with benefits appeals: if people could accept the loss, and make the appeal because it was the thing they could do at that time, they would be far less stressed; and some of them won their appeals! But that is easy for me to say, and instead, often, they resented. I have seen that expressed as a Law of Change: The individuals and the group may have goals, but they may not have cherished outcomes. It is a hard lesson.

So I wrote my challenge, and sent it off, and now see that it would have been better had I spent more time on it, and read it over and revised it before sending. But I hated it too much to do that. I hated the advert and my hate extended to the work I did against it. I would rather not have to do that work. Or I hate my work because I anticipate it will be inadequate, it will not achieve the goal I desire. I will not work well if I hate what I do, only if I can pour love into it. I read that there is an infinite fountain of Love, which I can bathe in, draw strength from, send to wherever I see needs Love. For example, Etty: I should be quite unable to do the work were I not able to draw each day on that great reservoir of peace and maturity. I read that, but I am not sure I trust it or have learned how to do it yet.

Etty Hillesum is of course my teacher and not my comparator. On 15 July 1942 she was given a job with the Jewish Council, and wrote, Tomorrow I must betake myself to hell, and if I am to do the work properly, I shall have to get in a good night’s sleep… Despite the deadly fear I saw in all those faces. All those faces, my God, those faces! And later, They are merciless, totally without pity. And we must be all the more merciful ourselves. I love her ironic prayer: “Have You any other plans for me, O God?”

A last Géricault. Though this woman is in a room, her desolation is hardly less than the shipwrecked man’s.

Jessica Yaniv

Does any trans woman support Jessica Yaniv? She is suing several Canadian beauticians for refusing to wax her scrotum. She demands several thousand dollars each from them in compensation, and some have gone out of business.

She pretended to be someone else when approaching them,  using the profile of a pregnant woman.

Wedding cakes are symbolic of equality. If a baker can refuse a wedding cake, a landlord can refuse an apartment. The same might apply to waxing, except that it is an intimate service. Some traders are happy to wax a penis and scrotum for payment, some are not. Also, it is different from waxing a vulva. The hair lies differently and the surfaces to be waxed are more complex. Jessica may have a woman’s genitals, but she does not have a vulva. Arguably, a “Brazilian” is a vulva wax. (Added Oct 2019- This was part of the grounds for the decision against Yaniv.)

For me it is not the appropriate cause for activist litigation. Punch up, not down.

I heard about it days ago in strident Facebook comments from anti-trans campaigners. “What would be a good enough reason to force someone to handle someone’s genitals against their will?” They put the case as shockingly as they can, of course, but it is an open goal.

Then it got into The Guardian, in a popular piece which was about as little transphobic as possible, I suppose. “It’s not a hate crime for women to feel uncomfortable waxing male genitalia” said Arwa Mahdawi. I agree, though I don’t think the case tells us anything interesting about trans rights, or equality legislation, except that some trans women are unpleasant people. I don’t want to be so vulnerable that I am unsafe to be unpleasant, and I also don’t like the press drawing attention to people whose only newsworthy characteristic is that they are an unpleasant trans woman. It increases transphobia.

Mahdawi points out that right wing media which usually campaigns against women’s rights and immigrants are now hypocritically using women’s rights and immigrant rights to hammer a trans woman. But then she states Yaniv is a “troll, not an activist”. I agree, because I feel there are reasons to sympathise and argue for Yaniv’s victims.

Catriona Stewart in The Herald used the case to campaign against trans rights. “The case encapsulates the concerns of feminists around self-id”, she writes. No, it doesn’t. There is a clear distinction between a vulva wax and a scrotum wax. Possibly it “Disregards women’s boundaries and dignity”, but in a unique way. I don’t expose myself in a loo, I use a cubicle. It is easy enough to make the distinctions and see where trans rights are justified, unless you want to make a transphobic point.

“There is a bitter divide between trans allies and women’s allies,” she writes. That is the hideous lie. It is not all cis women against trans women, many support trans rights. I am glad of the female politicians Stewart quotes taking a stand, though she mocks them.

Stewart writes of another Canadian case in which a cis woman would not share a room in a hostel with a “masc-presenting” trans woman, that is, one with a beard and men’s clothes, and so was evicted. That’s a difficult case. I don’t think UK law would require the trans woman to share with a woman. But then my voice does not pass as female. There is a line to be drawn, and if it is at stealth then I don’t measure up.

So liberal media plays the conservative game, drawing attention to problematic trans women, which has the effect of making us look bad. Yes it’s transphobic to judge all trans women by a few onjectionable trans women, just as it would be antisemitic to judge all Jews. It does not mean people don’t do it.

People often think of issues in terms of individual stories. The relentless focus on unpleasant trans women turns people against us.

To end on a positive, here are those female politicians Stewart quotes. Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, says “trans women are women”. Mhairi Black, Scottish MP, supports us. And The Herald is on both sides like the Guardian, with an opinion piece saying Scotland must introduce gender reform.

October 2019: This is the tribunal’s decision and reasoning.

Trans rights activists

“Cisfeminism is appropriation” Valerie wrote. What? Are you from the Internet Research Agency? Are you trying to cause a fight?

“This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our community standards,” possibly because I said I found it threatening. It could easily provoke a backlash against trans people. When David TC Davies sets women against each other, the Left loses. Most feminism is cisfeminism, and feminism addressing concerns which only cis women have does not thereby stop being feminism. Mine seems to be a reasonable position, hers an extreme one- which could make cis women antagonistic to us where they were not before, or more committed to the fight against us.

Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel have largely lost the fight to keep the cisfeminine monopoply on estrogenic bodies. I am not sure of that one. What are they fighting for, exactly? Some want to stop children taking puberty blockers, and many assert that we are not women, but whether we can take oestradiol is not in their control.

What is an estrogenic body, apart from a cis woman’s? Subject a cis woman to regular testosterone injections and wait to see how long it takes for her neurochemistry to shut down — that is, for her to slip into depression and even suicidal ideations. That’s because her neurological sex is incompatible with that exogenous endocrine intervention, or EEI for short. That’s what trans people face. Every day. I am not so clear on the effects of cross-sex hormones on depression. I feel more depressed now. Initially I felt much better. “My female brain needs female hormones”- we might say that, but how might a study demonstrate it?

Valerie has taught me a new acronym- I am always behind the curve- CAMAB. I get “assigned male at birth”- Correctly? Catastrophically? It is “Coercively”, which may apply to intersex folk, who suffer operations, but I am not sure it adds anything for trans people. All people suffer pressure to conform when brought up as boys or girls.

This article (which I found by searching for CAMAB) criticises the Feminist Women’s Health Center for not treating trans women. I fear being reduced to another statistical Tyra Hunter, she writes. Tyra, who died in 1995, had an 86% chance of surviving if treated properly but instead the ER staff and paramedics withdrew care and made derogatory remarks after cutting open her pants to reveal a penis.

Should Tyra Hunter be brought up? She is an extreme case, surely. I expect proper medical care, even though my GP seemed dismissive over my concerns about retrograde ejaculation. Should we pick on the Feminist Women’s Health Center for excluding trans women, when it does useful work for cis women? Why can’t we all get on? I am swithering, here. If I have to pick a side, I pick the trans women’s side over the cis women’s side- of course. If Tyra is an “extreme case” for me, is that racist- I know my whiteness will protect me from her fate? I am Tyra Hunter. As you treat the least well regarded of these, so you treat me. But I might keep quiet about it.

The one uniting characteristic of all women is a female neurological sex which lends itself to experience with misogyny. I don’t believe I have “a woman’s brain”. Culture is involved too, our ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman. And that belief may bring us allies, whom I might alienate.

I want to keep mainstream cis feminists on side. That means not being too provocative. I choose my words with care. I don’t assert I need oestrogen for my woman’s brain because I can’t prove it with scientific evidence: that’s a higher standard than feeling it to be true. I know that many different groups are being polarised, in part by Russian trolls, and that decreases our ability to work together for the common good. I need cis allies.

What would I say to Valerie or Patience? Er- please don’t make trouble for me, surely we can all get along-

Body positivity

Trans activists can learn from fat activists. The words we use change the way we see: “obese” is medicalised, “overeater” is a judgment, “fat” is a description, being reclaimed. I got the word “Overeater” from a meeting of Overeaters Anonymous at the Quaker Meeting House; all were women, and I noticed the beauty of their complexions.

I am not as other people are, and I might rail against that, or deny it, but acceptance makes life easier. Some might say the fat person lacks self-control, but my maintaining a fairly steady weight does not feel particularly difficult, and I recognise the efforts many people put in to losing weight. Science might classify people as obese, a rational, not necessarily moralistic judgment, pointing to health problems such people are more likely to have; or that might be the judgment of power, where paying attention to particular matters is a choice, and there are different ways of conceptualising the same underlying reality. My own conception could seem to me like simple reality, clearly seen, until I become aware of another’s, which is totally different. Surely they are wrong, missing something, in denial, or else I am- but no, they merely see differently.

Thinking myself an ally I unthinkingly used the word “obese”, a judgment, so turned to Google to find other ways to see. I can learn from others. Searching for “Fat activists” showed me articles aimed at the left-liberal mainstream, such as this interview with an activist written to explain “Here’s how you can be an ally”. There are enemies, who imagine their way of seeing is the only one.

Jessica Hinkle, interviewed in Vice, says They say I glorify obesity when I actually glorify self-love. Men imagine she is starved of affection and send sexually explicit messages. People hide their fat-phobia as “concern” for our health. Indeed, and people hide transphobia as concern, or as feminism. It is phobia: anger, fear and a desire to control.

In order to be body-positive, you have to acknowledge that people truly deserve respect and autonomy over their bodies without judgement. Fat people aren’t “before” photos. There is so much that I have not questioned, just picked up or assumed, that oppresses others. Cat Polivoda: In our culture, it’s a standard assumption that if you’re curvy, plus-size, or fat, you must be actively trying to lose weight. The otherness of others is challenging, so one makes assumptions. Having sketched out my map of the world, it is time to colour in more detail.

The person of colour mentions intersectionality. Ariel Woodson: body positivity at its best means an intersectional take on bodies. You want to prioritize the bodies that are most oppressed in our society and make sure things are equal for people. It means doing away with the real-world implications of living inside a body that people don’t like. If I can, it behoves me to see others’ oppression as well as my own.

Just as people will sometimes reassure me how well I pass as female, they tell Cat “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful”. She says she is both, and they find that challenging. “We’re supposed to hate ourselves. We’re supposed to hide,” says Alysse Dalessandro. She makes clothes that do not try to make her look thinner, under the label “Ready to stare”.

It’s all about the [cis or trans] women, but Kelvin Davis has been shamed by jackets not in his size, and told to suck it up, be a man, not talk about his feelings.

Searching for body positivity I found a collective of facilitators, creating a world in which people value their unique identities and are liberated from self-hatred so they can optimize their energy and intellect to make positive changes in their own lives, communities, and beyond. It sounds wonderful, but I would prefer a bottom-up, self-organised web of activists sharing their wisdom to experts monetising it. Our model is comprised of five core Competencies, the fundamental skills we can practice on a daily basis to live peacefully and healthfully in our bodies. Buy the book, they say, but share this pdf on the competencies. They seem to me to match the wisdom I have learned as I mature, moving from self-rejection to self-acceptance.

I have read an article, and looked at a site; and I am aware of new ideas I can get to know, and some of the ways I thoughtlessly hurt others which I might correct.

Being an activist

Does being trans make you an activist? The time comes when you realise, it is OK to be me, just as I am. Then all the messages that it is not OK become toxic monstrosities, and you take up your sword against them. Or, perhaps, you transition, and carry on making your life.

The problem with being an activist is the people who aren’t. Here I am, the Truth hot within me to be proclaimed and defended, and there are they, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes bemused, sometimes wishing I would give it a rest. It does not stir their hearts as it does mine.

And I see other activists for other activisms. The woman tells me that by patriarchy men are to her like white people to black people, in a time when to say Black Lives Matter is to challenge, because for too many people black lives do not matter enough, if at all. She is oppressed. I could sympathise except she says that she is oppressed by me, and trans women are perverts who get sexually aroused by fooling others into imagining we are women. I cannot be an ally, only a persecutor. Then I see that activism may be wrong, rejecting allies and chasing irrelevancies, putting off the allies we need so making the struggle more difficult.

The Friend, the Quaker magazine, has an article this week enthusing about Greenbelt, and one by Symon Hill criticising it. If you expect the Guardian – or Greenbelt – to be a voice of the radical grassroots, to meaningfully include the excluded, or to be run as a workers’ cooperative, you’re going to be disappointed. They both broadly accept capitalist assumptions and are compromised by being large commercial institutions. They are liberal, not radical. He is glad that gay couples can hold hands there- queers are celebrated, where elsewhere in the church toleration is often too much to ask- but angry at the wickedness of the Government in cutting away support for disabled people and thereby making Britain a less civilised country, and angry that this was not highlighted at Greenbelt during the focus on disability. The Government deliberately undermines our social fabric, and Greenbelt should resist that. I sympathise- I fear the benefits snatchers. I have a personal stake.

He wrote a similar article for the Morning Star, removing references to Quakers and including references to Communists.

I was at the Greenbelt session when someone said the police should be abolished. They are always there to preserve the status quo, to prevent demonstrations changing anything, to protect property rights, to move on homeless people. I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting- why?” I don’t actually agree, because I think public order and its preservation are important, and that we can change things through democratic politics. People will see that selling arms to kill people in Yemen is criminal. We may by opposing end it. There were people there who strongly objected to such views being expressed there. I had not considered the idea before. I feel without the police, strong capitalist forces would find more brutal ways of defending themselves.

At the festival, there are a range of views. I am not dismissing the idea immediately. Someone who is angry that it even be voiced is still exposed to it. There is a mix of people, talking to each other. It’s a church festival. There might be someone there who thinks themselves wildly liberal for being willing to tolerate queers, but a bit uncomfortable seeing people holding hands. If you build coalitions and gain support, you have to have a place where activists can meet with people who have not really thought about it, might be open to some of our least radical ideas. Our choice is between ideological purity- being right, and being agreed with- or achieving change. Though it is restorative to spend time with activists, you have to work with others to make a difference.

The intersex analogy

In explaining ourselves to cis people, should trans folk compare ourselves to intersex people? Probably not; but helloanonme gives wrong, offensively transphobic reasons to argue that.

Arguably, transsexualism syndrome is similar to intersex conditions. Gender identity as female is as much a sex-marker as having ovaries or a feminine pelvis. If someone really does not get why I would want to express myself female, I could explain not all my sex-markers point the same way- just like an intersex person. In some intersex conditions it would be more accurate to say that sex-markers have not fully developed- so in partial androgen insensitivity, someone XY may have a slightly enlarged clitoris rather than a fully developed penis. Categorisers have produced the Quigley Scale.

Helloanonme argues that intersex people have a hard time, and intersex people should be the ones to explain themselves. However that does not work as an argument: if the straight person has no idea what intersex conditions are, then the analogy will do no good.

The problem with the analogy is that it is a way of claiming that my desire to express myself female is not weird or reprehensible. I have no control over it, any more than an intersex person, so it is unfair of you to mock me for it.

However transsexualism is not weird or reprehensible. Transition is perfectly reasonable, for anyone who wishes to undertake it. No-one has a right to object. So the analogy is useless. Anyone who thinks my transition immoral- Thanks very much, Frankie– won’t be persuaded.

I don’t want to use that analogy any more. I am happy with my choice. Three years ago, when I commented on Helloanonme’s post, I was dealing with my internalised transphobia. It was not the hater whom I wanted to persuade, but myself.

But why would anyone object to the analogy? Helloanonme says intersex people can have a hard time, with other symptoms beside genital ones. OK- but does my analogy of transsexualism to intersex actually decrease understanding of intersex? Only, possibly, in this way: the hater, hearing us compared, hates intersex people as weird and disgusting as well as trans people. The intersex person objecting is saying “I may be weird, but at least I’m not as weird as them“. Arguments from how hard it is to live with a condition are ablist. Conditions affect different people in different ways. No, ways of being- calling these things “conditions”, as deviations from the illusory Normal, is also wrong: there is ordinary human diversity, and there are ways of living it.

I don’t want to use the analogy any more. But you have no right to object to me using it. You don’t get to define how I explain myself to the world.

I realised, writing this, that a strong motivator to activism- the need to persuade myself that it is OK to be me- no longer applies to me. Perhaps now is the time I should become activist. I can be a street fighter, now I am less easily hurt. I hate this guy’s argument, but I love his chutzpah: faced with an incident showing the complete moral bankruptcy of his position, Erick Erickson comes out fighting. It’s the Liberals’ fault, just like everything bad.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes III