Sunday, 28 August 2016

A Very Short Introduction To Central Transgender/Gender-Fluid/Queer Identity

I've got a dirty not-so-secret everybody! I choose to be identified as a transgender woman. I've never really had a problem with being told that if you wanted to make a radical change to your body it must involve an element of earthly choice and that some people may never agree with it. I'm a Lutheran Christian but I believe God gave me freedom of choice; he created trans people, he created feminists. As an outspoken feminist I've always advocated that women and men have a right to change their bodies provided those changes fall under current British Law (no racist tats please!) So many people I have spoken to in the past have misconceptions about what a definition of transgenderism should entail:
  • Are trans people only trans when they exist pre and during gender reassignment surgery and then revert to single gender binary status afterwards?
  • Are trans people considered trans if they only opt for hormone therapies?
  • Can people self-define as trans even if they choose not to go through with surgical or hormonal options?
All I can say with any confidence (based on my own experience) is that trans people generally feel they were born with the wrong sexual organs and bodily parts and have been unable to express themselves in either a male or female way until they have been openly honest with themselves that they wish to identify in the opposite gender. However if you thought the concept of transgender was difficult to grasp, what happens if someone you love dearly blurts out during the precious ceremony aka Sunday Roast dinner that they identify as neither a man or woman in terms of their gender and they wish to appear this way to friends, family and strangers, even if they still happen to possess sexual organs that biologically denote them as man or woman? The key to understanding and accepting their view is if you accept gender and sex are inherently separate constructs and not always rigidly linked with one another, you can accept that a person perceived as a "man" can wear a dress, put on make up and earrings and call themselves Martha, even if they have full blown penis and testicles. We should have the freedom of choice to dress and act how we want free from societal discrimination and punishment provided our actions fall within the confines of the law. So next time you meet a "guy" in a maxi glitter dress round the back of buzzy Home Nightclub, act with the respect, dignity and compassion that you'd show to any other person. Don't wish them harm, don't wish that they'd be raped on their way home from that nightclub by a bigoted religious zealot determined to impose his will on you (as I have experienced being orally raped on my way home from a nightclub during my time at the University of York in December 2009). Just let them live their lives how they wish to live it. This level of basic acceptance is, in reality all  trans, gender-fluid, queer, non-binary people are asking for.  It is not politically or culturally left or right to grant them this level of freedom.

Friday, 26 August 2016

A Plea to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party supporters from a well-intentioned, independent, non-party affiliated Lincs voter

Dear Jeremy and Labour Party supporters,

I am very encouraged by the campaign Jeremy is running for re-election as Leader of the Labour Party. Jeremy's 10 point plan to address key concerns of UK constituents is concise, easy to disseminate amongst potential voters and shows how deeply Jeremy and the Labour Party cares about changing the circumstances of ordinary, hard working constituents all across the UK. However I feel there are a few nagging issues that I need resolving in order to allow me to vote with my conscience for Jeremy and the Labour party during the next General Election cycle. Perhaps the points I shall make below shall also be relevant for Jeremy whilst he continues to conduct his Leadership campaign. Naturally I'm sure Jeremy shares my feeling that nobody is above scrutiny, provided it is constructive and well intentioned. So I hope he finds my comments fall into that vein of understanding:
  • Great PR makes or breaks a great leader. As a person in a key position of power it has to be taken as read that there has to be a PR team of some description designed to market Jeremy's  narrative to the nation in an effective manner. I appreciate Jeremy has managed to organise successful rallies, with the support of grassroots groups such as Momentum that are full of passionate, well intentioned supporters who want to change the political narrative of the country for the better. In fact I rather see Jeremy in the same vein as Bernie Sanders, a champion for workers' rights and equality in the US whose tagline "Raise the Minimum Wage to $15 an hour" has enthused young people all across America. However I just feel that the appearances Jeremy and his team have made thus far have focussed on Labour heartlands instead of trying to garner and support potential new Labour and independent Labour leaning voters in rural parts of England. For example, Labour's Lincoln CLP has recently overwhelmingly voted in favour of Jeremy remaining as Labour Leader, which is surprising considering they had not made a recommendation for the Leadership contest last year, yet I am not aware that Jeremy has made an appearance in Lincoln to support the CLP when they wished to highlight issues that affect our area of the country or even to promote the success of our Labour held council. For example, there was a play recently put on by the local large scale community project  Green Fields Beyond to celebrate the centenary of the first tank test near Tritton Road, Lincoln, a pivotal part of the history of defence and innovation, yet there was no recognition by either a senior Tory minister or Labour minister that the event had taken place and had been a great success for the creative community in Lincoln. I'm a pacifist yet even I appreciate the innovation of the designers involved. Any sense of recognition, even on Social Media, will certainly have been warmly received and would have shown independent voters like me that central Labour party members and MPs care about success outside of the major UK Labour dominated cities. 

  • Lincolnshire folk have been ignored for decades by politicians too afraid to fight for local votes by investing in the time and effort needed to put up strong, passionate, local candidates coming from a diverse range backgrounds who want to help their fellow constituents to improve their quality of life and positively promote their local area with gusto and flair. The Tory party should not be allowed to take such a clean sweep of Lincolnshire, especially when there are issues all Labour supporters care about being swept under the carpet in those areas. For example, I'd love to see Jeremy and Ms Diane Abbott attend a demo asking for the reopening of Grantham's A&E department which is vital considering how far patients in Grantham will have to travel in the event of a medical emergency (it takes 47 minutes to travel between Grantham and Lincoln and that's not even in the rush hour!). Equally the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Trust wish to reduce the "number of acute services" available in hospitals in the area from 3 to 2 because they need to make "efficiency savings" as well as review the number of GP surgeries because of a "shortage of funding" (NHS Cuts "Planned Across England" BBC News website, Sarah Bloch-Budzier, 26/08/2016). Yet such a foolhardy emphasis on efficiency savings could potentially put patient lives at risk and increase pressure on the remaining A&E departments across the East Midlands. Now I understand that the primary bases of Labour support are in the old industrial heartlands of Newcastle, Manchester et al and it's important to keep them enthused about the party by attending important events that occur there, such as London Pride. Notwithstanding this, if Labour abandons Lincolnshire rural constituents to yet another half-century of  unopposed Tory control and ignore their valid concerns as the party seemingly continues to do, how does Labour expect to grow their support to levels needed to gain a majority in Parliament without a huge turnaround of support in Scotland and further inroads being made in Wales which appears to be increasingly unlikely within the next 4 years? 

  •  I appreciate the passion Jeremy shows for defending workers' rights, especially in those occupations that are racked with low wage inequality and lack of respect, dignity and praise, such as the hospitality, catering, retail and care sectors. I'd love to see Jeremy apply that passion to fighting for agricultural and seaside workers' rights, especially those of foreign seasonal workers who often feel undervalued, unwanted and as evidenced by the recent Brexit campaigns in Boston, demonised as the "scrounging enemy" by casual racists and embittered local residents. Yes we need to improve educational, health and housing services in areas which have experienced high immigration rates from Eastern Europe. Yes local British born workers need to be given more opportunities to enter the workforce and to earn a "decent wage". There needs to be more positive branding of occupations such as agricultural or care work in schools so that teenagers can see the benefits of working as part of a team that employers believe is basic "work ethic" that those teenagers haven't yet seemed to master to their satisfaction, hence locking them out of other occupational fields such as Administration or Finance.  The only way we'll achieve that is by encouraging local companies to stop avoiding paying the Living Wage by using illegal workers to undercut wage levels. Employer practices have got to be improved; full awareness courses must be given to employers who have a large workforce but choose not to employ appropriately qualified HR staff.  Let's stop blaming employees entirely for unscrupulous working practices; if the culture of a company is crooked, the blame lies with owners, shareholders and operational management for openly choosing not to change it. If companies are unproductive, they need to look at their operational strategies such as recruitment and retention practices to see why productivity is low. If a company (such as Byron Burgers) knowingly employees illegal workers and then exposes them in a cruel PR stunt to avoid being fined by the Home Office, that company needs to be fined and exposed for hiring illegal workers in the first place. I can see Labour is beginning to pivot in this direction and it is pleasing but let's make sure the pivot is made across all industries across the UK.

  • As a male to female (MTF) transgender person I feel that the Labour party hasn't always fully addressed the challenges faced by trans people across the UK, both in their personal lives and in the workplace. Trans people continue to be demonised for having the audacity to ask for time off to schedule vital surgical operations that will make them feel they can live their lives fully in their own skin which could make them more productive and valuable to their employers than ever before. Gender neutral bathrooms have not yet been provided by every major company to accommodate gender-fluid, queer and non-binary employees. More importantly, employers and employees remain ignorant on trans, queer and non-binary issues because they lack even a basic awareness of the terminology, let alone how to deal respectfully with situations surrounding bathroom use or clothing styles. I believe the Labour Party has to endorse mandatory Sexual and Relationships Education (SRE) roll-out across the UK for all secondary school students, so that they leave their school fully aware of the "diverse spices of life". SRE has to include lessons on rape and consent and highlight the fact that even if 85,000 people raped annually are women, approximately 12,000 men are raped annually and this is a figure that can be reduced if both men and women are taught what the notion of consent actually entails (both legally and morally).

  • The Labour Party has to increase their appeal with older voters if they wish to win the next GE. However Labour needs to do this without alienating the tens of thousands of voters aged 40 and under who identify as left-leaning. So I asked my father, who is 66 and has never voted what he felt needed to be done to encourage older voters to choose the Labour party on their next ballot paper. For him, there has to be more practical solutions to reduce the cost of gas and electricity for elderly residents who are on Pension Credit, there has to be more activity clubs and groups available for widowed and disabled elderly people to access within their local areas, there has to be more dialogue and cooperation between the elderly and youth groups to understand the issues which affect them, especially with disabled and LGBTQIA people. Equally the issue of social care provision has got to be resolved in England and Wales. This means mandatory full funding of care workers from central Government for those who are unable to care for themselves in their own home so people can decide where they want care to be delivered.

  • Finally, I'd like to address the manic way parts of the Labour Hustings process have been conducted by all members of the party in the past couple of weeks. Being passionate and supportive is one thing but "booing, hissing and cussing" of opponent views just because they do not like what is being said within a debating space is childish, crude and unacceptable. Yes, Owen Smith may come across as a "member of the school debating team" to supporters of Mr Corbyn, too polished and primed for grassroots members' tastes but to allow members to try and disrupt the message he is allowed to give during an election process looks very amateurish and "school debate" style too! The reason why some social media commentators joke that the "Tories are winning the Hustings" is because this jingoistic behaviour is being tolerated without being challenged at its source. It's rather interesting to note that jeering was a regular tactic used by Mr Farage and UKIP supporters during the Brexit campaign and it was an element that put me off voting to Leave during the recent referendum. I hope that it won't put me off choosing to vote Labour at my next opportunity.
If the Labour party can address issues of rural underfunding of services, think about Labour representation in rural areas dominated by the Tories in England, defend rural workers' rights, highlight more effectively the work that still needs to be done on trans acceptance in the workplace, endorse SRE implementation for secondary schools, address older voters' concerns regarding service provision and improve party discipline and behaviour at key events, then Jeremy can gain the votes of independents like me who voted Tory in the 2015 GE. It's not really that much of a tough ask to widen the message just a little bit, surely? Then Labour can increase its chances of winning with a sizeable majority without the unrealistic necessity of winning back all Scottish constituencies from the SNP.

Best wishes and Good Luck in the upcoming Leadership election,

Matti Colley

Teen Celeb Fandom Congregations and Meme Overloads :Understanding the Logic Behind Modern Twitter Parties

Positive Meme doing the rounds on Caster Seymenya support hashtags
Everyday there seems to be a new celebration on Twitter; a form of covert prestige (memeing) hashtagging of which slightly older twenties folks like myself will never truly be part because the partying seems to be centred around the cult of YouTube, TV and Pop music celebrities, usually based in the US.  Hearing of an endless stream of celebrities being praised or dissed as per the prejudice of one Twitter user galvanising support from a bunch of other tweeters bemuses some tweeters and angers others. Often the Alt-Righters, thinking of their own prejudiced agenda, bark that "Twitter Parties are full of morons trying to act like uneducated sheep" and even self-confessed left-wing commentators have asked what the real "purpose" behind a Twitter Party is meant to be, as they believe they are created over "trivial issues" such as trying to find out whether Louis Tomlinson of 1D fame is "OK" or the most recent #MichaelHit7MillionParty which I've discovered is part of the 5S0S fandom racketeering circuit. They bemoan that these hashtags are trending over the more grown-up ones such as #LabourHustings events during the current UK Labour Leadership race between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith or the recent #Brexit ones confirming whether someone had voted Remain or Leave being overtaken by #DogsAtPollingStations which was a comic attempt to defuse some of the tension that had been generated during the Brexit campaign and to amuse those that had already voted or couldn't vote during that Thursday.  Who'd really object to seeing images of cute canines smiling and woofing outside drab "Polling Station" signs?

I think critics have taken a rather harsh line with Twitter hashtagging recently. They are unwilling to understand that social media parties are essentially a new way for fans to express approval/disapproval as a collective and to follow/communicate with one another in the future through sharing their positive (or negative) views about a celebrity or group. One has to remember the early days of mass teenage fandom, when Beatles fans had to show their love by standing out for hours in the pouring rain to wait for John et al to emerge from their hour gig or to send letters of admiration that would too often be censored by Brian Epstein (their slightly overbearing manager) before being given to the Boys to sign/acknowledge and send back appropriate replies. Nowadays fans have the right to take advantage of a variety of channels of which to communicate with one another. The question is whether these channels can be open to abuse and allow legitimised threats and trolling under the radar? When does fan trolling/defending go too far?

MemeFest: A New Form of Satire?

A Meme of my very own special creation!
Internet Memes being used on social media party hashtags have courted a certain level of controversy over the past couple of years in the social media platform world. Meme generators have made the ability to captain existing and new pictures easy for even the most amateur of Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook users, so the variety and abundance of them is difficult to ignore. Critics of meme-users state that it is not a "digital artform", it doesn't "make a statement worth reading" and are used to try and silence opponents before a conversation can even begin. Some Memes can be classed as witty if the creator has taken the time to try and properly associate the image with the message they wish to convey; for example I created a "A Merry Can Fail" meme using the famous Mr Willy Wonka picture from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film when Twitter users in the US started mass complaining about NBC cutting their Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony coverage short and sending it out on a 1 hour time delay despite the BBC broadcasting live coverage of the same ceremony even at 12am! You can be thus satirical with a meme if you choose to be; it can get mass appeal laughs when posted at the right time and on the right hashtag where you know it will have most impact.

However, one person's laughs at a meme can be another person's displeasure, especially when memes are used for malicious reasons- e.g. to make explicit death threats against opponents or mock their race/sexual orientation/gender identity/age without sufficient context as subtext around the meme. For example, the popular Harambe Gorilla meme was recently placed on Ms Leslie Jones's website after she was hacked and had nude pictures and personal information stolen from her iCloud account (25th August 2016). Many tweeters who defended Ms Jones implied this meme was used because it has an implicit racial undertone (as gorilla images have been used in the past to state to black people they are subhuman to white people) as well as an ironic Alt-Right appeal to those who hold Harambe up as a "heroic animal figure" apparently shot to prevent him from killing a three year old child at Cincinnati Zoo. As Aja Romano has noted in his article on the Harambe Meme in Vox (17th August 2016) it had a much wider appeal than had at first been recognised: "If you were a progressive, the Harambe meme gave you a chance to mock what you viewed as the hypocritical haranguing of the mainstream whilst avoiding real issues of social justice and  if you were a conservative, the Harambe meme gave you a chance to mock liberal hysteria".  I may have interpreted the meme differently from others by taking offence but from responses I've read it seems my emotional response was not in the minority. So if a majority of tweeters take explicit offense to a meme image posted on social media, should the meme be automatically deleted by the Twitter Safety team or should a person automatically report the image when they see it so it can be referred and then blocked when the team have reviewed consensus evidence? Should memes be removed at all if a person claims they were exercising freedom of expression and didn't primarily aim to cause offence? Should a meme creator be prepared to take down their own image if they see it causes offence? Such questions are raised regularly in my mind when I see certain memes and I often wonder whether I have a duty to report the meme or tweet the person disseminating it to express disapproval or whether to stay silent and ignore the meme in the future. If ignoring racist memes is showing complicity with them, perhaps in the future I have to be more vocal/active in showing disapproval. Should the same standards be applied to Twitter hashtags and parties too?

The Origins of the Twitter Party?:
Thus it's rather interesting to note then that Twitter party memeing was originally designed as a way of promoting a company, product or political group in order to gain followers and highlight and disseminate its key message. Twitter parties were meant to be the modern, perfected, globalised form of the "Meet n' Greet" sessions put on to raise that hype to improve the potential future market success rate. Some hashtag parties (not branded as parties) in 2016 seem to achieve this to a certain degree; I'm reminded of #LincsHour which aims to promote Lincs based companies and bloggers to a wider Twitter audience (Mondays 8-9pm) and promoted content hashtags such as #TryMeFree, created by Coca-Cola to get potential consumers interested in the improved Coke Zero Sugar drink which they say #TastesMoreLikeCoke.

Yet left-wing tweeters are angry that marketing content hashtags designed to create "buzz" can be promoted to trend higher than the free hashtags that those tweeters have made. It can get even more vindictive when they discover a political party has paid Twitter to promote a partisan hashtag close to an important electoral event; this was seen most clearly when the Labour Remain social team promoted #StrongerIn in the last few days before the Brexit vote and Brexiteers saw this as a sign by Twitter to try and manipulate the outcome of the election to favour Remainers who they believed were more "Pro-Big Business and Banks" than for the "ordinary people". Such narrative gained them favour among some undecided social media voters but was based on feeble ground: if Vote Leave had realised the full potential of social media marketing and generating a positive modern buzz they would have used the Promotional content tool to do this. You can't berate a social media team for being conscientious or clever in their attempts to disseminate a message in the same way you can't be angry at meme creators for trying to be comic or satirical or teens wanting to idolise their latest crush via a Twitter party using virtual attendance tweet confirmation.

If we are wanting to be smart about social media platform optimal utilisation, it may be a good idea to start coming up with more positive meme campaigns containing serious messages, in the same way hashtagging has started being used as a tool of empowerment- e.g. the recent conversation started by a tweeter with #WhatAltRightMeans because they wanted to highlight the dangerous anonymous nature of Alt-Righters and how they may hold the key to winning or losing the US Election or #EndTheStigma relating to confronting prejudices behind those suffering with mental illness through telling their personal stories; the hashtag took UK Twitter by storm on a Tuesday evening last month and got UK politicians and care providers talking about possible future solutions to help end such stigma. If we start embracing the semantic narrative of hashtagging for teen audiences, perhaps older users may be able to spread these positive messages further; engage a wider audience and keep a conversation going by tracking a hashtag that you create and you could raise awareness of that issue better than you could ever have imagined. And that's the real "logic" behind successful, modern Twitter parties!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Hacking Ms Jones, Closet Homosexuals And Politicos : An Act of Empowerment or Act of Revenge?

"Playing doing something difficult, whether useful or not, that is hacking"- Richard Stallman.

Hacking; a world of people who are hacked off by societal actions of some person or group or another. Traditionally hackers have been held up by the left as paragons of virtue for exposing government/establishment vices to the "ignorant masses" to protect them from making "ill informed decisions" or expressing "incorrect sentiments". Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange are examples of high-profile hackers who have risked their lives and "given up" their  freedom to expose hypocritical actions that have been carried out by the US, UK and other world Governments to spy on ordinary citizens for no other reason other than to try and collect data that is on the whole not useful in helping those governments to fight corruption or terrorism. Chelsea Manning is actually being sued by the US Govt because she attempted  to commit suicide whilst being held in an all-male prison despite being transgender. The message from her legal team showed that she wished she'd been able to keep her "medical information private, so she could focus on her recovery" but US Govt's actions prevented her from doing that.  US Govt officials didn't bother helping to encourage Ms Manning to dispel those suicidal thoughts and embrace her new identity by facilitating her move to a female prison but it is great to see that Ms Manning is now attempting to do by writing articles for Medium from behind bars, despite not having direct Internet Access. Her article recounting her fears being a transwoman out of prison was gut retching to read, but it shows that hackers can be emotional, thoughtful and caring, qualities that weren't readily ascribed to hackers despite their "god like status".

Yet recent cases involving anonymous troll hackers of private celebrity accounts and government databases has exposed an uncomfortable truth for PC defenders on the left: some hackers only hack because they want to cause harm to individuals and not to make the Establishment more accountable, diverse and accepting of differences. Where do and where should hackers draw the line morally?

Exposing Individuals Willy-nilly:

Ryan Grenoble, a Huffington Post reporter and technical specialist has recently stated: "Radical transparency is no excuse for outing people, naming teenage rape victims and disclosing health records". The Associated Press (AP) investigation itself has uncovered evidence that showed WikiLeaks failed to filter out documents including:
  • a document claiming a "Saudi man was gay" (despite the fact that I'm sure plenty of the hackers know homosexuality carries the death sentence if discovered and that guy had not consented to that information being made publically available.) WikiLeaks denies they released that information and came from the US Govt figs 2015 and being "re-run" for the election.
  • 22 other people affected were in Saudi Arabia; The Guardian (Wed 24th August 2016) contacted these people to let them know their information had been released; they highlight the story of "a partially disabled woman who had gone into debt to support a sick relative" and had kept it secret from her family. She said "What is the use in publishing my story?"
  • marital records stating whether a bride was virgin or not (since when did the public need to pass judgement on a person's state of purity in the Western World?)
  • health documents indicating whether a person's partner had HIV (in which case the persons affected would tell others they slept with but not in the public interest for everyone else to know HIV status).
  • 2 cases of documents naming teenage rape victims (when those rape victims are entitled to anonymity from persecution under UK law let alone US law).
I don't understand the significance of such a slack organisation needing to hack into Govt systems to collect this sort of information. Compliance systems can't seem to be working appropriately at WikiLeaks, otherwise the only information being published would be truly "in the public interest". And I'm sure any hacker with half a liberal braincell (if they are indeed as liberal as they've stated in the past) would know sexual health information, even if it involved politicians like Trump or Clinton is not in the public interest if it is released without the consent of the individual(s) concerned. We don't need to know who's out the closet and who's stuck in Narnia with ... because it's not our business to determine how individuals wish to identify sexuality wise and how they wish to disclose it and who to disclose it too. It's no secret there are many more LGBTQIA people in the world than what the mainstream media would have us believe. Equally it is disgusting that an organisation aligned with Mr Assange would support disclosure of teenage rape victims records. Perhaps it's related to his cognitive dissonance surrounding his "understanding" of rape that may explain why he saw fit to allow such information to be released. I know he may have gone through years of "persecution" for being accused of rape but he's never truly answered the questions surrounding his refusal to wear a condom so I'm not particularly surprised why he feels vengeful against those victims who need anonymity whilst trials are conducted which is guaranteed to them under current legislation in the UK. So when does hacking constitute nothing more than an act of revenge? And if "innocent people "get hurt as a result of enacting that revenge, are they nothing more than "collateral damage"? Has Hacking of individual information become more about fulfilling a fetish for data stealing, than truly  being in the public interest?

The Hacking of Ms Jones:
Some hackers believe that celebrities are "undeserving" of a private life because they have chosen to get paid for serving the public interest for entertainment, whether it be playing a black feminist Ghostbuster in a "controversial" all female Ghostbusters remake, or being a porn star making teacher-student seduction movies for dissemination on XTube et al. It seems that celebrities are no longer entitled to express their own opinions, especially if they are on issues they care deeply about. Mention an opposition to "free speech without consequence" and ironically get your fingers burned in the process. Now I don't condone some of the tweets that have been purportedly sent from Ms Leslie Jones's Twitter account to bait white people into expressing racist views. I've seen them on Twitter and some referring to the crappiness of a DJ because he's white or that "white women look the same" probably wasn't in the best possible taste. I'm not sure that she'd properly drawn the line between being comic/satirical and being racist/offensive but let's be honest that line is difficult to draw even though her account is personal which she has headed with information about her profession. I'd naturally assume when I see "stand up comic" on a Twitter handle I'd know some tweets may be distasteful to me but may seem comical to others.

What is clear to see is that Ms Jones has been the victim of a sustained, brutal cyberbullying campaign on social media platforms that have focussed specifically on her race which has culminated in a hacking of her iCloud. Strange that the hackers have gone for her nuke pics and chosen to distribute them on social media and their defenders have stated that this was "in the public interest". I'd never take nude pics of myself to show another person as I realise the risk of being hacked and it doesn't particularly interest me to take them but I have no interest in viewing nudes to avenge the supposed acts that Ms Jones "faked" to get conservative, Alt-Right blogger and "free speech" activist Milo banned off Twitter permanently. Did people really need to know that she takes them in the first place? Viewed within this narrow prism, hacking is seen as nothing more than a revenge attack by those determined to make Ms Jones feel "sorry" for her previous actions. Yet I've still not seen any comments that would indicate she is prepared to apologise for causing "possible offense". So it looks like the slut-shaming hack has failed big time. So hackers who are using their skills and experience to exact revenge on celebrities for their viewpoints aren't really doing the hacking to empower the public, they're doing it as an act of revenge. Very petty!

Hacking Politicos: Exposing the Democrat National Convention (DNC):
So away from the hacking of individual accounts (which on the whole seems fairly dubious) when is it acceptable to gain access to political party information to "empower the public" to make the right decision in an election cycle? WikiLeaks's main raison d'etre after all is to "bring censored or restricted material involving war, spying and corruption into the limelight". So revelations about Bernie and Hillary's primary campaigns, correspondence with CNN and other mainstream media networks could vaguely be classified as being in the public interest. Bernie voters may have had a right to know about the direction the party was going in to support Hillary's candidacy as the primary season progressed, especially as there is evidence to suggest DNC staffers were keen to question Sanders on his faith/beliefs (May 2016) with an implicit nod to that potentially damaging his candidacy hopes.

The resignation/sacking of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz was justified in that she failed to prevent the systems from being hacked in the first place, let alone her official email circulating stating "Bernie Sanders will never be President", a bias which should not have made clear until the end of the primary cycle. But I do wonder what WikiLeaks hoped to achieve by leaking certain emails/documentations in the first place. I don't think their aim of "fighting corruption" was particularly achieved with the July leak of documentation that openly had "two dozen social security and credit card numbers" displayed on that documentation. Since when was it in the public interest to know those numbers (unless you want to use them for fraudulent purposes?) The Guardian has reported that 2 of those people have been "targets of identity thieves following the leak" and that one "was a retired diplomat who said he also had to change his number after being bombarded with threatening messages". Similarly the recent leaked email stating Hillary Clinton searched for a dementia drug to try and combat her "decision fatigue" is ill-judged considering the stigma attached to developmental disorders such as dementia at this current time. This leak reeks a bit of political bias, where hackers and WikiLeaks attempt to discredit a candidate through the referencing of one incident that many older people who fear they may have dementia or are suffering fatigue. The fact that the message refers to "decision fatigue" in the first place is suspect; I doubt many would have explicitly stated their fatigue was due to decision making!

We will never know for definite who carried out the hacking of the DNC servers although several sources believe it was a self-styled Romanian hacker called "Guccifer 2:0" who is working for the Russian authorities to discredit Hillary (although the Romanian language he was using during the interview seemed "clunky" and seemed to point to evidence of him using an online translator). Regardless of authenticity it does seem clear that Assange is prepared to use a range of hackers without checking fully the authenticity of documentation or motives of the hackers themselves. So again, there is a feeling that the hacking activities of some politicos may be an act of revenge based on socio-cultural prejudices against a woman who has no favourable opinions of Putin or Russian regressive policies rather than truly being in the public interest.


We need to stop seeing all hackers as automatically "heroes of the Left". Hackers have their own agendas, inspired by their socio-cultural and political views and so will ultimately only target victims that oppose their views in a strong way. That's their cognitive dissonance in action. I guess some people will go against their mainstream views in the vain hope of gaining a "rad" reputation that none will actually see in the flesh. WikiLeaks protects hackers from prosecution and indignation by offering them the same level of anonymity that they wise to deny to teenage rape victims or closeted LGBTQIA people in Muslim countries. That's why I'm not surprised that some WikiLeaks hackers will be extreme left-wing as well as Alt-Right supporters. Free speech, freedom of information they want at any cost to decency and compassion. It's the sort of attitude we desperately need to condemn and reform. Hacking is not always a correct act of Free Speech, and when people's privacy is restricted or even destroyed by trolls hell bent on fetishistic revenge, there has to be consequences to those acts. If hackers can be traced via their internet imprints, then they have to be exposed and prosecuted under the Data Protection Act/ Equality Act in the UK to deter those trolls from trying to emulate their success to gain a sense of credibility they may not get in other spheres of their lives. Hackers have a right to demonstrate their skills but why not encourage them to put their skills to good use by establishing hack-security firms such as Gregory Evans's Hacker For Hire or showcase creativity such as "Jules's", an online social community which "Jules" created to share her and others’ modified uses of IKEA products (e.g. a dish drain repurposed as a tie rack and a dresser-turned-bathroom-vanity). Hackers can be empowering figures, provided they refrain from persecuting and baiting individuals/celebrities online who may share different viewpoints from themselves.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Intersectional Feminism 2016: Addressing the TERFs Through The Conversations Project 2016

It's an amazing feeling when you receive your first feedback regarding a published blog post or article, especially when that feedback comes from an academic that you particularly admire. John Stoltenberg, radical feminist, gay man and lifelong partner of trans-supporting radical feminist Andrea Dworkin who has written books to help critics understand rape culture and the need for men to disavow traditional patriarchy within traditional gender boundaries decided to get in touch with me after reading my Transfeminism blog post
 ( to highlight the current work he is engaged in, i.e. the creation of a dialogue space between trans feminists, mainstream feminists and radical feminists about "what it is to be a woman" and to try and develop intersectional narratives that can be used practically to argue for the improvement of  all women's rights in 2016 and beyond.

The Conversations Project launched on January 1st is an attempt to debunk the myth that radical feminism has always taken issue with transactivism, a myth that seems to perpetuated by mainstream media's obsession with a minority of radical feminists who seem to hate trans women; The Advocate article gives the example of Germaine Greer's comments on Caitlyn Jenner after she was named Woman of the Year by Glamour - suffice to say that she went back to her "castration" and panto-dame arguments she's espoused for decades and added in a tough of dogue to make it appear "funny". Bit warped but if cocker spaniels are her thing I hope it doesn't shit on her crappy drab dress sense ;) Because obviously she cares far more about physiological features than about emotional feelings or any notion of gender as they currently stand. Ah well :)

The spark that created the Conversations Project was as the result of a conversation between Stoltenberg and transfeminist Cristan Williams in 2014 after Williams made a comment after reading Stoltenberg's essay on Andrea Dworkin Andrea Dworkin Was Not Transphobic a sentiment I share after having read some of her work and analysing her words within my context of feminist rhetorical engagement with trans issues. They'd never met or heard of each other before but after numerous critical exchanges it was decided they needed to highlight the fact a positive transinclusive radical narrative had existed in second wave feminism all along. The Conversations Project is wide ranging and takes into account voices from a range of contributors, both historically and contemporaneously including queer theorist Judith Butler and Catharine M. McKinnon. The aim of the project is to generate "reasoned discussion" that is "informed by historical evidence", allowing for easy curation of content. The resources are designed with easy searchability in mind for students and researchers and includes glossary, suggested readings and a historical timeline documenting the development of radical and intersectional transfeminism. There's also a quarterly journal planned and a book-length collaboration of essays. All sounds excellent for any student of feminism!

Yet even before the conversation has properly begun the Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists (TERFs) had slated the project as undermining "true" feminist discourse by allowing "biological" men who had never and could never experience period pains or lookism to join the conversation in the first place. For example, Wendy Lev on a Facebook response to an Advocate article introducing the
Conversations Project has claimed transwomen are "misogynist, lesbophobic and discriminate us to no end" whilst ending her comment with "Use your brain, lefties". This goes to show that radical feminist discourse has been taken over in part by conservative women who fear widening of gender definitions.  It also demonstrates a rather distinct lack of awareness of transwomen who become lesbian post-transition because they were in love with a straight/bi or lesbian woman prior or during their transitioning process. Gender and sexuality are inherently separate concepts even if they link up at times, so to say that the only types of transwomen who are acceptable are those who want to be lesbian is rather shockingly divisive! Transwomen who were initially perceived as gay men prior to transition are not the enemy. We do not hate women! Many of us have best friends who are women and some have had children through surrogacy. I may not want children or have engaged in sex with a cisgendered woman but that does not mean I hate them!

A lot of fear about giving transwomen a voice within the history of the feminist movement seems to come from Lesbian feminists who don't seem to want to relinquish their control over the mainstream narrative. They say feminism is only a "female organisational tool" but they never really seem to argue how they are going to use it effectively to benefit everyone's lives. Now I am sure there are a minority of even transwomen who send disgusting rape and mutilation threats to Lesbian feminists because they disagree with their point of view and are just generally disgusting trolls that need to be reported. Death threats should never be acceptable as a form of debate, even on social media platforms. And such cases have to happen because they come up on mainstream feminist threads on a regular basis. Hence why I can see why some feminists demand safe spaces that can only contain women biologically born as women, if that's who they are comfortable supporting their point of view. Does that mean that transwomen can only have trans safe spaces in which to voice their feminist narrative, despite the fact that most issues that affect biologically born women affect transwomen as well? I just don't believe any group deserves to own an entire critical narrative, choosing who they accept support and criticism from based on their physiological characteristics.

A key accepted argument within radical feminism is a desire to "abolish gender"; they want to free women from the shackles of labelling and destroy the stereotypes. Hence to them transwomen are only reinforcing the existing binary existence of gender because they are using surgical procedures to try and achieve a state of physical femininity that they find beautiful rather than trying to degender their own bodies. It'd be great to live in a world where the only labels we need to use were our names that we could choose for ourselves. I have to ask does the process of surgery actually create a "woman" for them physically when radical feminists like Greer say they are "castrating themselves" because they cannot handle the physical features of manhood? Seems a bit hypocritical to me. These TERFs want to degender and yet ascribe gender at the same time. If we really wanted to abolish gender let everyone engage in the discussion!

Another interesting dimension to the argument is whether men should be allowed to engage in feminist discourse in any way. Megan Mackin has posited that academics like Stoltenberg have "appropriated feminism, women's oppression and Andrea (Dworkin)'s voice" and that act has left feminism open to "being discredited by those who find women irritating" because they challenge male entitlement. Essentially men who use feminist ideas are "fetishizing" them and transwomen are also doing this to gain advantage and be accepted more easily. So when I was "presenting" or being perceived as an effeminate gay male I wrote my University essays using feminist ideas to ridicule male satire and to highlight the Establishment etiquette rules that Jane Austen and Aphra Behn wanted to get their readers/audience to challenge through appreciation of their texts. Was I also appropriating feminist voices to do this? What about now that I have "come out" as a transwoman? Can I still be accused of appropriation? I believe men have a place within feminist discourse, particularly if they help to contribute new ideas as to how to help to reduce rape rates or to improve representation within boardrooms and the debating chamber of the House of Commons.

Transfeminists and activists need to do their part to dispel some of the myths perpetuated by TERFs. Some TERFs hate the term itself being used because they see it as derogative and "misogynistic", so perhaps using a different term such as "trans hating radical feminist" or "Biological Radical Feminist" might make them feel better. It's true there are trans people who are rapists and probably use their transitioning process to rape women within their own spaces. But there are women who pretend to be men to rape women too. There are even lesbian radical feminists who are rapists. Let's not pretend that there aren't rapists within certain communities because no matter how you label yourself, whether through gender, biology, sexuality, political/theoretical association, I can guarantee you there is at least 1 person that self-defines that way who is a rapist.  Not every transfeminist wants to invade biologically born women's only spaces, especially when it comes to issues of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Trans people do need treatment too when they are victims of domestic abuse. Charities cannot turn their back on them just because they were not born biologically female. Perhaps there needs to be segregated units for those women who would be afraid of engagement with trans women if one had abused them in the first place. But let's not pretend the only domestic abuse victims who need our help are cis gendered women!

Feminism has had a bad press in the past thanks to a select group of individuals who decided to hijack the ideology and focus on trying to posit crazy futures where men are downgraded to the status of baby making semen dispensers and trans women should be seen only as part of the supporting act within the movement if allowed to express an opinion within it. Now I can imagine that some TERFs will say "oh we're being misogynistic" because we're highlighting them for serious critique. If feminism, especially radical feminism is to make it's mark in the 21st century, we have to move away from endless semantic smackdowns and an overfocus on the theoretical rather than practical applications.  There are many men and women wishing to be part of the movement, so let's be inclusive, compassionate and collaborative to reach workable solutions that can make a difference to everyone's lives. Such as helping protect funding for domestic abuse charities, improving Sex and Relationships education for secondary school students and to be supportive by encouraging, not shaming Muslim feminists who are trying to push for reforms in the Middle East and Asia to secure voting rights or abortion rights for those women who have been sidelined for many generations. TERFs have to be willing to work with us to achieve a compassionate sense of Feminism; if not, they may not be the best advocates to take our cause forward. "Deeds, Not Words" was the war cry of Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragette movement; maybe it's time to take on this banner once again and prove feminism has something valuable to offer: Hope, not Hatred.  

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Intersectionaling Feminism: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Rape? My Own Oral Rape Story.

"Rape is not just a women's issue. It's about men who stop behaving like human beings and start behaving like animals". Anon.

"Rape is rape". It's a common battle cry heard on campuses, feminist societies and domestic abuse centres across the UK and beyond. Yet sometimes it can feel as if "men" and "women" have entirely different understandings of the concept of rape. A recent example of such cultural difference concerning understanding of rape has come out as a result of a Turkish ad being disseminated at airports in Istanbul and Ankara warning Turkish families not to travel to Sweden because it has been deemed to have "the highest reported number of rapes in the world". Interestingly this marketing campaign was triggered after the Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström accused Turkey on Twitter of allowing legalisation of child sexual activity (under the age of 15) since the attempted coup against Erdogan and that children "need more protection, not less against violence and sex abuse". Many pundits have then used comments to highlight Turkey anchoring towards Islamification because of numerous incidents in Iraq and Syria where child brides are being given to terrorists as prizes for fighting against "infidels" because of guarantees over their virginity. Now, Turkish tweeters, particularly men, have bombarded Twitter with hate tweets using the hashtag #DontTravelToTurkey stating Sweden is a country full of paedophiles and rapists (despite the fact the age of consent is 16, the same as that the UK) because of those rape figures being equivocated with a rise in refugees from Syria and other Muslim-dominated countries.

What Turkish men may have failed to understand was that reporting rates might be higher in Sweden because women who experience rape are more likely to report it because they are more self-aware of what constitutes rape under Swedish legislation. The Swedish justice system has come under attack at times for allowing victims of rape to report the crime to officials due to "trivial reasons". For example, Julian Assange was accused of "two counts of sexual molestation, one count of unlawful coercion and one count of lesser degree rape or mindre grov våldtäkt"  by two different women during a visit to Stockholm in November 2010 and his defenders have stated that local authorities had fabricated the charges to try and trap him for his espionage activities under WikiLeaks.  Assange still continues to deny the accusations made against him to this day and so those women have not received and are unlikely to receive any apology for what they claimed had happened to them.

Now Sweden also prohibits prosecutors for disclosing information about sexual assault cases so we don't know what the main reasons behind prosecuting him were for, but according to feminist lawyer Jill Filipovic, Assange molested these two women because he disregarded their wishes for him to conduct protected sex - "one accuser told him to wear a condom but he penetrated her without one, whilst another saw that the condom Assange was using broke and he refused to replace it". A minor issue for some, but in Sweden condom use is predicated on consent, so if Assange refused to comply with their request for him to use a condom, he has at the very least committed a form of sexual assault. Besides, if you were going to have sex with a stranger without knowing their medical history and you asked them to put a condom but they refuse and then penetrate you anyway, does that not cross the consent boundaries? Regardless, the Assange case does highlight the complexities of Swedish (and UK law) when it comes to considerations of sexual consent and what the specific difference between unlawful coercion and lesser degree rape may actually be.

My Personal Experience of Rape:

Now in the UK we still continue to see increasing rates of rape incidents being reported and yet many still feel unable to speak out about their experiences, especially in the first initial hours and days of occurrence. I'm one such person who could not speak out about what happened to me, mainly because I never thought I'd be believed by the police in the first place because of the nature of the incident and even if the case had gotten to court I thought they'd use the fact I was a queer gay man (at the time that's how I was perceived) and had been wearing "inappropriate clothing" (leggings or hot pants and a glitter tee) for a University of York night out would go against me.

To those who don't know my story here it is:

I was walking home from Ziggy's nightclub in York on an early December Wednesday morning in 2009 (around 3am) on my own in a glitter tee and black lurex leggings as I usually did whilst I was partying after writing my English essays. I was alone, mainly because I didn't like paying for taxis when I knew I could walk to my Uni flat in an hour and I was completely sober because I never drunk on a night out in the city as I was very security conscious. I usually had a rape alarm keyring on me but I'd stupidly left it at home that night and I thought as I was the way I was (not exactly Katie Price, more Jane Austen) I'd be OK. I was walking across the fields just near my old college (of Goodricke) when I was abused by a tall, blonde white man, a stranger I'd never seen before in the area. He looked like he was in his late 20's/early 30's I think. He was so strong he had me forced down against the tree, blocking my way out with his flies undone before I could try and push him to get away. It all happened in a flash. I can remember the rancid taste left in my mouth after he'd finished penetrating my mouth as he pushed me to the side and ran off. Nobody saw what happened.  I laid there frozen for about half an hour wondering what the hell I was going to do. I managed to get myself up thinking I needed to get myself to the shower; I needed to feel clean, I needed to feel SAFE. I got to my flat dishevelled and unnoticed, unlocked the door, grabbed my soap and went into the shower and when done I put my nightshirt on and ran to my bedroom and locked the door. I didn't have any seminars or lectures at the time as it was my final year and it was research week so I just kept myself in the bedroom for pretty much two weeks. I didn't feel like I wanted to speak to anyone. Whenever my friends rang I would just say I was OK and listened to them talk about their seminar or home life. When I saw my flatmates in the kitchen (very rarely because everyone was busy doing their research and finishing essays) I didn't want anyone to notice that something had happened to me because I knew they may start asking questions and I just wasn't ready to talk in case I was accused of lying. I did meet one best friend twice during that time but I put my happy face on and fronted it.  Being perceived as an "effeminate gay man" it seems like its part of the course that you're meant to like giving blowjobs and that having sexual encounters with strangers is seen by some who are gay as "exciting". Plus not being able to fend off a guy is seen by some men as being "inferior/insecure" and hence my fault. I hate gender stereotyping; it is the bane of my existence and the sooner they are all debunked the better in my view. Anyways I clammed up and lived off the chocolates, crisps and sweets that I'd luckily bought on the Monday before rather than risk spending an hour cooking in the kitchen. When Christmas came round, I couldn't wait to get home, back to somewhere I felt safe. Yet I never told my parents anything at that point, other than discussing the new clothes I bought or the essays I was writing. I couldn't bring myself to talk about the experience until I told my parents in July 2015, when my Mum had asked me why I hadn't got a girlfriend if I wasn't having sex with men. In a way she and my Dad never really accepted I fancied men and had hoped it was a phase but when I told her about what happened to me at York it came pouring out like a broken water tap. I was shocked that she even had to ask me at the end whether I was "telling the truth" but from my experience of reading survivor stories that seems to be the norm with those who are brave enough to report their experiences of rape when it happens to them. Now I want to be more vocal about my experience in the hope that it helps to dispel the ignorant opinions made by some that rape by strangers can only happen to women or that oral penetration cannot constitute a form of rape. I hope to be a visible survivor but I know I must care for myself. I've still got to work through my anxieties. But I'm getting there slowly. I could be in a much worse place than I am now but I am lucky to have a safe roof over my head, even if my parents are still struggling to get their heads around what happened to me. I try and not be a burden to anyone but it's hard sometimes to keep that smile going. It's emotionally draining. But I know I must keep striving for a better life and a better world for everyone. I'm not going to let that man destroy my confidence any more.

What can Intersectional Feminism do to help reduce rape rates whilst encouraging rape victims to come forward:

As a non-binary trans person I believe that we need a joined up gender approach to opposing rape crime and trying to combat the ideologies that may fuel men (and some women) to commit an act of sexual violence against a fellow human being. I think that part of an undeniable problem is that men, women and non-binary people are never really taught at secondary school about what constitutes sexual consent, what constitutes sexual assault or rape or what to do when you have become a victim of sexual assault or rape. I can remember having a sex education lesson where a young rugby player in my class was proud to say jokingly that "If You Get Three Nos it becomes a Yes" when it came to oral sex. Some teenage boys were openly bragging about "taking virginities" while their friend/girlfriend/boyfriend was drunk, asleep or unwilling to consent. In fact going out on a date was seen as consent for sexual activity by some  guys desperate to lose their virginity. I've even heard of teenage boys talking about wanting to seduce or rape a female teacher so they can lose their virginity even though they are aware that such actions could lead to that teacher being arrested for grooming offences. It's all a part of the  Machismo element of "bromantic culture" that is still held up to be an ideal of manhood; that somehow only those that instigate sexual activities are to be celebrated and held up as being a role model to aspire to. You see it perpetuated throughout Ancient and modern history, from the Zeus model of tricking women into having sex with him by metamorphosis to the idea among some Christian men that "raping a lesbian will make them heterosexual". No rape alarms are given out actively to men, apart from some very liberally progressive universities such as my own University of York. There's no discussion of rapes that happen to men by men and women in sex education lessons. Most people still think oral penetration is not a form of rape because the consequences are "less" than that for anal or vaginal sex. Yet evidence shows that you can contract STDs including HIV from unprotected oral sex.

Intersectional feminists like myself believe that we as a society have to understand that we must fundamentally address rape ideology at its festering source. Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) as being promoted by charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and the PSHE Foundation know that rules concerning consent has to be taught in such a way that it becomes second-nature by the time teenagers think about engaging in sexual activities. We need to teach students that oral rape does exist and that they must not be afraid of reporting any incidents of rape or sexual assault to the local police force, regardless of whether they may think it is trivial. If a person refuses to wear a condom or take protection and then goes on to have sexual contact with you, that is a form of assault at the very least.

Figures from the  Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales the first ever jointly official statistics released by the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office in January 2013 found that
approximately 12,000 men and 85,000 women have been raped in England and Wales alone every year and 500,000 adults are sexually assaulted. Only 15% of those who experience sexual violence then go on to report the crime to the police.

Therefore rape charities in the UK need to show that they care about male victims of sexual assault and rape, especially if a woman they know has perpetrated that crime. UK charity Rape Crisis for example, has stated that 95% of its service users are female, despite the fact that the figures quoted above show men may be in need of support services. Why is it the case that only 5% of users at Rape Crisis are male? Are too many men afraid to speak out? Can they feel they can't relate to female psychologists/nurses asking them about their experience? Is it because they believe rape charity services are only available for cisgendered women?

There are very few cases mainstream media reported of men being raped by other men (other than the child sex abuse carried out by monks such as Philip Temple who had previously been protected from prosecution under Catholic monastic law) let alone men and boys being sexually assaulted by girls and women, women being sexually assaulted by other women and non-binary people being assaulted and raped. Quite rightly an emphasis had to be placed on increasing awareness of rape support services for women because the numbers of women being raped are far higher than men. It is right to wonder though whether some male victims (especially gay, cross dresser, queer or trans) have been left behind in discussions of rape victim provision and prosecution? Do male rape charities need to be established to help fill the void or do existing charities need to do more to show these men that their door is always open and that they will be given the same opportunities to be believed by police that should be shown to female victims?

Issues related to sexual violence and rape are tense within the feminist community. I know as a trans woman that trans people are subject to both just because their perpetrators feel the need to try and project their will onto them. For trans men who identify as heterosexual or gender-fluid individuals who may happen to have a vagina, being penetrated by a man to try and see whether they are "still all woman" occurs regularly and I could not even begin to imagine what that feels like. In some ways I feel the stranger that orally raped me was just trying to "get his end away" and use me like an object to discard when his fun was over. I'm not even sure whether he knew I was perceived as being a man or believed I was a man biologically or if he even cared. The reason why a joined-up approach to fighting sexual violence is essential is because every sexual assault, every rape that happens is an attempt by the perpetrator to gain power. That is why it's important to say "rape is rape". There are absolutely NO excuses for violating a person's space without consent.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

"Feminism ain't cancer if you don't want it to be": The Importance of promoting Compassionate Intersectional Feminism

"Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a "bitch" or "dyke"; it means you believe in equality." Kate Nash.

It's fascinating to see how feminists are received on social media platform these days. Advocating for equal pay rights by guaranteeing a fair pay structure for all workers gets shouted down as "sexist against hard working men", recognising the existence of a rape culture that attacks men as well as women is shot down as "illogical thinking" and even acknowledging the need for state funded gender segregated  domestic abuse shelters for those women who have survived sexually, emotionally and physically abusive relationships is seen as a waste of money.

Yet how striking is it to see the results of a January 2016 survey conducted by The Fawcett Society, "the UK's largest membership society for women's rights" who actively encourage men and women to help enact societal change to benefit both sexes. The wide ranging survey was conducted to analyse British attitudes towards feminism as a whole movement. They concluded that Britain is a nation of "hidden feminists". Here's why:
  • 2/3 of Britons support gender equality but only 7% identify as feminists. (560/8000 people interviewed).
  • 9% of women identify as feminists whereas 4% of men label themselves as feminist.
  • However men more supportive of equality between the sexes - 86% want equality for their women but only 74% of women want equality with men.
  • Younger women more likely to identify as feminist- 19% of 18-24 year olds use the word but also 18-24 year old age group more likely to oppose it. 8% expressed this view compared with 2% of people aged 55 and over.  I believe this could be partly due to a promotion of awareness of feminist issues being studied on the National Curriculum through studying feminist approaches to Elizabeth Bennett's desire to break etiquette rules in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for GCSE English Literature (Conservatives say this is liberal indoctrination of innocent minds).
When people were asked to ascribe an adjective to the word "feminist" when it first pops into their head:
  • Just over 25% said "bitchy"
  • 22% said "strength"
  • 17% said "suffragette"
  • 17% used gender-related words such as "woman" and "female".
A related poll conducted by the Huffington Post found that 82% of respondents believe that "men and women should be social, political, and economic equals" (the definition of feminism), but only 20% self-identify as feminists.

So what's truly going on within the feminist sphere that is putting off those who support mainstream ideas that have been espoused by various aspects of feminism and what can some feminists do to try and reverse the negative stereotypes being perpetuated by arch opponents of the movement?

Faux Feminism = Opponents of Feminism? A Social Media Analysis:

A Twitter follower and amazingly sassy British podcaster (one half of the Melanin Millennials show which I now religiously listen to on a weekly basis) and co-founder of the UK's diverse podcast company ShoutOut Network, Satia came up with a list of 4 types of faux-feminists who populate social media platforms and contribute to the creation of negative feminist stereotypes:
  • #PickMePickMeFeministTwitter - these people are not a feminist except when it becomes a personal cause for them. They usually impose their ideas on other women about what is desirable to be taken up as part of the mainstream feminist cause without showing an awareness of different feminist viewpoints. Anyone who doesn't conform to their own personal ideals are seen as "defective" and should be "excluded" from feminist discourse.
  • #MeninistTwitter- horned up men using feminism to pick up girls without really trying to hide their true intentions. To them "feminist" is a word they use in a sentence but fail to understand what mainstream feminists aim to achieve. It's important to realise though that there may be lesbian/bi women who try and use the feminist label to rape other women by gaining their confidence online.
  • #SlutShamingFeministTwitter - Women and men who believe women who choose to dress "provocatively" (e.g. in a halter neck top and hotpants to go out clubbing) deserve to be shamed publically or online for their brazen choice. They also tend to argue that "skimpy"dressing or flirtatious actions usually leads to acts of rape being committed and it's the victims fault they got raped or assaulted or abused because they didn't take effective precautions. This sort of rhetoric is often one-sided in rape cases, as straight men who get raped are not criticised for their dress code or actions in the same way that straight women and trans women are criticised, hence why they are faux feminist.
  • #ProstitutesCannotBeFeministsTwitter - This often comes from middle class Judeo-Christian bias against sex workers who they believe have sold their body illegally because they are "hooked on drugs" or "owe money to pimps". There are sex workers who are trafficked into the country to raise illegal money for their pimps and they deserve our compassion and help, especially if they are being daily exploited and raped. However there are sex workers who freely choose to engage in sex acts with strangers for money and should feminists judge those women for wanting to control how they use their own bodies when feminists generally call for legalisation of abortion without foetal limitations? Trans activist (and former sex worker) Paris Lees is currently writing a thesis looking at how mainstream feminism has failed sex workers by oppressing them through their support of draconian legislation. So do those who support curbs to prostitution still be seen as feminists or faux feminists?
 Satia then identified the key ultra opponents of feminism on Twitter that I have now added to:
  • #FeminismIsCancerTwitter aka #FreeMilo/ Alt-Right Media Types who believe feminist ideology leads to the breakup of appropriate relationships, reduce the chances for acceptable men and women to "procreate" and  effectively lead to the destruction of men's confidence and natural dominant place in society. Mainly it's a bunch of bashful boys who bitch and moan about their own sexual inadequacies and blame strong, intelligent women for rejecting their sexual advances. It's quite ironic that the guy who came out with the leading statement is a conservative gay man who feels uncomfortable with his own sexuality and loves dressing himself up with gold jewellery despite hating the women that probably designed some of the jewellery he wears in the first place!
  • #FeminismDestroysChivalryTwitter - these are men who argue that feminism destroys the codes of etiquette and common courtesy that has been shown towards women in the past as a form of deference- e.g. there are men who question whether they need to give up a seat on a train for a heavily pregnant or physically disabled woman because they believe full "equality" means all seats are up for grabs regardless of physical differences. These men also seem to go all "size queen" when women criticise their bank balance, penis size or shoe size, even though they regularly rate the size of women's breasts or "fuckability" with their mates down the local bar of a Friday night and don't care whether they get overhead rating those women by the women themselves!
  • #YouCookOrGetFiredCavemanTwitter- These are men who argue that women still have to perform domestic "housewifely" duties even if they are the main breadwinner in the house. So there are young men who are able to cook or could learn how to do the ironing but they can't be bothered and expect their girlfriend/mother/sister to do it for them 100% of the time even if his primary occupation is baiting or masturbating fellow virgin male gamers online!
  • #FeminismIsIrrelevantInTheWesternWorldTwitter- These are men and women who argue that feminist principles can no longer be applied to Western countries because these countries already have as much equality of opportunity as can be reasonably achieved. They say that voting rights, abortion legalisation has liberated Western women to the point where they now have freedom to choose their path in life and are protected by discrimination laws should their rights be violated. Therefore feminism has no application and should only be advocated for in countries where there is no women's right to vote or have access over their bodies such as the "Muslim" countries of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Most believe that Islam is an anti-feminist and should be combatted at all costs but because  the Western World is mostly Christianised, there is "less of a threat".
So what kind of feminist model do we need to follow to fully address the concerns of opponents of feminism to get the "hidden feminists" identified earlier to engage with the mainstream feminist more openly and positively to enact the radical social changes needed to make the Establishment much more representative of our diverse modern society?

Satia made an interesting point regarding male engagement and education them about women's issues during the Melanin Millennials podcast on feminism. She believes that enlightened men should take the time to educate men about "key" feminist issues such as the need to fight for equal pay or to encourage more women to stand for political appointment as a councillor or MP. Men who actively choose to own the label of "feminist" are much more likely to preach the message positively to others. Those who have a skewered view of feminism through social media engagement with ultra radical feminists or faux feminists are more likely to call for their "eradication", hence the "Feminism is Cancer" argument favoured by those #FreeMilo Alt-Right activists who see any form of feminism as a danger to the existing patriarchal world order. However, Satia believes that women should only teach their male family members about respecting women's rights and that it is then up to those men to educate their mates in the nightclubs, down the pubs and youth centres and in their workplaces about these values. I believe that what men are taught with regards to women's issues by their female family members may differ according to cultural, geographical and ideological differences. Some women are clearly transphobic and may therefore teach their sons and brothers to hate trans women even if they may never have met a trans woman in their lifetime. As my previous blogpost on the "uneasiness" between transfeminists and radical feminists demonstrated, there are women who turn their own cisgender misogyny against other women who are gender-fluid/queer and yet still describe themselves as mainstream feminists. This not only damages the reputation of feminism within the LGBTQIA community but also gives fuel to the fire of those who want to dismiss feminism as an attempt to create a new Establishment order dominated by cisgender women only.

I believe the answer may lie in adopting an intersectional approach to feminism but one which is based on compassion for all, respect for opponent's views and humility to be shown when it may appear we get our approach wrong. It is important for intersectional feminists to understand their own levels of cognitive dissonance that exist and try to change or reduce that dissonance through research, debate and compassion as much as they can. For example, I believe that intersectional feminists need to address the fact that rape culture can affect men as well as women and lead to male victims being emotionally scarred for life. Feminists need to understand the uncomfortable truth that there are women and girls out there who are prepared to rape men because they want to gain sexual/emotional power over them, to get them to bend to their will. Some women may have internalised methods through seeing how their male counterparts have used sexual abuse as a power tool. Yet much of the emphasis is placed on girls and women who are raped by strangers or older men who "should know better". Boys who rape girls are even excused as being "mentally immature" and often get away with a rap on the knuckles and left free to try and attempt rape again in the near future. Education about what constitutes rape under the law and what sentences perpetrators may receive (including being put on the Sex Offenders Register in the UK) in schools, youth centres and religious groups across the Western world is key to trying to rates of behaviour but let's not pretend it is a purely male issue!

Another key point regarding intersectional feminism is that we have to be prepared to engage with issues and movements that link and blend within the movement. There are feminists who are Muslim who are trying to change radical fundamentalist views of Islam that seek to subjugate and humiliate women and keep them within the domestic sphere. The recent "Men Wearing Hijab" movement in Iran was an attempt by Muslim feminist men to show their support against the law in Saudi Arabia that forces women to wear the burqa when in the company of non-family men outside the home. They wanted to demonstrate the fact there are Muslim women in these countries who have support to try and gain control over their own bodies. Yet in France, the burqa is banned for all women which is ironic given the supposed level of freedom of clothing choice we are meant to have within a secular democracy. There are Muslim women in the UK who freely choose to wear the burqa because they want to maintain a connection to their tradition or maintain their modesty. Yet feminists have argued Muslim women's choice to wear the burqa is because they remain indoctrinated in Middle Eastern values of subjugation.  So there are clearly conflicts between feminists who have different cultural and religious backgrounds. But it's alright to recognise that within a movement. Discussions should take place and to some extent we should allow this freedom to debate issues but only within the confines of the law. Feminists cannot excuse using phobic taboo language to defeat their enemies regardless of how strongly they feel about their point of view. Provided we try and show a level of compassion towards our ideological opponents and work together with those who are prepared to do so, we can reduce the number of "hidden feminists" and drive the social changes that are needed to make our Establishment systems diversity and feminist friendly.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Size 20 Curvy Trans n Lovin' It: Joining the Plus Size Debate

Just Curvy Witticisms (Take That Katie Wanna ShockALottaEmoKidsKins)
I've always been a big size in terms of my weight. Partly due to my loving lifelong relationship with the sweetest of treats, making sure cheesy puffs, chocolate buttons and ice cream were regularly on my fine dining menu and partly due to my accepted stubbornness to change through carrying out ridiculous exercise schemes that neither interested me or made me any better than prior to exercising. I've been a bit of a lounge lizard come sofa monster and increases in online activity through getting enthused by social media platform interaction and writing this "verbose" blog probably didn't help matters. It's a common trait among some dyspraxics that because we find hand-eye coordination a real challenge on a daily basis it makes buffed up machismo ball games less fact football is about as appealing to me as watching Katie Hopkins decorating her anti-Fatty pad a cringy shade of lime green to try and appeal shallowly to the "fashion forward super skinny super gay gay clingy crowd" of which I have never and will never be a fully paid up member of despite needing to reduce my weight a little in preparation for the sex reassignment surgery (should I decide to go ahead with the hack fest).
I'm 5'5 and I've never found any sports that have appealed to me. Dancing makes me happy but only at a slow pace and it mostly stretches to doing struts and hip thrusts to Alicia Bridge's hyper disco record "I Love The Nightlife" (which is true as that's when I consume the most Cherry Pepsi Max whilst typing up my tantalising thoughts on fashion and celebrity epic fails etc etc). So yes, I am size 20 and I'm not sorry to say that I am curvy and love kitting myself out with curvy fashions. Primark, New Look Inspire, Boohoo Plus all have my name on their ordering books because I just can't stop myself from buying funky animal print leggings or embroidered denim dungarees for my regular lounging sessions.

Curve bloggers and body-positive activists should embrace curvy trans women as part of their campaign to make all women feel confident about their bodies regardless of age, sexual orientation, disability, height or race. Yes the stereotype commonly put out there by the mainstream media (MSM) is that trans women are skinny minnies who are only interested in fashion that looks great on the deliberately anorexic dummy models being paraded in every Primarni store in the land. Yes there are trans women who bait curvier women when engaged in romantic showdowns with Mr Average Plummer Mike and his bag of loveable tools. But there are some, like me, who know what it's like to be teased for their weight or choice of clothing, who hate being objectified when you lose weight as "sexy" and then vilified if you put on unexplained weight- "who ate all the pies?" etc. As I go through my transition process I may start to make use of Instagram and Twitter to show people that not all trans women are aiming to look like Katie Hopkins or Caitlyn Jenner on a bad day. I haven't felt like doing it so far because I'm not obsessed with my body form to the point where I feel I have to make myself feel better by putting out endless selfies for body validation. Nor will I ever feel like doing that. My body is beautiful and I have control over my body and how I want to present it or not present it to the world. My choice, my rules. It should be the same for everyone, regardless of their body circumstances.

So what sorts of clothing styles suit a curvalicious trans women with a penchant for maxing out the MasterCard debit/credit card on a monthly basis?

Trans women will usually spend a fortune on their first "all-female" seasonal wardrobe after their "gender dysphoria" diagnosis or self-realisation point (whatever comes first). I'm probably atypical because I've been wearing mostly "female" clothing items for the past decade without caring what the local populous thought of me. I spend on average £200 a month on my clothes and jewellery and I love keeping up to date with the latest fashions.

Here are a few examples of what I've bought this month to show people what sorts of clothes a plus size trans woman decides to wear:

Shirt Dresses
AX Paris Paisley Shirt Dress £23 purchased at New Look 
Shirt dresses are a godsend for trans women. The shaping is forgiving, the sizing is relatively generous, wearability is global and the patterns available are numerous and usually outlandishly bold. Recent favourite patterns include colour block stripes (of the Hillary Clinton late 1960's culottes ilk) denim tencel sleeveless dresses for the soft touch and early 1990's tailored look and paisley patterns to continue indulging in the early 70's hippy chic look that has dominated the high street market for the last 4 seasons. I myself have recently bought a shirt dress in Paisley print from AX Curve with the waist tie element to help give some definition if needed.

Slogan Tees
Simply Be #SorryNotSorryTee £14 from
Anyone can get away with wearing a slogan tee provided they keep the accessories minimal and choose believable slogans that match their own personality. The recent "Mermaid" and "Curves on Fleek" black and white oversized boyfriend tees have found favour with some plus size customers; I've focussed more on those that match my Twitter handle and hashtags that I regularly use such as the #SorryNotSorry floral tee with white glitter writing and small side split in oversized crop style or the #Sassy black and white simple effect for those 80's inspired party nights out wear we are going to adopt coming into AW16. Simply Be and Boohoo + stock these tees and at prices ranging between £8 and £14 it really isn't going to break the bank.


Wrap Playsuit Boohoo + £18
As a fan of 1970's and 80's clothing, I can't really get away from wearing playsuits on a regular basis. Recently I've become a fan of viscose deep-V patterned playsuits that are stocked at Boohoo +.  The fabric is breathable, easy to wash, doesn't snag easily and you can wear a black/white tee underneath to cover your pecs/breast area if you still have a slightly hairy chest. Black mesh or lace is a summary tee layer favourite. I also love vibrant, colourful lace versions of the playsuit such as those red and green sleeveless and pintucked black lace sleeve ones found at Simply Be. So even if you are curvy on the hips and the thighs you can still enjoy the fitted nature of the playsuit!

Culottes and Coloured Crop Jeans/Jeggings
When you're 5'5 and curvy with short legs it can be difficult to find jeans that fit at the waist and keep tight around your thighs. I hate men's jeans that tend to hang off your legs and trip you up when it's pouring it down and you're trying to get to an important afternoon tea date with best friends. So cropped jeans and jeggings and their trendier SS16 cousin the culottes are a great way of avoiding fashion awkwardness. Crop Jeggings mostly have full elastication so sit on the waist whilst allowing your thighs to breathe and tend to end higher up than ankle grazers. I love bright coloured versions in the springtime especially light greens and yellows. Later on in August I tend to favour indigo and bleached denims that I can pair with the slogan tees to create a relaxed, easy look. If you have issues with bearing your legs as a trans women pre op, wearing indigo cropped jeggings under dresses can protect you from overexposure.

New Look Denim Culottes £12 (on sale at!
Culottes are a short version of flares to me and create a funky statement when paired with glitter tees and crop tops. They are easy to wear as an evening alternative to shorts and adequately cover the bulge section when still pre-op.

Paisley Kimono £14 from Simply Be
So easy to slip on. So soft against bare skin. Comes in a range of psychedelic colours, textures and styles, the kimono has become the fashionistas best friend. I have kimonos in every shade, shape and from most fashion outlets. About 80 in total! Lurex, sequin, metallic, paisley, black and white zig zag stripe I have them all. They are a great way of hiding hairy arms and creating a flowing silhouette in my opinion! Prices starting at £6 makes them a must have accessory and there are no signs that kimonos are being assigned to the fashion sin bin anytime soon!

So next time someone asks you whether a trans person can embrace curvy fashion, you can tell them about a trans blogger just doing that full throttle and regardless of the state of her transition! And her buying power potential is just as strong as those women who indulge in designer Gucci handbag/ Jimmy Choo shoe fetishistic worship of a monthly payday!