In August this year, several UK councils issued guidance to schools on accommodating female pupils who wear binders. A binder is a constricting undergarment for the upper body: what it binds are the breasts, pressing them down to a flatness that the wearer feels is appropriate to their self-perception as masculine or gender-neutral. According to Cornwall Council, the binder is “very important to [the wearer’s] psychological wellbeing.” But binders have unwelcome physical side-effects too, including “breathing difficulties, skeletal problems and fainting.” Lancashire Council’s advice urges teachers to “monitor [wearers] carefully during physical activities and in hot weather. It may be necessary to subtly offer more breaks.”
When the NSPCC invited me to participate in a discussion on the subject “is society letting down transgender children?” (part of its Dare to Debate series), those guidelines were one of the first things I thought of. They’re written in accordance with the overriding principle of gender identity politics, which is that affirmation is all. Any bodily harms incurred count for little compared to the trauma believed to be inflicted by a “mismatch” between appearance and identity. It’s a doctrine that insists we’ve moved beyond the tyranny of physical sex and social pressure, and into a realm of pure selfhood where all must be able to live in accordance with their own inherent being.
Read the full post at the New Statesman
Maybe one day, when this brutal presidential election is over, Hillary Clinton will look on Melania Trump with sympathy. The prospective Republican First Lady’s experience sometimes seems like an anxiety dream rerun of Clinton’s own time stumping for job of wife-in-chief back in 1992. Even before Bill Clinton had the Democratic nomination, rumours about his infidelities were being kicked up, and in a bid to outflank them, the Clintons appeared in a joint interview on the CBS current affairs show 60 Minutes. “I’m not sitting here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she said, the extreme humiliation of her situation registering as perhaps the tiniest flicker of her perfectly composed face. “I’m sitting here because I love him and I respect him.”
Another decade, another TV set, another consort to a nominee called on to defend her husband’s honour. After the release of Donald Trump’s grotesque “grab her by the pussy” comments from 2005, Melania has headed out to do her wifely duty. But where the Clintons in 1992 had the benefit of uncertainty – the allegations against Bill were unproven – Melania is going up against the implacable fact of recorded evidence, and going up alone. Even leaving aside the boasts about sexual assault, which she’s at pains to discount, this still leaves her talking about a tape of her husband declaring that he “tried to fuck” another woman when he was only newly married.
Read the full post at the New Statesman
The unwanted declaration of love. The friend who decides to honestly reveal what they always thought of your baby’s nose. Sometimes it only takes one line to kill a relationship. For some reason, the publisher of Private Citizens invites us on the flyleaf to “Call it … Middlemarch for millennials”. And what could have been a pleasant encounter between reader and slab of near-contemporary realism is suddenly dead, murdered by incompatible expectations. Every page of this debut is haunted by the unflattering question: “Is this what a Middlemarch for millennials would do?”
In the pro column: it’s on the long side, with liberal use of free indirect discourse, some philosophical digressions, and erudite quotes to head up each chapter (one of which is taken from Middlemarch, suggesting that the comparison has not been imposed unbidden). It’s also set around a critical moment in technology from recent history, with the burgeoning internet of 2007-8 in place of the railways bearing down on Middlemarch. In the con column: this is not a study of life in a provincial town, because it’s set in San Francisco; and it doesn’t have the roaming, rangy sympathies of Eliot. Where Middlemarch achieved understanding for even its most flawed characters, no one in Private Citizens rises above the level of detestable.
Read the full review at the Guardian
Update, 13 October 2016 – Following the withdrawal of Kellie Maloney and protests from trans campaigners, the NSPCC has cancelled the event. According to the statement they have issued: “the trans community have raised concerns and told us that they don’t support the NSPCC hosting this discussion”. In other words, they don’t actually “dare to debate” if there is a risk that the conversation might challenge the current conventions around transgender children.
Original post continues below…
On 25 October, I’m taking part in a event for the NSPCC’s Dare to Debate series, attempting to answer the question: is society letting down transgender children? As soon as they approached me, I knew I wanted to participate. Over the last few years, I’ve dedicated a considerable proportion of my writing to gender, and in the process I’ve changed my own position substantially.
Transgender rights have been described as the “next civil rights frontier”, but within the feelgood narrative, a lot of assumptions have been left unchallenged. Is gender an inherent quality that every human possesses, or a sex-class system that we’re socialised into? Is it possible to identify a child as trans without relying on sexist stereotypes? How does the prioritising of gender identity over physical sex affect women and girls? Are trans-identified youths harmed by the way issues such as suicide are reported? All these are left woefully unscrutinised in the current orthodoxy about gender, and any opportunity to explore them is very welcome.
The other speaker will be Kellie Maloney, the boxing promoter formerly known as Frank who transitioned in 2014. Maloney’s past includes the expression of homophobic sentiments (now repudiated), and a 2005 attack on Tracey Maloney when the two were married (Maloney has attributed this in part to the strain of living with a suppressed gender identity). My participation implies no endorsement of these acts. Gendered violence, and its effects on children, is something I expect to discuss at the event. I trust the NSPCC to facilitate a full and open discussion, and am delighted to volunteer my time for this debate.
The audience will be by invitation, but I will update this post if there are plans to stream it or release a recording.
Read more about the NSPCC and support its work
Later today the campaign group Don’t Screen Us Out will deliver a petition to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asking that he oppose the introduction NIPT – of a safe, accurate test for trisomy disorders. Their stated reason is a fear that improved detection rate for Down’s syndrome will lead to an increased abortion rate for affected pregnancies, and perhaps the elimination of Down’s syndrome altogether. This is a strange argument since it’s largely coming from families who have either chosen not to screen or chosen to have children with Down’s, and are themselves proof against their own claims.
Not at all strangely, the issue has been hijacked by anti-choice campaigners: Don’t Screen Us Out spokesperson Lynn Murray is also a longstanding member of the anti-abortion group SPUC. Following my response to Sally Phillips’ documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome?, Sky News invited me to debate the issue with James Mildred, described as a “bioethics commentator” here but more accurately an anti-abortion activist since he’s a spokesman for the religious anti-choice group CARE. During the interview, he conceded that he was entirely opposed to termination and motivated in this by Christian beliefs.
For people like Mildred, the fact that the current testing regiment caused miscarriage in 1% of cases is irrelevant. The fact that NIPT is 99% accurate and will help families prepare for wanted babies with Down’s as well as end unwanted pregnancies does not interest them. NIPT itself is clearly better both for women and for the unborn they claim to be concerned about; the only reason to stop it is if you want is to stop women having information, because you don’t like the choices they make. Ultimately, opponents of NIPT don’t want to talk about the reality of bringing up a child with serious mental and physical disabilities, nor what happens when that child becomes an adult and still needs care. Mildred’s position isn’t just anti-woman, it’s anti-disability too.
Read more about NIPT from the NHS
One of the strangest defences of Donald Trump’s 2005 comments (which I wrote about for the New Statesman over the weekend) is the claim that this is “just banter” and “what men do”. As Deborah Cameron explains in a typically excellent post, both those things can be true without diminishing the harm and the ugliness of the things Trump was recorded discussing. I joined Stig Abell on his LBC show yesterday to talk about what this incident tells us about rape culture, and how that affects all women.
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Why is it “grab them by the pussy” that did it? Why, after everything he’s said, is it this that’s pushed senior Republicans to finally turn away from Donald Trump? Not slurring Mexican immigrants as drug runners and rapists. Not calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. Not retweeting an anti-Semitic meme that originated on a white supremacist message board. Not his racist and sexist bullying of a Venezuelan Miss Universe winner, and not his heavy-handed hinting that assassination might be an appropriate way to put Hillary Clinton out of the running.
None of those things have left a mark on the Trump campaign like that inflicted by a few minutes of candid tape from 2005. As Trump went to film a cameo on soap opera Days of Our Lives, he was accompanied by a crew from the TV entertainment news programme Access Hollywood recording behind-the-scenes footage; some of that footage was unbroadcastable, and some of that has now been leaked. “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” says Trump in the recording. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” Then: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Read the full post at the New Statesman