New Statesman | Why gender became the ultimate forum for self-expression

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In November, the British high-street bank Metro announced that it was expanding its gender and title options. Customers could now register as “non-binary” rather than male or female, and as “Mx” rather than Miss, Ms, Mrs or Mr. In some ways, this development parallels the rise of Ms in the 1970s, which was popularised by feminists who wanted a title that didn’t identify women by their marital status. In practice, Ms marks women by their political affiliation instead (if you’re talking to a Ms, you’re probably talking to a feminist) but, even so, its first intention was to conceal rather than reveal information.

Mx does something different. To declare yourself a Mx is to disclose something about yourself: that your identity is outside what has become known as “the gender binary”, and you are neither man nor woman but something either in between or entirely other. This is a statement about who you are, and it comes with an implicit understanding that not being able to make that statement – or not having it recognised – is damaging. As the father of one gender-non-binary teenager told BuzzFeed UK: “When . . . you don’t identify as male or female and you only see those two boxes, then you don’t see yourself there . . . You are absent. That must hurt, and that’s what makes me angry.”

Read the full article in the New Statesman

First published New Statesman, 17-23 February 2017, as part of the New Times feature

 

New Statesman | The New Times

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This week’s New Statesman is a special issue on “culture, identity and the cutting edge of change”. In it, you can read Caroline Crampton on podcasts, Deborah Cameron on language, Helen Lewis on media, Yo Zushi on smartphones, Felicity Cloake on clean eating, Ian Leslie on Netflix – every entry, in fact, is a match between a brilliant writer and a topic they can’t fail to be interesting about. Hence, I’m very pleased that it also includes my piece on gender and identity: “Why gender became the ultimate forum for self expression”. On newsstands now, or subscribe to get the magazine by post.

Subscribe to the New Statesman here

Little Atoms | The conservative Christians who see trans people as heretics

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There are no protests outside the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, London, when I arrive. There have been no petitions, and no angry pleas for the venue to cancel the event I’ve come to see: a two-day conference called “The New Normal: Tackling Sexuality and Gender Confusion Amongst Children and Young People”, put on by conservative campaign group Christian Concern. The quiet is unsettling. Any discussion of transgenderism that goes beyond the affirmative now tends to attract extreme hostility.

In Canada, a doctor has been fired and his clinic shut down under pressure from trans activists. Feminists who hold that sex is more politically relevant than gender identity are accused of causing violence against trans people. The organisation Radfem Collective, which has been attacked as trans exclusionary for its women-only attendance policy, now doesn’t reveal the location of its conferences until the day before the event – sensibly, given that pressure from protesters over another women-only event in 2012 led to the venue pulling out and the event being cancelled.

The New Normal outstrips any of these targets. It features, among other things, an “ex-gay” counsellor who claims he can guide his clients out of “unwanted same-sex feelings”; a former Ukip parliamentary candidate who claims that homosexuality is connected to pedophilia and bestiality; and two speakers who describe themselves as “COGs” (short for “children of gays”), and claim that same-sex parenting is a violation of children’s rights. Christian Concern itself is currently providing legal support for a mother and father who could lose custody having refused to acknowledge their trans child’s gender.

Read the full article at Little Atoms

Project Calm | Deep reading

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Why should we read? The magazine Project Calm set me the task of explaining how books can sharpen your brain, strengthen your sympathies and make you more resilient (and yes, I do prescribe strong doses of Middlemarch for all conditions). The magazine is on sale now, and features beautiful illustrations by Jody Thomas alongside my words.  

project-calmFor as long as novels have existed, there have been moralists to warn of their dangers. Late Victorian educationalist Charlotte Mason chided that “the girl who sits for hours poring over a novel, to the damage of her eyes, her brain, and her general nervous system, is guilty of a lesser fault of the nature of suicide.” Recent research, though, has claimed that rather than inducing a slow death, reading books can actually keep you alive: a study in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that those who read a book for 30 minutes a day had a 23-month survival advantage, regardless of their wealth, education, health or sex. And fascinatingly, this advantage was specific to books. No other reading material did so much good for its readers.

Buy issue 2 of Project Calm to read the full feature or read a sampler of the magazine

The Spectator | How should gender be defined in Olympic sports?

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There were no women athletes in the first modern Olympic games. The next time around, in the 1900 Paris games, out of 997 athletes there were 22 women, who competed in just five acceptably ladylike sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism and golf. Over a century later, the introduction of women’s boxing meant that the 2012 Olympics were the first to feature women competing in all sports. But that moment of parity has been followed almost immediately by a drastic challenge to the very definition of women’s sport, as the International Olympic Committee brought out new rules last November on the inclusion of trans athletes.

Read the full article at the Spectator

Little Atoms | The Manson family’s radical misogyny

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When a crime achieves a kind of mythic status, it’s because it’s exceptional in one of three ways: victim, perpetrator, or method. The murders committed by Charles Manson’s “Family” cult in 1969 excelled in all three ways. The number of victims would have been sensational alone; the fact that one of them was actress Sharon Tate gave the killings a borrowed celebrity. The extremity of the violence was outstanding and the addition of the Family’s peculiar hippie symbolism to the crime scenes only made them more compelling. And had they been committed, like most violent crimes, by men, this would have been enough; but most of the Family were young women, making them irresistibly atypical killers.

Read the full essay at Little Atoms 

Little Atoms | Is marriage still the enemy of creativity for women?

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“My plan”, says the unnamed protagonist of Jenny Offill’s fragmentary 2014 novel Dept. of Speculation, “was to never get married. I was going to become an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never with mundane things.” A man, of course, doesn’t have to choose between heterosexual marriage and monsterhood. If he marries, he gets a wife to support him; if a woman marries, she becomes one and winds up supporting someone else.

Read the full essay at Little Atoms