Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Vigil part two

Lucy Meadows vigil
    Last night I joined the vigil for Lucy Meadows outside the offices of the Daily Mail in Kensington. There were several hundred of us from the non-trans and the trans communities, and both MtF and FtM among the latter. There were addresses, a two-minute silence, and a moment of chanting from some idiots who hadn't got the message that this was a vigil not a demo.
    Some Socialist Workers were trying to hand out placards, they'll try to hijack any cause. I remarked that I'd rather be seen with a copy of the Mail than something with their logo on it, if their recent rape scandal wasn't enough I remember their tactics from my student days. No thanks.
    A couple of amiable police officers were on hand to keep order, not that we caused them much trouble save for their needing to remind us not to stand in the road. Various sour-faced Mail hacks gave us a glance as they left the building.
    As a dignified show of solidarity I think we made our point. A couple of MPs were in attendance, as were quite a few journalists and a cameraman. We won't feature prominently in today's paper, but that wasn't the point of the exercise.
    When papers like the Mail and their political allies rail against people they don't like, they are very fond of saying that along with rights come responsibilities. A defence of their conduct I've heard over the last week has been one of freedom of speech, somehow a free press means that columns like the Littlejohn one on Lucy Meadows must be acceptable.
    To which defence I'd repeat their line: along with the right of free speech comes the responsibility for its judicious use. I hope in a small way last night we helped remind them of that.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


   By now most of you should have read about Lucy Meadows. A teacher early in her transition, outed by a local newspaper and subjected to a viciously transphobic Daily Mail piece, now dead presumably by her own hand. And even in death it didn't stop, she was misgendered continuously in the reporting of the aftermath.
    I sincerely hope the Mail is brought to account for what they did. There are petitions circling calling for the removal of the worst offender, but I feel that even in the unlikely event that they claim their scalp they will not cause a change of culture. I  am pinning more hope on a campaign called "Don't buy transphobia", targeting the Mail's larger advertisers. It won't change their bottom lines much but it stands a chance of achieving its aim because it holds the promise of bad publicity that I can say from first hand experience is something that brand owners hold in chronic fear.
    There is a vigil for Lucy Meadows outside the Mail offices in Kensington, tomorrow evening at 6:30. I'll be there as will many others like me, standing up and being counted. Thinking of Lucy, of those who went before her, and those who will come after her if this is allowed to continue unchallenged.
    A chilly West London pavement might seem an inauspicious place from which to challenge the culture of an entire industry. But with a strong wind of change blowing through what used to be known collectively as Fleet Street, perhaps it's time for our community to catch a little bit of it in our sails. God knows, we've waited long enough!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

They look after their own

    What a lovely morning, I wake up to an email from the press complaints commission with their judgement on that Julie Burchill Observer piece.
    Tl;dr: the PCC feels none of their rules were broken. Unsurprising really, on several levels. As an organisation they are famous for their uselessness, and this is simply a last gasp of incompetence from an organisation in its final hours.
    There's also a nasty whiff about it. It's a tired refrain and often the last resort of scoundrels: "If you said that about (insert politically correct minority here) you'd be locked up, why do you think you can say it about me?", but it contains some truth. Had Burchill penned a piece targeting some groups other than transgender people, would she have had such an easy ride?
    Above all though there is a sense of the Press establishment looking after one of their own. The reason Burchill's piece was published in the first place is that she had reached the point of being beyond reproach, as one of the grandees of journalism the editors did not apparently subject her work to the same scrutiny they would have given to a less prominent writer. I can't quite shake the feeling that the PCC have something of the same about them, and that conclusion does not reflect well on them.
    Before we get too upset about the PCC it is however very important to understand that their decision is irrelevant. The fuss that surrounded the publication of the piece was a watershed moment. Pre-Burchill the Guardian/Observer group and other so-called quality newspapers would happily publish hate speech from radical feminists like her because they followed the logic that "she's a Feminist, she must be OK", now those days are firmly over. They have lost an unquestioning mouthpiece for their more toxic views, and the world is a better place for it.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The young cat doesn't play rugby

    It's been over three months now since I started a language course, learning spoken Welsh. Driven by an interest in the language and the country rather than ancestry, my genes contain more German than anything from the other side of Offa's Dyke.
    So how's it going? Well, I have to say. That's not to say that I'm a competent speaker yet, after all there is only so much you can learn in three months. But there's a real feeling of progress, I can have and have had simple Welsh conversations that go beyond the stilted. Which is a testament to the effectiveness of the conversational focus of the course I'm using. Had I used some written courses I'd still be rote-learning verb tables without a clue how to pronounce them.
    It's a frustrating situation, being at this stage in a course. I have a lot of Welsh linguistic scaffolding, but still frustratingly little vocabulary to pad it out. Only time will help me there, no point trying to rush.
    Meanwhile it's re-awoken something that withered when I was at school, a joy in learning a language. Mental stimulation doesn't get much better.
    As with all such courses, when you have limited vocabulary you find yourself making unlikely sentences. I'm not entirely convinced how useful this is going to be, but it's undeniably true: Mae'r gath ifanc ddim yn warae rygbi.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Castles made of sand

    It's happening again. People around me are talking about buying houses. I thought it went away back in 2007 when the Smug Homeowners suddenly found out that instead of Earning Money for Them their prized dwellings had turned into worrying liabilities. Instead of banging on incessantly about their precious house prices or property investments they fell strangely silent, the formerly property-laden Christmas round-robins preferring instead to obsess about the school choices for their super-intelligent offspring.
    Sorry. I guess I can't help turning the knife. I had to suffer a decade of it and I became more than a little annoyed.
    You see, in the decade before the banking crash in 2007 the British housing market grew in a frightening bubble beyond the reach of first-time buyers like me, sustained on a wave of investment buyers capable of paying any prices with their easy credit. The financial industry pulled the ultimate confidence trick of persuading the public that debt was equivalent to wealth, and they just lapped it up.
    The housing boom passed me by for two reasons, I'm very debt-averse so I didn't jump in when I had very little money, and just as I reached the point at which I might have afforded a house along came the dotcom crash which pulverised my industry and gave me some serious career turmoil. Back then I was rather depressed about it, but later in the decade I realised that I was the fortunate one for being debt-free. If I lose my job or the economy goes crazy there'll be nobody chasing me for a quarter million quid I don't have.
    So I'm rather surprised to see people talking about buying houses again. Younger colleagues, to be precise. Not old enough to remember the last time the economy went titsup back at the end of the '80s, none of them had friends who spent the '90s sleeping on their parents sofas paying for homes they no longer owned.
    It all has that bubble feeling about it again. There's an air of "get in while you still can" about it which I find particularly frightening. I even had one of them repeat the hoary old chestnut "Oh, but you mustn't think of it as debt!" to me, to which I just laughed. In my book if the bank can take it back when you owe a single penny on it, you don't own it, the bank does. As I mentioned above, I had friends who learned that one the hard way.
    I think they were a little surprised when I pointed out that I can buy a house if I so choose. I have both the savings for a deposit and the income to keep up the payments, and I'm confident enough in the security of that income to be less debt-averse than I was. But what I couldn't make them understand was why I am not taking that path,why instead my wife and I live in a comfortable but very small rental flat.
    You see, there are three things that keep my cash firmly in my pocket:
    The first is a simple aversion to the asking price. I don't think a house that is priced out of the reach of a first-time-buyer represents good value, if I have to borrow more than I earn in a decade to buy it then I think the bubble is well past its sell-by date. Let some other idiot take the hit.
    The second is demographic. Most British houses are still owned by the so-called "baby-boomers", the generation born just after the war. They're the huge bulge in our population age graph. They bought the houses cheaply in the '60s and '70s and they've hung on to them. Now that generations's just retiring, and in the next decade they'll start to move into old people's homes. So given my first reason, why would I wish to buy something that's overpriced to start with, and is going to have a huge flood of similar properties coming onto the market as the boomers move out, before I'm half way through paying for it?
    And my final reason relates to the economics of the moment. Interest rates are at a historic low, they simply can't go any lower in a meaningful way. There is even talk of negative rates as some kind of stimulus measure. Now you'd think low rates would be good, the best time to borrow, right? Can't say I agree. The problem is, as a first time buyer I'd be expected to go for my maximum possible repayment just to tread water with a mortgage, such is the amount I'd be expected to borrow. And there's the problem with low interest rates, when things go wrong and they're that low there's only one direction they can go, and that's up. As my friends twenty years ago found out, that means monthly payments into the stratosphere, and inevitable repossession. Not a risk I'd like to take right now, what with the economy looking so dodgy and all.
    So my homespun housing economics 101 didn't make an impact on my colleagues. I understand their needs and frustrations only too well, I guess I would have been like them once. But I can't help some shock seeing them blithely signing their young families up for maxed-out interest-only mortgages in the midst of a global economic crisis.
     An Englishman's home may indeed be his castle, but what use is a castle made of sand?

Sunday, 3 March 2013

I'm hopeless at misgendering

    I mentioned in my last post that I'd been to a panel discussion on transgender politics and being a better ally. There's one thing brought up during the evening that has been dwelling on me for a few days so I think deserves a moment's contemplation.
    The subject in hand was misgendering, and the audience discussion turned to one of calling it out. Unsurprising given that many of them were politically motivated students, they live to a large extent in a culture in which calling out provides a means of garnering kudos. Different causes from those of my student days, but plus ça change!
    I felt that something had been missed, namely that not all misgendering is malicious. People slip up, it's only natural. I'd be the first to hold my hands up here, I dread  the moments in which my brain tells me something automatically and I say the wrong thing. For me the danger comes when meeting transmen at the start of their transition before their T kicks in, my damn brain has so often had a "she" hovering about to be said without thinking.
    So if someone misgenders a trans person by all means tell them so, but hold on a minute before breaking out the big guns. There are two things to ask here: Did they do it deliberately, and how did they react afterwards? If they purposefully emphasised an inappropriate *HE* or *SHE* and responded with anger when politely corrected, then let them have it! But if they went red-faced and said something like "Oh shit, I got that wrong, didn't I, sorry", then smile and move on, next time they'll remember and get it right. It's never appropriate to make a scene unnecessarily, it doesn't make us any friends.