Saturday, 25 January 2014

Is it happening to me?

   I've not been around here much these last couple of weeks. Sorry friends, I've not been around your blogs either. I've not had the best of times, I'm suffering from acid reflux and my insomnia has returned with a vengeance. Crossed fingers that my atypical facial pain doesn't get triggered, that's nasty.
    Unfortunately the cause of all this lies at work. About the same time as I changed my gender my manager retired, and the new one's style of personal management has fallen significantly short of what I had come to expect from the organisation. It's not appropriate to go into detail, suffice to say it has been the cause of some serious stress and I have been in conversation with the HR department about it.
   But this post isn't about what is or isn't happening between me and my manager, instead it's about the elephant in the room. The inevitable question I have to ask but I simultaneously hate asking. "Is it because I'm trans?"
   I have no desire to become a Professional Transgender Person to whom everything that happens to them is because of their trans status. We've all encountered members of minority groups who do that, and they do no favours to the rest of their groups. And nobody's said anything at work, made any references to my trans status, disparaging or otherwise.After all, nobody is ever transphobic, are they!
   The problem is, the timing is a bit suspect. As the scruffy bloke I worked for three years and got very good ratings all through, as the girl suddenly it seems I can do no right despite having a couple of very conspicuous successes on my plate.
   That elephant in the room suddenly seems very real indeed.
   What I have done is fire a shot across their bows. In conversation with HR I have made it very clear indeed that I do not wish to have any turmoil, and in that aim they should be in complete agreement with me. Employee turmoil is very costly for an employer, not to mention embarrassing. I made it very clear that in our community a lot of people face employment problems after transitioning so it is something of which I am very aware. I then asked them to nip it in the bud before  anything they'd later regret happens, because all I want is a quiet life.
   Did I get it right? I hope so but only time will tell. I had to do something, after all I have nearly 20 years experience in dotcom-land behind me and one thing that experience has left me with is this: I sure as hell am no doormat.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Gayly encouraging kids to use naughty words

    When I was at primary school in an English village sometime at the end of the 1970s, there was a term during which the entire pupil body discovered a new universal insult.


    Not very nice, is it. Rather shaming, three decades later.
    I seem to remember it had an air of contagion about it in a way that only made sense to nine-year-olds: someone denounced as such could somehow pass it on to others by touching them. The horror at such a moment, the chorus of the uninfected as they scrambled to avoid contact, and the slightly bizarre imaginary disinfection ritual performed by the victim's friends for an imaginary contagion. Being nine years old was weird.
    Of course, our antics were a rather disturbing reflection of the Thalidomide scandal over a decade earlier, before we were born. We didn't know that, we didn't even know where the word came to our school from. One minute nobody had heard of it the next everyone was using it. It had no real meaning to us, an ephemeral throwaway word which would probably have dropped out of fashion as soon as one of the cooler kids decided that its use denoted that the speaker was somehow childish. A significant insult among children who all want to pretend that they er... aren't children.
    Fortunately for us our headmaster decided Something Must Be Done. At a school assembly he laid out in no uncertain terms the history of the word, and banned its use. Serious Trouble would rain down on the head of anyone caught saying it.
    Its public use stopped immediately. There were some denunciations of suspected flid-sayers, but that was it. We'd learned about the use of ableist slurs, and why they were a Bad Thing, m'kay.
    What followed was interesting. Though "flid" was no longer a part of public vocabulary its power in private vocabulary was increased exponentially. The whole school now knew this was a Bad Word with power to hurt, and the adults really disapproved of it.
    Nothing could have been more calculated to encourage its use among the immature and give it a new and much more exciting life. It did die away eventually, I guess as we all got just a little bit older. Perhaps a summer holiday rendered it outdated, last year's word.
    The summer of "flid" has been on my mind of late, as a parallel to something that has been in the news. The gay organisation Sonewall (I can't bring myself to include a T in the name of a trans-exclusive organisation named for a seminal event in transgender history) have been campaigning for an end to the use of the word "gay" in the sense the lexicographers record as "foolish, stupid, or unimpressive". It's a sense that's been in the news from time to time, for instance when a student got into hot water for calling a police horse gay, or when a Radio 1 DJ used it to describe a ringtone.
    It's a funny word, "gay". The older generation found it offensive forty or more years ago when its meaning shifted to the homosexual sense from one meaning "happy or carefree", now those who identify by the homosexual sense are finding it offensive that the word is moving away from them.
    As word senses go though this one ain't big and it ain't clever. Gay youngsters have a hard enough time without the extra burden of the identity they have to come to terms with being synonymous with everything negative in name. I wouldn't be happy to hear my kids using it, if I had any.
    I have to admit though I have some disquiet about the tone of the campaign surrounding the sense, particularly the way in which it has been labeled as universally homophobic. The rating of hate language by vocabulary alone is an extremely blunt instrument, instead it needs to be understood that the classification of hate language is as much in the context in which it is used as in the vocabulary itself. Is describing a police horse as "gay" to mean foolish or stupid really a homophobic act when the speaker is simply repeating a widely used sense and is not connecting it with the homosexual sense in the way they are using it?
    My concern is that with such a clumsy campaign the effect will be similar to that on "flid" in our little school all those years ago. A piece of throwaway language  that has well and truly escaped into the wild will gain a new level of power as its capacity to cause offence is amplified by the actions of well-meaning but boneheaded teachers. And the losers will be the gay teens who will inevitably suffer this freshly sharpened barb. At least there were no Thalidomide children to be offended in our village in the 1970s.
    So how else might you deal with it? The truth is, nobody owns language but the great body of its speakers, and those who try to impose their own rules on it are rarely successful. Better than imposing blanket bans and threats of punishment would be to encourage the users to come to their own conclusions about this sense of the word.
   Education, after all isn't that supposed to be the real job of teachers?