Apostrophe!

’Ware the breaking apostrophe!
It’s invasive – isn’t it? –
That possessive serpent’s tail…
A word-shatterin’ catastrophe

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In (binary) days of old

In days of old, you either had a penis or you didn’t. If you did, you were considered a man. If not, then a women. Anyone who didn’t conform was killed, locked in the attic/madhouse, or simply ignored. The binary was self-enforcing.

only perfection
may bask in the sun’s fair light
shh! lady’s slipper

One day it was discovered that almost all men have a Y chromosome, and almost no women have one. Therefore, XX was equated (mostly) with women, and XY (mostly) with men. This satisfied 99% of people – and 100% of people who mattered. A nice, convenient binary.

white clover’s fourth leaf
is a scientist’s pursuit:
hope, faith, love and luck

However, the people locked away in the attic started to complain. “This ‘almost binary’ is wrong,” they said. “Having – or not having – a penis doesn’t define me. Your simple assumptions are hurting me!”

mary jane’s despised
for being both girl and boy –
or one, or other…

The binary people grew afraid, for their assumptions were written into law, into textbooks, into the holy texts, and even into a long history of violence and oppression. “How dare you challenge our norms!” they cried.

ah, normality!
the bells of digitalis
ring a deadly toll

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The Trans Debate

“Gender identity isn’t a real thing. It’s completely unscientific. Male and female are biological facts, like having breasts or having a penis. This is your sex, and the evidence is plain to see. You’re one or the other, and you can’t change just because you feel like it.”

“Sex isn’t a binary. Not everyone is either XX or XY, and in fact some people who are XY are women, and some XX people are men.”

“Intersex people are only 0.03% of the population. The sex binary is valid for over 99.9% of the population. And anyway, intersex people don’t like being used in debates over transgender issues.”

“But I was talking about biological sex not being a binary – and, anyway, 0.03% of people still works out to over a million intersex people around the world. But on the subject of gender and population statistics, a recent survey suggests the numbers of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people is as high as 2.7%.”

“Gender non-conforming? Girls liking football and boys liking dolls aren’t transgender. That’s the problem with gender stereotypes. How many girls are being forced to transition just because they like boy things? Being effectively sterilised at the age of 16, or younger, and regretting it for the rest of their lives?”

“Inevitably there will be a few people who have some regrets about transitioning, but the overwhelming majority – over 90% – are satisfied with their lives post-transition.”

“Those statistics are highly suspect. Trans activists control the media and shout down anyone who questions the trans faith. They even get de-transitioning research shut down. Where’s the sense in that?”

“They really don’t control the media. The right-wing press has been vociferously anti-trans for the past year or so. It’s creating a culture of fear that endangers the lives of trans people, and especially trans kids. Nearly half of all trans kids have attempted suicide. They need protecting.”

“They need therapy. They need to understand that gender stereotypes are bad and that it’s okay to be the sex they are.”

“I agree gender stereotypes are bad, but gender identity is innate, not learned. Trans people should be free to be the gender they are.”

“Gender identity isn’t real! Trans activists repeat ‘trans women are women’ like a holy mantra, but that doesn’t make it true. Biology is real. Sex is real. You’re either a man or a woman. The man produces sperm, and the women produces eggs. That’s real. Gender is a fantasy. Transgenderism is a faith.”

“Both sides of this argument are founded on beliefs. The idea that humans can be divided neatly into men and women based on biology is a belief, as if male and female are encoded in a binary switch in the genes.”

“It’s not a belief. Women are women. They have babies, they menstruate, they suffer oppression for their sex, not their gender. Female genital mutilation, for God’s sake! And trans activists say if we talk about FGM we’re being transphobic!”

“Well, the assumption that all children assigned female are actually female is questionable, but I wouldn’t myself say the terms are transphobic. But as I was saying, biology is messy. Most XY people identify as ‘male’ and most XX people identify as ‘female’, but that only makes it a general rule, not an absolute one.”

“Biological sex is a binary. Intersex people are male or female too. And you can’t change from one to another. You can’t pretend you’re a woman just because you feel like one, or because you’ve got a sexual fetish for being a woman. Autogynephilia – look it up. It’s a real diagnosis.”

“It’s not about pretending! Gender identity is innate.”

“Really? Because plenty of people seem to develop dysphoria late in life, or they think they’re trans for a while then change their minds.”

“Well, gender identity can fluctuate over time for some people; sometimes from hour to hour. And for many it’s a coming out process that can take years. And there are people who get confused by gender stereotypes into thinking they might be trans when really they’re gender non-conforming in some other way.”

“But these are all just internal perceptions. Confused beliefs at odds with reality. Why should other people be forced to share their delusions? Trans women aren’t women. They can call themselves ‘trans women’ if they like, but not ‘women’, and they shouldn’t be allowed into women’s safe spaces.”

“Trans women would be far more at risk in men’s spaces.”

“Cross-dressers have a choice. They’re men and can use men’s spaces, or if they must indulge their fetish in public, they should be considerate and use the accessible loos. This is the whole problem with self-ID. Any man can claim to be a women and gain access to women’s spaces, subjecting women to male violence.”

“But how would you do it? Insist that ID showing assigned sex be presented on entry in all toilets? If you make trans men use female toilets, then you’re saying that ‘women’ who look like men are allowed in, and how would you tell the difference between trans men and cis men?”

“Well, trans men and butch women would have to be prepared to show ID if challenged. But it’s not just toilets. In prisons, a lot of male sex offenders are suddenly identifying as women in order to get into women’s prisons, where they can assault female prisoners and impregnate them. And trans women are just as likely to be sex offenders as other men.”

“Trans women are far more likely to be victims of sexual assault than perpetrators.”

“More than men, no doubt, but I doubt as much as women…”

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The TERF’s Refrain

I tell you I’m a woman born
My genes are XX pure
No man who’s had his penis shorn
Can share what I endure

Me and mine have suffered long
The patriarchal hand
This talk of gender is all wrong
Against the lies we’ll stand

My womb is why I am oppressed
Misogyny is rife!
No one who is not so blessed
Can live a woman’s life

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Atomic Gender

Eve was no woman
for she was made from a man!
the original sin…

how dare they say
God is androgynous!
if so, he’s the Devil

black and white are writ
in the bible of my soul!
grey is heresy

atomic gender –
we split percentages
in search of meaning

chorus of hate
this flood of twitter blades
dirties the soul

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the days are getting darker

dinosaurs roam still –
so many special snowflakes
all dressed up in blue

safe spaces trampled
right-wing politicians cry
for no no platform

how bare the grass!
though it is greener…
(I’m sure it will grow)

why doesn’t she listen!
have I not explained
I know her better than she?

ban education!
let them remain ignorant
of our ignorance…

how dare you tell me
that my hard-earned victimhood
is not absolute

I express myself
with righteous indignation
but the truth is plain

the sparkler
will soon extinguish . . .
untwinkling

snow men have stars
in their hearts
the queen would be proud

gender
forged on the anvil
of ignorance

true or false:
it’s binary
or it’s not

between poetry
and endless christmas carols
a die hard season

such pretty faces
lurking beyond closet walls
armed with fetid texts

flats and curves
the definition of us
by others

sand is running out

we rob from tomorrow
to build for today

walrus tears fall on concrete
oysters follow the carpenter
no longer

even the rainbow
plucks waves from its spectrum
and calls them straight
a circle is perfection
when dividing

I drown myself

seeking oblivion
peace… in stillness

for a while, bubbles
bursting echoes
of childhood

her victory
is not absolute
we play no more

what makes her tick?

tit and tut – easily wound up
circular arguments

she leaps
between thoughts
in her restless hands

the storm rages red
shedding feathers of chaos
we mourn its passing

the days are getting darker
I add extra milk

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Safe Spaces, No Platforming and Snowflake Politics

The U.K. Government is worried about free speech in universities, and announced yesterday (Boxing Day, 2017) that universities could face penalities. Speaking on the BBC, Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, said:

@2:33: “… because we are seeing some erosion of this core principle. Now, overwhelmingly at the moment, there is free speech in our system, but there are… There is a proliferation of so-called “safe spaces” and there’s a rise of no-platforming and also other manifestations of this erosion in the form of the removal of certain books from libraries and the drawing up of extensive lists of trigger words that are undermining the principle of free speech in our universities.”

@2.35: “We are talking about freedom of speech within the law. It’s that which must prevail, and that means allowing only the narrowest necessary restrictions on it, and these have to be set out by Parliament and justified, as you said, by specific countervailing public policies, such as our laws to prohibit expressions of racial hatred, religious hatred, or hatred on the ground of sexual orientation.”

@2:36: “Well, I think it’s important that students going through our Higher Education system do learn to be resilient and to deal with controversial opinions, to deal with views that challenge their most profoundly held beliefs, or views that simply, you know, make them feel uncomfortable. Because if we fail to do that, we will soon be on a slippery slope that ends up with a society that is less able to make scientific breakthroughs, less able to be innovative and frankly less able also to resist injustice. We need people to be able to deal with the uncomfortable.”

@2.37: “But, you know, I think it is important, we look at the cases you mentioned [Greer, Tatchell], these are speakers who have potentially been banned, or harried, under the no-platforming or safe spaces [… who by] all reasonable definition are advocates of openness and liberal values and should be welcomed on our campuses.”

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’

There is a lot of sense in this, but it feels sensationalised and disingenuous. There’s a huge difference between expressing controversial opinions and expressing intolerant opinions. There’s also a distinction between academic freedom to explore and publish controversial research, and a society’s freedom to invite – or not invite – speakers. Just as research is subject to ethical considerations, so are public speakers subject to ethical interpretation.

To attack safe spaces is bizarre, as if students aren’t entitled to safety, and avoiding trigger words contributes to safe spaces. Are some people over-sensitive? Perhaps. Too quick to jump to conclusions and go on the attack? Absolutely. Should all books, etc., have content warnings? Depends. Should they be withdrawn, or even banned? Well… Clearly there is a discussion to be had on these points, but it can’t be encompassed in a soundbite.

The cases quoted by the BBC’s Nick Robinson were hardly worthy of mention (see, e.g., Boris, Tatchell, Greer: were they actually no-platformed?), but Jo Johnson’s response is interesting: “by all reasonable definition are advocates of openness and liberal values”. Well, that’s hugely debatable, especially in the case of Germaine Greer.

Germaine Greer has earned great respect as a second-wave feminist, but her outspoken views on trans women are transphobic in the extreme. Her opinions are welcomed by TERFs who love to paint trans women as predatory males. Whether she deserves to be no-platformed, I don’t know, but I understand the sense of betrayal. Here is a vocal proponent of women’s rights, and yet she absolutely denies that identity to a minority who fight every day to keep it. (An interesting article on the subtleties here: What the row over banning Germaine Greer is really about.)

The Mail Online reported the horrors recounted by Jo Johnson with the headline: Now ‘snowflake’ students are drawing up lists of ‘trigger words’ and demanding books containing them are stripped from university libraries, says higher education minister, i.e., Panic! Panic! Panic! Right-wing politicians and media love to deploy the ‘snowflake’ insult, as also in The Times: ‘Snowflake generation want to exclude those who disagree’. And today, Tory MP Nadine Dorries Thinks ‘Left-Wing Snowflakes’ Are ‘Dumbing Down Panto’ And People Are Done.

It’s the ultimate way of saying, “These people and their concerns are ephemeral and irrelevant.” The word has an intersting history as an insult:

But as 2016 dawned, snowflake made its way to the mainstream and, in the process, evolved into something more vicious. The insult expanded to encompass not just the young but liberals of all ages; it became the epithet of choice for right-wingers to fling at anyone who could be accused of being too easily offended, too in need of “safe spaces,” too fragile.

The surprising history of ‘snowflake’ as a political insult

In The Narrative On University Safe Spaces And No-Platform Policies Couldn’t Be Further From The Truth, Malia Bouattia, President of the National Union of Students, explains how non-controversial safe spaces and no-platforming are:

Those who seek to portray us as delicate flowers do so because they wish to preserve the freedom of expression for some, but not others. They believe that liberty should exist for the privileged, even if it’s at the expense of the rest of us. …

It’s time we recognised this narrative for what it is: a systematic attempt to undermine and trivialise practices developed through years of hard work and campaigning to defend the rights of marginalised and oppressed groups.

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