The End of the Blog Challenge!

28/28

Well, I’ve done it, 28 blogs in 28 days each taking 28 minutes to write (well, err… 28mins to write plus 30 mins to edit, to be more honest). I thought I would spend my last blog of the series reflecting on the experience. Although I extended the writing time by adding some time for editing, I have on the whole stuck to the rules and have also written 28 blogs on unique subjects.

My main concerns when I began the challenge was that I would find it hard to source 28 subjects worthy of a blog piece, but this was mainly because previously I waited until something felt really important before I wrote a piece that usually took 2-3 hours. I now realise that isn’t the point of blogging, which I suspect is the point behind the challenge to get academics to write more. They encourage you to be freer with your ideas and to rid yourself of the need for perfection in what you write. I still very much felt the need to proof what I wrote, hence the edit time allowance, but I don’t think that is such a bad thing in a time of indelible posts online.

Did I enjoy it? Yes I very much did. With the exception of one Sunday when I really felt quite blue (the day the blog about Down’s syndrome) and really felt it was a chore to fulfil my obligation to the challenge, I was mostly happy to practice my skills. Having said that, there were certainly days when I felt too busy to do the daily blog justice, but these days didn’t seem to correspond with a lack of interest from the readers, so I guess I kept the quality up to a certain standard.

What have I learned? I learned to think quickly and write concisely, to summarise and not to blab on. I also learned that one has to be quite giving of ones ideas in order to make a blog interesting, yet when the ideas approached the subject matter of my upcoming books I had to balance this with not giving too much away, in case it gets nicked by some stranger in (on?) a mac.

I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to read my posts, so it was really uplifting to receive responses from both my Facebook friends as well as those less known on Twitter and Linked In. Thanks so much for the compliments, it has really bolstered my confidence and I now realise that maybe I do have something to offer as a writer. I was worried that my Facebook friends would tire of my posts especially, because I am already so prolific on there, and it was lovely to get likes and responses from those I’d assumed had back grounded me a long time ago. It turns out you are still out there!!!

The most popular posts were:

Why Russell Brand is Wrong About Pornography from March the 2nd

Busting the Good Woman Pedestal from March the 3rd (probably because I linked back to it to explain the concept of ambivalent and benevolent sexism)
On Men’s Need to Know they are of Normal Penile Size from March 4th
My Thoughts on Being Childless from March 18th
My thoughts on Emigrating to America from March 10th
50 Shades of Grey: A Pornographer’s Review from 21st February

I have gained roughly 30 new followers on Twitter, which is good but not amazing considering the amount of work involved but I have upped my stats on my blog site, so that was good to see.

Mostly I have learned a good habit, one which will help me with my professional career and importantly it has helped me work through some ideas for my book about gender I am currently working on and which had somewhat stalled as I found the angle I needed. The challenge helped me find that angle, not through the actual writing – I haven’t actually written much on the subject of masculinities – but through taking my focus away from the task in hand. Just as the best business ideas come to those taking a bath, I have found allowing my imagination to go all over the place to prove very helpful and I am now ready to start afresh on the book. This is exactly what I hoped would happen so I guess it is the definition of success.

What mostly surprised me though is how easy it is to roll out 1000 words in half an hour on so many different subjects. I worried I wouldn’t find inspiration enough, but sure enough, everyday someone somewhere is doing something objectionable regarding gender and sexuality and I really feel I could now go on for months on end writing everyday. This is helped by my realisation that the slightest thing can be inspiring, like writing about the song Jessie’s Girl, a song I randomly heard the day of the blog on the radio. This is much like I used to approach shooting porn films, taking inspiration form the slightest source and running with it. I once shot a film Pound a Punnet because I saw a woman wearing fingerless gloves whilst selling fruit. If you can base a whole DVD on extrapolation from such a small detail, the world’s your oyster…

Any thoughts and ideas about my blog are most welcome, good or bad, I
I‘d really love to hear your thoughts on them. Did anyone actually read all of them and can they remember them all? I’m not sure I can!

Thanks for your time, Anna

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Some Thoughts on Being Childless

27/28

A recent article about famous women’s reactions to childlessness had me thinking about my own situation as a woman with no children, especially how much my feelings on this subject have changed over the years. The full spectrum of feelings we experienced through our journey regarding having kids really is something we wouldn’t be able to guess if we hadn’t experienced it first hand.

As a young woman I never really imagined having children and certainly didn’t yearn for any like other girls did, and yet, contradictorily I always saw myself ending up married with kids, such is the effect of a heteronormative context. In my early teens I can remember making a pact with my friend Christina that we would meet in a certain pub just around the back of the Tate Gallery in Pimlico on January the 1st , 2000 and re-associate ourselves and introduce our respective husbands and family. We were worried we might be too old by that date to have kids afterwards (aged 28!), so we should have them by then, for sure.

This childish dream shows just how unrealistic we were at that age. Not only were we not too old at 28 – heck women have kids in their early 50’s these days – but there was no way on earth either of us was going do trawl our families together on the 1st of January in the millennium with such a inevitable hangover. Of course, the biggest assumption is not only the existence of kids but of a husband at that age, neither of which I had (Christina in fact was married with kids by then I have since heard, maybe she even turned up?!) The assumption of a central role being played by kids – and the absence of a seriously appreciated career, I was just starting up shooting porn with my company Easy on the Eye at that age – went unchecked at that young age.

At age 20 I had an abortion. I knew that it was going to be the only chance I had at having a child, even then because I had a rather rocky road with my cycles from the start so I figured things were never going to be easy. Still the decision was easy, I wanted a youth full of adventure, not of nurturing another child. My female friends at the time noted I wasn’t ‘upset enough’ but deep down I knew that was because of social conditioning, of them, not a failing of mine.

When I met my husband in my mid thirties I was like most women, well aware of my rapidly aging body and the infertility that comes with it. Once married, we discussed whether to try for infertility treatment and we both agreed that we felt ambivalent, we could take kids or leave them, but it made sense to try, just in case the dreaded “what if?” hit us in later life and we hadn’t even tried; such an omen plagues the imaginations of all childless people I’m sure.

We were lucky, I got pregnant immediately and remained so for a good two months until the bleeding came like a sign from nature that I was never meant to have kids, the truth I knew from my teens. No wonder they make warning and stop signs red, it makes complete emotional sense, red is never as red as blood.

The next few times we became completely enwrapped in our striving to have kids; nothing seemed more important. We even gave up drinking alcohol for that 3 ½ year period. I kept losing them or not getting pregnant and each time the doctors said that there was no reason we couldn’t conceive, and so the carrot gets pulled along always just out of reach, bringing you further down as it goes on. Confusion is the main memory I have of that time, such constant conflicting emotions, such a lack of self knowledge looking in the mirror when your very identity relies on entirely on your biology.

Our final attempt at fertility treatment involved a Harley Street clinic that offered a boot camp experience where they took multiple phials of blood out of me daily as they stuffed me full of a drip bean immunosuppressant to stop my body attacking anything. But still the two little hearts stopped beating one day and that was that. It took my catching septicaemia (blood poisoning) which needed intensive hospital care and four pints of blood transfusing, along a scan of my womb that looked like a chalk drawing of various types of odd-ball cartoon characters for us to realise, having a baby is not worth dying for and it was never going to happen for us. That didn’t stop us trying surrogacy with a dear friend with the remainder eggs, which alas didn’t work either. That just felt like spreading our pain onto another innocent person. We were so pleased to hear recently that she is expecting twins of her own, it felt like poetic justice, she definitely deserves it.

So then we were left not so much bereft but confused. The route of least resistance turned out to be full of obstacles. That we once were ambivalent to having kids was a distant memory. And all around us people catching pregnancy like the common cold.

But I have to say that since then both our feelings have changed significantly. My near death experience helped to wipe the slate clean, to take us back to being a couple that focused on each other rather than children. A couple of years ago I heard another woman who is married with no children talk about how good her marriage is compared to her friends that have them. It struck a cord so I told Tim and we both agreed, not only are we blessed with a lack of children in our marriage but that the experience has brought us together, we were definitely stronger for it.

What people with kids perhaps don’t see is how so many of them secretly declare their frustrations with their children, and sometimes their envy of those without them when you mention that you weren’t able to have kids. It happens surprisingly a lot. I now have the view that having kids is very much a mixed experience and there is a lot of sacrifice that goes a long with them. I always knew that, I was never the naïve type that thinks it is all about cuteness, but the relentlessness nature of parenting is something else. It happens every day, without respite. I still look at couples with children and wonder whether on balance its best to have them or not. There are certainly a lot of people who are terrible parents who ostensibly appear to regret having them yet would never voice as much in public. It’s one of those things in life where you can’t sit on the fence, you either have your genes passed on or you don’t, you either like your kids’ personalities, or you don’t.

Anyway, there are plenty of ways to be a parent, to other people’s kids or to animals, for instance, or to leave a cultural legacy. All right, I don’t get to pass on genes, but I did make a shed load of films instead, most of which I like. I rather enjoy having the freedom to parent two whippets and move half way across the world, away from being down the road of the second best school in the country, which would have otherwise chained us down in Kent for many years. Whippets are cheaper too, we get to eat and drink pretty much what we like each month, and you can leave them alone for a few hours from a young age.

So I don’t really see myself as “childless” but as having a different type of life that has other joys in it, joys I probably wouldn’t have with the presence of children. But most of all I’m so pleased Tim and I get the time to say “love you, love our life” everyday. Plus we get the time to scrib the whippets behind the ears as much as we want. That can’t be so bad.

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Middle Aged Shout Out – Where are all the Young People for Old Music?

26/28

So Madonna has been taken off the Radio 1 playlist because she is too old. A clear case of ageism she says, something that is especially relevant to female artists, which she sees as:

“Discriminatory and unfair…I was like, ‘Wait a second. Shouldn’t it have to do with whether you wrote a good, catchy pop song?”…I didn’t know it was anything to do with my age. I just do my work. We’ve made so many advances in other areas – civil rights, gay rights – but ageism is still an area that’s taboo and not talked about and dealt with.”

Her manager notes that now young people only want to listen to artists in their twenties, and even Pharrell who is in his thirties got lucky being able to sell to Radio 1’s demographic of 15-30. The channel’s representative said it was not about the age of the artist, however, but of the audience, which for Madonna’s fans is over 30 years old now. As someone on Twitter pointed out to me, it isn’t to do with gender either as the same thing happened to Robbie Williams a few years ago.

Quite apart from my own age playing a part in my shock that young people don’t listen to Madonna, I thought everyone did, as she is so omnipresent, it struck me that the same act can look very different depending on one’s position. How can Madonna experience the ban in any other way than a clear act of ageism against her? At age 57 she still feels that she has a lot to give, yet she is not being allowed to (in the UK at least) because she is the age she is. Yet it is fair that Radio 1 should continue to shape its playlist to suit its audience, and yeah, young people don’t want to listen to older acts, fair point. That isn’t necessarily about Madonna’s age, just about her relevance (which is of course, linked to her age).

But what really struck me about this story is how young people today don’t seem to listen to music from previous generations as much as I’m sure mine did when I was younger. Whether it be Radio 1’s listeners not checking out Madonna’s latest song or, more significantly that Sam Smith admitted to having not heard of Tom Petty’s ‘I Wont Back Down’ which he has just had to shell out 25% of his royalties for because it sounds the absolute spit of his own song ‘Stay With Me’; or that young people reportedly didn’t know that Paul McCartney had anything other than a solo career before a recent collaboration with Rhianna brought him into their vista, one wonders how these young people go around in a world full of radios and don’t hear even the most commonly played songs? Is this perhaps due to the invention of the Ipod, which physically enables one to remain within one’s own musical sphere for longer?

In danger of sounding like an old fart, when I was young I listened not only to the music of my parents, The Beatles, The Stones, The Moody Blues, etc., but their retrospective stuff from the 40’s and 50’s, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Bessie Smith, etc. By the age of ten I had a good understanding of the recent history of music (and also, classical music, which seems very off the radar in popular culture these days). This was furthered by my keen uptake of retrospective music in my teens with a love for Joy Division, Jimi Hendrix, Bauhaus and any number of bands my parents wouldn’t have dreamed of listening to but I was thirsty to hear.

Of course, I don’t know what young people are listening to today, any more than anyone over 30 who doesn’t have kids does, but it seems strange that the music industry itself sees such a clear stratification in popular music along age lines. There is pre and post 30-year-old watershed now. I’m not sure that existed in my day. Back then it was Old Farts v Youngsters and being 30 didn’t feature in either camp really. Somehow I think that if you asked most young people about their relative recent history, the music of the 1990’s they might not know anything further than The Spice Girls as a kid.

This is why I am so glad that 6 Music exists, such eclectic gems are necessary listening in this day and age when so much music is referential to numerous sources. If I had a kid I’d be stuffing it’s ears with all sorts of music, from the womb onwards. It would be enveloped in all sorts of conflicting and confusing genres in order that our music heritage gets passed on. Surely a love of music involves eclecticism?

Maybe that’s it; maybe Radio 1 is just a bit shit. The DJs certainly sound like muppets with no long term musical knowledge to me, although they wouldn’t get the chance to voice it even if they did I’d imagine, in order not to ‘bore’ the audience. To be fair it always has been the radio station of choice for musically illiterate, second only to daytime Radio 2, which remains the Old Farts station of choice. Hence why we looked further outwards from the mainstream for our musical influences. This is especially the case since the loss of the exclusive Gallop charts back in the day. But when there are beauties like 6 Music around, there should be no excuse for growing up in ignorance these days; it makes it easy for the listener to be well versed. Rant over.

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My thoughts on Milfs and Dilfs, a Problem or a Solution?

25/28

I was reading a short article about Madonna and her penchant for younger men yesterday in which she cites the reason she chooses such men to be about her desire to remain adventurous and not to be tied down to someone who is set in their ways.

It got me thinking about how we view those who date people much younger than themselves, most notably men who are assumed to be dating younger women solely in terms of their youthful appearance, with all the social esteem amongst other men that goes with it. Indeed, there have been plenty of discussions in the media of late regarding how divorced women in their 50’s upwards are finding it difficult to meet men who want to date them, because their ‘selfish and shallow’ male counterparts are all off dating younger women. It is argued that the pool has been greatly reduced since online dating has enabled such men to have easier access to younger women. The feminist press have a tendency to simplify this I find, to such men using their patriarchal privilege to throw off older “used up” women in preference for younger flesh. Rarely do you hear from men or indeed, the younger women (who are equally assumed to be going for a Sugar Daddy, or that female celebrities who date younger men to be going for the flesh appeal), that there may be other motivations for their dating choices.

But maybe men are dating younger women for similar reasons that Madonna is dating younger men, that they wish to be free from all of the emotional strain that goes with dating someone who is the same age as them? Maybe this is also linked to a feeling of not being able to match up to the expectations of a woman who has lots of dating experience, whereas younger women are seen as easier to provide for when they are mainly seen as wanting financial security, something easy to work out (either you have it or you don’t)? Again, as I have found in my research we ignore the role of female power in men’s decision making and the role of men wanting to separate themselves from the bad man stereotype, when women’s attitudes to dating men are shaped by bad experiences with other men previously, something that is bolstered by a “all men are bastards” culture.

Why do we always see such relationships to be based on sex appeal of the young partner for the older partner? Incidentally, we rarely hear from the younger partner, especially younger men who like older women, this even though there is well-established market for such “Milf” titles in the pornography market, so they clearly exist at least in potential. Also, why do we always assume relationships between people of vastly differing ages to be doomed to failure? I can remember the local scandal as a young teenager when a married circuit racer in his forties ran off with a 16-year-old girl. Gossip was rife. Here was a racer who dated a pretty young thing, just for her looks, you assumed it was only a matter of time before he eschewed her for another younger model; “the poor girl/the fool!”, and “what a bastard!”

I walked past their house every day on the way home from school and sometimes one or both of them would be outside in their front garden (which was filled every inch by his rather dilapidated racing car). I looked for evidence of unhappiness or frustration in either of them but actually never saw any, they just looked like a normal couple. I noted that they were together at least for 6 or so years up until they moved elsewhere, which was much longer than anyone had imagined they would be. The same can be argued for Woody Allen and his younger partner, they are still together a couple of decades later, something no one imagined at the time of the scandal, so were we at all right?

Men have a lot of insecurities about dating women these days. They are being made to be self-reflective about what they offer far beyond the simple ability to be a provider for a family as was historically the case. They also have a lot of hang-ups about their sex lives, so we shouldn’t assume that dating younger women is the dreamy situation for them that the stereotype paints. It is quite likely to be challenging in different ways too.

I’m not necessarily advocating relationships with people of different generations – and I have certainly experienced tiresome dates with younger men who rattled on about something significant only to their generation, their great looks soon faded over the dinner table – but I think we are wrong to assume that such people have simple motivations for choosing partners. We are psychological beings and yes, many May to September relationships may be built on a need for security, especially for the younger partner but at the end of the day, what is wrong with that? If such people deny their urges for a partner of another generation, are they any the better for it? I doubt it.

I think it is actually a sign that we are becoming freer to choose our partners and by the law of average, some will experiment with the age of their partners, just like people are experimenting more with their sexualities. I’m all for that and to those that say I’m ignoring a pattern caused by men’s privilege (young women’s bodies being sold for old men’s money) as many argue, I say that for one, other men can be very critical of such men’s choices, even those with a lot of patriarchal privilege, so which men are your focus? Also, that when women date younger men it is largely met with a nudge and a wink, so maybe we have a rather sexist standpoint on this subject?

In my experience it’s definitely hard enough to find your soul mate, so I think it is only fair that people should be able to date who they want to, after all there are plenty of types of relationships that don’t work for a myriad of different reasons even when people are from the same generation. Maybe these people are just experimental by nature or maybe they are a vanguard for a more open dating culture in the future? Perhaps we should be thanking them for making changing the rules a little bit, after all it frees it up for us too. We might not choose to date someone younger but I for one feel more confident that there is now a culture of younger men appreciating the looks of women my age, (even if it were the case that men of my same age might not) regardless of the fact it is of no practical use to me.

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The Fashion for Body Shaming may be Over! (Or at Least, it is Unfashionable for Now)

24/28

I have just read an article about Kathy Griffen, the current co-host of the programme The Fashion Police who has just announced her departure from the show after only a three-month stint. According to the article her reason was:

“Listen, I am no saint…. But I do not want to use my comedy to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance towards difference…I want to help women, gay kids, people of colour and anyone who feels underrepresented to have a voice and a LAUGH!”

Her exit follows hot on the heels of Kelly Osbourne who left in protest over a racist slur made by a co-host about Zendaya Coleman’s dreadlocked hair at the Oscars, which she described as smelling of patchouli oil or weed. I’m no fan of these bitch-celeb reality shows, but I think this is significant even for those who do not watch them.

It struck me that this is something new, people standing up for an appreciation of difference, whether it is regarding body shapes or more widely, race, sexuality or class. I have never come across so many examples such as this or the one concerning fat men dancing, or celebrity outings of pre-photo shopped images recently covered in this blog, where celebrities are willing to stick their heads above the parapet and say enough is enough. It seemed to start in January last year with Cate Blanchett who commented on how her dress was filmed from the floor upwards on the red carpet, something that wouldn’t happen to men. These celebrities are backed by a public that is slowly is surely turning the tables on a thin, white and straight obsessed media; it seems we too have had enough.

I think this sea change has been long coming, but to be honest I’m surprised it is happening at all. I have always been as attracted to images of perfected beauty whilst simultaneously tired of the narrow range of potential it involves. It’s hard to admit that one’s politics (especially for me, gender politics) don’t match up to one’s aesthetic desires. But most of all I have never thought I would see the day when the public got over their similar ambivalence to photo shopped images. Until now I couldn’t imagine anything other than a shallow, body shaming media that perpetuated women’s insecurities (I now think, “shame on me!”). Yet it seems this is actually happening now, albeit in a piecemeal manner example by example, so we might not notice the change except retrospectively.

Could it be that we might be able to imagine a media that shows a wider variety of images and that importantly, does not body shame? Could there be a time when female celebrities on the red carpet are no longer only asked about their dresses, whilst men are asked about their career choices? Could this actually pan out to a real and deep cultural change in appetites? I’m reminded that many of the media’s executive staff, especially in such female-audience shows are women, meaning that representation in the industries does not necessarily lead to change in the channels’ philosophies.

One is hopeful. My only fear is that this is something of a fad that will never really cement itself. I can still remember my joy as the fashion industry rejected animal fur en masse in the early nineties, only to reinstate it as a fashion necessity a decade later. Only then did I remember that fashion people are into cyclical change that necessarily goes out of style and the anti fur campaign was just that, a fad, d’uh!

It is easy to start to take on a lasssez faire attitude towards cultural change, to think that something is unchangeable, that we will always have bitchy, uncaring and self obsessed celebrities who put their careers before their ethics, assuming they have any. Such a belief however, leaves us unambitious for greater growth because it thwarts our imagination; we literally cannot foresee a brighter future. And, if the market ain’t there the media will have the best argument not to service it.

It remains to be seen whether we are moving to a genuine shift towards greater inclusion in the aesthetic stakes, or whether like fur, the fashion for the stereotypical beauty shall return, but at least it is shifting from it’s cemented foundations if only for a while. Any expansion of acceptable models is better than none and much as we never undergo genuine revolutions that achieve what they set out to, we might get two feet forward and one step back in the right direction. After all, most of us, regardless of the fashion industry wouldn’t choose to wear fur now.

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The War of the Sexes Might Not Have Yet Begun

23/28

Following on from yesterday’s blog about the variety of gender choices there are and how these can make everyday decisions like which public toilet one should use extremely difficult, I was interested to read an article in Nature the other day that further complicates things. This time instead of gender – that is whether one understands oneself to be a man or a woman socially – being contested, it is a person’s sex – the biological definition of male and female, the body including the hormones – that has been shown to have a far more complex definition than the typical binary we usually use.

Technically there are a few ways that someone can be “Intersex”, that is neither strictly male nor female but something in between. We have all heard of those people who have indeterminate genitals, hermaphrodites as they used to be called (now referred to as Intersex), but the article outlines other ways that someone can be neither of the binary sexes, and it claims 1 person in a 100 has some form of complex status of their sex.

Some people have ‘mosaicism’ (1 in 15,000 people) which refers to a genetic make up that is not entirely homogenous, it is mixed depending on which cells you test; others can be a chimaera (which is very rare, affecting only 1 per cent of all intersex people), which means a person who is developed from a mixture of two fertilised eggs; we are also able to contain our mother’s and for women, our children’s cells in our bodies for a two or three decades, further complicating our definition of both a person’s sex and that of an individual person.

Such people may be completely unaware of their make up until they seek medical assistance for some other complaint, or they seek fertility treatment. The article describes one Australian chimaera, a 46 year old woman who whilst pregnant with her third child, was found to be largely chromosomally male.

Wow. One would have thought that being able to give birth twice guaranteed you were a woman (something especially ironic when sterile women have been historically accused of not being a ‘proper woman’ due to her inability to give birth). As the article discusses, much as scientists have long known that sex more closely resembles a spectrum than a binary, society has a long way to catch up.

It begs the question, what would have to happen for us to really comprehend such a spectrum? How would society have to change, especially legally? First of all, we would have to acknowledge that there are a lot of people walking around who either know they are intersex but do not share that knowledge publicly, or are completely unaware of their mixed sex status, AND ONE OF THEM COULD POTENTIALLY BE US!

How’s that for a seed to start a moral panic?

Going back to yesterday’s article about toilet use, would we need to change whether men and women can use each others’ loos to enable the mosaics and the chimeras among us to use a facility that does not match their appearance? I still say no to that, but the argument for an intersex toilet, for our facility binary to be challenged could be open. But isn’t that to once again an attempt to label someone crudely and falsely, just like the sex binary has always done? I think so. What really needs to be done is for us to queer it up, to shake our very established ideas around both sex and gender and start seeing ourselves as part of a spectrum with reference to our gender, sex and I also believe, sexuality. We are just one of a variety of potential definitions…

I’m really pleased to see that the sex binary is now being legally challenged too. This is being done most notably by intersex children who grow up to disagree with the doctors’ and parents’ interpretation of their “correct” sex. The Nature article notes a key case in 2013 in North Carolina of a child who was operated on aged 16 months to make him a girl; he then chose to be a boy by the age of eight. The case argues for both medical malpractice and that he has been denied his constitutional right to both his bodily integrity and his right to reproduce.

I have always thought it disgusting that children are operated on in such ways with such a blithe disrespect for their consent, after all the operations are not done for medical reasons but for reasons of shoehorning the children into gendered norms ‘for their own good’ (this is also the case for circumcision). This is still believed even though we now know many have to take lifelong drugs to maintain their chosen gendered status and that they may not have genitals that are sexually or reproductively useful. This should be outlawed surely? If a person wants to have the operation, have it when they are 16, or at least when they can vocalise their consent and when hopefully the success of such operations have advanced since they were a baby.

In the meantime we need to work on our entrenched ideas about what it is to be male or female, and I for one look forward to a time of more nuance, because nuance means choice and choice is more freeing and interesting. I say it again, what an interesting time of gender development we are living in, and it can only get even more fascinating the more we know about how we all differ. That is, if we can fight off the conservative types who are scared of change and complexity (the toilet legislating types). Maybe the sex wars wont be between men and women in the future but between the progressives and the conservatives?

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Ladies and Gentlemen Please Take your Seats

22/28

The maze that is gender identity can often feel like a tangled mess of political and cultural meanings, which necessitates an active interest in in order to decipher. At present I am writing a book on gender for the mainstream market and trying to find the exact angle to represent my research is proving to be the hardest part. How do you get the very complex ideas that gender involves over to an audience that largely has been encouraged to see gender as easy to understand because they believe much of it to be biological? One has to encourage people to unpack something huge that people don’t really realise is densely packed.

Such arguments for gender equality are of paramount importance, especially right here and right now where the Internet has encouraged people to explore their genders in ways that are unprecedented. It has also enabled people to fight for the various rights associated with their genders in ways that were not available to previous generations, for abortion rights, for equality at work and equality of representation, for instance.

Then someone comes along with a really neat way to explain a very complex set of inter-dependent gendered meanings that people normally dismiss as unimportant, or become confused by their apparent paradox. This is one reason why transgender rights are so key to our times, they really mess up people’s preconceived ideas about what it is to be a man or a woman, its not just about the transgender people themselves, but what they change about the meaning of ‘male’ and ‘female’ and they do so in a context where most people know nothing about transgender philosophy.

That someone is a transgender women, a so called, “male to female” (although the first thing you learn when you research transgenderism is that is a difficult term, because such people see themselves as ‘always female inside’, that’s the point). A Canadian woman called Brae Carnes took to selfie-ing herself in men’s toilets to highlight the ridiculous logic behind the political campaigns to restrict public toilets to their cisgender counterparts (those men and women who do not identify as transgender, that is, most of us).

Such “Bathroom Bills” which are being fought for in Texas, Florida and Kentucky are being introduced in order to protect cis-women and girls from men dressing up as women to gain access to women’s toilets in order to rape them. The faults of this logic have been aptly pointed out by journalists supportive of transgender people: it would be much easier for rapists to dress as cleaners to gain such access; that those women who have what is called “passing privilege” – that is they very much look like women – would still be able to gain access under such laws, so it would be unenforceable; also, the issue of butch cisgender women who may look quite masculine has not been discussed, do we all have to carry passports to enter toilets in such states? I would add that toilets are extremely dangerous places for rapists, the likelihood of someone entering mid-act is far higher than other more secluded spots, so why choose there?

Of course these laws are not about saving women, even if the politicians consciously think they are. Apart from the benevolent sexist overtones of paternalism that actually damage women and keep them as dependent, this is really about the fear of transgender people as different, as Other.

Carnes’ photos show the absurdity of the logic behind the laws. She depicts herself as a woman in men’s toilets, applying lipstick in front of urinals and immediately the crap is cut through. A straight line can be drawn, an easy representation of a difficult argument is reached and the absurdity is all apparent. The photos show that if the laws pass:

Trans women will be in the wrong (men’s) toilet, rendering them dangerous to men’s advances there (the whole point of the ban remember was to save women).

That women like her are unnoticeable in women’s toilets much more so than men’s (so how would it be enforced?)

That these women are not men, not by any usual interpretation of the word, rendering the laws once again illogical in that they use concepts such as ‘men’ and ‘women’ far too straightforwardly.

The root of the confusion comes from the lawmakers not understanding the concept of ‘gender’ being different to that of ‘sex’. ‘Sex’ is our physical bodies including our hormones and ‘gender’ refers to everything else about being male, female or intersex including how we understand our bodies and our hormones (in other words science is not exempt from potential gendered prejudice, much as it likes to think it is). The trouble is both are involved in each of us simultaneously, so which is it, gender or sex that is relevant to the laws?

If you say ‘gender’, you should allow each sex into each toilet, if they identify to be the opposite sex (I’m keeping intersex out of this to keep it a bit simpler); what a person believes themselves to be is all that matters. If it is just ‘sex’, then those who have transitioned, regardless of their passing status should be allowed to use their “new” sex’s bathroom. Interestingly of all the thousands of gender papers I have seen or read in both feminism and masculinities, no-one I’ve come across wants open bathroom doors to each sex, no sex wants to go there. This is rare considering most aspects of life are argued for parity in gender theory by at least one camp. As bathroom usage is about the bodily functions it is therefore more relevant to sex than gender and it follows that the second scenario makes most sense and keeps people feeling safe (men don’t want women in their toilets either I would imagine).

Then, something even lovelier happened, a transgender man (female to male) entered women’s toilets (his old hunting ground!) and did some selfies of him looking very butch next to women doing their make up. Suddenly the ridiculousness of laws that prioritise gender over the body come full circle, such a law would take trans men out of the men’s toilet and into the women’s – just the thing the laws are trying to stop, ha! I can hear the politicians: “What if their willies work and they can attack women? Aggggh!!!”

Let’s hope these frightened politicians don’t get to play out their irrational fears in the public bathrooms of those states and the laws don’t go ahead, otherwise there is going to be a pretty mixed up situation in such states, one that no one wanted. Not even post-structuralists (who see sex as almost irrelevant) like me.

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