Welcome to Transtopia

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 01.11.38If you’re looking for something specific, there’s a search bar on the lower right hand side of the page.

 

Hi. You’ve reached the blog of Lily Maynard. Welcome.

In late 2015, my teenage daughter Jessie declared she was transgender and the experience tugged us into a rabbit hole of Orwellian double-speak and general insanity. I read so much during that time and it was such a vast learning curve that I felt compelled to bring all the threads together in an article.  I was especially struck by the exponential surge in the number of teenage girls who were ‘identifying’ as boys, usually young lesbians and usually after lengthy sessions on social media. After Jessie desisted, I wanted to share what I’d read as well as what I’d learned and eventually I finished writing an article which contained over 100 links. Jessie added a short postscript of her own and I was delighted when 4thwavenow published it in December 2016 under the title ‘A Mum’s Voyage Through Transtopia – a tale of love and desistance’.

I’ve since re-published the article here on my own blog, under the title

‘My first article – A Mum’s Voyage Through Transtopia’.

Before you ask me any questions; before you critcise or praise my stance on transitioning kids, or the appropriation of womanhood by men, please read that. It’s where it all began.

After Jessie re-realised she was a girl and things settled down at home,  I expected to put my time in Transtopia behind me and move on. Instead I became more fascinated- and angry- with the culture of misogyny and homophobia which underlies transgender theory.  For without stereotypes there can be no ‘brave transgender children’. Without the dolls and the pink tutus, a love of glitter, a gentle nature and a will to dance, what could possibly make girls of the little boys of ‘My Transgender Summer Camp’? What other than her love of Batman, karate and jumping around could make that short-haired, fierce little girl into a boy trapped in a female body? A feeling?  How does a boy feel? How does a girl feel? Without sexism, there can be no transgenderism. Without the idea that there is a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way to be a boy or a girl there would be no need to beguile and medicate these kids in an attempt to make them ‘fit in’. Our current culture of blind affirmation is not doing anyone any favours.  It is nothing short of abusive to tell a child that they are ‘wrong’, that they have been ‘born in the wrong body’ or that medication and surgery can make them into the opposite sex.

donttranskids

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ROGD – a detransitioner speaks (guest post)

Lily Maynard

Helena is a young woman who is a detransioner; a young woman who got a prescription for testosterone after a single, hour-long appointment;  a young woman who has agreed to write a guest post about her ROGD experience for this blog.  She joins the ever-growing ranks of desisters and detransitioners. Not all of them feel able to speak out about their experiences.

This is Helena’s story.

 

*************************

 

Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD).

Four crystal clear words that describe a phenomenon we all see but are told to pretend we can’t.

I’ve vaguely opened up about my experience with it, only to be told I’m spreading transphobic lies, and that I should get a hobby. Some trans kid might kill themselves because of my tweets. Well I’ve had enough. ROGD is real, I experienced it, and this is my story.

I can’t say I was a gender nonconforming child. I hated wearing dresses to school, but that was only because I wanted to goof around, and frilly dresses got in the way. I did love one long, plum colored dress of mine because it made me feel like a mysterious princess. I loved my Barbies (though I also loved to rip their heads off), and I loved the Barbie movies. I browsed wedding sites, daydreaming about which one would be mine someday. I loved Hannah Montana (but maybe in a gay way now that I think about it) and Camp Rock. I was overjoyed if I got a kids makeup kit for Christmas – I loved all the different colors that I now recognize were all just tinted chapstick. I was pretty gender conforming, but then again, I tried to conform to everything.

I was always torn between my feelings of shyness and insecurity, and my deep desire for friendship and acceptance. I would do anything, say anything, think anything, for the attention of my peers. Though I’m much more shy and reserved now, as a young child I was the kid my teachers despised because I did everything and anything to make my fellow classmates laugh. There was something so broken, so alone, and so desperate for attention inside of me.

Despite this, I loved school. Up through 8th grade, I had so many friends, and I loved them all. I organized ice skating Fridays and Christmas caroling excursions for charity, always with the wavering fear that someday, for some reason, my friends would no longer like me. I needed something to back me up, because me wasn’t enough. Although I made my friends laugh and we all had fun together, there was always something different with me. Towards the end of 8th grade, I began to feel this difference consciously. The girls around me were starting to talk about kissing boys. They started using Instagram, and talking about the latest makeup and fashion trends. They started talking about followers and celebrities – people I had never heard of. My family was old school; I was raised on George Harrison and Pat Benatar, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Heart. Those (and Hannah Montana) were the tunes on my iPod; I couldn’t name a Top 40 song.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl with long blonde hair who sat next to me in English, and it didn’t help that she was the only person who was nice to me. The same things that had made me the class clown before – the same things my male friends were still seen as funny and adorable for – now made me a social pariah. I hadn’t gotten the memo that at some point I was supposed to cash in my personality for the ability to be pretty. Until this point I hadn’t really stopped to consider “does this make me a loser?”

Lily MaynardMy friends began to dwindle away. I stopped organizing skating nights. I started eating lunch alone. I got a lot of acne. I went from just another weird kid like everyone else to THE weird kid. I began to notice my weight. I began to really notice my weight. I didn’t look like the girls I saw with boyfriends. I didn’t bring a fruit salad to lunch. I felt like an intruder walking into a Hollister, or even a mall in general. I wasn’t supposed to be there, I wasn’t like other girls. I wish I knew the other girls felt this way too.

Sometime during that year, I began to develop an eating disorder. I began to self harm. I had my first suicidal thoughts. I only had one friend, and he was a young gay boy with severe depression and an eating disorder too. I felt that my parents didn’t take my problems very seriously. They’re an older generation, almost 60 now, and think about these types of things differently.  I was alone.

The summer before high school, I found Tumblr. Tumblr changed my life. When I opened my laptop, or unlocked my phone, I was whisked to a world that wasn’t mine. A world where I could talk about classic rock or my favorite things and not go red in the face. A world where no one could see my body or face unless I wanted them to. A world where I could make my jokes and not have to worry if they were cute and quirky type of funny or ‘they’re laughing at you, not with you’ type of funny. They were just funny, and my friends on there laughed at them. It started so innocently. In a small fandom for a certain classic rock artist, for the first time in my entire life I felt understood.

Soon, I dove deep into “Pro-Ana” eating disorder culture on tumblr. We all told each other we were valid and how to hide it around our parents, who wanted us to be fat because they hated us. We told each other how to get diet medications off the dark web. We told each other how to lie to doctors. Affirm, reaffirm, affirm, until we all reached our goals. Everyone else was a liar. Everyone else wanted us to be fat.

I HATED my body. My body was and still is my greatest enemy. I could never be enough. I didn’t understand why the universe chose me to feel like this. I constantly compared myself to unrealistic “thinspiration” pictures I saw on Tumblr. No matter what I put my body through the feelings didn’t go away. There had to be something – ANYTHING – that could save me.

In October of 2013, the beginning of my 10th grade year, EVERYTHING changed. I know this because a couple months ago I went through my old Tumblr archive. I was so shocked.

Over the span of two weeks that October, the posts on my blog had gone from fandoms, depressive posts about my life, and the OCCASIONAL feminist opinion, to queer, trans, genderfluid, nonbinary, demiboy, valid, problematic, cishets, gender. Every last word. Like a virus.

I remember it being a roller coaster. I kept all of my interests, but they were all tainted with gender ‘headcanons’ (beliefs about a character, usually pertaining to sexuality/gender identity). At first (for like, a week) I was a ‘cis ally’. But something was building inside of me. My two best friends in real life began to identify as trans. Both have since desisted. My inability to accept that destroyed one of those relationships.

Lily MaynardI watched Skylar Kergil and other trans people on Youtube. Skylar said he knew he was a boy when he had a crush on a girl and felt gross imagining being with her as two girls. I knew trans boys always hated wearing dresses, and would scream until they were off. I felt all of that. The thing was, these kids had always known… so I couldn’t possibly be trans, right? But I’m an intelligent person. I overanalyzed every thought and action and word in my life until I made it make sense. As always, I bent my own psyche into submission in order to conform. And so I conformed – in the most beautifully sinister way that convinces you that you’re doing anything but conforming – you are special, radical, and oh so valid.

At first it wasn’t “I’m a boy”, it was “I’m anything besides a girl.” As if it was a dirty word. The way boys say it on the playground. I imagined how I would feel if my girl body was a boy body. CORRECTION: I imagined how I’d feel if my chubby, sub par, mediocre, ugly, unwanted girl body was a tall, toned, tanned, desirable boy body, free to grow and move as it pleased. The trans boys in those videos… They loved to show before pictures – before they were Justin Bieber look alikes with flawless features – of their old selves with greasy hair and acne and curves in all the “wrong” places. They laughed at how ugly and embarrassing they looked in those pictures. Those pictures looked like me.

Lily MaynardIf I could never become one of the black and white faceless thigh gaps, then maybe I could become the beaming boy with the swooping hair who says his muscles really started showing up after T. He used to be a girl like me. I was meant to be a boy. I have always been a boy.

After “coming out” on tumblr, my followers skyrocketed. I was never super popular, but had around 3,000 at one point. Before, I couldn’t have had over 600. I got countless messages screaming “OMG VIN!!!! THAT’S SUCH A CUTE NAME!!!!” and “OMG, IM NB TOO!!! UR MY FAVE BLOGGER IM SO HAPPY U CAME OUT”

I created a queer Harry Potter network. It amassed hundreds of members, mostly trans. We didn’t take too kindly to cisgays.

My goal went from diet pills to testosterone. From UGW (ultimate goal weight) to transition goals. From fantasies about slicing off my thigh fat to slicing off my breasts. I bound them with duct tape. I couldn’t breathe. It made me panic, but I felt brave.

For the first time my parents couldn’t tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about, or that I was too young to understand, or that I had to be a certain way, because the world was backing me up. Teenage defiance became a revolution. I was Robespierre, and call out posts were the guillotine. The stage of Tumblr discourse was where I acted out my most primal urges, purged my deepest insecurities. I was invigorated. I had a purpose, an identity, a community, a goal. I had salvation. I had found. Fucking. Salvation.

Lily MaynardAnd so it went on for three years, until just weeks after my 18th birthday, I managed to get testosterone in August of 2016. One appointment, one hour, one vial of intramuscular injections that would change my life forever.

“Hmmmm,” I thought, “way easier and less gatekeep-y than I expected…”

After 15 months, a changed body, a broken family, and a twisted mind, I detransitioned February 2018.

And that is my experience. How it happened and what I was thinking.

It was both painful and invigorating. Neither the beautiful identity nor the ‘life saving medication’ eased my dysphoria or unhappiness. I truly believed I would have killed myself if I didn’t get hormones.

“Would you really rather have a dead daughter than a happy son?” I sobbed to my parents.

I have never felt more suicidal than right before I detransitioned.

Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria is real, and it is a monster of magnificent proportions.

Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 22.47.49

You can follow Helena, @lacroicsz on Twitter

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My stint in Twitter jail

Screenshot 2018-10-30 at 12.04.10Last night I got myself a Twitter ban. I’d never had one before.  There were several windows open on my laptop, and a friend on facebook had posted a picture of Shon Faye’s Twitter feed (see left).

Shon & I have a bit of history, I point out that he’s a man in my article Transwomen are Men, he has, er…  blocked me. Shon is famous in feminist circles for telling Lavender ‘enjoy your erasure’ and generally telling women how to woman.  I’m no more a fan of his than he is a fan of mine.

 

 

Screenshot 2018-11-01 at 23.27.06That line and the accompanying pout! Had he come straight from watching Buffy? I didn’t realise at the time that he was referencing Cordelia Goode from American Horror Story, or that he labours under the illusion that there is any resemblance between himself and her.

 

Screenshot 2018-10-30 at 12.16.17Buffy, of course, is a teenage vampire slayer, star of a cult TV series that bridged the 20th and 21st centuries. Episodes started with this opening “Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.”

So I snorted, clicked to Twitter and posted the screenshot accompanied by this fairly uninspired Tweet: “I think Mr Faye has got his modern Wicca and his Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixed up!”

When I went to comment elsewhere on Twitter a few hours later, I received this notice:

1.pngWell, I’ve never been in Twitter jail before. Better women than I have been forced out entirely, of course, Venice Allan and Posie Parker spring to mind, and numerous others are much missed, or have had to temper their speech in order to stay on a now watered-down platform.

If you look at the wording, you’ll see that I was told that I had violated the rules against hateful conduct. Evidently I had promoted violence against, threatened or harassed Faye with my Tweet.  Well, this is of course absurd. Faye is wealthy and famous with a platform in various mainstream publications and 36.1k Twitter followers, I am a middle aged housewife who has a free wordpress blog and not even enough Twitter followers to get a ‘K’ after them on my profile page.

Screenshot 2018-10-30 at 12.25.51.png

Like a naughty schoolchild I was told to remove the Tweet and a 12 hour countdown would start. So I sighed, and I did.

My ban up, I logged back on, started a Tweet and then was immediately told my account was blocked again. Argh! This time for two Tweets from seven months ago, in which I informed Amnesty International that Faye was a man. “Remove the Tweets” commanded Twitter. I did.  This happened several more times, each involving a Tweet referring to Faye. So far I’ve removed more than half a dozen, spanning the last 9 months. I was so surprised I didn’t even think to take a screenshot of them all. This time there was no 12 hour ban, but a warning that if I did it again, I might be banned for good.

Screenshot 2018-10-30 at 12.30.57

Well, where does this leave me? As the complaint was dealt with as two separate incidents, I now supposedly have only one strike left. (Edit: I’ve since been told it doesn’t work like that, although nobody seems to be sure quite how it does work.)

Because no, I’ve never had a complaint upheld against me before. In fact, earlier this year there was a complaint made against my Twitter bio, and Twitter upheld that it was perfectly fine.

Yup, that’s right, my Twitter bio is not in violation of any rules. I got an email telling me so.

twitter bio

There have been other instances as well, where a complaint against me has not been upheld.  There was a complaint the time I posted a picture of a bloke manspreading on the train – that tweet resulted in a man sending me a photo of a dead body with it’s head smashed in by a brick, accompanied by the words ‘no such thing as a pink brain, eh?’

In the last week there have been several complaints against me which haven’t been upheld. Obviously my account is being targeted.

I mean, come on. I get insulted left, right and centre on Twitter.  I’ve been told I should be raped, that my daughter’s going to kill herself, that all ‘TERFs’ should die, I’ve been sent violent porn…  if I listed all the crap and insults I’ve got on Twitter this would be a very long post indeed. So I won’t.

However, I take very seriously the accusation that anything I say or do is ‘hateful’. I wrote a post called ‘Gender is Harmful, my Views are not Hateful’ about this a few weeks ago after a journalist suggested that was the case.

I understand and respect that Twitter is a free platform. Free as in you don’t pay for it. But there is one rule for some and a different rule for others. Men cannot become women. I was put in Twitter jail for speaking the truth. I will not use ‘she’ when speaking about a man.

I may well avoid using pronouns altogether if that’s what I need to do to stay on Twitter, but will that be enough when speaking the truth is construed as hateful? At what point does it become pointless to be there at all?

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll see you on Twitter. Hopefully.

 

UPDATE 1/11/18

So, the strangest thing. At least 2 women have received emails from Twitter giving them an update on having reported my account. Both these women say they DIDN’T report my account. So someone has somehow reported me from someone else’s account. On more than one occasion. I have tried to contact Twitter support but their automated system makes it difficult to discuss the issue. One of the women also tried to contact them but was unable to get her point through the automated system.

Another person contacted me later today, saying they had received a similar email 2 weeks ago. They also say they had not reported my account. That’s at least three people who have received an email from Twitter, confirming something they didn’t do.

Screenshot 2018-11-01 at 23.19.03

But here’s the thing – it seems like those emails are not actually from Twitter.

Whoops.

Update 10/11/18

My account is still being reported by people with nothing better to do.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 19.08.05.png

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Butterfly 3 – Max to Maxine

The third- and hopefully final- part of ITV’s mini-drama Butterfly hit our screens tonight.

(See also my reviews of episodes 1 and 2)

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 22.26.58.pngAlthough Vicky hasn’t made time to phone Stephen or Lily,  Max has posted a selfie of himself and his mum on social media with the tag ‘Boston’.

Stephen is understandably miffed.

“She’s going to get treatment for Maxine. Is that wrong?” asks Grandad, rhetorically.

“It makes her a crap mother!” sulks Stephen, adding, “This should’ve been our decision.”

But if Maxine was desperate for it to happen…” continues grandad and I wonder if he would have maintained such enthusiasm had Max really, really wanted a tattoo.

Cut to the pristine glass and neon hospital where Dr Farrell appears like a genie, waving a greeting to Vicky and Max, by a big glass elevator.

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 22.31.26.png“Turn into, transform, become, blah blah blah,” he waves his hand with a worrying lack of eloquence, or interest in the method of the wheels he’s about to set in motion.

“Let me ask you a question, Maxine. Are you a caterpillar that wants to turn into a butterfly?”

“I’ve always been a butterfly.” says Max.

“Yes you have, by God, yes you have! Ok, now here’s the thing. I’m not a paediatric, endocrinologist, transgender doctor,” he chortles, leaving me wondering for a minute if they’ve bumped into a particularly quirky patient by mistake. “I’m someone who helps children give birth to themselves. It’s so rewarding.”

So rewarding. I half expect him to whip a lollypop out from behind his ear and trot laughing all the way to the bank.

The most expensive parts of this treatment, Doctor Lollypop tells Vicky, is the psychological assessment. He adds that this part won’t be necessary if they have a confirmed diagnosis. Vicky shakes her head. “A letter from a gender expert?” he enquires. Still no. “Documentation from a school councillor or therapist?” he tries again, hopefully. Would he actually have provided puberty blockers on the sayso of a school councillor? Surely not- but we don’t find out, because Vicky, who has already forged Stephen’s signature on the consent form, agrees to pay for the hospital to do the tests.

“It’s all sounds very invasive, but it’s not,” says the doctor, reassuring her that she doesn’t have to pay for it all once. Of course, depending on how far down the path Max eventually goes, the process could end up being very invasive indeed.

It’s my baby’s only chance, so…” says Vicky solemnly, once again reinforcing the notion that Max’s options are transition or die. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

In the montage that follows, less than a couple of seconds covers the psychological counselling. The viewer accompanies Max along a trail of blood tests, examinations by various important and expensive looking machines, body scans and Xrays, all giving the impression that some sort of grueling physical diagnosis is taking place. These will be the standard tests to ascertain Max’s physical health of course, not the psychological tests mentioned by the doctor, but the casual viewer could be forgiven for thinking that some official scientific ‘gender confirming’ process is taking place. I half expect Doctor Lollypop to pop up saying “By Jove, we’ve found it! He does have a pink brain after all!”
Back home, Lily is sad. “I know I’ve never had as much attention as Maxine,” she tells her dad. “I’ve never been a problem. It’s all about Maxine.”

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 23.49.16.pngHer phone rings, she throws it to Stephen who answers. Cut to Vicky who hangs up. The camera pans round to focus on Max who is standing by a fountain of cascading water and golden mermaids.

Of course Lily is right. It is indeed all about Max. Her dad proves this by crying in the bathroom until she forgives and consoles him, then dumping her at her gran’s house to make chocolate cake.

“What are you going to do?” asks Lily, as her dad drives off to file charges against her mum at the police station. There he’s told that Vicky’s actions can be classified as parental child abduction.

“Do you really want to pursue a criminal case against her?” asks the police officer. Stephen, moody and silent, does not answer.
Screenshot 2018-10-29 at 00.00.14.pngCut to Boston. Dr Lollypop tells Max he’ll see him in three months. Next stop the airport. As Max and Vicky arrive back in England, we see Stephen flexing his excellent parenting skills by turning up to watch Max being dragged away as Vicky is arrested under Section 1of the Child Abduction Act.

Vicky is told by the police that if she takes Max abroad again she’ll be reoffending.
“Is she going to jail?” asks a perfectly coiffed Max, seeming entirely unruffled by the experience.

She knows how much it matters to me.” he explains, adding ominously, “She doesn’t want me to get suicidal. .. She’s just trying to help me become what I am.”

Lily, grandma and dad are at the front door, looking sour-faced, when Vicky and Max arrive home.

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 21.19.14.png“You think you’re a great mother, don’t you Vicky?” sneers Dad of the Year, dismissing further trips to Boston as impractical.
“Being in the wrong body’s impractical,” mutters Vicky, in the second most excruciatingly gauche line in this episode. “You can punish me but please don’t punish her.”

“You and Maxine, you both lied to me, you both went off together.” accuses Lily.
“It wasn’t about you.” replies Vicky.
“I hate you both,” retorts Lily.

“You saw what she did to herself and you didn’t do anything,” cries Vicky to Stephen, her arm tight around Max.

Weighed down by accusations, Stephen walks out on his family yet again, goes to stay with his dad and starts stalking ex-girlfriend Gemma.

Vicky’s solicitor tells her that the police and the school have already made referrals to the local authority. Her solicitor, like everyone else in this episode,  has no problem using the name ‘Maxine’ and female pronouns when referring to this confused little boy. She tells Vicky she might get an interim care order if they think Max is at risk of significant harm or emotional abuse.

“What do you want most in the entire world?” an impassioned Vicky asks Max, who replies,‘To go back to Boston.”
Vicky tells Max that if he takes blockers, ‘everyone else at school.. Molly.. will be changing and developing. You won’t, you’ll stay the same for three years. Are you okay with that?”

Max, unsurprisingly, considering the alternatives that are expected of him, concedes.
“If it stops me becoming more of a boy it will be worth it, won’t it?”
Vicky smiles.

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 21.38.37.png

Max’s friend Molly, the girl used in episode two to push the idea that while anorexia is an illness, gender dysphoria isn’t, is unlikely to be developing at any time in the near future. She has been hospitalised again for her anorexia. Later in the episode, Max visits her. He keeps his distance, perched at the end of her bed.

“Don’t give up, Molly, don’t give in to it. Get better.” he advises her, calmly.
“You’re so strong,” she breathes.
Max looks away.

Dad of the Year catches Gemma while she’s out for a run.
“I don’t have anyone else to talk to,” he moans. Gemma is not impressed.

Stephen tells Vicky he’s withdrawn his statement concerning her abduction of Max. Vicky is not very impressed either. She scoffs at his idea of going back to Ferrybank to talk about things further.

“She needs her puberty suspended otherwise she’s going to get more sick. I’ve already told you that. God knows what she’ll do!”

“I’m not going to listen to emotional blackmail,” retorts Stephen, perhaps the most sensible thing he’s said all episode.

As she starts out for the school run, the postman hands Vicky an envelope containing a care order for Max and prohibiting further trips abroad.

The document blithely refers to Max as Maxine and uses female pronouns to refer to him, despite a court order being an official document and the child concerned being legally and biologically a boy. Remember, Max still doesn’t even have his official diagnosis. Would a court really do this on nothing more than the sayso of the very person they were serving with a care order? The very person or people they suspected might not have a child’s best interests at heart? I wonder.

The Guardian arrives at the Duffy home. She tells them she’ll have to write a report and observe the family.

Screenshot 2018-10-29 at 01.01.48.pngMax shows the Guardian his bedroom, a plethora of pink, My Little Pony, feather boas and fairy wings, inspired he tells her, by his sister and Zoella.
“Very grown up,” she lies.
“What did you expect,” sneers Max, as he moves past a poster of Little Mix. “Pictures of Harry Styles?”

“Selfish bitch,” shouts Lily, talking to the Guardian on the way to school. She is evidently talking about Max.
“Bitch?” accuses the Guardian, “Your own sister?”
“Yes, my sister!”
Poor Lily. Nobody cares what she thinks.

There’s no doubt that his mother loves him, but is anyone genuinely looking out for Max, really looking for him, trying to see the little boy that lies under the make up and his mother’s constant assertion that his options are transition or die? When the series began I expected the writer to at least give lip service to the idea that someone – just one- of the cast might have a calm, gentle, loving chat with Max about the fact that he actually might be a boy after all, but no, not even that.

The Guardian continues to observe and assimilate.
Vicky bitches about Stephen. “He’s a coward.”
Stephen bitches about Vicky. “She’s reckless, irresponsible, obsessed.”

“There’s no sign any boy ever lived in here,” Max tells her, serenely, wearing a darker than usual shade of lipstick.
“Where’s Max now then?” asks the Guardian, curiously.
“Max is in here.” he says, showing her the suitcase of ‘boy things’ still stored under his bed.
“Is he? But weren’t you always a girl anyway?” she asks.
“I don’t know.”

“What do you think Maxine wants?” the Guardian asks Vicky.
“Isn’t that obvious? She wants to be a girl.”

Max tells Stephen over breakfast how great things are going to be in Boston, anticipating a heady combination of chats with Doctor Lollypop, puberty blockers and sightseeing. Stephen, angry that Vicky hasn’t told Max this won’t be possible, goes snitching to the Guardian, who is not impressed.

“You’ve made promises to Maxine that you just can’t keep.” she accuses Vicky. “It’s emotional abuse.”
“It’s Stephen who abused her,” retorts Vicky. “He hit her.”
“I’ve seen enough.” The Guardian leaves and all is not well in the House of Duffy.

In third place for ‘most awkward and contrived line in the episode’ comes Lily’s next offering to Vicky.

“You’ve just been running round like you’ve only got one daughter.”

Gemma bumps into Vicky in the mall while Lily and Max are trying on clothes and introduces herself.

“Maxine’s a beautiful looking girl,” says Gemma. ”She’s a beautiful girl full stop… look how she just marches into the changing room, and why shouldn’t she?”

You guessed it, that line gets first place.

Vicky is down by the canal path. Sunlight dances in her hair and meditation music plays. Stephen arrives. They giggle as the sunlight glistens on the water.
“You’re still funny,” she tells him.
I’m still here,” he says, although we do wonder if that would be the case if things had gone better with Gemma at their last meeting.

United in their rekindled love, Vicky & Stephen go back to Mermaids.
How can we tell her she can’t go back to Boston? It’s basically her only hope,” observes the ever-optimistic Vicky.
“Go back to the clinic, make them change their minds.” advises Alice.
The family are immediately inspired and determined. Max and Stephen hug.
“Only girls hug you like this.” says Stephen. “Only daughters.”

But wait, there’s trouble afoot! The Guardian tells them she’s going to recommend a care order made and Max could be removed from the family home. She’s also going to recommend the court prohibits treatment. All seems lost. Unless… but wait! It seems that there is hope after all! Only a positive outcome from a visit to the Ferrybank Clinic can save the family now.

“If the Ferrybank say it’s for the best we wouldn’t stand in the way of her treatment.” offers the Guardian.

Max’s final attempt to convince the Ferrybank to refer him reminded me of a contestant on the X factor trying to convince the panel to give them a shot at stardom. I half expect them to ask him, “How much do you want it, Maxine? Do you really, really want it?”

I’ve been too silent,” he muses. “… if I’d stopped trying to please everyone I could have been more true to myself. I’ve been living as Maxine for months now. I’ve stood up to bullies and people who don’t treat me as a girl. It feels right. In Boston there’s a trans-girl. She got her first puberty blockers injection: you should’ve seen the look on her face, it was peace. I want to feel that peace.”

Rather than Max’s simplistic view of the solve-all properties of puberty blockers setting off alarm bells, the panel seem convinced.

“My mum and dad aren’t at war anymore but my body and brain still are.” he concludes, and there isn’t a dry eye in the house as the  family smile and hug and tell Max how proud they are.

Cut to the car park.

They all get into the car in silence- then burst into peals of happy laughter. The Ferrybank were convinced by Max’s eloquence! Everything is going to be perfect now!

Fast forward. Max is looking in the mirror.

“What sort of girl will I be?” he asks Vicky. “How real will I be? Will I be as real as you and Lily?”
“I think you already are.”
“Not undressed I’m not.”
“That will come. We’ve got a long way to go, but it will come.” says Vicky. “Look. You’re beautiful.”
Max looks in the mirror for a long time and then pouts.

Screenshot 2018-10-29 at 03.11.16

Fast forward.
At the hospital, Max is receiving his first puberty blocking injection.

“Does it hurt?” asks Vicky.
“I’ll get used to it,” says Max and the music reaches a rousing crescendo as his parents hold hands and he smiles beatifically into the camera.

Credits roll.

What’s really interesting about the ending of Butterfly is that it’s not the ending. Max may well have been temporarily suspended in prepubescence but there is so much that is left untold.

No one seems to have trouble remembering to call him Maxine, everyone adjusts seamlessly. Max is now she, Maxine, a daughter, a girl… Max is indeed shut away in the dark under the bed.

Throughout the series,all those around Max have affirmed his feeling that he is actually a girl. His mother has kidnapped him and flown him halfway around the world so he can begin to be physically moulded into a girl. She has talked about him being ‘born in the wrong body’. She’s also made it clear, more than once, in his presence, that she doesn’t believe Max can survive without physical transition.

His dad, always disappointed in him as a boy, only shows true affection once Max presents as a girl. “Only girls hug you like this.”

What else struck me? Well, apart from the casual sexism, Max’s astonishingly unrealistic ability to perform femininity under all circumstances. Looking as if he’d just stepped out of a photoshoot after a ten hour flight from Boston and being seized from his parents, through medical procedures and early morning breakfasts, his blusher and eyeshadow remain perfectly in place, his lips are unsmudged, his hair perfectly coiffed.

 

Awkward as these trappings are, they are needed to convince the audience that Max is more than ‘just’ a feminine boy. Without the pretty hairgrips and the make up, how would we know?

When Max pouts into the mirror at the end, when Max talks about being treated like a girl, when he is given permission to hug his father and people finally start telling him he is beautiful, he is embracing the very trappings of femininity that patriarchy pushes on women whether they like it or not.

I feel as if I should have so much more to say with an analytical mind. To me the quotes seem to speak for themselves, showing the cognitive dissonance and the determination not to dig too deep, to fix what is on the surface without questioning what lies behind it. But I know that much of the general public doesn’t see it like I do, and that the series will continue to be described  with words like truthful, powerful, heartfelt and sensitive.

It’s fiction, of course. It is what it is. Superficially it’s a happy ending, parents reunited, Max becoming what he’s ‘always been’. An advert for Mermaids, a cautionary tale, a dark science fiction piece worthy of the greats of the mid 20th century.  It is what it is: a tale from a world where sexism masquerades as progressive; where the gender cult is heralded as liberating while it squeezes young people into boxes woven so finely they can’t even see the threads that hold them there.

 

 

 

All photos are screenshots from the ITV mini-series ‘Butterfly’

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Page 3 – when the battle’s lost and won

On the bus today, middle-child kicked my foot and rolled her eyes towards the bloke behind me. He was sitting facing her on the seat kitty-corner to hers. I looked over. He was reading a folded-over tabloid newspaper, & a full page black and white photo of a smiling, perky-boobed, naked girl, not much older than herself, was right under my daughter’s nose.

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My first reaction was surprise at seeing a ‘Page 3 girl’. Back in 2015 The Sun newspaper stopped their famous ‘Page 3 girls’ feature after years of campaigning from women. Page 3 featured young women who frequently were girls – Sam Fox started topless modelling in 1983 aged just 16. She remembers seeing the photos in The Sun on the bus on the way to her Catholic school, which promptly expelled her.

“Wow. You’ve got the face of a kid but the body of a woman,” the photographer had told her.

Sam Fox isn’t much older than me. She was a scandal and a sensation.  At the peak of her fame, Sam, who came out as a lesbian in 2003,  had bodyguards.  I remember the  whispered discussions surrounding Page 3, and my grandmother’s disgust that my grandad bought the paper. He would purposefully leave it lying around open on page 3, not to discomfort my sister and myself, but to wind up my grandmother who would clutch her pearls (yes, literally) and talk about the corruption of youth.  A more discerning reader, my grandmother got her news from The Daily Mail which she considered to be the height of sophistication.

Sam Fox was not alone in her youth. Maria Whittaker also made her first appearance in The Sun aged 16. She too shared a huge following, with regular TV appearances on The Benny Hill Show, and was named ‘Page 3 Girl of the Year’ in 1989.

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 03.11.25.pngSo how did Page 3 begin? On November 7th 1970 The Sun published the first picture of a naked woman to be featured in a daily newspaper. German model Stephanie Rahn was positioned sitting ‘tastefully’  in a field, shot from a side angle with one breast exposed. Editor Larry Lamb claimed she was in her ‘birthday suit’ to celebrate the first anniversary of the paper’s tabloid format.  Within a year of starting to publish topless photos, The Sun’s circulation almost doubled to 2.5 million, reaching 4,000,000 by 1978. The Daily Mirror, and later The Daily Star, and The Sport (1991-2010) followed suit and Page 3 became a phenomena.

In 1986 MP Clare Short criticised The Sun’s Page 3 feature, saying she wanted to “take the pornography out of our press” adding, “I’d love to ban it. It degrades women and our country.”

Ms Short said she faced “giggling sneering MPs” when she introduced a private members bill in 1987 as part of her campaign against pornographic images in the press. The Sun, in retaliation launched its ‘Save our Sizzlers’ campaign – a blatant excuse to run loads more pictures of topless girls

The day before the 1992 election, The Sun printed a picture of a fat topless woman and the warning, “Here’s How Page 3 Will Look Under Kinnock!’.

Hopes that a female editor might view Page 3 differently were dashed when, on her first day as editor of The Sun in 2003, Rebekah Wade walked into the office wearing a pro-Page 3 badge. In response to Ms Short’s continued objections, she published a picture of Clare’s head on top of a topless woman’s body and the slogan ‘Fat, Jealous Clare Brands Page 3 Porn’ and likening her to the back of a bus.

When Short commented at a Westminster lunch,  “I might go back to my little Page 3 bill and take the pornography out of the press,” The Sun accused her of “spreading more doom and gloom” and “making everyone’s life a misery”. A bus full of indignant Page 3 models was dispatched to Short’s house within an hour, armed with pictures of themselves and a photographer.

In her 2004 biography ‘An Honourable Deception’ Ms Short wrote, “It is hard not to conclude that The Sun sets out to frighten anyone who might dare to agree that such pictures should be removed from newspapers…  I bow to no one in my respect for John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, but I do not believe that inappropriate sexually provocative imagery, plastered across society, is an example of liberty.”

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 01.59.47The  No More Page 3 campaign was started in 2012 by Lucy-Anne Holmes, with a petition asking The Sun‘s then-editor to scrap the topless photos. Over two and a half years the petition collected 201,000 signatures. Holmes had over-optimistically originally set her sights on a million signatures and to have page 3 down in time for her holiday.

Because sadly, the public does not seem especially bothered. In 2014 Joshua Allan started a petition for Nottingham Trent’s student Union to ban sales of publications that featured naked women. He collected just 64 signatures. Around the same time, Jonathan Fair petitioned The Star to remove their Page 3, and collected 22.

In July 2013, the then-Prime Minister David Cameron was asked his opinion of Page 3 in an interview for R4’s Women’s Hour.“It is probably better to leave it to the consumer,” said Mr Cameron. “In the end, it’s an issue of personal choice whether people buy a newspaper or don’t buy a newspaper.” When asked how he felt about his own children viewing it, he avoided answering.

In contrast, Caroline Lucas took off her jacket during a 2013 Westminster Hall debate on sexism to reveal a T-shirt bearing the slogan No More Page Three. Speaker John Berkow subsequently banned the wearing of “ostentatious display of badges, brand names, slogans or other forms of advertising of either commercial or non-commercial causes”

In the Guardian in March 2013 Holmes explained why that the arguments,“You don’t have to buy it” and “You’re just jealous” hold little water.

“We’re hearing about 15-year-old girls who have been walking down the school corridor and their boobs are being graded out of 10 compared with the model on the page. They’re not buying it. The mother who walks into a cafe and has to explain to her six-year-old daughter why there’s a naked woman in the Sun? She’s not buying it. The paper isn’t bought and read in isolation, and we all have to live in a society that says ‘shut up and get your tits out’…  Imagine if on Page 3, for 42 years, we’d seen scrotums – young, big, hairless scrotums, and now a man was standing up and saying ‘I’ve got sons, and they’re walking down the street, and people are grabbing their balls and saying show us your balls, and they hate this. They’ve got self-esteem issues, and could we just stop the scrotum pictures?’ Imagine if a woman then turned around and said ‘you’re just jealous’. It would be ridiculous.”

Caitlin Moran – ‘Manifesto’

Caitlin Moran was a supporter of the No More Page 3 campaign, making this observation in her book ‘Moranifesto’.  You can read her full essay on the reality of Page 3 here.

On their blog  No More Page 3 wrote:

The Daily Mirror used to feature topless Page Three girls in the 1970s. It dropped the feature in the 1980s because it realised that.. to keep on featuring bare breasts in a family newspaper would make it look like a dinosaur.”

Yet The Sun, The Star and The Sport persisted. So why the focus on The Sun? The Sun newspaper sold around 2,500,000 copies every day. These newspapers were left lying around, shared about: it’s estimated that the paper had a weekly estimated readership of 11,000,000.

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You can read the letter to David Dinsmore, then Sun editor, and see the names of the MPs who supported the No More Page 3 campaign here.  The letter concludes, “The Sun publishes Page 3, which reduces women to objects. It reduces men to objectifiers. And it reduces this country to one that upholds 1970s sexist values. We’re better than this.”

In August 2013, the editor of the Irish Sun, Paul Clarkson, dropped Page 3 in its traditional format and began featuring pictures of young women in swimsuits instead.

Girlguiding Advocates said, “It is impossible for girls to nurture their ambitions if they are constantly told that they are not the same as their male equivalents. This is what Page 3 does. It is disrespectful and embarrassing.” 

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 01.30.03Campaigners started an advertising boycott against The Sun, and held weekly protests outside the paper’s Wapping offices.

Journalist Martin Daubney accused some NMP3 campaigners of “anti-woman vitriol” predicting that the campaign would backfire and only leave Sun readers more determined to keep Page 3, spitting out in return, “Short has paved the way for wave after wave of self-appointed, censorious feminists eager to tell us that Page 3 – like the Sex Pistols – is the root of all evil in British society. “

 

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 02.29.42In September 2014, Murdoch described Page 3 as “old fashioned” leading NMP3 campaigners to hope it was reaching the end of its time, and feminist campaigner Helen Saxby to respond, “Page 3 is a daily reminder of inequality. Mocks women’s achievements. Gives girls an outdated view of what women should be.”

 

 

 

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The Sun printed one final photo of a ‘Page 3 girl’ on 22/1/2015.

In January 2015 it was reported that the Sun would no longer feature topless young women on page 3.

I think the Sun capitulated in the end because we met with Tesco and they agreed to stop displaying newspapers around the sides of their newspaper ‘cubes’ where little children could see objectifying images on the front page,”  one campaigner told me yesterday. “I think when the Sun saw the largest supermarket chain was listening to us and actually making changes they knew the tide had turned.  I believe commercial interests were behind their decision, not sudden remorse at having objectified half the population since 1970.”

“Today we should be celebrating that, for the first time in 44 years, the biggest picture of a woman in the UK’s most read newspaper will not be of her breasts.” reported Left Foot Forward on 20th January 2015.

“Yesterday morning,” wrote Ceris Aston in the Independent on the morning of 21/1/15,  “we woke up to the news that, after two and a half years of campaigning, No More Page 3 was no longer a request but a statement.”

Cause for rejoicing indeed. But hang on, where are we really?

We’re here.

Screenshot 2018-10-28 at 02.50.58.pngWe’re on a doubledecker bus in Camden, hurtling through the 21st century.  It’s 2018 and a teenage girl is sitting opposite her mum.  The girl is wise and wild, raised a little feminist, and irritated more than intimidated by the old man with the pervy newspaper. She kicks her mum’s foot and rolls her eyes. Her mum looks round.

 

He was an older bloke, probably about 70.  The picture was black and white, full page. The girl in the photo was probably still in her teens, smiling- of course she was- bare-breasted, her thigh coyly covering her public hair, one hand on her hip. 

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the bus was fairly full.  Several people were standing. It would have been really embarrassing to say something. This photograph is a drop in the ocean. Women’s magazines ooze with pictures of topless celebrities on holiday. Sometimes a woman is serenaded for ‘showing off her beach bod’ othertimes her stretchmarks and cellulite are ringed with the red marker pen of shame.  ‘Topless is the new normal’ declares The Daily Star’s website, and you know what, maybe they’re right. “Happy NUDE year! Page 3 girls back in fine form as they unveil sexiest poses for 2017 calendar!” coos The Sun online in 2017.

As long as breasts aren’t being used to feed babies, they’re fair game.

I looked away. I looked back.  And as I looked back the bloke turned the paper over, smirked and made a half-grunt as his eyes ran up and down the young woman’s body for a few seconds, before he turned the paper round again. The girl in the full-page photo beamed at me vacuously.

Daughter read my mind and mouthed, ‘Don’t!’

If he had turned the page over, the moment would have passed.  But he didn’t. I looked at the other passengers on the bus. Nobody seemed to care. I felt so angry and yet so weary that this is actually still considered ‘normal’.  Why should girls and young women ever be expected to look at photographs of stripped and objectified peers in public places? To me it seems surreal.  Once you notice the trappings of porn culture and patriarchy they are everywhere. Daughter says, “I have to just not think about it mostly, or I’d be angry all the time.” 

Verging on invisible, I have less to lose. 

I looked back at the harmless-looking bloke in the tweed cap.

I realised there wasn’t an option.

I mouthed ‘I’m sorry’ at daughter and turned to the bloke. I spoke loudly but fairly cheerily.

“Excuse me? Would you mind moving your newspaper so that picture of a naked girl isn’t directly under my teenage daughter’s nose? Thank you.”

He was embarrassed and folded over the paper. Daughter was embarrassed. The other women on the bus did not break out into songs of solidarity.  Perhaps they thought I was crazy.  TBH I have absolutely no idea how anybody responded because I kept my eyes glued to my phone for the rest of the journey.

Did I have to do it?  Yes. I really think I did.  I would have despised myself if I hadn’t spoken up.

Did it make me feel good at the time?  No. It was awkward and embarrassing and difficult.

Do I regret it? No. We should be proud of our moments of courage, however small.

 What message do I give my children if I stay silent?

Women, we don’t have to be nice all the time.  We don’t have to make it easy for them.

“Courage calls to courage everywhere.”

When you see sexist bullshit, call it by its name.‬

 

 

 

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Butterfly 2 – in search of puberty blockers

Episode 2 of ‘Butterfly’ hit our screens last night, and what a whirlwind it was. As the opening credits rolled the self-described  ‘truthful and powerfully beautiful drama’ opened with a scan of Max’s dressing table: moving past the snarling dinousaurs to the place where wide-eyed, pastel-maned ponies mingled with lipsticks and glitter lamps, just in case we had forgotten that all is not ‘normal’ in the Duffy household.

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 22.29.45Dropping all pretense of being much more than a glorified advert for Mermaids, the first scene showed Vicky & Stephen, Max’s parents, attending a Mermaids meeting where the host tells them how her now-daughter currently lives in Italy and is ‘dating a gorgeous Italian’. Well, that’s certainly a step in the right direction: what more could a ‘real’ girl want? A career perhaps? Validation outside of her relationships with men? Of course not. This is a world where stereotypes are not just revered but aspired to.

“Listen to your child,” she tells Vicky and Stephen in a condescending whisper. Vicky finds the meeting ‘really encouraging;’ Stephen finds it ‘difficult‘.
I’m already reaching for a large gin and tonic.

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 22.32.45On discovering Max is still being bullied at school, Stephen approaches the bullies in the school yard, and tells them “You say anything to him again and I’ll put my hands so far down your throat I will rip out your heart.”

Totally inappropriate and just a tad over the top, but fairly understandable under the weight of all that testosterone. This is a bloke who even hoovers the carpets in a manly manner. You can bet it will backfire on him in Episode 3. Nonetheless I applaud his ability to shut the bullying little blighters up: hubby is horrified.

“We’re as good as any other parents,” says Stephen, defensively, when Vicky’s mum accuses the family of ‘paper(ing) over the cracks’.

Are you?” throws back wide-eyed Lily, who in time-honoured teenage tradition seems to think good parenting can be measured by immediate capitulation to every whim, “You’re still not giving him what he wants.” Preferred pronouns are forgotten in the heat of the moment.

Later? The next day? The scenes change so fast it’s sometimes hard to tell, as the script-writer rushes on to the next event. Stephen- or Nigella as Vicky oh-so-amusingly calls him on this occasion- is in the kitchen again. “Where’s Max?” she asks innocently, and we know trouble is on the cards.

Max’s whereabouts forgotten for a minute, Vicky & Stephen almost kiss, but Lily bursts in: she needs a wee and Max has been in the bathroom for half an hour. Alarm bells ring, everyone dashes upstairs and Stephen breaks down the door with a manly kick. Max is in the bath with a piece of broken glass, threatening to cut off his penis. Stephen takes the glass off him and accidentally cuts himself: camera zooms in on the blood.

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 22.50.23Vicky wraps Max in a towel, crying, “They said this would happen, didn’t they? We’ve got to do something!”

“We will, son, we will.”

“We will MAXINE!” glares Max from his mother’s arms, and I half expect Ave Satani to start playing in the background.

Commercial break.

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Camera pans over pink-lit dresser adorned with pompoms, nail polish, hairbrush & mirrors. Max is sleeping, clutching the Mermaid pendant which dad untangles from his hands & places on a different dresser, one sporting a dinosaur, a toy car and a games console.  The camera pans slowly into a close-up on the pendant as the sun rises, the room brightens, birds sing and daylight floods the room.

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 23.19.52Cut to Vicky, packing a suitcase full of all the ‘boy things’ in Max’s  bedroom and shoving it under the bed. The family don’t seem to be able to make their minds up. Either he can’t have any ‘girl’ things or he can’t have any ‘boy’ things. No wonder he’s confused. The last thing she picks up is a tiny pair of blue baby shoes from the shelf. These too must go – what self-respecting girl would ever have owned a pair of blue shoes? The suitcase packed away, Vicky collapses hyperventilating by the bed.

They visit the head teacher who is worried Max may be just going through a phase and talks about pencil cases and netball.

“I want a happy daughter, not a dead son,” says Vicky.
“It’s what I want to be. It’s what I am.” says Max.
“I’ve seen him.. her..  in her school skirt, the tights and that, and, yeah, it looks right.” forces out Stephen.

Poor bloke, he’s trying so hard and he just ends up sounding kinda creepy. When he runs back to relative sanity in the arms of ex-girlfriend Gemma, part of me doesn’t even blame him for being a love rat.

Rather than this raising safeguarding alarm bells- it’s quite definitely the weirdest thing Stephen has said so far- this seems to convince the headteacher, who promises to send a letter to Max’s year group over half term, saying he’ll be coming back as Maxine.

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 23.24.12The camera cuts to Max, who is getting dressed  in a training bra, tights, pink knickers and frills.  His hair is curled and he is painted up with pink lipstick, blusher and eyeshadow by his mother and sister. His eyebrows are now perfectly plucked and sculpted: adorned with the trappings of femininity he looks not entirely unlike a short-haired Brooke Shields in ‘Pretty Baby’.


“Wow,” says Stephen.
“Will she do?” asks Vicky.

By this point I’m looking round the room for a suitable receptacle should I feel the need to throw up.
“She will,” declares dad, and with the blessings of the patriarchy upon him, Max is reinvented as Maxine, and off to school he goes.

“Will I be a proper girl?” he asks, unconvinced, arriving at school.
“Just be yourself,” advises Lily, oblivious to the irony that being himself is the one thing that Max is not allowed to do. Not at any point in this entire soap opera has anyone suggested to Max that he can like the things he does and still be a boy.

Screen Shot 2018-10-22 at 12.27.49School starts. The girls love him- one gives him a rose for ‘grace, happiness and gentleness‘  and they send him messages on social media saying ‘you look great’ and ‘you are so brave’. The boys are less kind. One is quite rightly sent from the room for calling Max and his new friend ‘a tranny and a stick insect’.

The teacher is concerned about Max and starts “Maxine…”

“You said “let’s just get on,’” Max cuts her off, firmly.
Maxine is calling the shots now, although in most schools a girl wearing that much make up would be told to ‘go wipe that muck off your face.’

Max makes a new friend: the girl who gave him the rose is an anorexic who shows him her self-harming scars. The storyline takes care to emphasise that there is a big difference between the two children. She is ill, Max is not.

“Are you ill?” asks Max.

“Yes. You?”


“No.”
“

You’re lucky.”


They put on some pop music and dance and sing along. Much wiggling ensues. Because they are girls, obvs.

The family meet up with grandma, who is angry to see Max sporting a pink hoodie & shoes and, astonishingly, even more pink make up than in previous scenes. Lily and Max dance on the platform while Vicky and her mum talk. Grandma accuses Vicky of spoiling Max and cruelly spits out, “You’re no grandson of mine,” allowing Max the snappy comeback, “I know I’m not.”



The family gets an appointment at the gender clinic after five months wait. Wearing pink shoes and a short skirt, Max arrives at the Ferrybank with his parents, but all does not go as Vicky hopes.

Stephen expresses his reservations, and Max tells a clinician, “Mum says there’s something I can take,” adding, “It was Lily’s idea. She made me do it,” and later, “I don’t want them to stop loving me.”

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 22.53.45

The clinic ‘don’t think it’s helpful to focus all our attention on physical intervention’ and refuse to prescribe puberty blockers despite Vicky’s insistence, instead advising ‘watchful waiting’ and suggesting Max finds ‘more fluid ways to embrace your gender’.

Vicky freaks out.“She can’t wait! Wait until she’s been through all that agony and hell and she ends up in a man’s body? Offer more counselling when she tries to commit suicide again?”

She turns to Stephen, “It’s your fault!”

Max sits next to his mother, bubblegum-pink lips unmoving; beshadowed eyes unblinking, throughout this ghoulish prophecy.

“They’re not gonna hand them out like bloody sweets!” shouts Stephen, who has done his research & knows that most kids desist post puberty if they aren’t given blockers. “These are the experts!”

“I’m the expert!” shouts Vicky, who doesn’t even seem to have done a quick Google on the potential problems involved with prescribing blockers to pre-pubescent kids.

Transgender Trend yesterday published a comprehensive article in response to this episode, entitled ‘They Look Normal’, exploring the origin and effect of ‘blockers’ in depth and discrediting the ‘harmless and reversible’ myth. It’s such an excellent piece that I don’t need to go further into the implications here. Instead, I encourage you to read the article (link above) for yourself.

If Max’s mother gets hold of blockers for him he may well ‘pass’ as a girl, but if he goes on to take cross-sex hormones he will almost certainly end up sterile and with little or no libido. Is this less important than how he may look?

Screen Shot 2018-10-22 at 13.04.51The family go home.

“I don’t think I can trust you any more,” Vicky tells Stephen.

Max goes to bed without taking his make-up off.

The next day Vicky goes back to Mermaids where she is told her GP is unlikely to prescribe puberty blocking drugs and advised not to buy them online, but that there are ‘other options’. A trip to a doctor in Boston would do the job, she is told, but would cost thousands of pounds. Vicky says she’s starting a business but is told ominously, “Vicky, you need the money now.

Screen Shot 2018-10-22 at 13.16.21

Taking a cheque her mother had given her to bolster her new business, Vicky decides to head for America without telling Stephen or Lily. She dashes home and grabs Max, ignoring Lily who is desperate to talk to her.

Hastily removing his earrings and make up, Max and Vicky rush to the airport, as back home Lily is beckoned into the dark-doored, gloomy-looking house of a boy from school.

Cut to Vicky and Max stepping out of a taxi, outside a state-of-the-art glass-fronted hospital. The sky is blue and everything is clinically clean.

Their luggage has disappeared but Max’s make-up is back. Vicky takes his hand and smiles.

Credits roll.

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Butterfly is a 3 part drama shown in the UK on ITV. All stills in this blogpost are screenshots from episode 2.

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Butterfly- a view from the cocoon

The cast of Butterfly (from trailer)

I watched the first episode of the new ITV drama ‘Butterfly’ with interest and growing discomfort.

From the opening credits, where Max removes his lipstick and pink nail polish, to the firm handshakes dolled out by his bearded father, I was especially struck by the program’s blithe promotion and acceptance of gendered stereotypes.

As Max removes the trappings of femininity, the hair adornments, the nail polish, lipstick and jewellery, the camera pans back and we see his face. This powerful opening speaks volumes: remove the adornments we associate with girlhood and this boy-child is just that: a boy.  How could he be anything else?

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Max dancing (from trailer)

We learn that Max’s parents are recently separated, and that Max’s penchant for feminine things has played a large part in this split. It’s made clear that Max feels guilty about the split and desperately wants his parents back together.

In a bid to impress his dad on weekend visits, Max tries to enjoy playing football. We learn that he has also cut his hair in an attempt to please his father.  And this pretence works, up to a point.  But the moment the mask of machismo slips, dad is having none of it. When Max spins and dances in a pink top at home, it become too much for his father, who tries to stop him, first saying,” I’m warning you, Max,” and then striking him.

Dad has made rules in the past about what Max can and can’t do. “There’ll be more rules about it now,” he warns, darkly.

 

“In our house you get to do ‘girl things’ but nowhere else.”

Even his supportive mum can’t see beyond conforming to conventional sexist stereotypes of how boys and girls should behave, telling Max, “Outside you’re a boy, you do what boys do.”

 

Lily MaynardWhich brings us to the elephant in the ‘Butterfly’ house. At no point does anyone tell Max that he’s just fine as he is, that liking traditionally ‘feminine’ things doesn’t make him any less of a boy.  That it’s ok for a boy not to enjoy ‘manly’ pastimes. His grandmother dismisses his feelings as a ‘silly phase’. Grandad, at one point,  suggests the family should “all just say you’re gay and it’s no problem at all,” but we all know grandad is old and foolish and the idea that Max might not be the problem is not even considered by any other character.  No wonder he thinks he must be a girl. In Max’s world, it isn’t possible to enjoy the things he does and still be male. The message Max receives from everyone around him is that he is not a ‘proper’ boy.

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Max on the hospital trolley (from trailer)

There follows a suicide attempt, brought on by Max’s mother’s attempt to go out on a date. Rushed through the hospital, Max lies like a modern day Ophelia, hair lightly curled, impeccable and perfectly made up, on a hospital trolley.

After this, the family visit a medical health practitioner, possibly from CAMHS, who, on this very first visit, raises the subject of puberty blockers.

When Max’s dad mentions the fact that he’s heard most kids ‘grow out of it’, the idea is dismissed with the ominous prediction, “Puberty can be a ticking clock… gender dysphoria might escalate, might not.”

 

After dancing in the playground with some girls and being bullied on the way home by some boys, Max’s teenage sister tells him “ I think of you as my sister,” and he is ready to let her take him under her wing.

At the end of the first episode, Max comes downstairs with his sister, in a school skirt, make-up and a hairslide. “How do I look?” he asks his surprised family. “You look lovely,” manages his mother.

On going to school dressed like this, Max says “I don’t want to do it but I feel I have to”.

It is as if Max has realised that the only way anyone is going to let him express his personality is if he forces himself into the ‘girl’ box.

“She,” he corrects his mother when she refers to him as ‘he’.

“She,” she breathes back.

 

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A necklace similar to the one Max removes at the start of the series.

The influence of ‘Mermaids’ is apparent throughout the first episode.  In the opening sequence, Max removes a mermaid necklace and a momentary close up reveals it to be very similar to the one  on the ‘Mermaids’ logo. In a visit to an aquarium with his dad, Max imagines a beautiful mermaid swimming over to him and trying to make contact with him through the glass. In a later scene, Max’s parents visit a support group and are told  “Listen to your child.” A Mermaids poster is clearly visible in the background.

Jake Hurfurt reports in the Mail that writer Tony Marchant and actress Anna Friel, who co-produced the program and plays Max’s mum, have ‘lavished praise on Mermaids’.

It comes as no surprise that CEO Susie Green, whose son underwent ‘gender reassignment surgery’ at just sixteen, and who advocates for under-16s access to cross-sex hormones, is listed in the credits as a series consultant.

“I can’t even begin to thank Susie Green enough for all the help she gave me.” says Friel.

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 22.12.21This afternoon, with the first episode of Butterfly about to be released, the homepage of the Mermaids website was promising that their ‘helpline will be open until midnight on the 14th, 21st and 28th of October to coincide with the launch of new episodes.’

Today, Mermaids’ Twitter feed is full of scores of pictures of butterflies and scores of moving quotes from anonymous happy parents who have transitioned their children. Gender critical parents have made their own version of the mermaids hashtag.

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In fact, apart from the obvious idea of emerging from a cocoon, I really can’t work out why they called the program ‘Butterfly’ in the first place. “Mermaid” would be a far more appropriate title, as at times the show verges on little more than a glorified advert for the contentious and controversial charity.

For a production with a fair level budget, ‘Butterfly’ isn’t very well put together. The acting is excellent but the writing is weak, a frequent flaw of ‘message pieces’.

While questing to become compelling characters, the actors struggle with the challenge of becoming something more than mouthpieces for the message. This was nowhere more notable than in the painfully gauche scene where Max’s sister tells him he should correct people who refer to him as ‘he’ and that she thinks of him as her sister not her brother.

The editing is also somewhat haphazard. Scenes seemed mashed together, rather than paced, which leaves the viewer feeling as if they’ve just watched one long trailer.

Of course, it isn’t meant to be real.  It’s a story. It’s a fictional show. It’s prime time TV drama.  But the show pushes the sexist and homophobic narrative that a boy liking dancing, pretty things and pink is reason enough for not just concern, but medical intervention.  I wonder to what extent the self-congratulatory adult crew involved with making it have seriously thought about that.

In addition, the beautification and idealisation of attempted suicide in this show, and the way that it gets Max what he wants (his dad moves back home because of it) may give mixed messages to other confused kids.  Writer Marchant has suggested that “kids going through this, with or without the support of their parents” might watch the show and get “some sense of what we need to do, that this is ok.” 

What he doesn’t seem to be asking is how many effeminate little boys are going to watch or hear about this show and decide that they too must be ‘born in the wrong body’? How many well-meaning teachers will watch the show and wonder if little Tommy isn’t just a bit quiet and effeminate after all- perhaps he is a transgender child?!   How many parents, concerned their child might be gay or doesn’t comply with gender norms, may decide it’s because their child is really transgender?

 

How many of those little boys will end up getting ‘fixed’ like Max?

 

 

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Gender is harmful. My views are not hateful.

Yesterday I was told that my writing could be seen as hateful. The accusation stems from my belief that men cannot ‘become’ women, & that ‘woman’ is a biological descriptor. Nor do I believe a child can be born in the ‘wrong’ body.

So I’ve written something short, to lay out my views and try to explain them in a piece that should only take a few minutes to read. Hopefully you’ll make it to the end, and you’ll see that there is nothing hateful about my beliefs.

If you see hatred here, please pin point it. Call it out. Let me know where; let me know what and why. Be specific.

32455261_10157355273843332_9142684560734027776_nA girl who likes mud and short hair and hates pink is still a girl. She is strong and fierce, not broken, she does not need fixing or to change herself. If you love her, tell her that. Always.

If you feel uncomfortable that your boy child likes pink and tutus & you’ve agreed with him that that means he’s a girl, know that I will never, ever comply with this.  A boy who wants to sing and dance, to feel the breeze in long hair and a skirt flow around his knees is precious and wild. He can never be a girl, and that is fine because he is perfect as he is. Why would you ever tell him otherwise?

Your child does not need to be lied to. They need help to try to accept themselves as they are. They will find it much harder to do that if the adults that they love and trust tell them that they might be in a body that is ‘wrong’.

I have seen the effects of gender dysphoria first hand. I watched my own daughter wrestle with it, feeling that she was wrong, that to be herself she would need to make painful, unnatural changes to the unique creature that she is. It was awful. I understand that many people with gender dysphoria suffer terribly and I feel for them. Having that empathy doesn’t mean that I should be willing to lie about facts, change the meaning of the words that describe my sex, or stay silent when I see children being misled and harmed.

The same set of values that say the Munroes and Shons of this world ‘do woman’ properly,  are the same values that say short-haired, make-up free lesbians don’t ‘do woman’ properly. This is not ‘inclusive’. It is crushing. It is untrue. Sisters, if you remove your breasts it will not make you a man. You will always be one of us and not just because you understand the pain of womanhood better than most. Woman is not a feeling or a costume that can be tossed away or picked up. A man in a dress is still a man. Plastic surgery does not make him a woman.  Nothing can ever make him a woman. This may be a harsh reality, but it is still a reality.

32479856_10157355273673332_3783243456172785664_nThe restrictive gender norms and values that our society has established for men and women are based on stereotypes. Like characters in a child’s cartoon, these stereotypes are two dimensional. We are so much more complex than that. Stereotypes harm everyone. They are a web that traps and confines us, a mask forced on us that we never chose to wear.

We should strive to break them down, to leave the next generation a world where every personality is valid and every body is beautiful.

Let’s toss out the absurd rules that say there’s a right & wrong way to be a man or a woman. Women’s biology is unique to females and men’s to males. It shouldn’t define our personalities. Let’s celebrate that. Bending the meanings of words does not change reality. Woman; man – these words are biological descriptors. The rest is a huge and vast expanse of diverse forms of expression, some of which we label as masculine or feminine.

Turn your back on sexist stereotypes. They help no-one. Women shouldn’t have to perform femininity; men shouldn’t have to perform masculinity.  We are perfect as we are. We need to speak out and say this.

It is not hateful.

Don’t be afraid.

Break out of the boxes, don’t build new ones.

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