Laurel Hubbard is a trailblazer

Laurel Hubbard has qualified to represent New Zealand at the next Olympics (whenever or wherever those happen) in women’s weightlifting.

Virtually no one would have paid any attention to this – weightlifting not being one of the three sports (cricket, netball, league) New Zealanders actually care about – if it weren’t for the fact Laurel Hubbard is a trans woman. The first, in fact, to qualify to compete at the Olympics, despite trans athletes being technically allowed to compete, under certain restrictions, since 2003.

Keep that in the back of your mind, yeah?

This is a tremendous achievement for her and if she’s in serious contention for a medal it’s great for New Zealand, right?

Except this is a pretty bad time to be a visible trans woman, and especially a visible trans woman in sports. What generously gets called “a debate” about trans women’s (never trans men’s, keep that in the back of your mind) participation in sport is nothing more or less than the wedge issue for organised transphobic activism, right after stirring up baseless moral panic about public bathrooms.

The farcical “arguments” offered are like most transphobia: rooted in bog-standard, basic sexism. You have to accept the idea that men are inherently faster, stronger, taller and more powerful than women; that testosterone is a magical wonder drug that confers superhuman powers on anyone who gets enough of it during puberty; that the chromosomes or genitals you’re born with are the primary factors determining if you’re good at sports or not.

The transphobia is also basic. It’s simply about insinuating, inferring and outright stating, from behind an army of newborn Twitter sockpuppet accounts, that trans women “are men” and for a trans woman to compete against cis women is thus “unfair”.

A picture is painted of a terrible world in which no cis woman ever wins any medals because trans women (dogwhistle: “cis men pretending to be trans to win all the medals”) “dominate” all the sports. Except … remember how trans athletes have been able to qualify for the Olympics since 2003? And it’s 2021? And Laurel Hubbard is the first?

So … where are all these cis men lining up to win all the medals if it’s so simple?

There is literally no basis for this fearmongering beyond that primary-school level, “boys have testosterone and that’s why they’re strong; girls have estrogen and that’s why they love babies” understanding of human biology. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is pretty much the opposite of any credible feminism.

So Hubbard’s achievement has been immediately framed in the context of that “debate”, and that’s incredibly sad and concerning. She and other trans women – and cis women who look “too butch” because that is an obvious side consequence of transphobic gender-policing – are literally put in danger by this rhetoric, not just denied the ability to live their lives to the fullest.

She is a trailblazer. She deserves to be counted among all the other people we hold up as Kiwi heroes because they overcame tremendous odds to be The First In The World, without the shadow of nasty, petty sneers and abuse from cowards who want to reduce womanhood to a quivering pair of ovaries, crying for the patriarchy to protect them.

And you know that they don’t even really care about sports, right?

Sunday reads

A few pieces that caught my eye this week.

Mark Brown: If you’re asking ‘What real poor person could be at Glastonbury?’ you’ve never been poor

Culture makes your world bigger. Beauty makes your world bigger. A night out, a cream cake, a trip to the cinema, a something that is yours and yours alone. Having things you love now makes it easier to live in a world that tells you it doesn’t love you. They make the days differ from each other. They make you feel alive. Being poor is a struggle to feel alive, to feel part of the world and all of the things it has to offer.

When you are poor you feel you are continually trying to steal and get ownership of culture that you can’t quite afford, knowing that eventually you’ll have to go back to where you came from and to the struggles you face. You have to blag and graft and save and sneak into culture when you’re poor. It takes years to feel like you have any right. You can never quite afford it but you do it anyway because otherwise is a kind of death. You scrimp, you save you blow your money because if you don’t you are only what they say you are: an animal that just eats and shits and wants only a place to sleep.

Katelyn Burns: The Strange, Sad Case Of Laci Green — Feminist Hero Turned Anti-Feminist Defender

[Content note: discussion of online harassment, trolling, misogyny, transmisogyny]

… that someone so influential in the progressive online space could make such a complete 180 has shaken the social justice community to its core. How could a defender of equality change so much, so quickly? And what does it mean for those who had come to trust Green’s safe space online?

The answers to these questions are chillingly incomplete — and raise questions anew about the safety of online spaces for those who routinely face harassment.

Katelyn is also well worth a follow on Twitter.


Cranium’s Christmas sign: why is mainstream Kiwi culture so unfunny?

[Content note: transphobia, insincere apologies]

I’ve posted before about the paradox which occurs when privileged types – usually middle-aged white dudes – tell incredibly unfunny, bigoted jokes, and then whinge that the people who point out that their jokes are unfunny and bigoted “don’t have a sense of humour”.

And here we are again, with a hilaaaaaaaaaarious Christmas billboard from Cranium, a signage company in Auckland. Featuring a ripped-off photo of Caitlyn Jenner, briefly posted to their Facebook page (and greeted with multiple “joke” comments calling Caitlyn Jenner a man) and then deleted as soon as the bad publicity started to hit, but immortalised for all time in screenshots because the internet doesn’t forget:

My response at the time was:

And I figured that was the end of it. Another in an eternal chain of thoughtless dudebros punching down with incredibly unoriginal “humour” getting a moment in the spotlight and then fading away.

But as always happens these days – because New Zealand Twitter is simultaneously an echo-chamber of toxic Wellington lefties and also a major source of clickbait for the mainstream media – the story hasn’t died there. Cranium made an incredibly insincere, self-justifying “apology” for the sign, in which company director Phillip Garratt whined

“I was referring to a Santa sack and your sick mind is the problem.”

doge apology

Here’s the thing.

I just don’t get it. What do people like Phillip Garratt think they’ll achieve by pretending that they weren’t making the only joke they could possibly have been making? The same kind of joke (obnoxious, unoriginal) people have been making since the moment they heard the name “Caitlyn Jenner”?

The alternative is that someone presented him with the design and he found the concept of an empty Santa sack so hilarious that he was laughing too hard to ask “so what’s Caitlyn Jenner got to do with it?” And I kinda doubt that.

jon stewart caitlyn jenner

It was a cheap joke which reinforces a set of really harmful ideas we have about trans women. That they’re not really women. That they’re damaged or inferior un-men because they’ve had a particular type of surgery. That we have a right to know what surgery they’ve had or to wonder what their genitals look like or to ask how they have sex or demand to know their “real” name.

And it was put on a billboard on a road in Auckland by a company trying to market itself. This is what we treat as “normal” humour. As something appropriate to joke about in an advertisement.

And then we act surprised when trans women are incarcerated in men’s prisons and subjected to horrific abuse, and we act confused when trans people are overwhelmingly victims of violence, and it’s a total shock to us when trans people routinely commit self-harm.

We don’t need to “get a sense of humour.” If companies like Cranium are so inconsiderate and insincere that their director is literally going to say it was “just a joke” but also “it wasn’t even a joke about Caitlyn Jenner”, then it should be very clear where the problem lies, and who the villains are, and what needs to change.

Women of #nzpol Twitter: on the incarceration of trans women in male prisons

The “Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup” is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

beauty and the beast misandry

[Content note: transphobia, sexual assault, corrections]

It was reported on the weekend that a prisoner at the Serco-run prison in Wiri had been physically and sexually assaulted. But that wasn’t the whole story.

Unfortunately, the fact that the prisoner is a trans woman was initially missed from media reports – and the story then became about Serco, not all the other concerns about where trans women are incarcerated.

@cannibality posted a great set of tweets about the wider issues of incarceration – and why we shouldn’t just blame Serco – starting here (click the timestamp to see the whole thread):

I feel a bit sorry for Jacinda Ardern, who copped a lot of the frustration from people – because no other political party said boo about the story. But there are some good grounds for criticism in Labour’s past treatment of issues affecting trans people, and erasing the fact that this case involved a trans woman in a men’s prison – an issue which covers all correctional facilities in NZ – felt like opportunism to some tweeters.

Another great thread from @cannibality begins here:

It’s easy enough to say “oh well, realpolitik, the story is easier to sell when it’s about Serco being vile” or “let’s focus on one issue at a time” – if you’re not trans and this is thus a problem you get to treat as abstract.

We can think of more than one thing at a time. We can condemn Serco for their horrific mismanagement and criticise the government for pursuing a privatisation agenda and agree that it’s simply inhumane and demeaning to incarcerate trans women with cis men.

The thing we (cis people) shouldn’t do is think our options are to either remain silent or ignore the serious issues at hand in order to push a different agenda.

No Pride in Prisons are holding a rally against Serco’s actions and Corrections’ lack of transparency about its treatment of trans prisoners, this Saturday at noon in Auckland. Please go and support them.

Alesha, Who Smiles At Death and smashes geek stereotypes

I’ve started using the word “nerd” to describe myself more and more recently. I used to be firmly a “geek”, because geeks were cool and nerds were those awkward people who just went a little overboard in their geekiness.

But the more and more I think about just how much of a geek I am, the more I realise I’m really just a big ol’ nerd.

So of course I was a Magic: The Gathering player back in the day, spending my intermediate years sitting in the school library at lunchtime with a pretty kickass blue/white deck duelling it out with my nerd peers. I was, it hardly needs saying, the only girl in the group, clumsily figuring out who I was in the grand societal scheme of things and lacking the eloquence to express exactly why I found the boys’ drooling, grunting responses to cards like Sivitri Scarzam so … creepy.

I know the world’s moved on from then – with every birthday it feels more and more like I’m supposed to be a proper grown-up now, but even getting a mortgage didn’t make that sink in – and now we have marriage equality and politicians schmoozing the crowd at the Big Gay Out. But I was still pleasantly surprised to read that MtG now has a trans character. A bona fide, right-there-in-her-back-story-but-not-the-most-important-thing-about-her trans character.

Whenever things like this happen there’s always the objections – but who cares, right? Why should it be important? If you care so much about people’s gender aren’t you just a part of the problem?

And what seems really difficult to get through to my fellow heterosexual cis folk, especially in geek circles, is that it is important, and we do all care – but the reason we can pretend not to is because (to different extents) we get to assume that our media and hobbies contain representations of us. Before Alesha’s backstory was revealed in The Truth Of Names, I would’ve been perfectly free to assume she was a cis woman character. I wouldn’t have needed to ask, I wouldn’t even have really thought about it (and if I had been asked, I would’ve assumed a company like Wizards of the Coast hadn’t even thought about having a trans woman character.) And I would’ve assumed – I still assume because it hasn’t been explicitly spelled out otherwise – that she’s heterosexual.

The irony is that we ask “but why is it important to see someone like you in this game?” when we – hetero cis folk – already get to see heaps of people “like us” in the game. We just never have to think too hard about it. It’s assumed that everyone is like us until stated otherwise.

So having a trans woman character in MtG is a big thing. It says to trans people – hey, you’re as much a part of this wild fantasy world as everyone else. It says to cis people – hey, your assumptions aren’t valid, think about why that is. It says to the geek community – a community which can be so bizarrely exclusionary to people who aren’t straight white dudes – hey, other people count, and we’re not shutting them out for your comfort.

Meanwhile, back in our own world, an openly gay man who happens to be a fantastic defensive player just can’t get a job in the NFL. For every step forward it feels like there’s another two back. But those first steps are still huge.