Wednesday 8 November 2023

Secrets and Lies in Alabama

Fair warning: this story doesn't end well.

On Quora this week I came across the tragic story of Fred L. "Bubba" Copeland, the mayor of a small town in Alabama, in the United States. Copeland, 49, was a local businessman, the pastor of a small Baptist church, and was married with three children. Outwardly, he was a pillar of the community.

Pillar of the community: Bubba
Behind the scenes, things were somewhat different. Bubba led a secret life as a "transgender curvy girl" (his phrase). His fem name was Brittini Blaire Summerlin, and under this pseudonym she posted social media pictures of herself; exchanged flirty messages with other users; and wrote erotic transgender fiction.

Unfortunately Copeland's secret was discovered by far-right Alabama news website 1819 News. They didn't go public straight away, but approached him for an interview.

The original article didn't give a transcript of the interview (although it does give a link to the full text of one of his pieces of erotic fiction), so it's hard to get context around Copeland's statements, and I don't believe the article intended to present Copeland in any sort of fair (let alone positive) light, so we must make some inferences.

Copeland apparently said he's been dressing as a woman since his youth, for relief of anxiety and "getting rid of stress", and regarded it as a "hobby". He told 1819 News that he isn't in transition and isn't taking medical gender treatment. He said he only dressed at home, and compared it to cosplay and "dress-up".

Curvy: Brittini
Here are some remarks that 1819 News has quoted directly from him:

Copeland: Just my wife knows about it. It’s a hobby I do to relieve stress. I have a lot of stress, and I’m not medically transitioning. It’s just a bit of a character I’m playing. I don’t go out and seek solicitation or anything like that. (...) I don't do it in public.

It’s just a hobby that I have inside my own home that has not travelled outside of my home. I have not done anything outside of my own home besides post or publish anything on the internet, and that does not affect anything with inside (sic) my jurisdiction.

What I do in private life has nothing to do with what I do in my holy life. Does this have any effect on me being mayor, that I sometimes put on a dress or sometimes put on makeup? Does that have anything to do whatsoever with me being mayor or being a pastor?

According to the article, Copeland asked 1819 News not to out him, and he immediately deleted his social media accounts. There wasn't much likelihood of them agreeing to keep quiet about this: from their perspective, this must have been quite the scoop, and they gleefully published their article online on the 1st November 2023.

Ironically, the article also briefly discusses Copeland's political career. They quote him describing life as mayor of a small, close-knit community, from an earlier interview (my italics for emphasis).

Copeland: It really is like everybody knows your name. You know, everybody dies famous in a small town. That’s what it is. It is Friday Night Lights. It is mama’s apple pie. Our community is very, very low crime, very low drug abuse. Our number one problem is suicide. It is sad. I think a lot of it has to do with military. I think some of it has to do with social media and the reality of that. That’s the number one problem we have.

Wife's top: Brittini
On the 2nd of November, 1819 News posted a second article in which a visibly distressed Copeland addressed his parishioners from the pulpit about the revelation. They obviously had someone there to film the whole statement, which lasts over 6 minutes. That second article contains many titillating screen captures from Copeland’s social media feed.
Copeland: Yes, I have taken pictures with my wife in the privacy of our home in an attempt of humour, because I know I'm not a handsome man nor a beautiful woman either. I apologize for any embarrassment caused by my private, personal life that has come publicly.

Poor Copeland was doing his best to make light of all this—but there's nothing funny about any of it. Understandably, he then went on to reiterate his devotion to his family, to his city, and to his church. He then read out the biblical passage “The Lord is my shepherd”.

The only tiny light of hope in any of this is that, during his address, Copeland mentioned that he had received many messages of support, despite the news only being public for a short time.

Copeland: …again, I’m sorry for what my actions have caused, and I’m thankful for the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who have reached out to me today, in love. And I know that there are others that have not. But just know I love you, and Jesus loves you as well.

Tragically, on the 3rd of November, 2023, only two days after 1819 News published their article, Bubba Copeland shot himself in the head with a pistol. According to internet sources he is survived by his wife, Angela (a teacher)  and a son and two daughters.

Not ashamed: Brittini
This story shocked me when I came across it, and it has prompted me to write a post about it. The news has gone worldwide, with many news outlets reporting what has happened. A Wikipedia page about Bubba Copeland has appeared. The editor-in-chief of 1819 News is a man called Jeff Poor, and he has been the subject of considerable social media outrage after Copeland’s death. reports that Poor gave a message of condolence in a radio interview.

Poor: Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Smiths Station, the parishioners of First Baptist Church of Phenix City and the victims and family of Mayor Copeland.

Just a minute: “victims”? What victims? There has never been any allegation—not even by Poor’s own news agency—that Copeland had any “victims”. This is an especially ill-chosen form of words, and makes what could almost have been a gesture of apology—however late, however vague—into an insult.

There are so many aspects of this whole business which are worthy of commentary.


I hold 1819 News fully responsible for the suicide of Bubba Copeland. There’s nothing to suggest that he was suicidal before their article outing him. By their own admission, they contacted him before they went public, and he asked them not to publish. They did anyway. If they hadn't gone public, he would likely have been able to continue living his double life.

Happier times: Bubba and Angela
They must have known that this would cause outrage among the local communities in Alabama. They must have known that Bubba Copeland would receive a great deal of hatred. I don’t think they intended him to actually take his own life, but I'm certain that they wanted him to feel named and shamed. They wanted to stir up ire among those people who believe in Republican Jesus, who they knew would be vocally critical of Copeland's lifestyle. They wanted a boost to their ratings—and no doubt, they've got a much bigger boost than they expected. Without this story, nobody outside Alabama would ever have heard of them.

Nothing to be ashamed of

This point lies at the heart of this issue. Copeland said that he had nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing to suggest that he was a bad mayor; a bad pastor, or a bad husband or father. How he dressed in his spare time is literally nobody’s business but his own.

I am still carrying decades of internalised transphobia, although gradually this burden is getting lighter. I have struggled to come to terms with my feelings, and tried to suppress them, before finally coming to embrace them, and I’m sure that Bubba Copeland had a similar journey. But that shame was still in there, and I'm certain that shame, that dissonance between who he was, and who people thought he was, is what caused him to take his own life.

I have republished the photos of Brittini because I think she looks really great, really happy, and because I think that dressing like that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I am absolutely certain that there are loads of other people secretly doing exactly what Copeland was doing. Some of them are undoubtedly very similar to him: Republican, prosperous, prominent in the community, God-fearing. Some of them may even have openly condemned Copeland, from their pulpits, or even just to the good ol’ boys in the pub. This behaviour is called signalling theory, and it's something that we all do, without exception.

Not amnesic: Dawn Ennis
Coming out at a time of your own choosing is extremely stressful. US Broadcaster Dawn Ennis (formerly Don Ennis) came out as transgender in 2013. Despite apparently considerable support from her colleagues, after only 3 months, she de-transitioned back to Don, and blamed the whole business on amnesia, of all things. I'm sure that she found it just too difficult, in a personal sense, to transition so publicly.

Of course, I didn't believe her, and I'm sure the excuse sounded pretty flimsy to everyone else too. However, less than a year later, she re-transitioned, and has been Dawn ever since, and seems to be doing quite well.

So if that was Dawn Ennis, who presumably thought very long and hard about coming out the first time, how much more difficult must it have been for Bubba Copeland, who had no time at all to deal with the fact that everyone he knew had seen his pictures and knew the secret that he had carefully guarded (as I did) for his whole life?


There's a lot of hypocrisy in all of this. How did 1819 News find out about Bubba? Did some other guy who likes wearing female lingerie and enjoys that sort of social media content recognise that Brittini looks a lot like Bubba, and decide it would be a good idea to out him publicly?

It seems Bubba's dressing had his wife’s knowledge and approval. That brown top with the large leopardskin pattern belongs to his wife—or at least, 1819 News found a social media picture of her wearing it.

Did she know about the flirty, sexual social media messages? I cannot say; it's between the two of them. I'm inclined to think she probably didn't. I definitely think it’s not a good look, but again, it’s his private business, and surely everyone has their various private sexual fantasies. Did he act out those sexual fantasies with other people? I'm inclined to think not, based on his speech to his parish. If there had been evidence of this, I'm certain 1819 News would have published it, and Copeland would likely have apologised for it. Again, it's not our business, but again, I'm absolutely certain that there are plenty of Republicans in Alabama who have broken their sacred marital vows.

My main question about hypocrisy though, is this one: did Bubba Copeland preach against trans people? I don't know; I cannot know. After his death, it seems to matter little, but Baptist preachers in the Deep South of the USA are known for their intolerant style of preaching. Perhaps Bubba was preaching that there's plenty of room around God's table for everyone. Perhaps he just avoided the topic entirely. But if he openly spoke out against gay and trans people from the pulpit, then I would be disappointed.

It has been reported recently that the gay dating site Grindr has been so disgruntled by the rise in anti-gay legislation in the US state of Florida that it has threatened to publish the names of every Republican legislator and party official who secretly uses their app. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a hoax. But the very fact that this report went viral demonstrates that there are a lot of people out there who think that the Republican anti-gay agenda is deeply hypocritical.

There but for the grace of God

One of the things which shocked me most was my own realisation that Copeland and I have quite a lot in common. We’re nearly the same age. I’ve got kids. I’m not a pastor, or a mayor, but I am a doctor, and I do have a secret fem identity, which has been there my whole life, and has an online presence, and provides me with pleasure and fulfilment and relief from stress and anxiety. And, while I'm more out than Brittini, and my various interactions with people have been incredibly positive and affirming, I am absolutely certain that there is an element within my community that would love to report, with feigned outrage, that there’s a cross-dressing doctor looking after vulnerable people in their local hospital.

As a result, I’ve been extremely careful. I had kept this blog for about seven years before I posted a clear photo of myself on it—even now, there are only a few. My Facebook account is private. There are only a couple of photos of me on Quora. (You’re not going to find flirty or erotic social media messages or photos out there from me—because that sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea).

Everybody dies famous in a small town

Seeing what happened to Bubba Copeland made me very upset on a number of levels. How awful that a decent family man was driven to take his own life, because he had the same feelings as I do, but lived in a society which is so intolerant of those feelings and behaviours. How awful that a "news" website found something about a person's private life, and deliberately chose to publish it, knowing it would ruin him. Bubba received "hundreds" of messages of support. How awful that he found he couldn't cling to those, and the love of his family, to help him weather this storm (was his wife's reaction part of his decision to commit suicide?).

Everybody dies famous in a small town—but Copeland's story has reverberated around the world, and drawn a lot of attention to his fate. There has been a backlash against what happened, which is obviously too late for Copeland, but might possibly help the next person this happens to. Ultimately, though, I don't think that backlash will be strong enough. Jeff Poor and the 1819 News will not be brought to account. And the secrets and the lies and the hypocrisy will continue, in Alabama, in the rest of the Deep South, and in other parts of the world where being trans is forbidden—until the next time.

Let me close by hoping that Bubba Copleand and Brittini Blaire Summerlin rest in peace.

Edit: my thanks to Lynn Jones for pointing out the tragic suicide of primary school teacher Lucy Meadows in the UK, in 2013. Meadows was hounded by the right-wing UK press; in particular the Daily Mail. She eventually took her own life at the age of 32. You can find more detail here.

Saturday 26 August 2023

Vivienne in Drag!

For some time now I've been considering the subject of drag. I'm still not sure about the relationship between drag and trans. I've asked quite a lot of people, without coming to any firm conclusions.

One thing is certain. Drag, as a form of entertainment, has really hit the big time, and become much more mainstream lately. I'm certain it's due, more or less completely, to RuPaul (which, I just discovered, is actually his birth name) and his various shows, which have become popular all around the world (even here in New Zealand).

But my main discussion of drag will need to wait for another article (or twelve!). I'd been wondering for a while whether drag would have something useful to offer me, to improve my presentation. In particular, I have quite oily skin, and I find that, no matter how much primer and setting powder I use, my face starts to look shiny after only a couple of hours when I'm out--especially when it's warm! Meanwhile, drag queens do dance routines under hot stage lights, and they seem to still look fine. Secondly, I wanted to see if perhaps drag queen shapewear could improve my fem shape (that's for another time!).

So I was quite pleased when a NZ drag queen, Piper Blaster, was offering a Drag Makeup Workshop in a (very cold and draughty) local theatre, and I duly signed up and went along with a friend. Piper took us through the whole makeup routine, in a workshop lasting about three hours. And this is the result!

There were some makeup techniques that I already knew about, such as applying glue to your eyebrows to conceal the brow hairs completely against the skin, so that you can paint new brows in more dramatic places. But most of it was completely new to me, including the many, many layers of makeup you need to apply (I basically lost count of them!). The makeup was also heavy and theatrical--as Piper says, you're putting on a face which has to be seen from the back of the room. So the contouring is deliberately emphasised to maximise contrast.

I have to say the finished outcome wasn't quite what I expected. I'd hoped to find some tricks to look more feminine, more passable, but instead I found the look too overcooked. But what did I expect? I went to a Drag Makeup Workshop and came away looking like a drag queen! This isn't, in any way, a criticism of Piper--or her excellent workshop.

Miss Vivi Section?
Piper says that for her, the drag character emerges once the false eyelashes are in place. That's the moment when the look becomes real for her. I didn't really experience the emergence of my inner drag diva. Although I had fun striking poses with the other people there, I didn't feel dressed for the part (since I'd come in wearing a pair of jeans and a pullover!).

Would I do it again? I'm not sure I would. First, drag is about over-the-top, flamboyant performance. I'm definitely not the sort of person to strut into the centre of a room and greet friends and strangers alike with a shrill cry of "Eat it, bitches!" That persona, whether genuine, or merely a performance, just isn't me!

Secondly, I didn't especially like the look, although with time and practice, and learning new techniques, and a bit of costume, it could definitely be improved, and perhaps personalised--obviously the drag queens we see on television have spent years honing their appearance. From a personal point of view, I seem to have discovered that drag queen makeup stays put because there is just so damn much of it!

A little digital magic from FaceApp has let me polish up one of the pictures into something a bit nicer, but I don't think RuPaul is going to be beating down my door to get me to come on the show any time soon!

Sunday 28 May 2023

JK Rowling and Posie Parker

You can think of this article as JK Rowling part 1.5 if you like, but it involves a significant digression which I thought deserved an article of its own.

I've worked through the whole of The Witch Trials of JK Rowling, and there's a lot to talk about. My initial thoughts about the podcast are this:

  1. Megan Phelps-Roper, the presenter, has an absolutely beautiful voice, which is a complete pleasure to listen to. Interestingly I had never heard JK Rowling's voice before I started listening to the podcast, and it wasn't quite the voice I expected.
  2. The podcast has a very American slant to it. It presents many of the events of Rowling's life and career set against a backdrop of American cultural trends and events. There is some discussion of things which happen in the UK or the wider world, but not very much. This is understandable--but disappointing.
  3. The Guardian reviewer (that I quoted in my previous article) is right: the podcast is too long and meandering. JK Rowling herself isn't actually in it very much--certainly not as much as I thought or hoped--and doesn't appear at all in Episode 6. I found myself wishing they would skip past what Americans all thought about Harry Potter and get back to what JK Rowling was actually saying. And I wished that they would stop cutting away from what Rowling is saying to put in little asides and quotes from other people. Thankfully there are transcripts available, which feature only what Rowling says, at the Rowling Library.
Posing as Parker: Keen-Minshull
New Zealand had a recent visit by a British woman who calls herself Posie Parker. Her real name is Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, and she is a mother of four who styles herself as a woman's rights activist, and an anti-trans activist. I had never heard of her before a couple of months ago. It turns out that her star seemed to start to rise in 2018. She's very active (and vocal) online, and also takes part in rallies and other events, in Britain and, increasingly, the USA.

Keen-Minshull announced in January of this year her intention to travel to Australia, and across here to New Zealand, in March. This stirred up some pretty fierce opposition, both from the Aussies (they let her in, and neo-Nazis came to her rallies) and the Kiwis. Various petitions were made.  Immigration Minister Michael Wood spoke about her “inflammatory, vile and incorrect world views”. Ultimately, however, it was agreed that Keen-Minshull was not considered a risk to “public order or public interest”.

Gender Minorities Aotearoa, InsideOUT Kōaro, and Auckland Pride filed for a judicial review in the High Court. They sought an interim order to stop Keen-Minshull from entering the country until the judicial review could take place, but the following day a judge ruled that it was unlawful to keep her out.

Keen-Minshull had planned two events: one was going to be in Auckland, in the large Albert Park on 25th March; the other in Wellington.
Keen-Minshull: They [the rallies] are outside because too many venues will cancel us.
Hounded: Keen-Minshull
Nobody was under any illusions about what was going to happen. She was going to get up on a podium, with a microphone, and make anti-trans speeches, and that's what she tried to do. However, there were large organised protests against her (some of my friends went in carloads to Auckland to protest) and they chanted loudly and blew whistles and trumpets before her appearance. While she had 150-200 supporters, the protesters were far more numerous, thought to be about 2000.

Ultimately she never got to speak. A protester called Eliana Rubashkyn poured tomato juice over her hair and she was escorted away by police and security officers. Watching the events on YouTube, the mood of the crowd was angry and hostile, and it definitely looked as if the protesters outnumbered the supporters. Keen-Minshull was jostled and jeered by the protesters, and the YouTube footage shows her security team had quite a hard time getting her through the crowd to the police and safety.

Keen-Minshull decided to cancel her Wellington rally the next day, and left New Zealand instead, announcing that it was the "worst place for women she has ever visited", and apparently vowing to return to NZ to "win this war". And JK Rowling voiced support, tweeting that a mob had "had assaulted women standing up for their rights".

There was general rejoicing here; certainly among the rainbow groups. A bad lady from another country had come here to spread hate speech and was sent packing with her tail between her legs. There seemed to be general congratulation aimed at an unrepetentant Eliana Rubashkyn, who was charged with common assault but is still awaiting sentencing. No other arrests were made; no injuries were reported and no property was damaged. My impression is that the general feeling is that no great harm has been done, as this cartoon from the Otago Daily Times suggests.

But was this the right outcome after all?

One of my correspondents expressed disappointment with the way Keen-Minshull had been treated, and said she should have been allowed her platform to speak. At first, I have to say, I disagreed. However, a few things made me reflect about it a lot more.

The first was that, while trans people and supporters were in great evidence at Keen-Minshull's rally, and officials seemed to be on our side (Finance Minister Grant Robertson wrote "As a country we need to keep our trans community close, and support them through this time"), there was a sharp rise in anti-trans hatred online in this country. Was this because she was perceived to have been maltreated here? Would the hatred have been worse if she had been allowed to speak? I cannot say.

Otago Daily Times cartoon
The second thing was something JK Rowling herself said, in episode 3 of the Witch Trials podcast (which was made before Keen-Minshull's NZ trip). The italics are mine for emphasis of particular points.

Rowling: I was starting to think about this a lot, subcultures that have their own rigid rules, acceptable beliefs, non acceptable beliefs, everything becoming very reductive. (...) And I was becoming really concerned.

I think the first time I became really interested in what was going on, sort of culturally, it was Milo Yiannopoulos. The alt-right provocateur, I suppose you would call him. And I’m watching from across the pond as he tries to speak on various campuses, and there are protests, riots. You know, "We want him de-platformed, we don't want him to speak at all". And I thought it was a terrible strategic error.

And my feeling was, you are giving this man way more power than he deserves by behaving in this way. It made Milo look sexier and edgier than he deserved to look. I thought it was a strategically appalling turn. Get on that platform and eviscerate his ideas. Get on that platform and expose him for the charlatan that he is. You push back hard, but you’ve given him so much power by refusing to talk.

(...) In fact, I thought they were serving his purposes, because he was able to walk away from that saying, “Look, they don’t dare debate me! This is how dangerous and edgy I am!". And I don’t think we want to cast the alt-right in that light. But inadvertently, [that’s what they’re doing].

And this is definitely true. Immediately after returning to the UK, Keen-Minshull gave an interview with (conservative-leaning) Spectator TV, where a very sympathetic interviewer (musician Winston Marshall) gave her a very free platform, and every opportunity to spin the narrative entirely in her favour without challenge. For example, they both speak of the "violence", when there wasn't any (nothing like what happened with Milo Yiannopolous's rallies in the US). They play a clip (starting at 0:44) of Keen-Minshull being jostled by the crowd, which was filmed by her own phone. In the image, you can see a hand firmly around Keen-Minshull's neck, appearing as if she is being choked--but the NZ Herald footage shows that the hand round the neck was one of her own security guards. It makes it very easy for her to claim that she was the victim, when to trans people and our supporters, she was the aggressor.

Keen-Minshull: I don't know if some latent trauma [from these events] is going to come along and bite me soon, but I'm OK. (...) 

What they inadvertently did, they did two things. Number one they whipped up a frenzy, but the other thing they did is they told everybody my name on a repeating--like so many times that people were like "Well, what is this woman? What does she stand for? How can I-- like, why are we stopping her from coming into the country?" And then they look me up, and then they agree with what I say, and what I stand for. So it had, em, you know, they did me many favours".

Oh dear! How could it have turned out like this?

How could we have done this better?

As always in my articles, a little discussion is in order.

Mysterious: Posie Parker
First, where does the name Posie Parker come from? I assume it's some sort of online identity, so that Keen-Minshull can't be identified, although since she has come out so publicly, everyone knows her real name and identity now anyway. So why keep it? Is it because it's plainly easier to say than Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull? Is it a play on the name Nosey Parker? The closest I can come to is a series of mystery novels set in the 1920's, written by L.B. Hathaway, which feature a female protagonist called Posie Parker. I can't imagine that either LB Hathaway, nor the actress Parker Posey are all that thrilled by the potential association with Keen-Minshull.

Second, I am forced to agree with Keen-Minshull (and JK Rowling): by not letting her speak, we have empowered her. We have given her publicity. We have given her an enduring image: looking upset, hair covered in tomato juice (symbolic blood!). As sure as eggs is eggs, she will display that image whenever she wants to appear like she is the victim of those violent, dangerous trans activists. In short, by not allowing her to speak, we've done her "many favours".

Third, where does free speech fit into all this? In retrospect, I think the decision to allow Keen-Minshull into the country was the correct one. She has a right to freedom of movement, and freedom of speech. That freedom exists, as several government officials have pointed out, even for people whose views we may disagree with. What she is not entitled to is a platform; she is not entitled to an audience; she is not entitled to not have protesters at her events (although clearly the protesters seem to energise her). NZ Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, would not respond directly to her comments, except to say that he thought they were the "comments of someone who just wants to get a headline", and I think he is right.

Self-made martyr
How could we have done it better? I'm not sure. In retrospect, it's always clearer to consider what we should have done. If nobody had made a fuss, and Keen-Minshull had turned up to a crowd of twenty people with placards, and given a speech, and then nobody would really have taken much notice. Instead, she got a large jolt of publicity in her favour.

I think it's right to protest against speech we disagree with. JK Rowling's solution is "Get on that platform and eviscerate his ideas. Get on that platform and expose him for the charlatan that he is." That sounds so easy; so reasonable. But Keen-Minshull didn't come here for a debate! She didn't come here to listen to opposing views, consider them respectfully, and potentially modify her opinions--and she certainly didn't plan to share her platform with her opponents. Instead, she came to stir up trouble. It was made very clear to her that she was not welcome, and she chose to come anyway.

And she's vowing to come back to "win this war"--a war that she, and people like her, are perpetuating, rather than suing for peace. Instead of listening, debating, discussing, they are on the offensive. We cannot simply ignore her: she is too vocal now; too well-known online; too active, and with quite a large following. How can one counter an adversary, civilly and with dignity, who isn't being either civilised or dignified? It's an election year, so it's very likely that the government--and the opposition--will be very careful to try to position themselves favourably on issues of both trans rights and free speech.

I have no easy answers; feel free to add your own in the comments.

Sunday 9 April 2023

JK Rowling - Part One

The controversy around J.K. Rowling and her comments about the trans community is continuing to rumble on. There are passionate people on both sides, and the issue is not going away. The Independent writes that "The situation has now become a toxic brew of prejudice, misinformation and tragedy. How has it come to this?" It's finally time for me to take a proper look at the whole business. And, as I've often discovered when writing about a complex subject, there just isn't room in one article to put it all in, so I've decided to split this one into two parts.

The background

First, it's well worthwhile starting at the beginning. J.K. Rowling was (basically) a penniless single mother when she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The book and its many sequels have gone on to be stratospherically successful, making her the most popular author ever. Along with this success, there have been several very positive externalities. Her books became popular with children, which encouraged them to read--many kids (including sadly, one of mine) will only read stuff on a screen, not on a page. Along with this welcome boost in literacy, the translations of the books into other languages (you can even get the first one in Latin) has improved linguistic skill too.

Joanne Rowling, the artist known as JK
Second, the popularity of Harry Potter affected the publishing industry too. The manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected by twelve publishers (I bet they're all sorry!), before being picked up by Bloomsbury, who were, at the time, a very small publishing company. The success of Harry Potter has made Bloomsbury one of the largest publishing companies in the world. And many other authors, such as Philip Pullman, have experienced a welcome boost in their reading figures, as the newly-invigorated reading public started looking for other books while they were waiting for the next Harry Potter book. It's no exaggeration to say that Harry Potter has changed the face of publishing.

Third, adults have got in on the books too. They even started to print Harry Potter books with more "adult" covers, so that adults reading them in public places wouldn't be embarrassed by being seen reading what was ostensibly a children's book. I have devoured all seven of the Harry Potter books, and loved reading every page, and plainly I'm not alone.

Fourth, while Rowling has earned a huge fortune, she has also given away literally millions, to all sorts of charities and good causes. So her career as a philanthropist is not to be sneezed at either. And she's more than a little bit gorgeous, if I may say so. And I know two people who have interacted with her for a decent period of time and said she was thoroughly lovely in person.

Rowling and Gender

Rowling's first (publicised) encounter with gender was the name on the cover of her books. Bloomsbury decided that her books would be most popular among boys, and it was felt that they would be less likely to read a book if they thought it was written by a woman. Therefore, she was asked to put her initials on instead, to conceal her gender. Unfortunately, Rowling has no legal middle initial, so she chose the initial K from her paternal grandmother Kathleen, and the name J.K. Rowling was born.

...and stand well back.
But the big problem began on June 6th, 2020, when Rowling read an article on Devex which spoke about "people who menstruate", and took to Twitter with her response.

She's clearly using (clumsy) humour to drive home her point. This tweet was the blue touchpaper which led to the massive explosion of anger from (it seems) almost every quarter; not least many of her loyal fans, who had found great resonance in the story of Harry Potter, a lonely, unloved outcast boy who finds his true identity and place in the world. At that point, Rowling doubled down, again in a series of tweets:

Rowling: If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.

The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women—i.e., to male violence—‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences—is a nonsense.

I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.

Putting it in a nutshell: Rubin
I'm interested by the statement "I know and love trans people". This statement sounds a bit like the vague "some of my best friends" statement that people make when they are unsuccessfully trying to pretend they're not prejudiced against another group of people.

Since then many prominent people, including many actors from the Harry Potter films, and several large fan groups, have made statements either in opposition to Rowling's position, or in support of trans people. These are people who owe their own success and fame (and wealth) to Rowling's work, so for them to come out so publicly in opposition to her views is not trivial.

I don't need to spell out all the ructions blow by blow. There's a lot of detail on the Wikipedia page, and also excellent summary articles on and The Scotsman which go into much more depth.

"I don't believe it's hateful to say so"

While all this was unfolding, I wasn't too troubled. I admit, as a fan of both her stories and the woman herself, I was disappointed to hear her make these statements, but I wasn't angry or hurt. It's worth picking them apart a little. First, what she was saying was clinging to the old idea that biological sex denotes gender and that this situation is immutable. Some of the tweets she received, as quoted in The Scotsman, point out that there are plenty of women who don't menstruate.

Tweeter: I, a 37 year old woman with a uterus, have not menstruated in a decade. Women are not defined by their periods.

Not a joke: death threats
But, she isn't directly attacking anyone. It's worth re-reading her statement above, that she recognises that trans women are vulnerable to male violence, and that she supports their right to live in any way which feels "authentic and comfortable"--except she goes on to then say "but I'm female; you're not the same as me".

"I don't believe it's hateful to say so". Actually, I don't either. I think she's expressing an opinion. I think that opinion is wrong (and surely this blog has plenty of material to back up why I think that!), but the opinion is hers to express, and I believe she should be free to do so.

Of course, I don't know what was going through Rowling's mind when she met that backlash. I genuinely think she meant well. I think she probably has had sympathy for trans women. I think she meant to support women like herself, who have been the victim of male violence (and she has). I think she has been surprised, and probably hurt, by what has happened. People have showered her with hate messages; made death threats; burned her books (!). But when you're hurting, and you're one of the wealthiest, and most influential people in the world, then it must be really difficult not to hit back--and this is where she started digging in, and making things worse. She wrote this essay on her website, and it's worth a read.

Rowling: Immediately, activists who clearly believe themselves to be good, kind and progressive people swarmed back into my timeline, assuming a right to police my speech, accuse me of hatred, call me misogynistic slurs and, above all – as every woman involved in this debate will know – TERF. (...)

But accusations of TERFery have been sufficient to intimidate many people, institutions and organisations I once admired, who’re cowering before the tactics of the playground. ‘They’ll call us transphobic!’ ‘They’ll say I hate trans people!’ What next, they’ll say you’ve got fleas? Speaking as a biological woman, a lot of people in positions of power really need to grow a pair (which is doubtless literally possible, according to the kind of people who argue that clownfish prove humans aren’t a dimorphic species).

Here she goes again, using clumsy ridicule to put down her opponents. Of course nobody is suggesting that people are like clownfish--but it's clear she's unwilling to consider that her position may be wrong, or at least that she shouldn't use biology to attempt to back it up. Otherwise, her essay is articulate (of course!) and reasoned.

Where Rowling is right

I need to say that, from my perspective, some of what Rowling says is right (which is to say, that I think it is right!). I just want to unpick some of that just now.

Got a point: Rowling
First, I do have concerns about the position of women in our society. I see, for example, that hospitals have renamed their facilities from things like Labour Ward to things like Birthing Suite; the former term emphasising the medicalisation of an unpleasant experience; the latter term being more positive and welcoming. Departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology have been renamed things like Women's Health, again to stress the positive aspects of what they are trying to do: to promote the health of women. This isn't just a trivial rebranding: it's the outward manifestation of hard-won gains in the status of women over the decades. It's partly a recognition that pregnancy isn't a disease, which needs to be treated in hospitals, but a natural (and positive!) state for women to be in.

But now, with the rise of transmen becoming pregnant (this is definitely a future subject for this blog), we're having to change our language. In my hospital, we're now talking about "pregnant people" rather than "pregnant women", so that we don't inadvertently exclude those who are pregnant but identify as men. We're doing this to include a tiny percentage of our patient population, but I do worry that we may be making these concessions to the few, at the expense of the many; robbing them of our overt recognition of their status as women. If we want to include everyone, that needs to come without a cost to existing groups.

Second, I do worry about how some people (including some trans people) are weaponising what should be a welcome progression toward a more open and inclusive society, in order to further their own toxic agendas. There are examples here on this blog.

I definitely think the response to anything which is vaguely transphobic is pounced upon, and it is widely circulated on social media, in order to stir up hatred. A core group of hardliners seemingly just waits to find something--anything!--to hit out at. I have absolutely encountered this personally. Whenever I dare to disagree with a trans person on social media or Quora, on any topic, their knee-jerk response is to call me transphobic--when in fact the complete opposite is the case. It makes it very difficult to actually have a dialogue, because people see any statement which is not wholly supportive of their position as an out-and-out attack.

Misinterpreting: Wiens
One personal example comes from Quora. The question was How do you feel about the rise of pre-teen children coming out as transgender? and my answer begins "Surprisingly uncomfortable, even as a trans person myself. Why? Because the right research hasn't been done. It hasn't even been done in adults." This statement was pounced upon by a Quoran called Tamara Wiens, who called me "infuriating" and "deeply transphobic". Eventually, however, she gave up. The upper part of this screenshot is Tamara's words, although you can read the whole conversation if you're a Quora member. (Be warned; like all social media, Quora is pretty addictive!).

I'm using this example for several reasons; first, as an illustration of how a mild statement ("uncomfortable") can be misinterpreted as hatred or transphobia by someone who is looking for an argument. Second, to highlight my own view that we do need to be pretty careful about how we treat transgender children. This is something that JK Rowling has expressed concerns about. Third, because it actually remained a conversation, rather than degenerating into a slanging match (I don't participate in those). Some people become very offensive, or block me completely.

The third point I want to make is that I'm absolutely in support of free speech. In this, Rowling and I are completely aligned:

Rowling: The third is that, as a much-banned author, I’m interested in freedom of speech and have publicly defended it, even unto Donald Trump.

She's referring, of course, not just to banning her books before the gender furore, but because her books were banned in some parts of the US because some people believed that children's stories about magic being cool are un-Christian. I wish I were making this up.

Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2001
That's why, of course, I'm arguing that JK Rowling should be free to make her points. They are hers to make. She does not deserve hatred; she does not deserve death threats. And in the magnificent words of Henry Jones, Sr: "Goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books, instead of burning them".

This article is already quite long enough, and there's lots more to talk about! The interesting (recent) development is that Rowling has teamed up with podcaster Megan Phelps-Roper, to produce an extended interview to put her points across: The Witch-Trials of JK Rowling. I've already listened to the first episode (there are seven). I must say I thought the podcast would be an extended, fawning hagiography of Rowling; after all, she's not going to grant a lengthy audience with someone who is really going to challenge her, or to present her in a bad light.

The Guardian has it absolutely right:

Guardian: The Witch Trials of JK Rowling is a strange podcast. Rowling’s careful, crisp mind contrasts with host Megan Phelps-Roper’s mushy Christian desire to be as kind and evenhanded as possible. That’s not to say that the podcast isn’t interesting – it is – just that it’s uneven and reeeally streeetched out. It needs a far tougher editor.

But my full thoughts on all of that will need to wait for next time.

Saturday 4 March 2023

Seriously not helping - Part Two

In a previous post I talked about some people whose behaviour is seriously not helping the cause of trans people. These are people whose antics and conduct are so unreasonable that they are creating a backlash of resentment which is making things worse for the rest of us.

Aaaaaand I've come across some others. The first person I've heard about lately is Jessica Yaniv, a 35-year old Canadian transwoman, described on her Wikipedia page as a "transgender activist". Yaniv has been causing all sorts of trouble in British Columbia.

Jessica: seriously??
The issue I first came across was hearing that Yaniv had brought a series of lawsuits against beauty salons in her district who had refused to perform waxing of her genitals.

The salons were all small businesses run by a single beautician, most of whom were immigrants to Canada. Yaniv sought damages of up to $15,000, alleging transphobic discrimination.

Yaniv hasn't had genital surgery, which is pertinent to this article in that the beauticians stated (very reasonably) that they didn't advertise waxing for male genitalia, that they hadn't been trained to perform it safely, and that they objected to working on male genitalia for personal or religious reasons. They all said they didn't refuse on account of Jessica's transgenderism.

So here's the thing. It's quite possible to find salons who will wax any part of you, no matter who you are. For a hilarious example from Scotland, you can read about Miss Twist's experiences here. It's just a matter of phoning around first, and asking politely. Speaking for myself, I get my legs and chest waxed regularly by a lovely woman called Lynne, and I've never had any trouble (mind you, I don't go for genital waxing).

Jessica Yaniv deliberately targeted small businesses (rather than the large beauty chains), run by women whom she knew would be uncomfortable with the request, and who would be unlikely to be in a strong position to mount a defence against legal action. In other words, her behaviour was predatory. The lawsuits were all dismissed, but the associated costs and inconvenience caused two of the beauticians to go out of business as a result, even though she was ordered to pay damages to them.

You might think that such a resounding legal defeat would deter Yaniv from further similar antics--but she's no quitter! The next thing which came to my attention was that she was protesting that a gynaecologist had refused to see her. Yaniv posts frequently on Twitter, and she wrote:

Yaniv: So a gynaecologist office that I got referred to literally told me today that 'we don't serve transgender patients', And me, being me, I'm shocked.. and confused... and hurt.

Gervais: twittering
But the thing is, any reasonable doctor looking after Yaniv would know not to refer her to a gynaecologist. A gynaecologist just isn't the right sort of specialist to be dealing with any potential problem with her equipment. She might as well complain that her electrician refused to fix her plumbing. The right doctor would have been a urologist, or maybe an endocrinologist. Although as I have written before, the Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is demonstrating willingness to treat transwomen.

And my second comment is that she, being her, isn't shocked... or confused... or hurt, but delighted that she now has another excuse to play the despised victim, and kick up another ruckus.

But this time her comments came to the attention of comedian Ricky Gervais. I have never really enjoyed his comedy, although I came to view him in a new light as an actor. Like many comedians he can be quite vitriolic in his material, and lately he's been disappointingly transphobic very openly. In exactly the same vein, he lays into Jessica Yaniv via his Twitter account. Here's one example, but there are others.

It doesn't bother me if Jessica Yaniv annoys Ricky Gervais--but it does bother me when her antics are causing harm to the wider trans community, and they undoubtedly are. Canadian media say trans people have reported a sharp upturn in online hate toward them as a result of the publicity around Jessica Yaniv.

I find myself wondering what Jessica Yaniv gets out of all this controversy. I sense that she is using transgender rights as a shield, behind which she hides while lobbing rocks at everyone within reach. She craves attention, she craves publicity, and she enjoys exchanging Twitter insults with adversaries. I wonder what her next stunt will be--I'm sure we shall all hear about it in due course. But I'm prepared to predict that it seriously won't be helping.

Lemieux: seriously??
Still in Canada (!) we turn to the case of teacher Kayla Lemieux, who has been teaching woodwork in the Oakville Trafalgar High School near Toronto. The problem is Lemieux wears colossal prosthetic breasts (unfailingly reported as "Z-cup", although I don't know what that actually means), complete with very prominent artificial nipples, while teaching students. Understandably, this has provoked "months of debate" about her appearance.

Things seemed to develop when the New York Post reported it had followed Lemieux and discovered that she doesn't wear them all the time, and in fact usually presents as a man. Naturally, there is photographic evidence, and the testimony of a neighbour in further support.

I don't really think the New York Post represents the pinnacle of investigative reportage. Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that Lemieux has been well and truly busted (geddit?). Lemieux has finally been suspended from her job (though without being sacked), and the New York Post is taking the credit.

"Oh, that's not me!"--seriously??
When you're discovered doing something you've been trying to keep secret, you have two options: you can come clean, or you can double down. With a weary sigh, I note that Lemieux has doubled down. She insists that the man in the New York Post's photos isn't her. You can judge for yourself here.

She insists those boobs aren't fake; that she is intersex, and has gigantomastia, although she admits she is "in transition" and has been on hormones. She also insists there's nothing wrong with the way she dresses, although there have been other complaints about her clothing, not just her boobs.

Lemieux: I don’t think there’s any problem with how I have dressed. It’s the personal opinion of other people. I don’t think I have dressed unprofessionally.

There's so much to discuss about Lemieux that I'm not quite sure where to begin!

First, let me state quite clearly that Lemieux's ginormous bazooms are plainly fake. Oversized breasts just don't have those prominent nipples. Second, large boobs are heavy, and women with very large boobs struggle with neck pain and back pain, and often have surgery to reduce their size. Only people who can take off their boobs at the end of a hard day can cope with boobs like those. (I'm also sure the man in the picture is Lemieux).

Oh wait--that's an airship!
You would wonder why a teacher in a woodworking class would be wearing huge boobs, which must surely get in the way and present a genuine hazard when using tools and other equipment.

Second, nobody (not even the New York Post) has reported that any of the complaints about Lemieux were because people objected to a transgender teacher; in the middle of all this, I think that's a positive thing to remark upon. If Lemieux just wanted to be a woman, and work as a teacher, she already had that: all she needed was to just wear what ordinary teachers wear, and buy a reasonable pair of boobs.

The fact that all that wasn't enough makes me think that there is something else going on with Kayla Lemieux. If she only presents as a woman when working at a high school, then there must be something about that which tickles her pickle, so to speak. And the parents (and staff, and school board) of the Oakville Trafalgar High School must really think so too. How did she get the job in the first place? If she was already employed, and then transitioned, it would be obvious that the boobs didn't grow gradually. If she wasn't already employed, whose idea was it to give her a job?

And if Kayla Lemieux is the only trans teacher in her locale, how much harder is she making it for the next trans teacher who comes along? If Lemieux is the only example of a trans teacher they have come across, who is going to want another?

Like Lemieux, I only present as a woman sometimes. But the difference between me and Kayla Lemieux is that I'm always very conscious of the scrutiny that I receive from other people, and I'm aware that I may be the first trans person they've encountered close up, which makes me a sort of ambassador for trans people in the cis world. And my goals are to look fabulous, feel wonderful, and enjoy the company of friends. It definitely seems that Lemieux has some other goals. I don't know what they are, but they are seriously not helping.

It will be interesting to see how things unfold with Kayla Lemieux, although I don't see those colossal melons appearing in a woodworking classroom again any time soon.

If you come across any other people out there whose antics are seriously not helping, please drop me a comment below!

Sunday 5 February 2023

What a year!

While it's still my intention with this blog to write articles exploring aspects of gender, I still want to write about my personal experiences in 2022, which seems to have been a watershed in my life as Vivienne.

Let me take us back to 2012, when I posted this article, which was about trying to evaluate the place of crossdressing in my life. At that time I was married, closeted, and dreadfully miserable. The article contains this paragraph:
Another symptom of need is that crossdressing haunts my dreams. These are frequent; at least once per week, and for the Freudians among you they are simple, straightforward, wish-fulfilment dreams. I am in some situation where crossdressing is OK: out with my friends, speaking in public, in a job interview, meeting new people. In each case, I am lavishly and wonderfully dressed: I draw compliments and warmth and enthusiasm. People find it interesting and cool. And then I wake up, and that lovely warm rosy glow fades pretty sharply in the face of the alarm.
Fast-forward a few years, and things got a lot better. I started to go out dressed; to interact with people in shops and restaurants, and to express my gender more openly. I started to tell people I'm a doctor rather than hide behind the term "academic", and to blog about medical issues.

Selfie Queen

But things were still a bit slow on the Vivienne front. Dressing was unusual. I know exactly how many times I've dressed, because I take a million selfies every time I do. I'm a complete selfie queen--and now I've become quite the expert on the various photo edits I can do on my phone, my tablet and my laptop, to make the images as flattering as possible.

About 0.00001% of my selfie collection
Part of the selfie thing is to try out various looks and see what works: and there's a lot to think about if you're trying to take a male chassis and turn it into a womanly body! Part of the selfie thing is a long-standing habit: I would use my selfies during those long periods of dressing drought, to soothe my yearnings and remind myself that lovely fem times would reappear. And part of the selfie thing is that I really, really like to look pretty, and seeing nice pictures of myself gives me a real burst of euphoria. (And for the record, while I do adjust the colour balance for the most flattering look, none of my pictures have been enhanced with any image filters, such as FaceApp).

So I know that the number of times I actually dressed enough to take selfies over the last few years is about 4 or 5 times--a year. Part of the problem was that I never quite felt like I had the look together properly. I had to have a huge lead-up to getting dressed: just getting the body hair under control was a mission. And then I didn't feel like my wardrobe was up to much, so I never quite felt the outfit worked. I had one or two go-to outfits, and a whole lot of other garments which just weren't quite right.

Another part of the problem was (and is) that we have busy lives. We both work long hours, including night shifts, and we have a cartload of kids and animals to take care of. So opportunities were quite few.

And what I wanted, most of all, was a social life. I tried to make contact with some trans people, but for various reasons I didn't really get any momentum. The turning point was making contact with the local Pride network.

Out for Coffee

I'd already had the experience of experience of going to a party at a friend's house as Vivienne, and meeting people there. But everyone there was a friend of a friend--this was a bunch of complete strangers I would be meeting.

A car selfie!
The event was called Out for Coffee, and it was a simple enough idea: turn up to a local coffee shop, meet a bunch of Pride people, and make new friends. Although I have been Vivienne my whole adult life, it's a very unusual experience to introduce yourself to someone by your fem name. At first, it felt really powerful and meaningful--I knew this was something new. Vivienne's identity was becoming more real.

On this first occasion, I brought not just Missy but my stepkids, one of whom is quite rainbow themself. It was a family-friendly event (as many Pride events are). At first I was quite nervous and we all just sat and ate together. But after we'd had breakfast, I started to mingle--and everyone was fantastically lovely.

One woman said I should join the local Queer Women group. I was delighted by the invitation--but also cautious. Would they be OK with members like me? I asked. I know that not all women's groups are welcoming to trans people, and I would hate to make anyone else feel uncomfortable--or even encounter hostility.

So I messaged one of the moderators of the Queer Women group expressing my concerns, and this is her response:
Thanks so much for reaching out with your concerns. You will be most definitely welcome in our group and if anyone makes you feel otherwise please let myself or (other moderator) know, we would hate for you to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. Our group is about diversity and acceptance for all queer women whether you express this full time or not, it doesn't matter to us. If it makes you feel more at ease, we do have other M2F people in the group who regularly come to our events too. I hope we get to meet you at an event soon 😀 PS: that's a great photo! 
Vivienne becomes a Person

And so I started going along to social events with the Queer Women. The moderator was right: everyone is absolutely lovely, and totally welcoming and inclusive. Vivienne's identity has become completely real: I've been to so many events that I get recognised by the regulars, and I now have friends who have literally never seen me dressed as a man. That is an extraordinarily powerful feeling.
I need all the help I can get!

There have been coffee meetups, board game meetups, meals out, drinks out, social events at people's homes, book club, you name it. There have also been some outdoor things I haven't gone along to: walking trips and boating trips and cycling trips. For me, it's unbearably hot just wearing my wig and shapewear, even before there's any exercise involved!

There is a fantastic mix of women in the group--including a few M2F transwomen. There are women of all ages and backgrounds. The thing they (and I) have in common is an enjoyment of good company, and having fun. To be accepted without question and treated just like one of them is extremely affirming. Some of them even work at my hospital!

Meanwhile, as my wardrobe has expanded, and my makeup skills have improved (practice, practice!), getting dressed has become a lot easier. It still takes an hour from a standing start--but it used to take half a day! And having makeup and clothing just there on the shelf or in the drawer makes the access much easier.

I've also come out to lots of other people, including my hairdresser (who has helped with hair) and my lovely beautician. I get a full leg wax every few weeks, and of course I have been telling my beautician about Vivienne from the first day. She's always wanted to meet Vivienne, and this week we finally made it happen! She introduced me to the other staff members as Vivienne, and of course it was lovely to get pampered in a beauty salon. Another bucket list item ticked off!

Up on the Stage

One of the Queer Women events involved an open-mike evening in a local rainbow-friendly venue, where audience members would get up on stage and read some of their own writing. I decided that I had to get up and give that a go.
Is this thing on?

This time, the audience wasn't just Queer Women, but members of the public, although clearly everyone knew what the themes were going to be. I was struck by the material from the other writers. There were agonising coming-out stories. There were unrequited love stories. There was poetry, and prose. It was raw; it was real. And then there was me!

I've written quite a lot of medical stuff under my male name, and this includes a few anecdotes about inspiring patients I've met on the journey. I chose three: an inspiring one, a moral dilemma, and a funny one. They seemed to go down really well, and afterwards lots of people came up to talk to me.

So let's come back to the wording of that first paragraph:

I am in some situation where crossdressing is OK...: check.
...out with my friends...: check.
...speaking in public...: check. a job interview...: we'll let that one slide!
...meeting new people: check.
In each case, I am lavishly and wonderfully dressed: I draw compliments and warmth and enthusiasm. People find it interesting and cool. Check check CHECK!

It was astonishing when I reviewed that article to discover that so many things, which were once completely unthinkable, have not only happened, but have happened joyfully, triumphantly, and there's every likelihood they will continue to happen! It goes without saying that I could never have achieved that without the love and support of the wonderful Missy.

I've already started off this year with more of the same: four outings so far, including the waxing. Who knows what will happen next?!