Gender Dysphoria

[TW: dysphoria, self-harm, body image issues, slurs]

Gender Dysphoria
noun

  • a psychological condition marked by significant emotional distress and impairment in life functioning, caused by a lack of congruence between gender identity and biological sex assigned at birth.
Having now done posts on the false gender binary and the gender spectrum, I feel it is important to discuss dysphoria now, as it is something that affects a lot (but critically not all) folx who don’t identity as cisgender.
To decipher the formal jargon in the dictionary definition above, gender dysphoria is a whole series of emotional and functioning problems caused by a body not matching the gender of the person in it. It can have many different forms, and folx react to it in a variety of different ways, but it is universally awful and not something to be joked about or brushed off.
It is also important to note that dysphoria can affect kids too, as a lot of resources are aimed at teenagers and adults, because society continues to insist kids are too young to know what they’re talking about. As discussed before, if a person is trans or gender non-conforming, they know that. Bystanders don’t get to decide.
And so, here are some of, by no means all, the symptoms of dysphoria:
In kids:
  • consistently telling adults they are not the gender they were assigned.
  • rejecting clothes and toys typically associated with the gender they have been assigned.
  • refusing to use the bathroom in the way associated with the gender they have been assigned.
  • significant distress at the bodily changes that occur during puberty.

It is important to note here that, whilst we bleat on that toys and clothes should just be for kids, and not assigned gender, that society still teaches kids that some things are for boys and some things are for girls, and so a child insisting they belong in the other category could be a sign of gender dysphoria. However, said child might just prefer diggers to dolls, so bear that in mind.

In teens and adults:

  • Certainty that their true gender is not aligned with their body.
  • Disgust with their genitals. They may avoid showering, changing clothes, or having sex in order to avoid seeing or touching their genitals.
  • Strong desire to be rid of their genitals and other sex traits.
  • A combination of anxiety, depression, dissociative disorders, self-harming tendencies and lots of awful mental health problems.

Whilst some steps have been made towards better apparatus for diagnosis for gender dysphoria, the health care system is often slow on the uptake. For example, the NHS choices site still talks about “gender vs biological sex”, going on the old notion that genitalia equate to gender, and not that gender is a societal structure and assigned to people at birth. But we can hope that one day they will get better.

As with gender identity, dysphoria is a personal experience for those who are affected by it. They may have all of the symptoms listed above or none of them, and they may require medical treatment or they may not.

A few ways to help a friend suffering with dysphoria:

  • Believe them. Don’t try and wave their feelings away.
  • Support them. Ask them what they want you to do to help. It might be as simple as spending time with them, or buying them snacks.
  • Don’t assume you know better. If your friend has been prescribed medication to help, or directed to some self-care/mindfulness resources, don’t dismiss them as meaningless. The last thing your friend needs right now is being told they are overreacting and don’t need the treatment.
  • Join in their treatment. If they have been prescribed some self-care/mindfulness activities to help relieve their symptoms, do them with them. Help your friend cook a nice meal, take them out to the cinema, sit and colour in with them. Make sure they don’t feel alone, because dysphoria can make people feel really vulnerable and alone.
  • Help your friend find resources. There are more and more resources available online these days about dysphoria and people coping with it. It can be scary looking all this stuff up when you’re feeling so low. Sit with your friend, let them know you have their back, but don’t crowd.
  • Back off if asked. Your friend will know you mean well, and want to help them, but sometimes that means backing off and leaving them to it. By all means let them know they can phone/text/email you whenever, but then leave it at that.

Dysphoria is not fun, it’s not pretty, and it isn’t easy. Be mindful, be helpful, but back off if needbe. That’s all we ask.

Problematic Feminists

[CW: homophobia, transphobia, mentions of rape, general TERF-ness]

Feminism is a great thing, right? It’s a movement that’s about equality for all, and works hard for all the marginalised people.

Except it doesn’t. At least, not all the time.

One of the biggest problems we have with feminism is “white feminism”. It’s so named because often, though not always, it is practiced by white, middle class, cishet women (who realistically yes are marginalised, but are still only slightly behind their male counterparts).

So why are these women a problem? They’re the ones who’re likely to say of, for example, an issue that the Black Lives Matter movement bring up, “Oh, but white women are marginalised too”.

Basically they are very good at centring themselves in all the problems, whether or not they are the most marginalised or not.

I’ll give you some examples, starting with the worst.

TERFs

TERFs, or Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists are the ones who give feminists a bad name. They are the ones who give rise to the stereotypical “Man-hating dyke” image of feminists. They’re the ones who tell us that trans-women are just men who wants to get into women’s bathrooms to rape them, that trans-women aren’t women ever because genitalia (which speaks to the misogyny they claim to be against), and are just generally nasty, nasty people.

One of their biggest ringleaders is Cathy Brennan, who loves causing a fuss but not actually solving anything, and once wrote a hit piece on me that claimed I was a trans-woman, so apparently she can’t get her facts straight either.

Populist Feminists

Now, these women are not necessarily out to cause harm in the same way as Brennan and her cronies are, but again by being “white” feminists, do so anyway. They’re also the people who get a lot of the spotlight, and so feminism is distilled through the lens of what these women do, and that doesn’t do anyone any favours.

Some examples:

Caitlin Moran, who very much centres herself in much of her feminism, who openly admits she doesn’t care about WOC, and has been pulled up several times for open transphobia. Yet her books are still touted as “fantastic introductions to feminism”, and so young folx are introduced to this toxic brand of feminism.

The downright awful Julie Bindel, who is so full of herself and her unchecked privilege that she thinks she has a free reign on everyone. And several newspapers repeatedly pay for her input. No wonder people are losing faith in the media.

Then you have Lena Dunham, who in her own words sexually assaulted her younger sister, then went in a huff and quit twitter when called out on it. Yet she is still given money to make tv shows and given awards and attention like nothing happened. Because, to some, she is a great face for feminism.

 

That’s not to say this is an exhaustive list, or that people can’t like work by the women listed here. But we have to 110% acknowledge the fact that they do awful things, and be prepared to talk about that when it is brought up.

I am by no means a perfect feminist, I am aware of that, but I am also aware that for feminism to be effective it must be inclusive, intersectional, and absolutely not what these women tout.

It’s time we looked beyond the mainstream as common practice, and don’t just blindly believe and follow the white feminists offered to us by the media.

Gender Neutral Pronouns

So here’s a fun fact: a lot of people who don’t identify as a binary gender don’t use binary gender pronouns.

So what to use instead? There are hundreds of alternatives, often depending on language, but since I am writing this in English, those are the ones I will focus on.

They

Singular ‘they’ is one of the more common ones you’ll come across. It works exactly the same as if it were being used in the plural.

“I asked them if they enjoyed themself, and they said they did.”

There has been some push back on this one, because there are people out there who will try and tell you singular they is grammatical inaccurate. Those people are ridiculous.

More on singular they at this link.

Ze and Hir

These should hopefully be pretty obvious: they’re compressions of “he ” and “she, and”his” and “her”respectively into something that is both and neither, and so can cover a lot of genders. They’re used in the same way as he/she and his.her, and takes -self in the same way.

These are most often used by people in the genderqueer, but they are not exclusive.

“I asked hir if ze could pick it up on hir way home, and ze said sure.”

Name only

Some people forgo gender pronouns entirely, and would prefer people to use only names when talking about said person. This is totally fine, and may feel strange to begin with, but is worth making the effort to do.

As with so much of this gender stuff I’ve been writing about, personal preference is important, and it is becoming more commonplace for people to introduce themselves with names and pronouns, for con badges to have stickers with pronouns displayed, and other little ways of making things more inclusive of non-binary gendered folx.

Language evolves all the time, and it’s a small step to take to make the world more inclusive.

 

Internalised Misogyny

[CW Sexist language, ableist language]

This one is a common occurrence in every day life, but it’s particularly in my mind today after two conversations I had at work.

A quick definition:

Misogyny noun
dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Now a quick aside: whatever some people might tell you, reverse misogyny does not exist. Misandry is not a thing. Misogyny comes under the same umbrella of oppression as homophobia, transphobia and the like, and it’s pretty hard to oppress the group in the position of greatest power.

So, to the conversations I had today.

One was with a guy, who I happened to be working with today, and was about music. We’ve only just started working together, so are still getting to know each other, and as music is often a common interest, this is where the conversation went. Turns out we have a lot of songs in common, and it was all very nice.

He then went on to talk about karaoke, and how he likes watching karaoke, but doesn’t sing often. I’ve heard him sing, and he is competent, so I gently asked if this was because he was shy, or because he had been mocked before. His response was that it was neither, rather the artists whose songs he was interested in singing were women, and he had been told that guys just couldn’t sing those songs.

Oh, did we have a fun conversation after that.

The second conversation was with a woman, one I know to be mostly open-minded and kind, about a series of pictures she had posted on Facebook. They were all along the theme of “why are girls crazy?” or “get yourself a girl who [blank]”, and were all pretty awful in reality. Mostly because they either shamed women, or made out like the only way women should be is one that pleases men.

The reasons she gave for posting them were actually quite scary.

So how were these incidents linked? In the first instance, it goes back to that awful idea that being “girly” or somehow “feminine” is the worst thing a guy can be, and wanting to sing songs written and performed by a woman is somehow a disgrace. The young man in particular is young, and I know most of what he was saying would be parroted from what his parents had told him, but that doesn’t excuse it. They were passing on their internalised misogyny, the “facts” they had learned about men and women that are outdated and dangerous.

Thankfully he was very receptive to what I was telling him, and as far as I am aware is busy learning the words to “Firework”.

The second is a bit more obvious in its misogyny, but no less awful. All these memes about how “bitches be crazy”, or how women should change their lives around to please men and so “secure themselves a man” is violence against women, because yes, words can be violent too.

And this was being shared by a woman.

The thing is, in UK culture at least (and most of Western culture when you look at it with broad strokes), women are taught from a very young age that they are second-class, that they exist to please men, and will be scrutinised and bullied until they fit the desired mould. And after a while, that gets stuck in your head. I had to unlearn a lot of shit before I could come to terms with my gender identity, because for a long time it felt like my self-hatred was merely because I didn’t fit the desired mould.

This becomes especially sticky to explain when the other party can’t see it for what it is, and therefore doesn’t see the issue.

These are only 2 of an unlimited number of every day examples of internalised misogyny that don’t gain the attention of high-profile cases, but in some ways that only makes them more insidious, as they are the ones that slip under the radar and help pass on the same old shit from generation to generation.

So think before you speak: if the example you are using could be taken as degrading and misogynistic, perhaps rethink your words and ideals.

 

The Gender Spectrum

So having explained what we mean by the gender binary, and why it is complete nonsense, what then should we use instead?

The Gender Spectrum

This post will by no means be definitive, as there are still whole areas of the spectrum unexplored, and our understanding of gender is ever evolving, but I will do my best to explain it in a way that means something, and will use later posts to explain parts in more depth.

Here is a chart:

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Ignoring sexual orientation for the moment (that spectrum is a whole series of posts within itself), this does a fairly good job of breaking down just how complex and issue gender is. The 4 different areas used here don’t even cover the whole thing, but this post is an overview, not an in depth analysis.

The easiest way to go about this is to take the 4 different areas above and discuss them in turn, because trying to discuss it any other way is just a headache waiting to happen.

Biological Sex

Biological sex, as noted above, is the sex assigned to you at birth. It is based on genitalia, steeped in societal biases, and causes way more trouble than it should. Society sees biological sex on the binary: penises are male, vaginas are female, and occasionally we see something in between, but those are “medical anomalies”.  Which is an awful way to think about people.

If you were paying attention to the post on the gender binary, you will know why this is harmful.

Changing society’s perspectives on biological sex is going to take a lot of time and work, but it is something we should start doing loudly and more often, not so much for our generation, but for the one coming behind us. Knowing that sometimes women have penises, guys have vaginas, and there’s nothing wrong with being somewhere in between would change the lives of so many queer youths, and would likely see a massive drop in the number of young queer suicides and abuse cases. A person’s genitalia has whatever sex they say it does, and we don’t get to tell them otherwise.

This is also the basis for a lot of prejudice against trans folx, particularly in this whole mess with bathroom laws in the States. Ignorant people are using the “penises are always male” line as a reason to decry trans women, calling them “perverted”, and claiming they only want in the women’s bathroom to perv on kids. It’s bullshit, but it’s dangerous bullshit.

Gender Identity

This part is way more important than biological sex, as this is the part that informs who you are and how you will go on to present yourself to the world.

As you will see on the chart above, 100% masculine, or cis-male is at one end of the line, and 100% feminine, or cis-feminine is at the other end. Cis is not the insult some people will try and tell you it is, it merely means someone who’s identity conforms with the gender corresponding to their biological sex. Therefore a cis-man is someone who was assigned male at birth, and who’s gender identity lines up with this. It’s mostly used as a way to differentiate from trans or non-binary folx, because using “normal” to describe these people is just disgusting and wrong.

So what is in between cis-male and cis-female? This is where we get into the trans* and non-binary identities, and wow are there a lot of them.

Here is another diagram:

558fd9c0d3c979c859371fca3d52e790

It’s a lot to take in.

Gender Expression

Leading on from above, gender expression is the version of yourself you present to the world, and can come in many different varieties.

A non-exhaustive list includes:

Agender, androgyne, bi-gender, non-binary, butch, femme, genderfluid, genderqueer, neutrois, trans, transmasculine, transfeminine, and so on.

Now, a lot of people say there are too many labels, and folx who identify with them are being picky for the sake of looking oppressed and attention-seeking.

To those people: FUCK YOU.

No one chooses to make their lives harder just by being themselves, fuck sake.

The main point about gender expression is that again, it is entirely individual, and a lot of the confusion and backlash come from stereotypical gender cues coming from that dreaded binary we talked about last time. A lot of abuse aimed at those who identify with the labels above and others is mired in the fact that “men do x things” and “women do y things” and we can’t seem to move on from this. So femme guys who wear make-up are abused, and butch women who like to wear shirts and chinos get abused. And androgynous kids get called names for existing. And and and and.

I can only speak to my experience, as I identify as a genderqueer trans guy (I love queer because it’s a great word), and in my instance this means that whilst I have the haircut and glasses and quite often clothing associated with being male, I still love make-up and nail polish and clothing coded female. And this upsets a lot of people, which is very silly and I would like them to stop, but I am not a genie so I can’t grant that wish.

Again, to reiterate: a person’s gender is their own, and how they choose to present that is entirely up to them.

Ok, last heading.

Gender Presentation

The chart above says this one is “how the world sees you”. And as I have said a hundred times in this post already, that’s usually from a cisgender, binary gender-centred point of view, and is likely to be about 99.9% wrong.

The important thing to concentrate on here is this: please relearn what you know about gender. If you are not sure of someone’s gender, don’t worry about it. Use singular “they” as a pronoun until someone tells you otherwise. Don’t ask prying questions, or try and steer people into situations that you think they should be in based on what you have perceived their gender to be.

Be kind. Be patient. Don’t judge.

So yeah, that’s a brief break-down of the gender spectrum. I’ve likely missed out loads, and I will go into certain aspects, such as the identities, in greater detail later. Please fire any questions or things you’d like me to talk about at me on twitter (@captwordbeard) or through the email here.

Let’s get a conversation started.

We get it, you’re gay

Things queer people really, really don’t want to hear? That line above.

We keep hearing about how the world is more accepting, that it’s much easier to be ourselves, that there’s less prejudice (there isn’t), and how we’re just “normal” now.

It’s all code for “We get it already, now shut up”.

The problem is, queer people have been othered for so long that being queer is a huge part of our lives and personalities, and we can’t just switch it off because it annoys you.

The reason we should about more visibly queer media is because, despite all your assurances that we’re “normal now”, the default representation is still cisgender heterosexual (and 99% of the time white too).

You don’t get to decide that we’re “too gay”, that we’re “too in your face”, that we’re “making noise over nothing”. We get to decide that, and until we truly feel that we’re being treated with the respect and dignity we deserve, we will continue to be queer in your face. Get used to it, and step up. The more you help, the better the world will be.

Listen to queer voices, share queer media, take a step back from showing the cishet white narrative and show us something different.

Act like you damn well care.

Here is Ashley Mardell being a hundred times more articulate that I will ever manage.

The Gender Binary

This is the first in a (hopefully) fortnightly series of posts discussing gender as a whole, and identities within. If there are any specific aspects of gender you would like me to discuss, hit me up on twitter (@captwordbeard) or through the contact form on here and I’ll see what I can do. 

May as well start as we mean to go on:

The gender binary is bullshit

The gender binary is exactly as it sounds: it splits gender into two, distinct categories of male and female. It makes for no allowances in between, no variations between the two, and most annoyingly of all is how gender is still largely viewed in Western Society.

(Other societies around the world have long had different views, but I’ll touch on that more in a later post).

So why is this a problem? Let’s list the ways:

  1. It gives a very narrow definition of gender. By forcing everyone into one of two boxes we show a very basic understanding of gender, and a lot of the time put people in the wrong box. It also leads to harmful stereotypes, which we will touch on in a bit.
  2. It denies the existence of a large part of the population. There will never be a truly accurate record of the number of trans and non-binary people in Britain, as many can’t safely be out (see this post on passing and this post on being stealth), but by refusing to see gender as more than a binary, we cause the dangerous situations for these people. Without proper understanding, we encourage bigotry.
  3. It refuses customs and ideologies of other cultures. As I said above, other societies have long since held different views on gender, and by insisting on viewing gender as a binary we dismiss a lot of these cultures. Why is this important? Britain is a great melting pot of different peoples, and we should be respectful of everyone.
  4. It is very outdated. As with most aspects of human knowledge and understanding, we learn more and evolve our thinking over time. As more time has been put into gender studies we have a greater understanding of gender as a whole, and we know now that not everyone fits into the binary. And yet it is still the “standard” model and the model still taught to our kids. Not discussing gender properly until kids are older gives time for the built-in prejudices older generations have to be passed on, and makes it so much harder to encourage openness and acceptance.
  5. It is incredibly simplistic. Again, we have a greater understanding of so many things: mathematics, sciences as a whole, language, it seems frankly ridiculous that we can’t move past such a simplistic view to create a more inclusive world.
  6. It feeds into harmful stereotypes. The ideas of what it means to be masculine or feminine can be incredibly damaging: we tell our girls they can’t work in STEM jobs, and we tell our boys it is wrong for them to cry. We miss out on great minds and cause deep emotional damage because we refuse to see gender as anything other than black and white. It needs to stop.

I’ll say it again:

The gender binary is bullshit

Gender is not a straight line with two distinct, hard and fast set of traits at either end. It is a spectrum full of wonderful, diverse folx, and that’s what we’ll explore in the next post.

 

The Importance of Self-Care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” -Audre Lorde

Self-Care is important. Full stop.

Things self-care is:

  • a chance to recharge or reboot
  • a reminder that your health is important
  • a chance to treat yourself
  • an important break from the world

Things self-care is not:

  • selfish
  • attention seeking behaviour
  • a sign that you’re a failure
  • something that can be dictated to you by anyone else

The world is a shitty place, and lately more and more horrible things are being broadcast and spread around the globe. And whilst it is important that we stand up and do our bit to fight systems of oppression, it is also important to look after yourself.

You won’t do anyone any good if you are burnt out and pushing on out of stubbornness. In fact, this isn’t only harmful to you, but also most likely the cause you are fighting for: someone who is burnt out and angry is more likely to say something harmful or that could land them in serious trouble.

Self-care can take many forms:

  • logging off of the internet for a set period of time
  • reading a comfort book/watching a comfort film/listening to music you love
  • taking a nap
  • taking a bath
  • going for a walk/to the gym
  • talking to someone close about non-heavy topics
  • playing video games
  • having a good meal
  • crying
  • many more

This last one is important, because crying is actually a really good thing to do. It helps relieve tension, helps with pushing out emotions, and often tires you out if you really need to sleep. Society still puts too much emphasis on being stoic and not letting your emotions out, and that just isn’t healthy in the slightest.

All of the things listed above may seem like really simple ideas, but the point of self-care is you show yourself some love and attention, and do something that you really enjoy. It can be hard to do this without feeling guilty, because those of us in places of privilege should know that we may be safe and have a safe space to do these things in that others don’t, but it is important to look after yourself.

Mental health issues are another important factor to look at. There is nothing shameful about holding your hands up and saying “sorry, my depression/anxiety/dysphoria/whatever else isn’t letting me function properly today, I need to take a step back”. If you don’t, chances are others won’t notice anything is up (this is especially an issue with the online world we inhabit these days), and they will continue to push you past your limits, causing much more serious problems in the long run. Learn your limits, and stick to them.

As the quote at the beginning of the post says, self-care is just as important as fighting when it comes to taking down systems of oppression. You need to be at your best to help, and you can’t do that unless you look after yourself.

Here are some more links with helpful information:

https://www.colorlines.com/articles/4-self-care-resources-days-when-world-terrible

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6A2F5ky9SELU0Zfd05YMEpyNUk/view?pli=1

http://www.selfcareforum.org/about-us/what-do-we-mean-by-self-care-and-why-is-good-for-people/

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/self-care-for-anxiety/#.V4ErGFfMzFI

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/45-simple-self-care-practices-for-a-healthy-mind-body-and-soul/

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are resources I myself have found helpful/enlightening.

Be good to yourselves. You’re more than worth it.

When Queers are Problematic

Good news, cishet folks! You get the week off.

This week, it’s about how queer folx are problematic within their own community. More specifically, what with Pride events going on all over the place, how cis gays and lesbians can be incredibly problematic.

This isn’t a “waah, people are so horrible to trans folx” rant. This is a legitimate problem in the community.

It can be seen as far back as the Stonewall Riots, seen by many as one of the inciting moments in the Queer Rights Movement. The initiators of a lot of what happened were trans queer women of colour, literally fighting for the right to exist. It was a violent and terrifying time, but as seen throughout history sometimes violence is needed to garner the attention to enact change.

In the aftermath, when change was offered, the white cis gays and lesbians that the Establishment were wiling to talk to threw the rest of the community under the bus. In particular the trans women of colour who had been so instrumental in opening up dialogue in the first place, as they claimed they were “too extreme” for the “normal” folks and would hold back everyone’s rights.

This mindset is so pervasive that to this day Stonewall is known as a key part of the “gay rights movement”. In fact, most of the coverage claims it as a monument to gay rights.

Some days it feels like the people who most forget that there are a lot of letters in the LGBTQIA+ acronym are those covered by LG.

Particularly, unsurprisingly, the men. There’s been a lot of link and posts getting shared about lately claiming the acronym is “GLBT”, because heaven forbid a woman should come first.

It’s not just trans folx that are put down by gay and lesbian folks though, Bisexual/Pansexual people are often on the end of a lot of abuse, being told they’re “not queer enough” if they are in a straight-passing relationship, or frequently being told “you’re actually gay, just admit it already”.

Even if gay and lesbian folks aren’t actively taking part in this sort of abuse, a lot of them are complicit by means of doing nothing. Now that same sex marriage is legal in more and more countries, a lot of gay and lesbian folks have decided the fight is now over, that the rest of us are whining over nothing. Nothing, despite the fact many trans folx end up  divorced or rejected by their families, or that queer people of colour suffer abuse constantly in every day life.

Despite the fact that, in 2016, if you are anything other than cis gay or lesbian, you are still seen as a freak, as an outsider, and it is a constant fight to be yourself.

One of the most prominent places we see this cis gay normativeity is, ironically, Pride, which is meant to be a celebration of all queer folx’ right to existence, and a reminder that we are still here and fighting. Yet, almost 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, it is still all about white cis gays and lesbians. Look how much police officers getting engaged at Pride, despite they are a serious threat to queer people of colour, were celebrated, whilst those fighting for inclusivity at what is supposed to be the most inclusive celebration of them all are routinely pushed out.

This isn’t a plea to cis gays and lesbians, this is a warning: we stood up for you so you could gain your rights, now it’s time for you to pay your dues and stand up for us.

 

Performative Activism

Oh good, time for Theo to get his angry hat on again.

The biggest “difficulty” in writing about this is that it feels like I’m getting at friends who are genuinely good people and do their best to help. But it needs to be looked at, so here we are.

Performative activism is any act that makes a show of a person supporting or being against a movement and/or action. It comes in many forms, from badges to posters to flags, but it’s a statement of a person’s position, and you’re meant to see it.

There are several problems with this sort of thing:

  1. It’s a showy act, but they’re often empty acts. It’s easy to put up a rainbow flag during Pride month, or change your profile picture (See my Allies rant from a few weeks back). The things is, until you actually back it up with anything, it’s just a show. You need to walk the walk, to talk the talk.
  2. They can be easily hijacked. Visible campaigns like, for example, the recent one sprung up in the wake of the Brexit furore where people who are “ok” with immigrants wear a safety pin to show their support. Because this is to show they are a safe person to sit beside on the bus, or talk to walking down the street so you aren’t alone. Thing is, everyone has safety pins, or can acquire them easily, and there are some awful people out there who will happily use them to trick people into walking into an attack.
  3. They can be a front, even if you don’t mean it. It’s easy to say “I’m not racist/homophobic/ableist”, and then in the next sentence use an ableist slur. A lot of people would like to think they are good, decent people, and they likely are, but they will likely still have vocabulary and thinking that in some way targets marginalised groups. So whilst wearing a safety pin, for example, might show you’re not racist, it’s only scratching the very surface of the problem.
  4. They don’t actually help any cause. Cities painting zebra crossings rainbow doesn’t make up for the fact the government just voted again to put down transgender rights. Wearing a safety pin to show you’re not racist, but not actually speaking up when something happens in front of you isn’t going to solve the racism problem that has been dragged into the daylight in the wake of Brexit. We need actions, not empty words and badges.

It is hard; not everyone is able to be involved in direct activism for various reasons. A lot of people take comfort in having their badge or their flag or their poster. And despite what I’ve written above there is nothing inherently wrong with it, but people need to start realising it is performative, it doesn’t solve the problems, and stop congratulating themselves whilst talking over the people actually affected.

Take for example the people today on twitter who decided to take to the #heterosexualprideday tag and tell LGBTQIA+ folx that it’s all just a joke, that these people are just whining because they’re not getting attention for five minutes. And maybe in some cases it is, but in the wider world, it’s anything but a joke. We’ve seen all too recently the violence that LGBTQIA+ folx face for just being themselves. Shot down in nightclubs, refused travel by airlines who won’t recognise their gender. There are people who have family asking why they should get a Pride month for being queer when straight people aren’t celebrated. I’ve seen a lot of people retweeting the quote about how Pride is celebrating our right to exist without persecution, not that we’re gay (because it’s always centred around cisgays, but that’s for another post), and that’s great and all, but we need people to stand up and say “No, this is not a joke, and we need to tackle why”.

We’ve seen a massive uptick in racist attacks since the Brexit result was announced, but this isn’t a new problem. People coming out and saying that those who voted to leave are just uneducated, out of touch “coffin dodgers” are muddying the waters and taking away from the fact that this has been a problem for a long time, the racists just now believe that a vote in the direction they were hoping for has given them a mandate to act as they are openly.

Stepping up is scary: it can be dangerous, time-consuming, energy-consuming, and in extreme cases deadly. But you can have all the words in the world up on a website like this, if you can’t actually step up at the time of an incident, they mean nothing. It doesn’t have to be confronting the attacker either, at least not if it’s a verbal attack: walk up to the victim and greet them like a friend, cutting off the attacker and helping to outnumber them. Cowardice is a common theme with these people, once they’re outnumbered they lose all bottle. If you can’t get involved because it’ll put you or someone you’re with in danger, film what’s going on and report it. If someone else steps up first, you should still step up too. Action in numbers shows you’re really against something.

The world is a scary place for marginalised people, we could do with more of a hand than a shiny badge that says you’re cool.