Identity Politics, As She Is Done

Suppose you were an arsehole. I know you’re not — you read my blog, you’re a nice person. But suppose, instead, that you were a vile bigot. And, like many vile bigots sadly are, you’re in a position of power and influence over the media. Again, you’re not, because otherwise one of you would have used that power and influence to get me a high-paying column somewhere, but imagine you are. You could be a bigoted MP, a bigoted comedian, a bigoted TV-academic, or a bigoted columnist. It doesn’t really matter what flavour of powerful bigot you are.

Now suppose, for some unfathomable reason, it really matters to you — I mean really, *really*, matters — that some other people should not be allowed to go to the toilet. You have some horrible fetish for people being forced nonconsensually to urinate themselves in public or something (your kink is not my kink, and in this case your kink is definitely not OK).

But you have a problem. The audience you cater to like to think of themselves as liberal or left-wing. They’re *not*, for the most part, but they remember being told that Tories aren’t nice, and that Tories say bigoted things, so actually just saying “I hate this group and I want their bladders to burst” is something that might put a few of your audience off, and stop them listening to you comparing a thing in the news to another thing in the news on Radio 4, or donating to your charitable foundation for advancing your pet cause.

However, there’s a get-out clause. Lefty liberals love this thing called free speech! You’re not entirely sure what that means, but what words actually mean doesn’t really matter. So what do you do?

Step one — have someone who is a recognised “contrarian” (which means the person who is paid to say vile, unpleasant, things because they’re a friend of the editor of the Guardian or New Statesman and terribly witty at dinner parties) say “these people shouldn’t be allowed to go to the toilet”.

This will cause a “controversy”, consisting of five people on Twitter saying “Oh Christ, the Guardian have printed another bigoted column, I don’t know why I expected better at this point” and three people tweeting at the original author saying “What right have you to say whether or not I can go to the toilet?”

Step two — someone else can be the “voice of reason”, printing a column about the “controversy” in whichever of the Guardian or New Statesman didn’t publish the original, saying “while of course we must never endorse hatred, and I am, as you know, an ally of $oppressedgroup, there are two sides to the question of whether people should be allowed basic biological functions, and there really should be a proper debate on the subject, and why can’t everyone just get along?”

This will then cause a second Twitter “controversy”, when two people will tweet at the new author saying “No, actually, it’s really not up for debate. I want to live my life and they want to stop me.”

This is referred to as “attempting to shut down debate”.

Repeat this three times, and now you have three occasions where one group (marginalised voices on Twitter) “tried to shut down debate” by disagreeing with another group (rich, influential, bigots, who have columns in ostensibly left-liberal magazines).

Step four — Write an open letter to the Observer or the Independent, as they’re the only left-liberal publications that haven’t been involved yet. Call it something like “In defence of free speech and academic freedom”, describe the three occasions so obliquely that no-one who hadn’t followed them would recognise what had happened, and get all the columnists to sign it, along with a lot of respected-but-gullible people who’ve heard the trigger words “free speech” and “academic freedom”.

This will then cause people to tweet at every one of the respected-but-gullible people, saying “Hang on, did you actually read this?”. It will also cause at least one person, who’s been getting progressively more annoyed for months, to get so angry they tweet “fuck off and die, you arsehole!” at one of the gullible people, because they’re taking the side of the people who won’t even let them go to the toilet in peace.

Step five — use this “fuck off and die” tweet as “proof” that “the other side” are violent extremists. Couple it, in a way that skirts the libel laws, with the names of as many prominent figures in the marginal community as you can (not that they’re as prominent as you, of course). Now the story is “moderate figure in oppressed group associates with extremists who tell national treasures to fuck off and die!”

And voila! Now you’re not a disgusting bigot with a fetish for making other people’s bladders explode, but a martyr for free speech, and a hero! You’re raising valid points and standing up to the oppressors! If you’re lucky, you might even get a book deal. And all while you and your audience congratulate yourselves on your tolerance and liberalism.

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17 Responses to Identity Politics, As She Is Done

  1. reecemjones says:

    Stellar write up. I’m finding a lot of sites are doing this even more. It seems to be The New Statesman’s business model at the moment.

  2. WHS says:

    Is this based on something specifically? Not sure I get it.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Most recently, this played out in the Observer, New Statesman, Peter Tatchell’s email newsletter and others over trans people wanting to exist in peace (and the specific toilet example comes from trans people) but it’s the same pattern you get in, for example, GamerGate, and I’ve seen it play out with both anti-semitism and Islamophobia in its broad generalities.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        (Actually, it’s also the same pattern that happened after pretty much every time a black person has been murdered by a white person in the US recently, too.)

        • just passing says:

          So basically, it’s the standard pattern that privilege adopts when it’s being forced to confront its own existence / excesses?

          • Andrew Hickey says:

            Yep. I think so. I don’t understand the motivation myself — for me, awareness of my own privilege only brings a desperate desire to fix the situation, and a terrible concern that I not cause any further harm to anyone (while knowing that by merely existing in an unequal society I am constantly doing so), so I really don’t get why a lot of other people with privilege seem to react to it that way — but it’s a very clear pattern.

            • just passing says:

              I think it’s the basic human need to believe one isn’t a bad person. Obviously your way is the more constructive way of going about that ;) but it does make sense to me that, particularly when one is used to thinking of oneself as not privileged, that one would, when confronted with evidence of harm caused by one’s privilege, try to make it go away by vehemently denying its existence in order to preserve a core aspect of one’s own identity.

              That river in Egypt flows through every one of us at some point or other.

  3. I know I get accused of doing the “Well, I am sure that nice Mr Hitler was honestly trying his best to do the right thing as he saw it” thing a bit too often. But I do think you should be careful of going to far the other way… I don’t think anyone has a general theory that people shouldn’t be allowed to go to the toilet. What they have is a fastidious and childish notion of decency. If you had to spell it out, I suppose it would go “You are only allowed to see other people’s willies if you have got one yourself; people with willies take them out when they wee; so if you haven’t got a willy you can’t go into a toilet (or a changing room) used by people who do.” (I just tried several erudite comments on this, but they actually boil down to “FOR GOD SAKE YOU’RE NOT AT NURSERY SCHOOL GROW UP GET OVER IT”.)

    Your analysis of the way “arguments” on this kind of thing spiral are absolutely spot on.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I think that’s true of *some* people (although I believe — not ever having been in one myself — that women’s toilets have cubicles and so you can’t actually see the genitals of anyone else using the toilets; if you could, I’d have a tiny bit of sympathy for them). But there are also a LOT of supposed “feminists” who play on that sense because they actually do want to make life more difficult for trans people — specifically for trans women — because they hate them.
      I’ve had friends who’ve had hate campaigns directed at them, had false accusations about them spread over the internet, and had mass campaigns contacting their employers in attempts to get them fired, merely for being publicly out as trans. There is a significant proportion of self-styled ‘radical feminism’ that actually wants trans people dead, or if not dead in as much discomfort and mental pain as possible. See for example (which *significantly* downplays the extent of the actual harassment Sarah suffered, and continues to suffer).
      I have no doubt that there are some people who don’t intend to be hurtful but think “ugh, willies, yuk”. That’s why the toilet thing is such a useful tool for the people who actually *do* intend to be harmful. As Roz Kaveney has been pointing out, attempting to stop people from using public toilets appropriate to their gender is actually a very good way of excluding them from public life altogether — you can’t, for example, hold down a job if it means not being able to go to the toilet at all during working hours.
      So I’m not talking about the people who need to grow up here — “ugh, yuk!” is an understandable reaction, if not a nice or properly thought-out one, and it’s a reaction that people can and do grow out of — but rather about the people using those people’s yuk reaction to further an eliminationist agenda.
      Those people have done too much wrong, behaved too badly, and hurt too many people, for me to afford them even the slightest presumption of good faith and decency any more. There are people out there who state that they want trans people not to exist. When they call for trans people to be banned from using toilets, I take them at their word — they don’t want trans people to be able to use toilets.

      • just passing says:

        I’m actually more scared to out myself as trans now than I was ten years ago; it feels like I’ll take shit from the bigots on both sides, which is particularly scary with no social network to fall back on for support. (Not to mention that I’m thoroughly uncomfortable using any toilet not exclusively reserved for me at the best of times.)

        And yet… the war does seem closer to being won than it did; maybe it’s inevitable that in that situation the battles will be smaller in scale, closer to home and bloodier?

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          I think you’re right — it’s precisely because the right side is winning (far too slowly, and at enormous cost) that the transphobes have started fighting more viciously. The next few years are going to be some of the hardest to get through for trans people (and sadly far too many *won’t* get through them) but I think after that things will be a lot easier.

  4. Mike Taylor says:

    Regarding this specific issue (and not your more general one), I have never understood why we have women’s toilets with cubicles and men’s toilets with some cubicles and some urinals. Having a single toilet with lots of cubicles would surely meet everyone’s needs, as well as sidestepping the specific problem you’re alluding to here.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I agree, and that seems to be the way more places are going. I think the idea is that urinals allow for a more efficient use of space than cubicles, so you should have at least some urinals if you have a limited space and a large number of users. But then there are people who don’t want to see penises (which is a possibility in a space with urinals), so you create two spaces — one with urinals for people with penises, who are presumed to be immune to the horror of seeing one by their possession of one, and one without any urinals, for non-penis-possessors. And then label the penis-possessors’ one “men” and the non-penis-possessors’ one “women” because “everyone knows” that those are the same thing…

      Of course, an easier and more optimal solution would be to have one large room with all the cubicles in, and a separate, smaller, room with just urinals, and let people choose for themselves which to use…

      • Urinals or troughs are good for space efficiency, efficiency of turn over and water efficiency.

        When you multiply up the space efficiency and the efficiency of turn over they seem to allow for improved flow at peak times as evidenced by the long queues outside ladies’ toilets at large concert of sporting venues.

        I like the idea of genderless toilets but I think there is a cost to them. How great the cost is and whether it is worth it to make it include people (or at least avoid a difficult conversation about how people use the toilet) I don’t know.

        I like your suggestion of an unlabled room with urinals in them.

  5. Andrew Hickey says:

    Note to “goggzilla” (Ciaran Goggins):
    This post is not on your side.
    This post is not on the side of people who use terms like “feminazi”, people who dox anti-rape campaigners, or people who campaign in support of Ched Evans. It is *definitely* not on the side of people who harass rape victims, posting their names and addresses online and forcing them into hiding.
    I do not know anything about Jean Hatchet other than what you attempted to post here and what two minutes’ googling tells me, and so I have no idea if she’s the kind of bigot I’m talking about here. Whether she is or not, though, I am *still* on her side over yours on this matter.

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