The All About Trans project looks at creative ways to encourage greater understanding between trans* people and media professionals to support better, more sensitive representation in the UK media.
The project offers the trans* community a platform to speak out against the prejudice they may experience and promotes engagement between the wide diversity of trans* voices and the media.” – http://www.allabouttrans.org.uk/about/
Over the last two months one of the people who works with All About Trans and has a reasonable media profile has been making comedy videos where he plays a woman in an ill-fitting wig with facial hair. He has ignored criticism that it mocks trans women regardless of his intentions. When it was pointed out to All About Trans that this made him unsuitable to represent trans people they said:
We do not and have never claimed to represent the trans community – that’s not our remit.
I understand that All About Trans sees itself as merely a link between transgender people and media. Leaving aside that this isn’t quite true – the project has been cited by name in various media outlets and in the quote above refers to offering a platform – making connections like this is not and cannot be neutral. There is discretion and choice involved.
It doesn’t matter if All About Trans want to represent trans people or not. It doesn’t matter if we want them to represent trans people or not. The fact is, to the writers and presenters, and to the general public that see what is written and broadcast, both All About Trans and the people that they select are there representing trans people.
All About Trans puts forward a certain set of people to comment in the media. That selection is a choice they have made. When one of the people they have put forward has repeatedly made comedy based on prejudice against trans women, All About Trans have promoted a transmisogynist as representing trans people. In failing to condemn the material that hurts trans women, All About Trans have tacitly condoned it.
All About Trans cannot abdicate responsibility here. They are in a position of representing trans people regardless of whether they intended to or not, and the choices they make about who to promote matter. The actions of those representatives matter. If a person’s actions work against the group they are representing, they are no longer suitable to represent that group, and continuing to put them forward is therefore a statement about their actions. All About Trans have done good work in the past but in their response to this situation they are letting us all down. If the people running All About Trans do not think that the comedy in question is a promoting misogyny and transmisogyny then they should say so, so that we at least know where we stand.
On the internet we have a rule. It is called Godwin’s law. Godwin’s law states that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%).”
In the 21 years since Godwin first made this observation, it has been quoted whenever anyone has mentioned Nazis, as a way of saying “You have mentioned Nazis, therefore your argument is ridiculous, therefore you have lost the debate.”
The use of Godwin’s law to end and win an argument by default has been helpful in keeping arguments from straying into ridiculous comparisons but it also brings a risk; the danger that when a comparable situation does arise, it will be ignored because the comparison cannot be made in argument. Godwin’s law has power because of the idea that nothing as bad as the Nazis and the holocaust will ever happen again because we have learnt from what happened in the past. I think that this assumption is foolish and dangerous. Of course such atrocities will happen again. Throughout history we have had bloodthirsty power-hungry leaders of pure evil, over and over again. Pol Pot, Pinochet, Mao, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and many other leaders have killed thousands, even millions each. Genocides are an relatively frequent occurrence. Groups have been singled out and slaughtered for many different reasons over the centuries, and others will be in the future.
My point here is important so I will state it again. Atrocities of this sort are not rare, have happened and will happen again, and to ridicule anyone making a comparison with the Nazis is to dismiss warnings in a very dangerous way.
Godwin’s law and disability rights
I and many other disability rights activists abandoned Godwin’s law some time ago. I believe that sick and disabled people in the UK are under attack and are the subject of a government and media smear campaign with the aim of turning public opinion against them. Although the Nazis ran a eugenics programme to eradicate all incurably sick and mentally ill people, (Called Action T4) the comparison that I am drawing is mostly with the propaganda element of that programme and the attitude behind it.
The poster seen here speaks of the cost of caring for the disabled person depicted, the same message that is echoed in the cries of “this is taxpayer’s money” that we hear from indignant right-wing tabloid papers today. Papers like the Daily Mail and the Express routinely publish every “benefit cheat” story that they can find, with big front page splashes about people with houses and multiple cars. We even have “Saints and scroungers” from the BBC spreading the hate. Otherwise nice people are being convinced that there are legions of benefit cheats faking their inability to walk or the horrendous pain that makes every activity torture. (Apart from me. For some reason they never mean me.) All of these politicians and journalists seem to be adept at twisting the facts and lying through omission just for the public outrage that they feed on. They also ignore the realities of illness, of having good days and bad days, of choosing to push through pain to have a good day out, or just to pretend to your family that you are having a good day out so as to keep them happy. As Sue Marsh said, by their standards, we are all benefit cheats now.
Black Triangle Campaign recently received an email referring to comments on their forum making comparisons with the past as “dangerous and extreme”. The email said: “I am not interested in extreme, left wing politics. I am trying to bring attention to government funded medical tyranny, copied from America, and such extreme comments are a distraction from what’s happening at government level. (…) you are playing a very, very, VERY dangerous game with desperate peoples’ lives by posting such extreme comments relating to past war time atrocities that belongs in the past. I DO understand why people feel like this but there are many, many very frail people out there and this will cause harm.”
I disagree with the author of that email. I’ve talked before about how government ministers are spreading these stories and lying about the facts and how party special advisors are feeding the media frenzy in a previous blog post. No one here is suggesting that anyone be killed, but our government is focussed on ruthlessly cutting benefit costs along with healthcare and services, all while smiling and announcing that “the most vulnerable will be protected.” Well the most vulnerable are having their benefits cut, being told to shit themselves rather than receiving help to get to the toilet, being told to find jobs when they can barely leave the house, losing their homes, and committing suicide. Many of those that aren’t in that situation expect to be soon and many have talked of suicide. The policies of this government and the relentless abuse coming from newspapers have people living in fear – if what they fear hasn’t already come to pass. In Nazi Germany the killing of sick and disabled people was at first kept well hidden away from any chance of public opposition. What plans are our politicians hiding from us? Is it their intention to force all sick and disabled people out on the streets where they will helpfully freeze to death? Quite honestly, I think that they don’t even care as long as it’s not their problem. I think it is completely fair to compare this demonisation of the sick and disabled to the start of the Nazi attack on the same.
The Sunday Times has decided to be outraged about people on benefits getting BMW cars. The headline they ran with was State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) and it was plastered across the front page.
Unfortunately there are so many errors in the article that even the headline is plain wrong. To start with, the state does not “hand out” any cars to “the disabled”. Disabled people or the long term sick may get the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance to provide for their travel needs, and it can be spent as the recipient chooses but usually goes towards cars, wheelchairs, scooters, trains, buses, taxis and more. There is a charity scheme called Motability, and if a person wishes, they can pay the mobility component of their DLA to the Motability scheme in return for a car.
The state has not handed anyone a car, people have received the benefits to which they are entitled, and chosen to spend their money on a car.
The Motobility scheme works on the basis of leasing a new car out, and then selling it at the end of three years. (This works out cheaper than buying second hand cars and paying for their maintenance, and is more reliable and safer.) Motability has a set budget and any extra cost over the standard amount has to be covered by the user of the car – for example if the car has been driven more than the expected distance, there will be a mileage fee when the car is handed back. If someone wants a more expensive car to start with then they can pay the difference in cost so that Motability does not lose money. Some people pay a few hundred pounds extra to get a car more suitable for their medical condition, such as a car with a higher seat for people that struggle getting in and out of the car, or find low seating painful. These people often borrow at their own expense to pay the difference in cost. A BMW can be had through Motability for an extra fee in the same way that a slightly higher model Citroen could be. It’s just that there is a big difference in the size of that extra fee.
To get a BMW on Motability costs the end user at least £1,399 extra, and it is a fee, not a deposit.
It should be noted that DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is paid to everyone that has a qualifying disability, regardless of their work status or income. People that are still in work, especially if in a high powered job, or that have savings, might be able to afford the extra fee. Whether that is right or wrong is a different argument, but no fraud has been committed as DLA was intended to cover the extra cost of disability when working as much as when not.
The Sunday Times also talked about people using the car without the owner present. Some of the the points they made were true, but they missed that the car may be used on behalf of the sick or disabled person or for their benefit. That means that a carer could drive the car to go shopping to buy food for the owner of the car, completely within the rules. Of course they can’t use the owner’s blue badge or park in a disabled parking space, since they can walk across the car park.
Someone else can use a Motability car on behalf of the owner without them present.
The Sunday Times highlighted two cases of fraud in an attempt to back up their argument. One was someone whose health had improved but who had not informed the DWP and had gone back to work as a boxer, and the other was someone that was using his wife’s car to make deliveries as a courier. Benefit fraud levels are incredibly low, but with millions of people involved, even 0.5% means that a few people committing fraud can be found. Highlighting two cases without telling the reader how small a minority commit fraud is highly misleading. It should also be noted that while the boxer who didn’t inform anyone of his improvement was committing benefit fraud, the person driving his wife’s car was not. He was breaking the rules of the motability scheme and driving a car without paying the vehicle excise duty. (Which is waived for people receiving higher rate mobility component of DLA.) He had not defrauded the government out of any DLA benefit money.
The whole article has the same tone that we are becoming used to from mainstream newspapers. The implication that everyone on benefits is a scrounger. The article mentions that 123,000 people receive DLA for back pain, as though back pain is a simple thing or is somehow less worthy of support. (It covers scoliosis, degenerative spinal conditions, botched surgery resulting in nerve damage or paralysis.) Even the use of quotes around the word disabled in the headline is used to imply quite strongly that these people are not really disabled. I refuse to believe that the ‘journalists’ (see what I did there?) are that ignorant or don’t understand DLA and Motability. There is a clear agenda in this article to smear these people and create outrage. It is not acceptable and an apology must be given. I urge you to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the factual innacuracies in their article, as I will be doing.