Debunking trans rhetoric 1: Rori Porter

Recently Rori Porter wrote a piece on Medium (https://roriporter.medium.com/some-anwers-for-the-terfs-at-ovarit-com-e7ca9c796334) complaining about the feminist website Ovarit’s supposedly hostile and ignorant attitude to trans people. Here is my response. His statements are enclosed in single quotation marks.

‘When transphobes lost their safe space on Reddit…’.

So we know what we’re in for, right from the start: according to Rori, it is transphobia, not gender-critical feminism, that characterizes us gender-critical feminists. But wait!

‘I understand that evolving may be confusing to a TERF since they opt for their grandma’s feminism…’.

The sort of feminism that didn’t centre men, in other words. As regards the low opinion we terven (I hope it’s OK with y’all if we use the proper word here) supposedly have of trans rationality, Rori says:

‘But hey, let me shirk your expectation…’.

I think he may have meant ‘disappoint’, but yes, in fact he does ‘shirk’ it, i.e. he deliberately avoids dealing with it.

Now Porter claims he is ‘a bisexual, trans woman’ as well, so at least he recognizes that sexual orientation comes in three flavors: opposite sex, same sex, and both sexes. This is something we can agree on. Here is a second point of agreement:

‘As a society, we are all still expected to adhere to the gender binary.’

We feminists are all for jettisoning gendered expectations. Where we differ from trans rights activists is that we know the sex binary will still be there, patiently waiting, rolling-pin in hand, when we’ve done so. We know how babies are made. As Rori recognizes the two basic sexual orientations, he may also accept that there are two sexes in all mammals, each of which contributes a different kind gamete to the reproductive process. Hence our question:

Us: “If not dysphoria about your sexed body, what is dysphoria?”

‘My own dysphoria isn’t binary, I’m still figuring out what I want to do about it…’.

When he does decide, will he opt to have hair follicles transplanted to his eye-brows so they look bushier and more manly? Will he shave his head to mimic male-pattern baldness? A bigger-nose job? Will he start taking steroids and doing circuit training plus 400 press-ups a day? Or will it involve ‘bigger tits’ (see below for Rori’s opinion about getting breast implants), a fake vagina, a tracheal shave? Answers on a postcard, please.

I’ll put the following three questions together, as they cover much the same ground:

Us: “But didn’t trans people create the ‘born in the wrong body’ narrative in the first place?”
Us: “So, if you weren’t born in the wrong body, do the taxpayers/other people sharing your insurance need to pay for the transition?”
Us: “You want to criticize cis people for thinking of you as born in the wrong body? That’s what you all were telling us before it became a damned trend.”

‘“Born in the wrong body” is a narrative that facilitates trans folks getting the medical care that we need. Whether or not we actually feel this way, we routinely have to use language like this to appeal to insurance companies…that narrative is easier than explaining that my gender isn’t cis and isn’t easily contained within the binary.’ ‘As I have addressed, trans people used the “born in the wrong body” language because we were forced to in order to receive trans-related medical attention.’ ‘I mention that I experience gender dysphoria in my post, which enables me to have certain gender-affirming procedures under the health insurance plan that I pay good money into.’

Move to Canada! They’ll pay for it there!

In the US, however, insurance companies are not known for being kind, so this must be a powerful ‘narrative’ to get trans people ‘the medical care that [they] need’; hence the constant peddling of the zombie “half of all trans people have attempted suicide” statistic, based on a sample of Brazilian prostitutes and an even smaller self-selected sample (23!) of TG people in a UK survey, which concerned suicidal ideation and didn’t ask when they had these suicidal thoughts or whether they had been diagnosed with other conditions (autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety, etc.) that might dispose them to feel suicidal.

Seriously, though, if his gender is what it is, why does it need affirming? Better still, why doesn’t he realize gender is a deeply unjust social game—one in which women always, always lose—and come out as a feminist ally?

‘I was a trans person born in a trans person’s body. Y’all are just trying to miss the point.’
‘I was born correctly into a trans body…’.

So, why the surgeries? Why is it necessary, as he says, ‘to heal my trans body’, if it’s already just fine? If he makes it into (a semblance of) a woman’s body, either it will still be trans (and, if so, why bother?) or it won’t (so what on earth is the point of all that pain, suffering, and expense, his own or the taxpayers’, depending?).

In short, how is this not having his hormonal cake and eating it too?

And selfish trans people can be very selfish about the sharing of finite medical resources. All sorts of people can’t get medical care for all sorts of conditions because their insurance companies won’t provide it. Lupus and ME/CFS, for example—conditions that affect far more women than men. Or PCOS, which of course affects only women. What’s more, “gender-affirming” surgeries continued right through the pandemic (see Exulansic’s videos for proof). There was a TikTok not long ago of a trans girl complaining that her mum, who had breast cancer, had got “top surgery” before she did. A fake? Probably. The point is… it’s hard to tell nowadays.

Nonetheless, after all these disclaimers, Rori asserts that:

‘…the fact that I think this language ought to be retired still stands.’

Why? He does not say, except that the trans ‘community’ is “evolving” thanks to what he calls ‘intersectionalism’ and general change in the world, which explains precisely nothing.

‘I will always seek to find a way to make sure that the body I was born in is the right one.’

Translation: “My body is just fine, always was… only it’s also in need of drastic body-morphing surgeries and whole-life wrong-sex hormones, just as I choose.”

Us: “But… what the hell else do you want us to say?!”

‘Nobody on Ovarit.com has to talk about me — they just choose to in their TERFy little echo chamber.’

Or maybe we want to try to engage with the other side’s arguments, if any, despite this sort of judgement on us:

‘Transphobes aren’t about to give any sort of well-rounded or informed opinion on dysphoria because they’ve never experienced it and have an explicit bias on the matter.’

Just as he has have never experienced being a woman, and has ‘an explicit bias’ in favour of thinking that he does. Rori wants us to play his little language game:

‘particularly when cis people are speaking about our bodies without us being present.’

Now obviously there can be no obligation to have a trans person always present when we talk about trans people. We all speak about lots of people without the people being present. But if we have to use certain language and not use certain other language about trans people in their absence, please show us why we have to meet this obligation when we do not share your ideology, which we regard as bogus and damaging. Without this justification, this sort of linguistic policing will remain both grandiose and pointless:

‘Basically, unless someone explicitly uses this language to describe their personal trans experience, I suggested that cis folks avoid saying this about us.’

In return, we would request trans folks not to call us “cis” when describing our personal “adult human female” experiences.

‘I can and do hold people accountable for talking about me or my body in ways I don’t personally approve of.’

So do we, buddy. So do we. Women are doing exactly this, more and more. We want out name back. We want our experiences to be recognized as lived, female lives, not feelings in men’s heads.

‘…calling transness a trend is hilarious, and TERFs would know that if they did even five minutes of research on the history of trans people.’

Yes, thank you, we did the research. It does only take five minutes, as being “trans” has been a thing only for about 15 years. It was John Money, that beacon of trans ideology, who invented the term ‘gender identity’. Before then there were simply transsexuals and transvestites.

Correction: there still are. Only the names have changed. And don’t think we haven’t noticed that history is getting re-written to make trans people into the saviours of mankind. As he himself says:

‘which is happening because trans/queerphobic colonizers have had the stage for most of the last 200 years’.

WTAF? The delusion here is world-class (the only thing about this article that is). I’d give him “homophobic”. No doubt many gays and lesbians have been written out of history. There were brothels catering to men who liked to tup men in dresses back in the reign of Queen Victoria. But they didn’t claim to be women. Which is not surprising, given that male privilege was even more of a Thing back then than it is now. And enough with the “colonizer” BS about gender. It’s the trans lobby that is colonizing pre-modern/pre-industrial cultures as part of their general project to make being trans look like something innate: if having “third genders” is all over the place, it must be innate, right?

But, first, third genders almost always accommodate feminine homosexual men; they have nothing to do with there being more than two sexes—in fact, they precisely reinforce the sex binary. And, second, this sort of argument fails because, clearly, three-gender societies aren’t universal. Finally, pushing the idea that kids can be trans to promote this same innatism is so dodgy, so close to paedophilia (since it requires the assumption that pre-pubescent children can think of themselves as sexed—how otherwise can they “decide” their gender doesn’t match their sexed body?) that I’d drop the whole thing if I were them. Really I would.

(Porter adds: ‘Same as how you can’t discover you’re queer unless… you’re queer.’ I shall leave it to gay men and lesbians to deal with the revival of a slur once used by real bigots in order to elevate in their own eyes a group of narcissistic straight people trying to make themselves look interesting.)

Us: “Telling the disabled they were born in the wrong body would be seen as unconscionable, so why did we let healthy people get away with saying it about themselves?”

‘Being trans is not a disability, so the things we choose to say about our bodies cannot be easily transferred to a disabled experience.’

First, being trans is not like being disabled in one way: reflecting on their own experiences, or getting the right medication, e.g. anti-depressants, can make some people realize they are not trans after all (witness the detransitioners), whereas, of course, the disabled cannot stop being disabled by reflecting on their own experiences, let alone identifying out of their disability.

Second, while a person who develops MS after living without it will feel very differently about their body and their condition from a person born blind, who has constructed a life that incorporates their blindness, and that both accommodates it and transcends its limitations, both MS and blindness are clearly both physical problems. There are certain definite things about the body that could, in principle, be fixed, or at least be made less serious and easier to live with. Similarly, being trans might seem to be something that can affect the physical body in certain definite ways, since many trans people choose to change their bodies.

And yet, curiously, there are people who say they are trans and are nonetheless quite happy in their male- (usually) or female-sexed body. (Women-with-penises are, sadly, real-in-some-people’s-heads.) So being trans is not like a disability. It is not the case that, all things being equal, a given condition causing blindness could, in principle, be remedied in this or that way in these people with that condition but not in those. Indeed, to preserve the comparision, it would have to turn out rather that the condition is not even there to be remedied. (NB I am talking “in principle” here, not as regards the medical cures or therapies actually available now.) For, as Rori says:

‘While many trans people absolutely do have dysphoria, it’s not the be-all-end-all of (and certainly isn’t synonymous with) the trans experience.’

So what is it about being trans that makes this possible? Why do some trans people have dysphoria and hate their bodies so much they threaten suicide if they don’t get medication and surgery, and others change their pronouns and that’s it? Why isn’t there some set of determinate, testable physical changes that would make everything right for every trans person, as everyone with MS would be well if their own immune system hadn’t attacked the myelin sheaths around their nerves? (MS is one of those far-more-prevalent-in-women conditions, one that was once diagnosed as “hysteria”, a condition that really, really isn’t there at all. Plus I have a family history of it, so forgive the repetition.)

It was medical researchers who discovered what was wrong in people with MS, and perhaps, one day soon, medical research will discover an effective therapy, and/or preventative care for those a genetic predisposition to developing MS. And it is doctors who carry out tests to determine whether someone has MS and thus whether that person should or should not receive the medications we do have to manage symptoms.

Now what Rori wants is evidently not like this. It is for trans people alone (even children?) to decide whether they “need” medical treatment. Here’s the tell:

‘For decades, doctors have been defining what the trans experience is and which of us deserves medical accommodation…’.

What is really going on here is Schroedinger’s Dysphoria: simultaneously a medical condition (that requires fixing by hormones and/or surgery, which in some countries must be paid for by the tax-payer) and also not a medical condition (because some people who are trans don’t want or “need” any of this). It is the patient who decides whether it exists, and decides also on the treatment they they must receive—unlike all other medical conditions, which are either there or not, in different degrees of severity, and which are treated by doctors on the basis of medical evidence.

There is one point in Rori’s earlier post where he candidly revealed his attitude to his body as not the one a medically-informed person would have:

‘I was not born in the wrong body at all. I was merely born in a body that needs redecorating in order to suit my needs. A fresh coat of paint here, a wall smashed down there…’.

IIt is striking that the metaphor he chooses is wholly inorganic, as if the human body were, like an artifact such as a house, something that comes in discrete, material parts, which can be fitted together or moved around or removed altogether. But the bodies of animals (and plants too) are amazingly complex, interlocking, interacting meta-systems of organs and systems. Changing even one part is not at all like subbing a bit of dry wall or painting a door.

Some trans people undergo expensive, protracted, painful, potentially life-threatening surgeries to refashion themselves into simulacra of the opposite sex. Some of the consequences are now well-known; some are still emerging. For example, a transwoman who wants a vagina (which is natural, muscular, and self-cleaning) ends up instead with an unnatural cavity that is fragile and prone both to infection and to closing up and scarring, so that it needs constant care and attention. (Jazz Jennings’ non-vagina is of this sort.) To make a fake penis for a transman, she must undergo a number of surgeries on her arms and/or legs, not just on her vulva and vagina. She risks early menopause if she has a hysterectomy. Vaginal atrophy, which is universal when testosterone is taken, is uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and increases the risk of UTIs and sexual dysfunction. A woman under the age of 45 who goes into menopause should be offered oestrogen, to offset the risk of osteoporosis, coronary heart disease and even perhaps dementia. Osteoporosis increases if a woman stops menstruating before she is 35, and this increases the risk of fractures later in life, which in turns increases risk of premature death. Not getting the right hormones, at the right time, in the right doses can wreak havoc on a developing body.

Are transmen dying early, compared to their non-trans cohorts? We don’t know, because changes in laws make it hard to tell what someone’s sex is, Information about gender is collected instead, even for rapists. Yes, we now have female rapists, even though raping is done with a penis. I am sure Porter will be happy to acknowledge that this is happening, all thanks to gender self-ID.

Anyway, back to gender dysphoria. It is weird that the same thing, gender dysphoria, should have this range of effects. I wonder if a doctor would think that there are at least two conditions here? Maybe one affecting young girls, one affecting older men? Just a suggestion!

Also, I hope they don’t knock down the wrong wall if and when Rori has surgery. Recently I saw a transwoman and a transman on YouTube complaining about fistulas as a result of botched surgeries. Fistulas are common in girls in developing countries who are married far too early and have children far too early, before their bodies are fully developed. That is how feminists know about them.

Us: “TIMs are fking over women and especially lesbians for no good reason?”

‘I’d sincerely be curious to hear how I, a bisexual, trans woman in a relationship with a pansexual trans man, is fucking over any lesbians.’

So, first, as regards trans harassment of lesbians, this is a deflection: a group is accused of doing X; member of said group says, ‘I don’t do X’, and we are meant to infer that the accusation is false. Members of the trans “community” are, however, certainly ‘fucking over lesbians’, as we know from, well, lesbians, who get constantly harassed online, kicked off dating forums because they won’t date TIMs, even raped, etc., all while Stonewall hired a man, Morgan Page, to tell transbians how to get through the “cotton ceiling”.

Second, as regards women generally, deflection #2: ‘I don’t do X, so the accusation is false about me, as a woman’. To begin with: No. No, he’s not. He’s a guy in a straight relationship with a woman who thinks she’s a man.

In any case, whatever he may do or not do, there are transwomen who most definitely are invading our spaces and taking selfies with their meat and two veg out in women’s restrooms; they’re appropriating women’s places in institutions (e.g. Edinburgh Rape Crisis, the UK Labour Party) and on shortlists; and the TRA ‘community’ is harassing, doxxing, and threatening women online and making them lose their jobs IRL (Stock, Phoenix, etc.). Their presence is forcing women to self-exclude from certain spaces (again, the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, now headed by a man who lied about his sex to get the job and has said that women who want to be helped by other women are ‘bigots’).

Us: “WHAT ABOUT PENISES?!”

‘…what about penises, Kayleigh?’

Again with the ‘K’ names! Hilarious!

‘Why are TERFs so obsessed with our genitals? It’s fuckin’ weird, man.’

No, it’s not. Penises are what are used—and this is what the law says—to rape women. (Men too, actually.) Penises attached to transwomen have done the rapey bit, as well. Transwomen have filmed themselves masturbating in female toilets and changing-rooms. If Rori were a woman, he would know how disturbing that is, and not have to have it explained to him.

Us: “Could [they] have said cis one more time? I gave up counting. I hate that word.”

After childishly repeating the word ‘cis’ a few dozen times, he adds:

‘I’m sorry if you’re cis, though 🥺 That must be hard.’

Being a human female in a misogynistic, patriarchal culture is hard. You are not helping. Which is not a bug of trans privileges activism: it is a feature.

Us: “Why are we erasing women and ripping open our spaces if you aren’t a woman born in a man’s body?”

‘I am in no spaces that don’t welcome trans women.’

Again, that fallacy! ‘I don’t do X, so nobody in my group does X’.

‘Generally, trans women don’t want to be in spaces that are welcoming to TERFs…’.

Transbians love those spaces, though.

What’s more, there are female terven. Maybe all terven are female, depending on whether you think men can be feminists or only feminist-adjacent. But given that there are terven who are women, there will be terven in lots of female spaces—public restrooms and changing-rooms, rape crisis centres, DV refuges—where men are not welcome, so we are glad you will all avoid those spaces. Thank you.

And there are women who won’t risk entering gender-neutral restrooms or changing-rooms because there may be a man in there, and for personal or religious reasons they do not want to be alone with a man, even a man in a dress. Let alone a man with an erect penis taking a selfie.

Us: “Why can you compete in sports set aside for women/girls if you are correctly born into a man’s body?”

‘I have never competed in a sport in my life, Karen.’

If he uses that not-me-guv fallacy one more time I am going to… laugh again. Oh, and my name isn’t ‘Karen’, any more than your name is ‘woman’.

‘But if I did join a sportsball team? I’d hope to do so in a queer league. Open up a middle option, and we solve the little problem they’re so keen on creating.’

Oh wow! We never thought of that!! Thank you!!! It will be a walk around the park to persuade the IOC and other athletics organizations to fall into line. /s

‘The fact is, by virtue of existing, all trans people deserve accommodation.’

Does this apply to paedophiles? Sociopaths? Sex offenders?

‘I know that some TERF will most likely post this on Ovarit without reading the whole thing.’

Almost at the end now!

'The thing is, I also know a thing or two about self-care.'

As far as I can see, Porter knows the whole book from A to Z. Self-care is all he’s into. Certainly not caring about children’s welfare, since he is donating to Mermaids:

‘If you are here from Ovarit, thank you for helping a trans child in need.’

Thank you for helping to keep the gay and lesbian numbers low by transing another kid! Thank you for pouring money into the coffers of predatory doctors who are only in it for the money!! /s

We feminists really, really DO NOT appreciate this.

But what does Porter care? Leaving aside the woke wankery over female names beginning with the letter ‘K’, he is guilty of straightforward, 100% pure misogyny:

‘My body is not wrong; any more than a cis woman’s body is wrong just because she has breasts she’d rather have sized up.’

This is the sort of sexist bilge, both offensive and irrelevant, that only an reconstructed male could come up with. A man having his penis and testicles removed and his taint hollowed out into a vaginoid cavity is not at all like a woman having breast implants.

There is a connection, though. Women who do this to themselves are made to feel inadequate by men who fetishize certain undetached female body parts. Which, spookily, is rather like what any transwoman does by having surgery to make himself look a bit more like a woman—in his own eyes, that is. He is the most important audience before whom femininity is to be performed. Underneath the mask, there’s a man saying things like this:

‘Thanks for the affirmation that I’m doing it right, ladies. No progress can be had without some angry cis women spitting into the wind.’

Another unmistakeable sign that Rori is, and always wlll be, a man. This sort of misogyny is firm-wired into Rori’s brain. This too:

‘It’s just those whom the status quo benefits pushing back at marginalized people experiencing less discrimination.’

Yeah, women. Definitely not marginalized or discriminated against. Not in Canadian prisons, Californian prisons, Scottish rape-crisis centres, Texan abortion clinics, or anywhere in India or Pakistan or Somalia or Afghanistan. No sirree.

There’s no pay-gap between the sexes. A woman is not being murdered every 3 days in the UK, where rape prosecutions are at an all-time low as are successful ones, and where the Home Office in the UK isn’t going to make misogyny a hate crime because the resulting complaints would ‘swamp the police’. FGM is never practised anywhere in the world. Girls are not being sold as sex-slaves or into marriages with much older men in India and Pakistan. Women are not being trafficked in their millions into the sex trade. None of this is happening. Has never happened.

No, say TRAs. They constantly repeat the factoid that trans people are the most persecuted minority in the history of the world—even though trans people’s risk of being murdered is actually lower than that of the population at large in the UK, where a trans person hasn’t been murdered since 2017, and even though analysis of killings of trans persons in the US shows they are usually murdered by their partners or by pimps or johns, and never by mobs of pitchfork wielding feminists. But trans activists do regularly issue threats of physical harm, rape, or murder against feminists who criticize them online. They do doxx their opponents or harass them to the point of being hauled before the General Medical Council in the UK.

Believe their lies, if you can. Ignore all the evidence and rustle up your own. Live in your own little world. Just leave us women alone. Keep out of our spaces—physical, social, economic, political.

And finally, it is this comment that is, I think, the most telling line in the whole mishapen body of this flaccid, repetitive article:

‘…and they engage in a transphobic circle jerk that poses some common questions…’.

Because THIS IS NOT SOMETHING WOMEN DO.

Which Rori would know, if he were a woman.

The happy TERF

I’ve been reading a lot about the terfwars I referred to in an earlier post. There are the MTF transgender folk participating as women in sporting events. There are the drag queens—that is, men in woman-face, walking parodies of female stereotypes—who like reading to kiddies but also, it seems, a spot of kiddy-fiddling too, or at least rolling on the floor with them, which, in my book, is called “grooming”. There was the idiot in an obscene monkey-costume advertising a child literacy program. There are the MTFs in female prisons where they threaten and assault both other inmates and, it seems, the staff too, and this despite the fact that a 2009 UCI study already found that 20.5% of men identifying as women are registered sex offenders and 49.8% of them have committed crimes against another person. Those numbers must have gone up a lot since gender self-identification became a Thing and getting access to women became as simple as telling people you are one. A British soap had an absurd story-line about a trans woman being assaulted by women in prison because she was trans. (If they’d assaulted her because she was a murderer, maybe that would’ve been OK?) In any case, nothing about women prisoners being assaulted by trans women, which is what happens in the real world.

Then there is the constant, often threatening, always vicious, wearing down of opposition on Twitter, Instagram, etc. by TRAs who don’t mind deviants but refuse to accept any deviation from their ideology. There is public, violent aggression towards those who disagree with them, as witnessed in the two (to date) demonstrations outside the Korea Town Wi Spa in Los Angeles (now my home city). I was disgusted to see people at the first protest surround and harass a lone woman, shouting insults at her as a “transphobe”, blocking her path, snatching away her hat and the poster she was carrying as she walked on a public pavement/sidewalk and exercised her 1st Amendment rights. If she wasn’t a transphobe before, you can bet your wig and glittery platform boots she is now. Stricto sensu, you see, the word ‘transphobe’ refers to someone who is afraid of trans people.

This is male privilege at its worst. This is men wanting access to women’s spaces; wanting women to STFU; wanting access to children.

Let’s take the spa incidents. On at least two occasions a biological male (not necessarily the same one) entered a part of a spa reserved for women and children only (since nudity is permitted there) and displayed his meat-and-two-veg for all to see—including a small girl. He talked in the shower about how much he liked having sex with women and was looking for a new girlfriend. But he was allowed in because he self-identified as a woman. This is California’s doing. According to California, the rights of men to enter female spaces is important and to be protected; the right of women to feel safe—which often means: to be somewhere people with penises and a Y chromosome cannot reach you—, is neither of these things. The woman who posted a review on Yelp said that she had seen trans women there before and had simply treated them as she would anyone in that part of the spa. This was different. This was a male-bodied person getting access to naked female-bodied persons, adults and children alike, and displaying himself—on one occasion semi-erect—before them. And they could do nothing about it, except tell the receptionist (who limply said it was the law), and then leave.

Just yesterday (July 17 2021) came the second Wi Spa protest, on which The Guardian wrote a report so misleading, so inaccurate, so anti-feminist that I have cancelled all of my contributions to it—the basic monthly ones and the extra ones too. I wrote explaining my reasons. I have read the Graun (as I used to refer to it affectionately) since I was a teenager. I have always been left-wing, but fairly moderate. Here they are the reasons I gave:

‘I have already cancelled my additional contributions on the basis of the outrageously inaccurate and dangerous report on the Wi Spa protests yesterday, 18vii21. I am going to rehearse my reasons again, though much good it will do me, or you.

First, it confused four distinct groups of protestors: RW fringe (QAnon; Proud Boys); RW Christian; and feminists, each protesting for different reasons. In the earlier protests, feminists and Christians were alike threatened, harassed, and intimidated by antifa, including a lone female. Did you see the video of that? The police didn’t turn up until these protestors had already been driven from the scene. This time, the police came. And maybe this escaped you, but antifa THANKED THE POLICE. Do you notice anything wrong with that sentence?

Second, feminists want women’s spaces, not, as you so condescendingly put it, “women’s spaces”, as if they, or women, weren’t real. I thought The Guardian supported feminism, but now you seem to have lost your collective marbles. Woman fought long and hard to get their own safe spaces. In many parts of the world, they still do. They can’t even take a crap in peace. But in the West we have our own problems, including from the RW—and from TRAs. There are plenty of transwomen who just want to talk about what they need to live in peace—effective protection from harassment, threats, intimidation, and worse. Just like women. And IRL all those things come, overwhelmingly, from men, ones with a functioning Y chromosome. 98% of violent criminals are male. Online, women and transwomen can be just as vile, threatening, and, yes, exclusionary. Excluding women.

Not “cis women”, BTW. Women. Less than 1% of the population is trans, and their enablers are taking power away from the rest of us, in life and in language.

We want to keep males out of female spaces: in prisons, changing-rooms, spas, refuges—anywhere where women are at their most vulnerable. Already there have been numerous attacks by transwomen in women’s only spaces. Transwomen are attacked by men, not by women, and women should not have to pay the price for keeping men safe. Transwomen should have their own safe spaces.

In this case a fully-intact male entered a women’s only space at least twice. On both occasions children were also present. On one occasion he was semi-erect. Do you really think that that is acceptable? Because if you do you are condoning perversion, and you should be ashamed of yourselves.’

LINKS

Men in women’s sports:

https://www.savewomenssport.com/

Drag-queens:

https://abc13.com/houston-public-library-drag-queen-story-time-albert-garza-reader-charged-with-child-sex-assault/5197176/

Obscene monkey-costume:

https://thepostmillennial.com/watch-man-buttless-rainbow-monkey-costume-literacy

Prison assaults:

Threats to TERFS [WARNING: not for the faint-hearted]:

https://terfisaslur.com/5-wtf/

Harassment and violence at the spa protest:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jul/18/dozens-arrested-in-los-angeles-as-anti-trans-protest-outside-spa-turns-violent

Hollyoaks story:

https://victimfocusblog.com/2020/02/23/lets-talk-about-sex-and-gender-ideology/

Debunking trans rhetoric 2: Julia Serrano

Recently Current Affairs ran an interview with Julia Serrano:

https://www.currentaffairs.org/2021/11/why-all-the-anti-trans-arguments-are-bogus/

I began to read it with something approaching trepidation. Surely a university professor in biology would have some devastating arguments in favour of gender ideology and against feminism, which doesn’t accept that men can be women or vice versa? The interview was so fawning, however, that I began to smell a rat pretty soon. And so it proved. We get the same tired tropes, the same irrelevancies, the same “well this is complex” deflections.

I’ve quoted Serrano’s own words, so you can tell I am not distorting them, and you can easily check them against their context online.

‘Sex is biology and science, and gender is this ephemeral identity stuff that isn’t based in concrete reality, which is a very bizarre separation to make in 2021.’

No. No, it’s not. This is precisely the distinction we need if women are ever to quit being sexually harassed, assaulted, and raped, exploited for sexual and reproductive labour, and take our rightful place as human beings alongside men. Gender is harmful for men, too, but it’s far, far worse for women.

(At one point Serrano claims that: ‘ Every day of my life that I walk through the world and people read me as female, I’ve experienced sexism.’ But, TBH, I doubt this was sexism. I think he has experienced the sort of suspicious reaction people have to men in dresses. Because he really, really doesn’t pass:

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/lookaside/crawler/media/?media_id%3D347789976355735%26get_thumbnail%3D1&imgrefurl=https://www.facebook.com/juliaserano&tbnid=4uiSt1o1yyfgTM&vet=1&docid=ScwvjGdw9l32bM&w=1280&h=720&source=sh/x/im

So when he says, ‘Depending upon when you transition and the randomness of other physical features, there are some trans people who don’t pass. But to say that most trans people don’t pass is a big jump right there’, whatever he may think, he falls in the former group. He adds: ‘[People who met him after transition] were just as shocked to find out that I was trans, when I presented as a woman, as the people who knew me as male were shocked when I came out to them as trans.’ Again, I doubt this. He is not the sort of feminine transwoman who could pass, with make-up and the right clothes.)

So I have to disagree with the claim that ‘basically, all these fields have decided that actually, that’s all crap’, because we are finding out just what happens when men claim to be women, and when girls think they are boys and cut their breasts off as a result. There are perfectly good reasons why girls and women want spaces where there are no men, especially pre-op transwomen, who are nothing like the gentle, feminine transsexuals of yore. And there are spaces where no male-bodied person should be, such as refuges and rape-crises centres. If transwomen cared about women, thought of women, this would not even have to be said.

‘And it’s the idea that there are only two sexes. And if you’re born a boy, you’ll always be a boy or a man; if you’re born a girl, you’ll always be a girl or woman. This is an idea that we’ve each been taught. Maybe nowadays, not all kids are being taught that.’

Which is extremely dangerous. It is contributing to the enormous increase in numbers of girls who want to transition. It is contributing to the increase in numbers of gender-neuter toilets and changing-rooms, where assaults are happening more and more, by trans-identified men and by men who want access to girls and women in vulnerable states of undress and will say and do anything to get it. It is leading to biological sex not being taught in medical schools, just as science is beginning to reveal just how different men and women are, physiologically. Women are not men without penises. We are a sex, not a garden variant.

‘So even once young children understand that there are girls and boys, they will still sometimes think it’s possible for a girl to become a boy or a boy to become a girl, which is why a lot of times young people are sometimes more accepting of trans people than are older people.’

There’s a canny slide here from ‘girls and boys’, who are still learning about sexual dimorphism, to ‘young people’, who are being indoctrinated into trans ideology. They are not the same thing. Yet. Feminists are trying desperately to prevent that ideology from poisoning children’s minds and from weakening basic safe-guarding.

‘So I wanted to start out by saying that, on the specifics of the biology part of her argument: for one thing, even amongst mammals, there’s a lot of sex diversity and species that don’t quite fit into rigid male and female dichotomies. For mammals, I will concede that, yes, unlike, say, certain types of fish that change sex midlife, mammals don’t have that. But there are mammals, including humans, who are intersex, which is a sexual dichotomy or sexual dimorphism and they don’t fall neatly into what’s considered male or female.’

So although the interviewer criticizes Helen Joyce for failing to mention non-placental mammals such as platypuses, Serrano does realize he’s on a hiding to nothing with that line of attack. But equally, for a biology professor, he shows a remarkable insouciance about, well, biology. For the 1000th time: humans are not clownfish. In fact, and this may come as a surprise, they are not fish at all. Talk about what happens in the rest of nature is not relevant when we are discussing primate morphology and sexual dimorphism and the two kinds of gamete that the male body and the female body produce.

One of the most disappointing, yet most-to-be-expected parts of the interview concern the following problem, and, to be fair, the interviewer does quote some sources here:

‘Helen Joyce: “there’s a circularity to the mantra that trans women are women, which raises and leaves unanswered the question of what then the word woman means.” And Lionel Shriver says that “in order to construct a spectrum, it’s necessary to understand what it means to be a man or woman…. We are told the trans woman may have been born a man but feels like a woman. I do not mean to be perverse, but I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman, and I am one.” And she says that the trans movement seems to think that being a woman has a lot to do with what clothes you choose to wear and mascara and heels and so forth. And that’s mild compared to some of the stuff that people like Germaine Greer say.’

So what is Serrano’s answer to this conundrum?

Spoiler alert: he doesn’t have one. Here we go.

‘When I was writing my book, the one that most people were familiar with was, “I’m a woman trapped inside a man’s body” or “I’m a man trapped inside a woman’s body,” which served the same purpose.

‘But because I was trans, I inexplicably had these really strong feelings, first and foremost, thinking that there was something wrong with my being a boy. But more importantly, just as inexplicable a feeling that I should be a girl. And that really scared me. And it didn’t make any sense to me.’

Note ‘because I was trans.’ So here Serrano is assuming he was always trans, when what could have been happening is simply that as a small child he was made to do stuff for boys when he really wanted to play with the girls, and, being a child, he thought that means he was a girl. Because small children haven’t yet learned that there is a big difference between sex and gender, in part because they haven’t yet learned about the full range of differences between male bodies and female bodies—at any rate, if they have, then there has been a terrible failure of safe-guarding.

So what we want now is a non-metaphorical explanation of the “trapped in the wrong body” mantra. Serrano, being a biology professor, must know that one’s brain is part of one’s body, and therefore that it makes no sense to say one has the “wrong brain”. One’s brain just is (part of) one’s body. So, how does he explain his sense of dysphoria?

‘So going back to the question of trans women are women or a woman trapped inside a man’s body, these statements from a transgender perspective very clearly are attempts to explain something really complicated in a very simple way to people who might not get it.’

So, please, go ahead, explain it.

‘We were all taught to see gender a particular way. It involved stereotypes of bodies, it involved things you’re supposed to do, things you would grow up to be, all these learned ideas, things that were supposed to be inevitable.’

Stereotypes of bodies? Well, yes. We learn that men look a certain way, and women look another way, broadly speaking. This is for a simple reason: for the most part, men look a certain way, and women look another way. It is called sexual dimorphism. What he is talking about is gender: the expectations, imposed by society but subsequently internalized by most people, that women do and like certain things and activities, and men do and like different things and activities.

But there is one basic truth about bodies, one that older girls in particular learn: they can get pregnant. It is the single most important thing they learn growing up. That and the fact that, on the whole, men will be stronger than them, especially upper-body strength. These differences are not gender. What is gender is the societal and/or familial expectation that they will get pregnant in the “natural” course of affairs, that they will have sole or principal care of their children, that they will have no control over when they have sex or whether they will get pregnant, that they will tend to the house and (perhaps) not work for money outside it, and so on.

Later on Serrano says:

‘It’s very problematic, because the overwhelming majority of people who seem to be living up to stereotypical ideals of manhood or womanhood are cisgender people. There are a lot of cisgender people who seem really invested in those gender stereotypes.’

So why does he think that most people live up to those ideals of manhood or womanhood? Why, but because of the enormous societal pressure to do, and the enormous social costs if you don’t? Some pre-modern societies catered to the small percentage of feminine gay men by constructing the third genders Serrano refers to (as if this said something about being trans in a 21st c. post-industrial society), but we hear almost nothing (including from him) about lesbians of any stripe, presumably because, being women, they had no choice but to perform as women and conform to the female stereotype. (Sworn virgins are not necessarily lesbians, of course: that institution is a society’s way of ensuring ownership of property when ownership is reserved for males. Virgins get to have power by precisely not conforming to the stereotypical gender “female”. So don’t go down that route.)

Gay men and lesbians will tell you all about the risks of not conforming, even today, in many countries. Gay men and lesbians and bisexuals and all right-thinking people are glad that finally most Western countries have accepted these people as fully human with human rights, even if there are still clumps of homophobes still out there, doing their hateful stuff. Scientists are also recognizing that homosexuality is found in other mammalian species, it’s just that people hadn’t been looking for it until recently—which means men hadn’t been looking for it. But sexual orientation is not gender, and the question is not: Why does Serrano think he is gay? (I have no idea if he is or not.) It is: Why does he believe he can identify as female if the category “female” is cut free from female-sexed bodies? Where does female-as-a-gender come from, in that case?

‘I can assure you that I questioned gender about a thousand times more than the average cisgender person.

‘I spent a huge amount of my life questioning and doing research and meeting diverse people… So I just want to throw out the idea that we have simplistic notions of gender…

‘And other people might conceptualize themselves this other way. But we all fall under this umbrella of people who have the experience of understanding our genders in a way that’s different from the gender we were assigned at birth.’

But what did he learn that allowed him to identify as female without knowing what “female” is by personal experience, and also without there being sexed female bodies as the ones whose owners have to conform to the gendered expectations considered appropriate to females? Here’s the core of his answer:

‘What does it mean to be a woman trapped inside a man’s body?—which is never how I saw myself, but it was what I had to answer for the statement that other people would make. Growing up, I had no idea what other girls felt or what other boys felt. I had no idea; I only knew what I was experiencing. And so when I say I’m a trans woman, it’s not because I aspire to be a woman or have stereotyped notions of being a woman or that I’m making a crass assumption about what women really feel. I’ve no idea what anybody feels on the inside except me. There are some people who have really strong feelings. And you can say feelings—I would say it’s a little more complicated than that. I often describe it as being similar to cognitive dissonance, a kind of understanding that your body should be a particular way that it isn’t, and trying to sort that out.’

So, he does ‘not aspire to be a woman.’ Good, because he could never be one. Having uterus- and vagina-transplants is a goal for many, perhaps most, transwomen, but presumably not for Serrano. But if he has ‘no idea how anyone feels on the inside’, and so can’t make an argument based on “how women feel”—which is also good, as that isn’t a Thing anyway—then, once more: what is it for him to want to identify as female? He knows he can’t have a female-sexed body, and yet doesn’t recognize the simple truth that if female isn’t a sex, then there can’t be a gender associated with that sex. So he still hasn’t told us the answer to the question: given that he can’t identify as female in the sense of having a female-sexed body, so that he can at best identify with female-as-a-gender, where does he think that female-as-a-gender came from, except as the gender assigned originally to female-sexed bodies?

And he never does answer this question. Instead he says things like this:

‘And the problem isn’t that trans people won’t recognize or acknowledge the difference between trans women and cis women, it’s that people who hold anti-trans positions like Helen Joyce refuse to recognize our many similarities.’

Helen Joyce is not anti-trans. She is opposed to a pernicious and bogus ideology that is already undermining the hard-won rights of women and girls. And I have news for Serrano: There are men who identify as women who do not recognize any distinction between themselves and so-called cis women. Maybe he should call them out, for their misogyny and presumptuousness and arrogance, and leave feminists alone. That includes acknowledging that there are no relevant similarities between transwomen and women. We are all human. That’s about it. This is how he wraps up this bit of the conversation:

‘So that’s a roundabout way of getting to your question and the passages you just read. I think that gender is really complicated’.

I got the impression that Serrano had either failed to recognize that trans ideology has moved on, or doesn’t want to do so. He knows things have changed, of course. Talking about his earlier discussions, he says:

‘I was talking about aspects of sex being really important. I don’t know whether I was purposefully misread or not really read.’

This certainly used to be the case. Most transsexuals, back then, recognized they were not women. They just wanted to be left alone to play house with a man as if they were women. There were so few of them their attempts to change birth certificates and so on didn’t go anywhere. So women didn’t feel in danger from them or their behaviour and attitudes. But this is no longer the case.

‘When I transitioned, the official diagnosis for being trans was called “gender identity disorder.”’

There’s a whole conversation to be had about the medical aspects of transitioning, and how trans people get classified (are they sick, in need of medical care? or are they healthy, but still, according to them, in need of medical care, and either way who pays?) but here I’ll just note that Serrano says ‘diagnosis’, and move on to Serrano’s next big lie:

‘Yeah. I wrote an essay earlier this year called “Transgender People, Bathrooms, and Sexual Predators, What the Data Say,” that touches on a couple different points.

‘So this is the sexual predator thing, like that J.K. Rowling quote you’re talking about. In my essay, I show a couple different empirical studies that show that trans women and trans inclusive bathroom policies—there’s no sign that that causes any harm to anybody.’

There is so much material to choose from here, relating to the harms that transwomen can get up to when allowed in women’s spaces. This is just a selection of what I know about, right now. I do not distinguish between ‘transwomen’ and ‘trans-identifying males’ and ‘transgender women’ because, for these purposes, it doesn’t matter. If sexual predators are accessing girls and women in states of undress, I do not care what they call themselves.

https://archive.is/7XAJU

https://archive.is/G2RNC

https://archive.is/UetFM

https://archive.is/NbIez

https://abcnews.go.com/Health/transgender-woman-male-persona-serial-killer/story?id=22959423

https://archive.is/bIMhb

https://archive.is/PLfgH

https://archive.is/9XUKl

https://archive.is/koyRk

This last link is very much NSFW (scroll down). The compiler, Nig Heke, keeps getting banned from Twitter for posting material posted online by transwomen, some with penises:

https://archive.is/bBshL

Serrano adds: ‘And not only that, but there’s also other research studies showing that actually trans people face a disproportionate amount of harassment in bathrooms even when we can go into the appropriate bathroom.’

Now this is wrong, and sad, and should not happen. No-one should get harassed in a bathroom. But this is not women’s problem. It is men who do the harassing, and transwomen, who are men, should be talking up about the harm being done to them by other men. Not by women. Not by feminists.

Next, Serrano’s fourth big lie, after sex not being binary in mammals, his knowing what “female” is absent the female-bodied human, and trans-identifying males not getting up to mischief in women’s bathrooms and changing-rooms and prisons and refuges:

‘I often describe a lot of anti-trans activism as being a lot like the anti-vax movement. But then there are just some people who feel like it sounds gross or contaminating to have this thing injected into you.’

Being pro-women’s rights is not at all like the anti-vax movement. It is based precisely on biology and on empirical evidence about how women fare when men have untrammelled access to them, and on the history of how women have been exploited since the year dot for their unpaid labour. And if there is anything being injected into anyone, it is a so-called “woman’s penis” being inserted into women who do not want it there. That is gross and contaminating, especially as it can result in pregnancy. Young lesbians are forcing themselves to have sex with fully-intact males who call themsleves “lesbians”. Women are being raped in prison by fully-intact males who have decided to call themselves “women” for the purposes of getting into the women’s estate. This is happening, whatever Serrano may think about the issue.

‘There are some people who are just having a bad reaction to trans people, or they just view trans people as unnatural or immoral.’

What is “immoral” is men taking spaces and places that women have earned for themselves. From public places to pee to the vote to equal pay (we’re still hoping for that one) to equal representation politically and economically (ditto), women have sacrificed their time, energy, resources, and sometimes themselves, to get those things—and now they are being taken away from them. By men. Like Serrano. And this is not ‘a bad reaction’, which sounds like something that just happens to one. Feminists have spent the last 50 years or so trying to work out what it is about men and women that has got women into this mess. We have researched, argued, formulated ideas and theories, done more research, and so on. Reason and empirical evidence are actively exercised and discovered, respectively. There is nothing either passive or irrational about our reaction to men, and to men identifying as women in particular. Saying it is is just another example of things men have said about women since forever. So no surprise there, then.

Now, on the back of that false claim, comes Serrano’s fourth big lie: trans rights activism is like civil rights activism:

‘But that is such a classic card to play in creating the moral panics. It came up during Civil Rights and segregation.’

Segregation and apartheid were based on a false, harmful, destructive ideology, that whites or Westerners were superior in [name a positive characteristic here] to non-whites, and that they need to be kept separate from whites unless whites need their labour. The just comparison here is with sexism, which is also a false, harmful, destructive ideology, one that has inspired men to keep women separate from other women (as with patrilocal marriage), has figured women as inferior in [name a positive characteristic here], and has always tried to keep women in positions of inferiority, exploited for their labour, with very little to no control over their bodies.

Trans ideology, by contrast, is the bogus and pernicious idea that men can, just by saying so, count themselves as women, and what’s more everyone else has to count them as women too. It allows men to claim access to the bodies of lesbians, who by definition cut men out of their sex lives. It allows men to claim access to women’s spaces and places. It is based on nothing at all but a feeling in someone’s head, as Serrano’s non-explanation of “identifying as female” has just proved, coupled with some men’s sex drive and desire for control of everything about women—even our name.

And of course Serrano traduces his opponents as “anti-trans”, who, while not actually hating trans people, as promoting the views of those who do:

‘I don’t have any reason to believe that Helen Joyce, or people who give Helen Joyce a good review in the New York Times, actually hate trans people. Maybe they don’t. But they’re forwarding a lot of the same talking points as people who do outright hate trans people and outright want to exclude trans people from society.

Anyone who has read all of Joyce’s book will know this is false. (It seems Serrano didn’t, and doesn’t.) Nor does Serrano realize that pro-women’s rights writers do want to exclude trans people in a very narrow but crucial sense: we want to exclude TIMs from women’s spaces. Not because we hate transwomen, but because we are pro-women. And we are not going to shut up about the harms being done to women by this ideology, just because there are people who actively want to harm trans people and will take any excuse, any opportunity to do so.

Serrano also complains that “anti-trans” literature doesn’t give the other side of the story. Well, what did he expect? Except it’s false. The books he names do tell us about the ideology they are opposing. They quote sources. Documents, websites, laws, correspondence, interviews, books, articles, you name it. They do not, however, consult feelings in men’s heads. Maybe that is what Serrano means by “the other side of the story”? Or maybe it’s not centring trans people enough?

‘But this particular group of people, some of whom consider themselves to be feminists, just really don’t want to have that conversation. They only want to have one conversation, and it’s one where trans people don’t get to speak and where it ends with us being shown the door.’

He’s got that right, for once. Women decide on what their needs are. If we need to exclude men, we will do it. We will die on that hill. I will die on that hill.

Finally, trans kids. The interviewer and Serrano agree that it’s terrible that these “anti-trans” writers only interview the children. Now, apart from the fact that it would be unethical to interview and quote children without their parents’ consent, which Serrano and the interviewer may or may not have forgotten, the parents in question are all too familiar with the online material that their children are exposed to. They also accompany their children to therapists. They talk to their children and their children’s friends and their children’s friends’ parents. Their views are deeply informed by their knowledge of their children and their children’s lives, IRL and online.

And they know, above all, that their chldren, whom they love deeply, and who cannot legally drink or smoke, cannot consent to sexual intercourse, cannot marry, cannot drive, and cannot vote, are also, whatever the children or their therapists may think, in no position to take decisions that will irreversibly affect their bodies, in fact will harm their bodies in ways that are even now coming to light. Children too young to know what sex is, to know whether they are gay or straight, too young to know whether they want children or even what it is to want children, too young to have had an orgasm, cannot make decisions that will affect their fertility and sexual function as adults in what, for children, is the mistily unimaginable future, a whole 10 or 15 or 20 years hence.

One last little lie:

‘And I think most trans people are our first biggest critics, right?’

No. No, they’re not. Not by the longest of chalks.

Naples 1982-1983 (1)

I first went to Naples for three months in the spring of 1982. I was 23, and this was my second year as a graduate student. It was the Biblioteca Nazionale that drew me there—more precisely, the unique collection of papyrus rolls that was discovered by accident in the middle of the 18th century in the ruins of ancient Herculaneum and that—after several moves, including one in 1805 to Palermo to keep them out of Napoleon’s greedy hands—is now housed there. I’ll talk about them in another post. This is more about Naples as a city and what it was like for me then.

OK. What it was like for me then was like landing on another planet where you don’t speak the language and you find the air hard to breathe. Where there don’t seem to be any rules, except really obscure ones that you don’t know you’ve broken until someone tells you, pitying your ignorance. Where no-one even notices traffic lights (where they exist, which is rare), let alone observes them. Where “No Stopping” and “One Way” signs are purely for decorative purposes and speed limits a joke. Where smoking isn’t allowed on buses, but people smoke in the Library, in lifts, in churches, and even in hospitals. Where it’s impossible to buy pure fruit juice or plain yoghurt or muesli, but fresh fruit and vegetables are astonishingly cheap and delicious. Where all the shops close on Saturday afternoons so everyone can go to the beach (these are still the summer opening hours for many stores; in winter they stay open on Saturdays and close on Monday mornings instead). Where churches (I had never seen so many churches!) have a Mass early on Saturday evenings so that—you’ve guessed it—everyone can go to the beach on Sunday. I was brought up Catholic and for me this phenomenon came to sum up Naples, and maybe Italy too. ‘Yes’, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church says, ‘You have to go to Mass on Sundays, only we’ll pretend Saturday is Sunday and everyone will be happy. We’re sure God won’t mind.’ If God is Italian, I expect He doesn’t. He probably goes to the beach on Sundays Himself.

This is also a world in which there are no cash machines. If you want money you have to go to a bank and wait in the line (if there is one: usually there’s a scrum and then one of those invisible rules is applied to select the winner) for a bored clerk to fill in lots of unnecessary forms and apply stamps to them in about fourteen places. (There’ll be another story about one bank in particular later. I am looking at you, Banca Commerciale d’Italia.) It’s a world where young people of my age are attending university yet still living at home with their parents, with no place to make out—except for the long row of cars that begins parking up on Via Posillipo around 7pm on Saturday evenings, newspaper plastered over the windows on the inside, which are usually so steamed up you can’t see anything anyway. I had in effect been living away from home since I was 17, and I think the friends I made found me enviable and rather sad at the same time. Which, all things considered, I was.

It’s also a dirty, rubbish-strewn, uncared for world—though people’s houses are spotless—and washing is hung out in the streets to dry in the often filthy air. The women who live in the bassi, tiny homes before there were such things, squeezed into the façades of older palazzi next to the large entrance-gates, have it worst. Unless they’re lucky enough to have an upper floor crammed into the same space, with a tiny balcony uptop, washing has to be arranged on stende right out in the street, with cars and motorini zipping by no more than a foot or two away. Life must be one long cycle of cleaning and washing for these housewives. And all around rubbish accumulates at terrifying speed, especially near the many small street-markets. Every night the dustbin men, as I once called them, or garbage trucks, as I call them now, come round to collect the munnezza (Neapolitan for immondizia), and I came to think of them as King Canute, trying ever and again to stem the rising tide of refuse. They still are. At least the towering chimney in eastern Naples rising out of the facility that once burned some of the rubbish no longer spews God knows what into the air. It made me think of of the giant 312’ chimney known as the “Audley Destructor” which towered over my home town between 1888, when it was built (the year of Jack the Ripper) and 1959, when it was demolished, and which also belched incinerated refuse into air already thick with smoke and soot from coal fires and factory chimneys. At the time it was the tallest chimney in the UK.

Naples, and indeed the whole of Italy, is still working out what to do with it all that munnezza. The camorra doesn’t like the new termovalorizzatori (waste-to-energy plants) because it doesn’t control them, and there are reports of sabotage and of orchestrated strikes amongst garbage workers. Organized crime is also happy to make money off the wealthier north of Italy by importing refuse from Milan and Turin and dumping it illegally in disused mines and quarries around Naples, or just spreading it on fields right next to growing crops. The worst stuff percolates into the ground water. Not so many years ago an entire tanker-lorry full of toxic waste was discovered buried in what is now called the “Triangle of Death” for its abnormally high rate of cancers, especially in children, and of pulmonary and coronary disease.

And yet you can see this sort of thing (photos taken in January 2015, but the scene hasn’t changed much in the intervening 36 years). A storm is moving from north to south across the Bay; on the left of the second picture, Capri is completely hidden from view by the dense but shifting cloud.

Naples: street shrines

Wayside shrines are everywhere in Naples: on every street-corner, in the smallest alley and on the busiest piazza. I grew up Catholic, but England isn’t peppered with wayside shrines the way Italy is, let alone Naples. Many of these shrines are not well-maintained, however. The protective glass or plastic is often dirty, scratched, or cracked; the statues and crucifixes within may be dusty or broken; photos and ex votos placed inside may be sun-bleached, like the plastic flowers often arranged in vases or jars. This neglect isn’t recent; I remember it already back in the 1980s. But some people still take care of shrines, hard as it is in such a dusty, filthy city, and they cross themselves as they pass by. Religious processions for saints’ days and festivals are frequent, with young people in marching bands or carrying banners. We saw fresh flowers too, and recent offerings.

Recently we walked up via Salvatore Tommasi, where the Carabinieri have their regional HQ, but is otherwise an ordinary, not very prosperous residential street, and saw that ceramic plaques had been put up commemorating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to St Bernadette at Lourdes. Here are the ones we found, starting from the eastern end of the street.

In the first is set out the second and third speeches by the Virgin to Bernadette: she asked her to come here for 15 days, and promised to make her happy not in this world, but the next.

‘Volete venire qui per quindici giorni? Non vi prometto de farvi felici in questo mondo, ma nell altro.’
‘Are you willing to come here for a fortnight? I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the other.’
‘Voglio che si venga qui da ogni parte del mondo.
‘I want people to come here from every part of the world…
Pregate per i peccatori.’
‘Pray for sinners.’
‘Penitenza, penitenza, penitenza.’
‘Repentance, repentance, repentance.’
Erigetemi qui una cappella.’ ‘Build a chapel for me here.’
[Well, not here, obviously.]
V’oglio che si venga qui in processione.’
‘I want people to come here in procession.’

Apparently the next words were said during the ninth apparition of the Virgin:

‘Andate a bere alla fontana e a lavarvi.’
‘Go to the spring and drink, and wash yourself.’

I think the next words refer to the bitter herbs the Virgin told Bernadette to eat as a sign of repentance and suffering, rather than to the Eucharist:

Prendete e mangiate.’
‘Take and eat.’

We also walked down part of one street, via Francesco Saverio Correra, and these are the shrines we saw on the way.

The writing on the garage door to the right says ‘No parking, day or night.’ Some hope.

At this point we saw a war memorial, which I thought I’d include for its historical interest:

Fante means infantryman; ‘Mar.’ stands for marinaio, sailor; Geniere means he belonged to the equivalent of the “sappers”, the military engineers; ‘Av.’ is short for ‘Aviatore’, that is, airman, and ‘Art.’ for ‘artigliere’, artilleryman or gunner.

Note that in Italy WWI ran from 1915 to 1918, and WW2 from 1940 to 1943. In September of that year Italy went over to the Allies, and immediately found itself with a hostile occupying force on its hands. The memorial we found nearby on another street has to be understood in that context:

War Memorial and Memorial to the Dead of Vico Bagnara

This Memorial is different. It does list two sailors and a soldier who fell in the War, but more striking is the list of people who are obviously civilians: three from one family, three from another, a child (little Pasquale Marino) and one other person, ‘all made brothers and sisters by the holiness of sacrifice’.

So many civilians could have been killed only during the “Four Days of Naples”, Le quattre giornate di Napoli, when the Germans, the Nazifascisti, were being chased from the city—perhaps, some say, unnecessarily, as they were already leaving of their own accord. I found a web-page that lists them all (or all but one) as victims of the random cannon-fire from the big gun placed by the German commander, Colonel Walter Scholl, in the Castel Sant’ Elmo on top of the hill overlooking the city, which was allowed to fire at random at any target. As a result the Reale family lost a man, perhaps father of the two sisters. Annamaria Finale was only two; Salvatore may have been her father; Francesca, née Dorso, her mother. The Finale family lived at no 18 Vico Bagnara, the Reale family at no. 12, and no. 16 was also hit, perhaps by the big gun, perhaps by machine-gun fire, and someone else died there—Giuseppa D’Ambrosio according to the memorial, Giuseppe according to the website, which doesn’t mention little Pasquale.

The Quattro Giornate are a controversial topic, and I won’t go into it here. But this memorial is a reminder of how good it is to live in a country that hasn’t been invaded since 1066. Or hasn’t had a civil war since the 13th c. (looking at you, Switzerland).

‘Founded by the girls, 1945. Restored by the women, 1963.
Padre Pio

Padre Pio, in case you’ve never heard of him, is everywhere in Italy. (My husband and I refer to him as ‘Padre Prezzemolo’, ‘Father Parsley’, because Italians say of something ubiquitous that it is ‘come prezzemolo’, ‘like parsley’.) He was a priest and Franciscan friar, who lived a life of great holiness and self-denial. He reputedly suffered the stigmata on many occasions, beginning in 1918, and claims were made that he had other supernatural gifts associated with saints, such as bilocation. Interestingly, Pope John XXIII (like several other Popes) was not convinced by Padre Pio, and in 2007 it was revealed he had been kept secretly informed of Pio’s activities, especially with regard to the women who formed an almost unbreakable circle of protection around him. Nonetheless, he was made a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II (“Pope Ringo” to readers of Private Eye, as in ‘John, Paul, George, and…’).

The underlying conflict may be between two ever-present currents in the Roman Catholic church, one—which tends to be especially strong amongst the less educated—towards mysticism and miracles; the other towards doctrine and the authority of the Church hierarchy, which may either exploit or be threatened by the populist fervour of the other current, especially when major changes are under way, as with the Second Lateran Council. Padre Pio lived in Italy for the duration of the Fascist regime, and seems not to have had one bad word to say about it, not even about the racial laws.

Who is the young man and how did he die? Car accident? The Camorra?
(Apologies for quality of this image, but I wanted to show it anyway.)
Padre Prezzemolo again
Notice the fresh flowers and plants
‘O lovely mother, amid the storm you are a star;
your name creates harmony, murmuring Ave Maria.

There follows a list of the men who put up or restored the shrine. The lower inscription says: ‘Passing by this cross, you will make the sign of the Holy Cross, and then ask the Lord to save your soul.’ And people doing just that are still a common sight in Naples.

Naples: degrado

I have to confess that Naples depressed me more on my last visit (2018-2019) and more and more as time went on. It seems more squalid, less cared for, and perhaps a bit less friendly than I remember. It was certainly squalid when I came in 1982, when the Piazza del Plebiscito was one huge car park, pedestrian zones were unheard of, buses trundled all the way down via Toledo to Piazza Trieste e Trento and struggled to turn left onto the street in front of the San Carlo. It was a much more provincial city then; there were few foreigners (on buses, people would form a half-circle and simply stare at me); but, at the same time, the Neapolitan dialect was something to be hidden—it was not part of a glorious heritage stretching back hundreds of years, but a tatty and above all working-class remnant of Spanish subjugation, best forgotten in favour of the language of Petrarch and Dante.

Part of the outside of the church of Sant’Anna dei Lombardi, Piazza Monteoliveto
(The Church itself is beautiful inside, and well worth a visit.)

Today Naples seems meaner now, more “degraded”, than it did then, perhaps precisely because the contrast with the ideals of a “normal” city has been made more vivid by the many improvements. Yes, there are pedestrian zones… but motorini still zip across them at break-neck speed (your neck, not theirs), especially coming out of or going into the Quartieri. People do on the whole carry out the differenziata, the separation of paper, plastics, metals, and glass for recycling… but the recycling industry is in the hands of the camorra. Moreover, heaps of rubbish appear almost everywhere you go. There are innumerable splendid buildings in Naples, churches and chapels, libraries, universities, private palazzi… but the neglect of them is deeply saddening, and a bit worrying, as with the fall of chunks of cornice from the Galleria Umberto (recently repaired) and of bits of cornice and plaster from many other buildings around the city (everywhere netting is attached to buildings to catch these missiles before they hit an unsuspecting passer-by). And there are more serious problems too. Here’s just one example.

Rubbish on the road up to the Incurabili

Recently the 16th-century Ospedale di Santa Maria del Popolo degli Incurabili had to be closed in a hurry because of concerns about its safety. Legend has it that the sea-nymph Parthenope, who gave her name to the original settlement that would one day become Naples, is buried under the hill on which it stands; unfortunately, this hospital complex, which originally had male and female wards for syphilitics, the insane, and the dying, as well as a (male) military ward and a ward for pregnant women, and which has five (I think) churches and a stunning 18th-century pharmacy, is slowing sinking down to join her. There had been warning cracks in floors, and part of the pavement behind a main altar in one of the churches had already given way, threatening the resting-place of the hospital’s foundress. In April 2019 the whole complex was cleared of patients and staff. I fear it will now stand desolate and empty for decades—except, probably, for illegal immigrants and other homeless people with nowhere else to go.

There are also several museums of art with important collections and exhibitions dotted around the centre of the city… but the rest of the city seems to be covered, up to the height of 7 or 8 feet, with graffiti at once lurid, threatening, and banal. There are some who consider graffiti, or at any rate some graffiti, art, and it’s true Banksy became a draughtsman at some point before he adopted his fashionably working-class nom de guerre. It’s true, too, that here and there, especially in the University district of the centro storico, the graffiti are far more imaginative, with a fine sense of how colours work on each other, although shading and perspective are non-existent, as no-one knows how to actually draw. But the rest is just gang symbols, names and initials, and professions of love, plus, of course, pornography, which, whether written or figured, unites the intensity of adolescence with all of its subtlety.

Piazza Monteoliveto, just down from Sant’Anna dei Lombardi

I do not know why some people have the patience to stand on a box for however long it takes to draw or write this stuff, and maybe others burst into song spontaneously on seeing the results. But it seems to me that if the graffitisti stood on a box and shouted—at the tops of their voices, for hours at a time, in front of small children and old ladies—their names, their tags, their political views, their sexual achievements and desires, or their ownership of some few square metres of squalid housing and unhealthy backstreets, then even Neapolitans would sooner rather than later deck them or at any rate put them in a straightjacket. Or else they’d have to be rescued by the police from a lynch-mob. Given, however, that they constantly invade, not our aural space, but our visual one, with lurid characters several feet high, everybody seems just fine with it. Why?

No, I don’t know what it means either.

The exasperation of citizens in face of the degrado of the city is evident in this sign:

Take your dogs home for a crap and a piss!’

And when I say central Naples is full of graffiti, I mean it is full of graffiti. Every surface of every public building, save police stations and carabinieri barracks, has that solid band well over two metres high; even the rusticated stone of the most prestigious institutions isn’t spared. The same is true of most private palazzi if the aren’t cut off from the street by walls and gardens. The steel gates and shutters that protect every shop after hours (many with no distinguishing marks, presumably so you won’t know if you’re breaking into a jeweller’s or a coffee-shop) are covered with it; so are street lights, bollards, traffic signs. You name it, it’s covered in graffiti. No-one tries any more. The Central Post Office on Piazza Matteotti, a magnificent building even if the Fascists did put it up (1928-36), has been trashed by a combination of graffiti, the rubbish left by careless, indifferent slobs, and homeless people sleeping in the alcoves—a wonderful original feature by the architects Vaccaro and Franzi—along via Monteoliveto. The other Fascist-era buildings nearby, built when one of the worst slums was done away with, and which in any other city would be treasures, cooed over by lovers of modernism, are adorned with weeds, broken windows, and, of course, graffiti.

Or take this wonderful building, the Galleria Principe di Napoli.

The Galleria Principe di Napoli, seen from via Bellini

Being so close to the Archaeological Museum (the “MAN” as it’s now fashionably called), it ought to be full of cafés and shops selling souvenirs, jewellery, and books to tourists. Instead, it houses offices of the Comune, plus a few artists’ and designers’ workshops, and fashion shows are held there every so often (or were, anyway).

It has an interesting history, showing how difficult change has been in Naples. It was built as part of the massive changes to this area after the demolition of the state grain depositories dating from the late 16th and early 17th centuries (they were called the “Fosse”, literally “ditches”, from their origin as natural cavities in the ground, although the later versions, which I believe stood more or less where the Galleria stands now, was just a normal warehouse). Via Toledo was extended towards the then new Museum, along what would eventually become via Pessara. Via Bellini was constructed too, while one of the gates in the City wall, the Porta di Costantinopoli, was demolished. But actually creating something new out of the area seemed to be beyond the power of the city. A portico was built along via Pessara, or whatever it was called then, and eventually—very eventually—there came to be a real galleria, or “mall” as the Americans call them. Building it took almost 15 years, on and (mostly) off, between 1869 and 1883. The architects were Nicola Breglia and Giovanni De Novellis, and they must be congratulated for their tenacity as well as for the gracefulness of their design, with its wrought-iron and glass roof, and the clever way in which the building was adapted to the rising ground here.

Keep out.

The Galleria survived World War Two, but almost a hundred years after its inception the north frontage, which also has a portico, collapsed all by itself in 1965. Fortunately, plans to replace it with some dreary 1960s sub-modernist block of offices and flats were foiled, and the frontage was replaced. It then became basically an indoor football field for local youth, who systematically took it apart, breaking everything that could be broken. So it was closed again. Finally, in 2007, a full restauro began, and I saw it soon afterwards. Sadly, as I said, it is not usuallly open to the public now, and it looks derelict and mournful; the facade towards via Pessara has turned into an informal dosshouse for the homeless. Its wonderful location for exploiting the tourists who come to the Museum is of no interest to the powers that be, although, apparently, yet more restoration work is underway. At any rate there are the usual bits of scaffolding and those metal structures that look as if they are closing off a work-in-progress area, but that instead hang around for years while nothing happens. I expect the ghosts of Breglia and De Novellis, are, somewhere or other, doing face palms.

Finally, another example, from the Piazza del Mercato down near the Port, which at the time of our visit was basically a huge open-air bomb-site. I hope the pandemic hasn’t stopped the restoration of this area. These sphinxes made the walk there worthwhile, though.

Naples: introduction and bassi

I’ve been coming to Naples, on and off, since 1982. I’m neither an ex-pat nor a local (I’m not even Italian), and I have never lived here for more than ten months together. But I’ve lived in different parts of the city, and I have seen Naples change so much; so I think—I hope—this may give me a unique perspective. In a way, I have seen, not one, but several different cities.

There are still many, so very many things I do not understand about Naples. Not speaking Neapolitan is a real drawback. (Incidentally, a friend of ours recently visited Barcelona, and found he could understand Catalan perfectly. That’s how little has changed in four hundred years.) So the point of this blog is, really, to try to get some explanations, from people who know more about Naples, of certain sights and sounds and experiences that have left us baffled. Some of them concern Italy generally; but most are strictly Neapolitan. If you have answers, please, pass them on. Thank you in advance.