Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Has Toff Bashing gone too far? - I should say not!

Benedict Cumberbatch
The ex-‘public school’ Harrow posh boy actor Benedict Cumberbatch, has said that 'all the posh-bashing that goes on' made him consider leaving Britain to go to the US. He added that he was often 'castigated as a moaning, rich, public-school bastard'. The Guardian newspaper asks; 
Is Cumberbatch right – has posh-bashing gone too far? 

Question1: Who or What is a Toff?

Let us start with the question of who or what is a TOFF? 

Those of us who are English, and who are not toffs usually know one when we see one, but does everyone else? 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Toff as

  • a rich or upper-class person. Origin: mid 19th century: perhaps an alteration of TUFT, used to denote a gold tassel worn on the cap by titled undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge.

The online Urban Dictionary, has this instead:

  • Toff: Wearer of only Ralph Lauren polo shirts, usually worn inside with loafers and torn up jeans half down their trousers, with 3 day old boxers on underneath Always found drinking jugs of Pims brought by daddy or mummy at the local Hunt Ball, or pints of Bitter with their pals in their local underage pub.  Listen to songs like 'Roxanne by Sting' or the Top Gun soundtrack. Went to Public School paid for by daddy

Or as a mate puts it; 
  • "toffs are 'posh gits' ."
EXAMPLE:  The use of 'Toff' in colloquial English:
The toffs had a field day smashing up the restaurant and throwing a big fat cheque after it to the owner, before going off and (illegally) jumping off the Magdalen* Bridge  into the Thames. The next day there they all were in their Ralph Lauren's trying to get their end away with the posh totties** down at Ascot Races. 
*pronounced 'maudlin' by Toffs who have been to Oxford University

** totty: usually female (but can be male) person whose poshness is an essential part of the appeal e.g. well educated; mellifluous voice; charming classy manners; sophisticated conversation; expensive clothes; trendy address, etc.

A Right Bunch of Toffs - Prime Minister and Mayor of London with fellow members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University

Question2: Is Benedict Cumberbatch a Toff?

I will say this clearly. I do not think Cumberbatch should be bashed.  Other than unfortunately looking like a Toff, he does not appear to fall into the social category of Toff.  He was not born with the silver spoon in his mouth. He has not got wealthy parents who are inherited landowners, Polo players, Lloyds members, or Bank directors. Yes he went to a nice prep school, but that might have been because his parents worked very long hours in all sorts of jobs, just as we will be doing from September to enable our daughter to go to University.  
"But," I hear you say. "he went to Harrow - one of Britains' most historic Public schools?"

Cumberbatch did indeed go to Harrow - on a scholarship! He obtained his scholarship long after the end of the Direct Grant scholarship system, under which I been awarded a scholarship and attended a public school in the mid-1960s.  

Under the direct grant system, scholarships were awarded by the Local Authority to those children who had obtained the highest marks in the national '11 plus' exam. Just over  50% of kids at British public schools, between 1945 and the mid -1970s would have entered with a scholarships that paid their school fees in full.  Fifty percent ensured that there were more than enough of us with rough edges, to knock a few chips off the smooth edges of those from wealthier parents, rather than the other way round. Having since met many of my former school mates, I am pleased to report they are mostly pretty normal people with the same worries as the rest of us; kids, mortgages and the how to pay the gas bill. 

So, If Cumberbatch had a scholarship to Harrow, it is well worth reciting that it was not just because he obtained the highest marks in an exam, as I did. Under the Direct Grant system, I could have been given my scholarship, and my parents could have still been very wealthy, (though of course, in my case, unfortunately they were not).

However, by the mid-1980s when Cumberbatch went to Harrow,  not only did he pass the difficult Common Entrance Exam (CEE) used by Britain's public schools, but also his parents clearly did not have any sort of wealth, as he would not have been awarded a scholarship under the new rather stringent scholarship systems.   

As we explained to our children, unless we thought one of them really needed the extra input and consequent confidence  that came from going to a public school, we would not consider the Public School system, despite both of us having had an excellent experience of such schools.  Quite simply, we had enough income to afford fees for one of them to attend a Public School - but only long as the rest of us happily gave up on summer holidays and Christmas presents. However, we could never have paid for two or more to go. And we were definitely not poor enough for them to qualify for a scholarship, as a family gross income of £40,000 would only result in a contribution of 10% towards annual school fees of over £10,000.

So by deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes, Cumberbatch, is not a toff , he doesn't have a wealthy background;  there was no silver spoon, he was a scholarship boy, and he studied at Manchester University not Oxbridge. Thus he is not by definition a Toff - it is just rather unfortunate that he looks like one,. But let us not bash him. 

Question 3 – Do we do too much Toffs Bashing?

There cannot be too much of a good thing.  and toff bashing can only but be a good thing. It gets our woes off our chests, it allows us to throw abuse at the current government which is made up almost entirely of toffs, without abusing the process of government itself, merely the set of multi-millionaires who are currently so catastrophically running our country. 

And, when we say nasty things about them, do thy hear us. I always say "they can say what they like behind my back, just don't do it to my face" [Unfortunately as a trans men, I find they do both; they say it behind my back and to my face. But lets ignore that for the time being.] If Toffs are getting upset by what we, the people,  are saying about them, then they need to get thicker skins.

A little bit of toff bashing

Toffs never have to experience it to their face. The only time they might be in our presence would be when we get the pleasure of serving them canapés or champagne, or changing their Egyptian cotton sheets, or brushing their horses, or sweeping their drives, or perhaps even ironing their Ralph Lauren's for pitiful wages. The only time we might touch is if they deign to give us a tip. 

But, it seems we say a few truths about them, and they get all uppity. So let me ask a couple of questions and make a few toffs a bit more uppity. 

3.a.Why did the toffs get so many tickets to the Olympics when we got none? 

The Answer: they were able to bid in the thousands of pounds for tickets, whereas we were worried about the couple of hundred of pounds worth we bid for. Then when the draw was done, and Locoq ran out of the posh £1200 seats, guess what?  They gave the rich toffs the cheaper seats, at the cheaper prices, so that in the end there were none left for the poor. 
Furthermore the richer you were , the cheaper the tickets - in fact in the end you got them for free. How many times did we see Dave, Sam, Boris, Seb, Big Phil, Anne, Harry, Will and Kate sitting in the best seats? Don't tell me they paid for them, if you believe that, you really are living in cloud cuckoo land.

However, if you were the unemployed poor and lucky, and Group 4 had got it's act together, you got to provide security for £8/hour whilst spending the fortnight camping out in a field out in Hertfordshire. [Apparently Group 4 is now refusing to pay those people who took the training for a job at the Olympics but who, because Group4 never got its act together, ended up sitting at home waiting for the phone call which never came].

Or if you were the less poor, and didn't have to worry about losing benefits, you also got to camp in a field in Hertfordshire. But, by agreeing to give up your vacation and stay outside the sports venues as a volunteer in a pink shirt, you got the pleasure of being  thanked profusely by a very well paid set of toffs who had loads of tickets for the games. 

3.b. How come every member of the our cabinet is a millionaire? and what the hell do they know about the price of milk or paying the gas bill?

Well, of course, they know nothing about either the price of milk or paying the gas bill. I really cannot believe that the only people worthy of running this country at present  happen, incidentally, to be multi-millionaires. Of course there are lots of people who are worthy, and many who might well be far more capable.  But because the toffs who currently run the Tory party only socialise with other toffs, they only think toffs have anything worth saying. The rest of us are quietly serving the canapés, not daring to say anything because we are just happy to have an evenings work for once, and we desperately need the wages at the end of the night. 

So that is my small bit of toff bashing. And, for those who say 'but that is discrimination' - no it isn't. Discrimination is when you treat somebody badly because they are different and it is to their disadvantage.  And nothing I have just said has disadvantaged any toff one bit, and never will. 

I say all this because I am angry. I am angry because it seems it has been perfectly OK for the toffs to say a lot of nasty stuff about the rest of us over the last couple of years. In particular, they and their nasty news rags have been saying dreadful things about 120,000 poor families on no basis other than a poorly drafted piece of bad research. 

Question 4: Who Do Toffs bash?

Whilst we might shortly get the pleasure of seeing a few of the news media toffs go to prison, for a few months, the truth is that is not a problem for a Toff. They simply spend their time inside writing a small but literate book about their experience, and once out they get a huge advance for it which more than compensates for the few months wages they have lost. Yet the 'rioters' who got such harsh sentences (and they were harsh) at the hands of the toffs who run our courts, will have no such luck, unfortunately

The truth is that toffs, especially those currently in power, and their nasty media rags, the Sun, Mail and Times, have made a new national, (a possible future Olympic?) sport of repeatedly bashing the nation’s 120,000* apparently 'problem families' , who they jointly have described as:

‘feckless, lazy, bone-idle, illiterate, innumerate, dole-scrounging, benefit cheating, asylum seeking, asbo-deserving, indian-dancing,*(see below) unemployable, unemployed, mentally ill, school failures and scourges of society’

They say this, though, we suspect, them of never having met anyone from any of these families - unless of course they accidentally brushed arms whilst a member of one of these families served them canape's  - but that can hardly be called 'meeting' can it?.

The 120,00 families are those in the Tory darling, Louise Casey’s report, “Listening to troubled families”  published in June 2012,  by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which claims there are 120,000 troubled families in England, whose lives are so chaotic, that they cost the taxpayer around £9bn per year. Doubt has been cast on the accuracy of these figures. 

The findings have been slammed by one social worker as 'more anecdote than evidence' and a counter-report from the University of Bristol  shows that Casey’s report is a 
‘sample survey, case study by interview’ 
of families whose characteristics are radically different from those targeted by the Government’s consequent ‘Troubled Families’ programme. The families in Casey’s report are, quite simply, families suffering multiple deprivation i.e. they are POOR. There is no evidence in Casey’s report, or elsewhere, that these families are families involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. 

Professor Dave Gordon, Professor of Social Justice at the University of Bristol adds : 
“In the term ‘troubled families’ (Casey's report) deliberately conflates families experiencing multiple disadvantage and families that cause trouble.” 

Professor Ruth Levitas added:

“There are two possibilities. One is that the misrepresentation is deliberate. The other is that those responsible do not understand the research they are using. Either should raise alarm bells about the way policy is being made.”

As Zoe Williams put it in her excellent article
“There are ethnographic reports grouting the British Library (I found this enlightening) about what life is like at the coal face of a "multi-agency intervention". They are conducted over weeks and over months by academics who immerse themselves in the realities of the household, not government advisers who swoop in for a couple of hours to peer at the destitute. …. when you're straight repeating work that has already been done, but sloppily, with less sophistication, drawing egregious conclusions, isn't that a waste of time?” 

The toffs have set out to malign 120,000 families, who for all they know, are nothing other than poor people. 
Worse , they have also set out to make these families poorer, by reducing benefits especially for the disabled and chronically sick. 

If they can do that, surely they can take a little ribbing when it is on the other foot. If they don't like it,  they should get out of the kitchen, take the dosh, run off to their moats and their yachts and let the rest of us get back to running the country in a way which might mean we get a chance to finally rid these families of their poverty. 

* Indian dancing included here on the basis that when our Prime minister, David Cameron, defends his government’s scrapping of the 2 hour/ week targetfor school sport, saying some schools instead give kids two hours of classes in "Indian dance" he is almost certainly referring to the ‘problem’ schools of the sort which  the kids from these ‘problem families’ attend.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Do We want the T in Stonewall?

Do we REALLY Want the T in S-onewall?


Would it be a REALLY BIG Mistake?

A few years back, there was an outcry from the UK's Trans community when Stonewall gave their Journalist's award to Julie Bindel. In the past, Bindel had written some nasty anti-trans articles.

At the time, Press For Change, the UK's transgender lobby and campaigning group, & its volunteers were vilified by many in the Trans community for their refusal to 'publicly' set out to attack Stonewall for the award & Bindel herself.

We. in Press For Change (PFC), felt though that had no choice. PFC has always had Rule 7 – which requires its activists to work 'by making friends and not by making enemies'. However, at the time, we had separately written to Stonewall and made it clear we could not support the award whilst Julie Bindel continued to write nasty things about Trans people. 

After the events of that month, we in PFC set out to create some sort of dialogue with both Stonewall and Julie Bindel. Julie came and did a web streamed debate at Manchester Metropolitan University, with the US transgender activist, film maker and academic, Susan Stryker. Julie didn't do that well in the debate, but during the process she chatted with the many trans people who had attended. At the time Bindel said her views had been very much altered after talking to so many ordinary trans people both at that event, and a previous BBC debate on the programme 'Hecklers'. She made a commitment and since then, she has kept to her word, & has avoided writing about our lives. 

The Meeting with Stonewall

Stonewall is NOT a support or an advice organisation. You cannot just give them a call, or an email and expect an answer to your request for support or legal advice . It is NOT what Stonewall does.

Later, along with reps from various other T groups such as London Spectrum and Gires, we also got round the table with Stonewall. At that meeting, we had several concerns, but the primary one was 'should the T be in S-onewall'? We made it quite clear that we believed LGB Trans people should be welcome and able to participate in Stonewall events about LGB issues, just as trans groups, we would welcome T people who were LGBT, straight or anything else. They agreed. 

Our major concern then (and still is) is that the T, if embraced by Stonewall, would soon, like the 'B' of Bisexual, go to the bathroom never to reappear.

Straight, Trans and Stonewall?

We also discussed what it would mean for the straight Trans community. Stonewall doesn't work on straight people's issues. 

  • Could Stonewall represent straight trans people? 
  • Would straight trans people be welcome at Stonewall events? 
  • How could Stonewall represent the issues of straight trans people?  

Well, as things stood, Stonewall admitted the could not do these things. And, it had to be asked: what would Stonewall's Gay and Lesbian  supporters feel about the money from their primarily Gay and lesbian funded organisation going to support straight people's concerns? We could imagine the answer to be 'not very much'.

The Disappearing B

There are other layers of complexity to be considered. 

  • Did anyone of us really know who would fall into the straight or a gay trans camp?
  • Would a pre-treatment trans man who loved a man, be straight or gay?  

And as for the disappearing 'B' from Bi - our research has shown time and again, that whilst there is a large number of trans people who identify as straight, it is still a minority (47%). Of the remainder 16% identify as gay or lesbian, but that leaves  37% in the disappearing Bi (or Poly) group. 
Where would they be in a Stonewall with the T? Would they have also go to the bathroom and disappear?

Can Lesbian and Gay people accept us as the people we are?

For years, trans people have been like the mascots of the gay world and the gay bars. They take our money, they show us off, we even provide the free floor shows for many of them. 

  • But, do they ever fancy us?  

A few gay men or lesbians can and do, but to most gay and lesbian people we will always be unattractive because, when it comes to the bedroom, for them we will never truly be the men or women we say we are. Ironically, the heterosexual community has proven far better at adjusting their grey matter to acknowledge we can be very sexy as the people we say we are.

The Separatist Lesbian Agenda still Exists

Now for the nail in the coffin! 

What is going to happen, when trans people arrive at a Stonewall event and then several lesbians then get up and leave the room as soon as we enter! 
There still are lesbian women who  still believe that trans women are men, and trans men are misguided self-harming lesbians. 
And they do not won't want trans people in their space.  Worse, they will not let trans people:

  • use their toilets even if they are presenting as women,
  • use their rape crisis centres even if they have been raped,
  • use their safe housing projects even when they are homeless,
  • use their social spaces even if they are lesbian identified.,
  • use their social spaces even if they are women and sleep with women.

What things do the Stonewall funders fund?

Finally, as trans groups, we could all see our meagre bits of funding disappearing into the Stonewall purse, and to do what? 
Well what do Stonewall do?
I will say it again:

Stonewall is NOT a support or an advice organisation. You cannot just give them a call, or an email and expect an answer to your request for support or legal advice . It is NOT what Stonewall does.

Stonewall produce glossy little booklets. These little booklets will never reflect what it is really like to be Trans. For example, the latest 8 page, A6 glossy guide from Stonewall is about being a gay tourist in the UK - lots of pictures but less than 1000 words of advice. Would 1000 words of advice really help a trans tourist in the UK? No way, Trans people would need a short novel. of advice.
A couple of years ago, there was another glossy Stonewall booklet that made me jump up and down, go really red in the face and tear my hair out - which along with testosterone explains why I am bald. 

The booklet was about being a lesbian and having a baby. 

  • The pages were mostly empty space - which in a world of disappearing resources always drives me mad.  
  • The booklet really was much the same as any basic guide for a woman having a baby. 

I found myself wondering why on earth it had been written when far, far better books, by experts like Sheila Kitzinger and Miriam Stoppard, already exist.
The most those books need is an erratum page saying 'if a lesbian is seeking sperm, this is what to do ... etc'. 
Yet, I know from personal experience and from the experiences of so many other trans people, and the partners of trans people, to do justice to the same advice for trans folk would again, take a long novel.  
The advice would be very different, and even with it, because of structural discrimination and transphobia, many potential familes with a trans partner would still never succeed in having a child to care for.  And what we did write would be new! [oops, another book to write]

Of course, perhaps because Stonewall has so much funding to waste, we might get the money to write the guides we need to. But if you were Gay or Lesbian and contributing to a fund for your right to get married, would you be happy with it going to a guide for heterosexual trans people wanting babies when they can already get married?

Reaching an Understanding.

At the meeting with Stonewall, an understanding was reached that Stonewall would welcome LGB trans people, but would leave the Trans support and campaigning to Trans people. 

Personally, I still think that is the only way we will keep our issues live and on the agenda. It is certainly in my view, the only way to truly reflect the complexities of ours, our partner's and our families' lives.  

And I will say it again, Stonewall is NOT a support or an advice organisation. You cannot just give them a call, or an email and expect an answer to your request for legal advice . It is NOT what they do. Yet it seems to me, that that is the one and most important thing that the trans community needs.

So, do YOU really want the T in S-onewall?

What do other people really think? 

  • Has the time come for PFC and other T organisations to give up the ghost so to speak? 
  • Do people really want Stonewall to become an LGBT organisation? 
  • What benefits would there be to the T community? 
  • What might the trans community lose? 

I feel that before we set out a stall to get Stonewall to embrace our concerns, we need to decide whether that really would be in our best interests. I am still convinced having the T in Stonewall would not be in our best interests, but am always open to listening to what others think and why they think it.