24 March, 2013
The gleeful wrath of the Righteous
If I recall correctly, his/her death got a mention on the Radio 4 news bulletins last Thursday, but as usual I was only half-listening to the aural wallpaper that is Radio 4 in my house. I don't always pay attention and much of what I do pick up is absorbed through a process of mental osmosis. Someone of mildly notorious interest to the media had snuffed it, oop north, I learnt.
Later on Thursday, surfing my habitual pool of sites on the Interweb, I came across this angry little polemic by Tim Fenton, writing at Liberal Conspiracy.
Aha, thunk I. It took a bit of digging and sifting through raging storms of hysterical indignation across the web to get to a reasonably coherent understanding of the case, but what seems to have transpired is this.
Nathan Upton was a primary school teacher living and working in Accrington. Mr Upton was also a gender-dysphoric and had decided at last to take the plunge and "transtion" to living as a woman. It's not revealed precisely how far he had gone down this road but judging from what I have learnt over the past few days, he was probably just entering the preparatory "permadrag" stage of publicly living as and dressing as a woman. Full on "gender reassignment" (or whatever term you prefer — the whole area seems to be a lexicopolitical minefield) is not something to be undertaken in haste. Medics want to be fully convinced before they start lopping off dangly bits and pumping you full of interesting hormones.
Whatever his ultimate intentions, Nathan proposed to start dressing as and working as a woman when the school returned from its Christmas break. He had already tried going out "in drag" in his free time, but discreetly. His headmistress sent out a business-as-usual staff changes letter to parents, in which she mentioned more or less in passing that in the new term Mr Nathan Upton would be functioning as Miss Lucy Meadows.
This did not go down well with some parents and came to the attention of first the local and later the national press. It was also picked up by Richard Littlejohn in his Daily Mail column.
Last week Mr Upton was found dead at his home. It seems to be generally assumed that this was the result of suicide. It is also widely assumed that this "suicide" was a reaction to harassment from or fomented by the press, Richard Littlejohn in particular.
Well, as Roy Greenslade reminds us in his Guardian blog,
The Sky News report [like all the newspaper reports that I've seen so far -EG] quotes a Lancashire police spokeswoman as saying that there were no suspicious circumstances. This is usually taken to mean that it is a case of suicide, though it is possibly not the case.
But, sticking to the facts, it is important to note that there is no clear link – indeed any link – between what Littlejohn wrote and the death of Lucy Meadows.
The Mail has since deleted the relevant section of Mr Littlejohn's column, along with the reader comments, which were generally quite sympathetic to the late Mr Upton. Whether this action represents cowardice or merely a response to legal advice, I have no idea. You can't escape the Wayback Machine, though, and the original unredacted online version is available here. I reproduce the relevant section in full below.
He's not only in the wrong body... he's in the wrong job
By Richard Littlejohn
21 December 2012
Look, it can’t be much fun being a woman trapped in a man’s body. Believe me, ladies, there are times when it’s not exactly a bundle of laughs being a man trapped inside a man’s body.
So I have every sympathy for the 400 or so people a year who opt for ‘gender reassignment’ surgery to put themselves out of their misery.
I don’t even have any problem with sex-change operations being carried out on the NHS, provided it’s a genuine medical necessity and not a lifestyle choice. Transsexuals pay taxes, too.
Schoolteacher Nathan Upton, 32, says he always knew he was born into the wrong sex. Yet he married and fathered a child, now aged three. It was only fairly recently that he decided to go public with his inner turmoil.
The first indications came when he began growing his cropped hair and dyeing it purple. He started turning up for class wearing pink nail varnish and sparkly headbands.
His pupils at St Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School in Accrington, Lancs, couldn’t help noticing. A crayon drawing of Mr Upton by a Year 6 pupil on the school’s website shows him with long hair swept back over his shoulders.
One parent said: ‘I saw what I thought was Mr Upton dressed as a woman in town one weekend, but I decided I had imagined it.’
Oh no, you hadn’t.
Confirmation came in the school’s Christmas newsletter. It started innocuously enough, with a series of routine staff announcements. Then in paragraph six, out of the blue, BOOM! Are you sitting comfortably, children?
‘Mr Upton has made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman after the Christmas break. She will return to work as Miss Meadows.’
Mr Nathan Upton has announced he will be returning to the school after Christmas as Miss Lucy Meadows
It went on to stress that the school is ‘proud of our commitment to equality and diversity’. Of course they are.
This week, the school’s 169 pupils, aged between seven and 11, were informed class-by-class that from now on, ‘Sir’ would be ‘Miss’.
Teachers told them that Mr Upton felt he had been ‘born with a girl’s brain in a boy’s body’ and would henceforth be living as a woman.
Nathan Upton is now in the early stages of gender reassignment treatment. He issued a statement which read: ‘This has been a long and difficult journey for me and it was certainly not an easy decision to make.’
So that’s all right, then. From now on, kiddies, Mr Upton will be known as Miss Lucy Meadows.
What are you staring at, Johnny? Move along, nothing to see here. Get on with your spelling test. Today’s word is ‘transitioning’.
Mr Upton/Miss Meadows may well be comfortable with his/her decision to seek a sex-change and return to work as if nothing has happened. The school might be extremely proud of its ‘commitment to equality and diversity’.
But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.
Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t even had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies.
Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows? Anyway, why not Miss Upton?
Parent Wayne Cowie said the news had left his ten-year-old son worried and confused.
For the past three years he has been taught by Mr Upton, but has now been told that he will be punished if he continues to call ‘Miss Meadows’ ‘Mr Upton’ after the Christmas holidays. ‘My middle boy thinks that he might wake up with a girl’s brain because he was told that Mr Upton, as he got older, got a girl’s brains.’
The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its ‘commitment to diversity and equality’ above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.
It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats.
These are primary school children, for heaven’s sake. Most them still believe in Father Christmas. Let them enjoy their childhood. They will lose their innocence soon enough.
The head teacher denies that pupils will be punished for referring to the teacher as Mr Upton but added ominously that they would be ‘expected to behave properly around her.’ Nathan Upton is entitled to his gender reassignment surgery, but he isn’t entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children.
By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen’s, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years.
It would have been easy for him to disappear quietly at Christmas, have the operation and then return to work as ‘Miss Meadows’ at another school on the other side of town in September. No-one would have been any the wiser.
But if he cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he is paid to teach, he’s not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job.
The lynch mobs are out, burning torches and pitchforks in hand, for both Littlejohn and the Mail. Not just Tim Fenton and the loyal BTLers at Liberal Conspiracy, but in the newspaper comments threads, on Faceache (Richard Littlejohn Must Go, Vigil for Lucy Meadows) and the right-on blogosphere.
Perhaps, from the perspective of an unreconstructed scumbag, I can offer a few observations.
I don't think the people who are shouting the loudest about the unpleasant end of the late Mr Upton actually give a twopenny fuck for him.
Fenton and the Facebook warriors are in this for the opportunity to stick one into Littlejohn and the Mail. Without the Littlejohn element, Fenton would have simply raised his eyebrows slightly and moved on to something more juicy. Littlejohn is a professional contrarian who purports to represent the views the man on the Clapham omnibus would express for himself if he could get away with it. Littlejohn's successful career hints that there might be some truth in this. The Righteous Left, however, hate and resent Littlejohn and the Mail with a seething vehemence that could, if connected to the national grid, power several small towns. And some of the violent language against Littlejohn that has come out below-the-line in BLT activiist blogs like Zinnia's, llinked above, and in newspaper comment threads is the sort of stuff which would get an EDLer banged up for years.
Yet if you wipe away the red mist for a few moments, what Littlejohn actually says is actually quite reasonable. He is not suggesting that Mr Upton is a vile pervert who should have a steel spike rammed up his jacksy and then be exhibited in the town square as a warning to nonces, kiddie fiddlers and pooves. Littlejohn is merely saying that Mr Upton's pupils, children in the age range 7 - 11, might have difficulty in understanding and successfully integrating Mr Upton's sudden transformation into Miss Meadows.
The orthodoxy presented in comment threads is that young children are blank slates as yet uncorrupted by adult prejudice, who accept difference without difficulty. Well, maybe in some cases. But have the indignant Righteous bothered to read the newspaper reports? One parent, interviewed by the press, reported that his little boy, having been told by the school that Mr Upton "had a girl's brain in a boy's body", became deeply anxious that such a fate might befall him. He was very frightened.
Small children are not blank slates upon whom the artificial social construct of gender is imprinted by a fascist patriarchal adult conspiracy. Gender and gender roles are important to children from well before puberty itself kicks in. It is a core part of their emerging identity and to be presented suddenly with the idea that this stable social rock might be subject to incomprehensible and unpredictable change might be disastrously destabilizing.
Which is what, I am inclined to believe, Littlejohn was getting at. Would it have been better for the children, when Nathan Upton began his transitiion and began to live publicly as Lucy Meadows, for him to start work in another school as a perhaps curiously "manly" woman — a bit like Golda Meir or that Ruth Kelly geezer wot was in the last Labour government — whose transitional status was known only to the teaching staff?
Although it has not yet been officially confirmed, it is a reasonable assumption that Nathan Upton topped himself. What is not a foregone conclusion is that the press in general and Littlejohn in particular are responsible for his death. Jane Fae, writing in the New Statesman, tells us that Mr Upton had complained about being doorstepped and stalked by journalists in December when interest in the story was at its peak, but it's not clear that this extended much into the new year. If he took his own life, we do not at this stage know why. Perhaps the inquest will tell us, perhaps it won't. In the meantime the smug assumptions which are in circulation are driven by political opportunism and political hatred, which is despicable.
A note on the language. Apart from the first few paragraphs, I have consistently referred to the person at the centre of this unfortunate business as 'Nathan Upton' or as 'he'. To be honest, I'm not that bothered. If I were communicating directly with the chap or with those around him, once he had openly begun his transition, then it would have been churlish not to refer to 'Lucy Meadows' and 'she'. But commenters on the web, both LGBT activists and the righteous left, have been unreasonably aggressive in slapping down those who failed to accept the gender change as a done deal. In the context of debate, the choice of language carries considerable political charge and is more than a matter of simple courtesy. Well, I'm sorry, I'm not willing to be bullied by linguistic fascists. I can play hardball too. As I understand it, the late Mr Upton was just about to embark on the probationary two-year "real life test" of living full time in his proposed gender role. At the time of his death, he was objectively a bloke in a frock playing at being a woman. You can stuff your political shibboleths and sneering liberal supercilious arrogance into the orifice of choice.
Right. Rant over. Sorry it's been such a long one.
Everybody back to their own beds.
05 March, 2013
The creepiness of Wikipedia
In the last few minutes the death has been announced of Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela.or words to that effect. So I turn immediately to Wikipedia, where I find that Mr Chávez' entry has already been updated to record his death.
Damned impressive no doubt, but curiously creepy at the same time.