WEEKLY WANKER #071: BLOC+

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A Guest Post by Transguyliner

Last week, my timeline filled up with posts about an incident which happened that Saturday night at Bloc+, in which a trans man had been approached by a manager and told he was not allowed to use the men’s toilets. These posts were all by other trans people that I know, all sharing a public Facebook post from the trans man, Gray, who had been subjected to this treatment at Bloc+. It explained how, while out dancing with friends that night in Bloc+, the manager had told him he was a woman when he had explained he was a trans man, and how the manager had walked away from him when he had explained this was transphobic. He’d spent the rest of the night feeling dysphoric and afraid to use the toilets, and friends and other members of Glasgow’s trans community, many of whom have faced this same treatment before when simply trying to use the toilet, shared and commented on this post expressing empathy, sadness, and disgust at what had happened. A few 1 star reviews were also left on Bloc+’s Facebook page.

Bloc+ responded to Gray’s post on Facebook with a comment to say they were sorry and would be meeting with him to try and create a positive outcome, and stating “this was handled badly and the person in question has caused our entire venue and staff to be judged which is really unfortunate.” In another comment they stated that what had happened was “completely inappropriate” and that “one member of staff has unfortunately tarnished the whole of Bloc.” They claimed to be taking full responsibility, but at the same time made it very clear that the blame lay with one individual manager, and they were really quite upset the venue was receiving bad press for this. They stated they felt the 1 star reviews were unfair as they hadn’t had the chance to fix the mistake yet, to which there were several responses explaining how the reviews were an important way to warn other trans people of the incident until there was some guarantee of progress being made and that the venue was a safer place for them. It was also made clear that these reviews would be removed once Gray stated there had been such a positive outcome. Seems fair. Because saying you want to resolve an issue isn’t a guarantee you’re actually going to do it, however much we want to believe that you will. Do excuse us ‘unfair’ trans people if we’re a little cautious, but when incidents of transphobic harassment, and even violence, take place in public spaces, it’s very rare that we’re taken seriously on them.  And unfortunately, Bloc+ went on to show just how fair that cautiousness was.

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Bloc+ may regret their chose of decor…

Bloc+ did meet with Gray, and it was a largely positive event. The manager in question apologised unreservedly and Bloc+ spoke with Scottish Transgender Alliance about delivering trans equality awareness training to their staff. There are the correct steps to have taken, alongside a public apology reassuring trans people that it intends to be a safe space for them, and that you have a zero tolerance policy on transphobia.  Businesses will sometimes issue public apologies but do none of the work of changing the culture and atmosphere they exist in and create, meaning the apology falls flat.  Bloc+ had done the hard part already and just needed to make a public apology; the easy part. So the statement they then released was pretty confusing.  I couldn’t actually call it ‘an apology.’

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“Sorry” appears once, as does “Obama.”

In the first sentence, Venue Manager Chris Cusack clarifies that what happened wasn’t a hate crime or due to ‘purposeful malevolence,’ but was an outcome of over-tiredness on the part of the manager.  It describes the manager’s transphobic and dismissive behaviour as an “awkward, bungled reflex” that came about when he “quickly realised his embarrassing error.” When I quickly realise an embarrassing error, my first instinct is usually to apologise. I’ve certainly never walked away from someone as an ‘awkward, bungled reflex.’ And I’m pretty sure the law on what constitutes a hate crime doesn’t make room for whether the perpetrator was awkward and bungled at the time. That asides, the manager had taken responsibility and had sincerely apologised – and it was Bloc+, not the customer that had been harassed, that had tried to dump that manager in the shit in the first place (remember when they were sad he’d tarnished their reputation?). It’s interesting that while he’d responded entirely appropriately to the complaint that was raised, Bloc+ had first tried to make him the target of the complaint, and then painted him as a victim to use as the beginning of a very long and pathetic attempt to make everyone feel sorry for them.

There’s a couple of paragraphs that show some genuine understanding of their responsibility to ensure customers’ safety with regards to their toilets and how this must include trans customers, how progress can only be made, both as a bar and in wider society, with constructive feedback, and how to this end they are working with Scottish Transgender Alliance to implement better training. All good. And then, 3 paragraphs in, it swiftly moves on to “the numerous vitriolic calls for a public apology” and painting Bloc+ as the victim, and my eyes roll so far back in my head.

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Furious “fist shaking” undermines any attempt at an apology…

All I can see is the cis ego screaming at me. If you think that because you have now apologised that means initial calls for you to make that apology are bitter and unfair, you don’t understand what an apology is. It complains that “a portion” of the online commentators were not there to witness the incident, and therefore have no right to comment, cleverly ignoring the fact that many of these people were trans and were sticking up for a member of their own community, as well as for their own human rights. And that many of us have seen this shit happen a hundred times before, and we’re not daft. We know what happened, and we know why it happened.

Apologising for a fuck up falls really flat if you go on to claim that the people who noticed it were really only making it up to be mean.  Are we calling trans people overly aggressive and deceptive? Are we really going with that trope? Well, yes, because here is Bloc+’s level of respect for trans people who expressed concern over the issue: “To these people I say, this is not about you. Fuck you. These people are the mob.”

Don’t know if you’ll believe me but it gets worse from there. Describing trans people who are upset they did something incredibly transphobic: “They are a seething mass of vicarious outrage and hammered share buttons, fueled by a desperate need to internalise someone else’s offence: to re-appropriate a private transgression as a badge of virtue. Another sorry reminder of identity politics run amuck online.”

This is the only time the word “sorry” appears in the entire “apology.”

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The internet responded to the “apology”

Possibly the most ridiculous part of all of this for me is the idea that trans people are appropriating the struggle of other trans people by talking about transphobia. It makes no sense. It’s an attempt to shut down any conversation about transphobia from the off. “Identity politics run amuck” is a boring, disingenuous, right-wing-as-fuck way of saying that queer people have gotten above their station.

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It is too late now to say “seething mass of vicarious outrage” ?

The rest continues in that vein, a screaming whinge about “spittal-caked SJW ire.” It’s a really dangerous argument they’re making though – that trans people are petty, vicious keyboard warriors. You can see exactly who this all resonates with in the comments on their Facebook page. While Bloc+ has made sure to weigh in on some of the many (many) criticisms of their fucking awful statement, they’ve conveniently managed to ignore all the transphobic comments alongside them. There’s a lot of smug comments from cis people complaining about how they’ve never experienced any transphobia at Bloc+ and they just don’t see what the issue is anyway, as you’d expect, because this is completely standard when a trans person complains about transphobia –  if it didn’t happen to a cis person, it can’t be all that bad can it?? But there’s also some particularly nasty comments, congratulating Bloc+ for not giving in to “special little snowflakes” (because gender dysphoria and the threat of bigoted violence are a great confidence boost if you’re feeling like you don’t stand out in a crowd, trust me) and bullshitting about the dangers of letting “men” and “perverts” into the women’s toilets (remember that this was a case of a staff member actually trying to force a man into the women’s toilets, but I guess that’s irrelevant to whatever transmisogynistic tirade you’re on).

Reading through some of these comments I thought, maybe this is a good reflection of Bloc+’s regular crowd. Maybe it was never a place for us. Maybe we’re better off without some flannel-shirt-and-beard filled cesspit – but that’s not true.

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We’ve been spectacularly gay in Bloc+ before, as we are everywhere.

Bloc+ has always attracted a range of people, and put on a range of nights. From flannel-shirt-beard gigs, to space-themed gay clubs. This crowd, that will so readily hop on their Facebook page to congratulate them for an act of bigoted discrimination, are not Bloc+’s only crowd, just the crowd Bloc+ has chosen to side with, and to prioritise. Individual staff members aside, because I’m not for a second going to blame the folk working behind the bar, or even the manager that said the shite thing in the first place since he’s given his genuine actual apologies, the upper management have put their clearly very fragile egos before maintaining a safe space, and showing respect to a marginalised community who they had hurt. They’ve not only failed to give a real apology to this community, they’ve incited hatred against us, by framing us as a menace to a “forward thinking” city centre venue. The message is transphobic at its core – it’s the message that we hear so often, that while an act of discrimination against us might be wrong, if we actually acknowledge that that discrimination exists, and if we complain about it, and ask for apologies, then they’ll come for us. Don’t ask for better treatment, just wait till we’re granted it by “forward thinking” cis people. Be grateful for whatever scraps we get from the table – after all, this time round they come marinated in an Irn Bru sauce.

Still, Bloc+ try to use their contact with Scottish Transgender Alliance as some sort of proof that what they’re saying isn’t totally and utterly mingin, but the STA have now responded with a statement criticising them. On their Facebook page they state that after speaking with Bloc+ about awareness training and hoping for a positive outcome, “we never remotely anticipated reading the kind of antagonistic response statement from Bloc+ that we read yesterday. We don’t understand what Bloc+ felt they were going to achieve from such a statement. We feel extremely frustrated and disappointed.”

They’ve been even more slimy and exploitative in trying to use their previous relationship with TYCI (an all women’s collective that used to run a regular club night in Bloc+) as proof of their “forward thinking” and not-really-fucking-bigoted credentials. Again, TYCI have responded criticising them, posting on their Facebook page “we at TYCI felt that the follow up statement issued by the venue was entirely inappropriate and, given that TYCI was mentioned by Bloc+ in their statement, we wanted to reassure our followers, volunteers and supporters that the views voiced in that statement are far removed from our own.” Bloc+ claimed to have helped create TYCI – that is, the man who wrote the statement has tried to take credit for the creation of an all women’s collective which used to book the venue, in a shady attempt to deflect from his venue’s transphobic fuck up. TYCI clarified “we have not held a live event at Bloc+ since November 2014. We always operated as an independent promoter within the venue. Bloc+ are not “co-founders of TYCI”.” Bloc+ have since removed this section of the statement, but not issued even a pretend apology for it.

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Bloc+ attempted to use TYCI to boost their radical credentials

Maybe Bloc+ just aren’t clued up on trans issues though? Naturally, not everyone is as aware of trans issues as trans people are, and we can’t expect everyone to get things right straight away. I’m definitely one for giving people a chance, but this statement clearly goes beyond a minor fuck up, and outlines something seriously right-wing and bigoted about their politics. And, it had already been clearly laid out to them where they’d gone wrong. After inviting Gray in to meet with them and giving their apologies, they showed him the statement they intended to post. On a public post on his Facebook, he said

I got a wonderful heartfelt apology from the manager who had caused all the ruckus in the first place, as well as guaranteed training for staff around trans issues. However, I was also shown the response that Bloc wanted to put out and I informed them that I thought it was foolish, childish, petulant, and offensive. I suggested that they tone down the language and reassess their attitude towards people that come out in support of the trans community.

Consider that totally fucking ignored then, and their official apology to him totally shat on.

Bloc+ have also happily fed a misleading story to news sites who, obviously, have attempted to shit stir by deliberately getting the whole situation wrong in a really large font, with one referring to it as a “loo sex row.” Both the Evening Times and The Herald focus primarily on the death threats sent to members of staff, framing the situation, as Bloc+ has done, as a wee late night mistake that was quickly rectified the next day (a lie), that was then met by “torrents of abuse” by “online bullies” (also a lie). The papers award a massive well done to venue manager Chris Cusack for his strength in standing up to the hoard of bullies i.e. those who left a few bad reviews. This isn’t to deny that there were any death threats made but I will dispute whether comments such as “unhappy with the transphobic behavior of a seemingly forward thinking bar” can be called “torrents of abuse,” and Bloc+ absolutely is conflating the two.

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Of course, death threats being sent to members of staff are awful and serious, and in no way respecting the wishes of Gray – I know the vast majority of the Glasgow trans community would agree on this. Scottish Transgender Alliance put it very well in their own response to the statement: “The Scottish Trans Alliance regards it as completely abhorrent and criminal for anyone on social media to make any threats of violence against Bloc+ staff. Like many trans people, we personally know how awful it is to receive death threats and abusive emails and would never wish that on anyone.”

While acknowledging how harmful and serious death threats are, we also have to examine the way this has been used by both Bloc+ and news site, to discredit the complaints levelled against Bloc+ and to again paint the trans community as aggressive and dangerous. It’s undeniable how shady it is that while Bloc+ first expressed regret that one staff member had “tarnished the whole of Bloc+” they’ve now placed the blame for these threats on every single complainant, and on the trans community – again, “SJWs” absolutely refers to queer people in this case.

This tactic goes further than just discrediting the complaints on this specific issue, but attempts to discredit complaints made about transphobia in a much more general sense. “These people are the mob.” We’re painted as aggressive for demanding basic rights, and those Facebook comments bemoaning “special little snowflakes” show just how Bloc+’s statement has resonated with bigots.

We’ve also got to examine how cis lives have been placed before trans ones in this situation. The way news media have focused so heavily on the death threats against cis members of staff, whilst totally glossing over the transphobia, is an example of transphobia, and cis privilege, in itself. It doesn’t matter that a trans person’s safety was compromised, and that the safety of trans people is compromised day in day out by the kind of policing that happened in Bloc+, because there was a threat made to cis people, and that trumps it all. Again, it’s not to say the death threats shouldn’t be taken seriously, or that they’re a minor problem within this whole situation – but isn’t Bloc+ trying to claim the reverse of that? The fact that trans people face such high levels of harassment and violence in public places, and particularly in public toilets, isn’t mentioned once. Yes they say trans people have to be included when they talk about keeping their customers safe, but they provide no context as to why trans people might feel so invested in voicing their concerns over what happened last week. That’s how they’ve chosen to frame the issue, with no context or sympathy for a marginalised community who they’ve threatened, but instead them as the kind apologising allies against a hoard of abusive internet trolls who just want to fuck things up for the sake of it. Brave strong cis people against nasty vacuous trans people. The real meaning of their statement has not passed us by.

It ends by undoing the initial apology, calling the incident not one of transphobia (whatever ignorance it happened in) but a “mis-step off the arbitrary, shifting line of what is considered PC orthodoxy” (‘PC gone mad’ completes the Bingo Card), and moaning about how unfair it is they should ever be criticised when they’ve done some quite good stuff before, in the past, and when there are much worse bars than them. As if doing some things right absolves you from ever doing wrong, and as if we’re not just as prepared to call other venues out on shitty behaviour.

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There are venues we know aren’t safe for us as trans people, and as queer people, and the thing is that if you’re going to sell yourself on being one of the good ones, on being “forward thinking,” you are going to come under different scrutiny when you make it so apparent that that’s a lie. Chris ‘Cis Tears’ Cusack has unfortunately now planted Bloc+ firmly on that list. “Based on a 30 second exchange, BLOC has publicly been labelled comprehensively “transphobic””.

No, based on 1916 words of absolute bile and numerous attacks on the trans community, all because someone pointed out you’d done something transphobic, you’ve been labelled transphobic. So please, to Chris, who won’t accept this, grow up.

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Further Reading:

WEEKLY WANKER #067: SUB CLUB

Whose House Music? We need to stand up for an inclusive club culture

No love in this club

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Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AThousandFlowers

Follow us on Twitter @unsavourycabal

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