Getting the Giggles

Giggle CEO and founder Sall Grover is no stranger to misogyny.

She left Australia for Los Angeles aged 24, determined to be a screen writer. Initially it was a successful venture but when her friend and female co-writer left, Sall found herself  subject to an astonishing catalogue of  ‘harassment, abuse, and assaults’ before leaving LA herself, eight years later.

“I had men grope me in meetings, at work drinks, leverage sex, call me unprofessional when I wouldn’t deliver on a spec after an assault; say I was hysterical.’

Sall and her mum came up with the idea of giggle (with a small ‘g’) when Grover returned to Australia after her time in New York.

“We wanted a place where women could connect with each other to talk freely and in a safe and private environment. It’s a place where women can connect to find room mates, freelance work, activism, emotional support… it’s completely apolitical.”

Created ‘by women, for women’ the giggle app was launched at the end of 2019.

” I want there to be a place where every girl can go, free from the male gaze and the judgment we simply cope with on an average day.” Grover told writer MK Fain in February 2020.

“I created Giggle because I wanted women to have a “refuge” away from misogyny.” tweeted Grover, later that year.  “I’d spent years in Hollywood being sexually abused. I knew my life would be better with an easily accessible female support network. I needed one. I knew I wasn’t the only one. So I created one.”

The inevitable misogyny ensued. Both Sall & giggle were met with fury from – yes, you guessed it- men, who challenged her ability to run a company, purely on the grounds that she was a woman. One critic even wrote to her father, suggesting he needed to find a way to ‘manage Sall’.

I have to say, I am not drawn to the plethora of pink. It reminds me of the time I had to stitch 200 salmon pink fleece hats in 48 hours, in a freezing basement with no heating. After that, salmon pink has always been a big no-no in Lilyland.

The woman/keyhole character is clever, but why the name? Well, a ‘giggle’ is evidently the collective noun for a group of girls. Like Grover, I eye-rolled when I first discovered that. But Sall is on a mission to reclaim the concept of giggling girls.

“In reality, a giggle of girls can do a lot of things” she told Mamedamey. “The girls of 2020 are where we are because of the giggles before us.”

While I’m unconvinced by the name, or the choice of colour- or the frequent use of the word ‘girls’ to refer to adult human females- I can’t help imagining what a great idea this could be for women- especially younger women- if it really takes off.

It seems like it well might. Sall Grover certainly knows her stuff and giggle now has over 10,000 monthly users in 88 countries.

And what an ethos!

A man-free zone

Men are banned from giggle.

“But not all men!” I hear you cry, to which I reply with a firm and cheery voice, “Yes, all men.”

Yes, you heard me right. Giggle does not welcome men to its platform.

Men are not allowed to join.

No, it doesn’t matter how they identify.

No men.

lesbian dating

Calling all lesbians: on Giggle Social, you’ll find what what could be “dating categories”. Find someone to take to dinner or a drink, keep it super casual & create a group to go to bar trivia or see a movie & make out[disclaimer: Giggle is FEMALE ONLY & will stay that way”

giggle twitter, August 2020

The first time I’d heard of giggle was a few days ago, when ‘giggle social’, used by many as a dating app, was being discussed on Twitter.

I’ve heard many times that ostensibly women-only dating apps are what one disgruntled lesbian referred to as “full of men LARPing as women”. Five o’clock shadow and hairy chests abound, so I’m told, girdled by she/her pronoun declarations.

This is especially disturbing for lesbian women. In the words of the inimitable Jo Bartosh, “If there is one thing that unites lesbians aside from loving women and liking IKEA, it is their dislike of cock.”

Jo recently talked to lesbian women about their experience of meeting ‘transbians’ on women-only dating sites. One woman, Lucy, was banned from the app after stating that she was only interested in ‘biological females’. Another woman observed, “It is bizarre that I can filter based on someone’s height or star sign but not on sex which is fundamental to my sexual orientation.”

You can read Bartosh’s article here.

I was involved on the fringes of this Twitter discussion few days ago. Someone said that, in the small print, giggle said they did admit trans-identified men aka transwomen. Someone else said they thought they used to but they didn’t anymore.

While not perusing the market for same-sex dating apps, I shot off a quick email to giggle, asking if it was true that they didn’t allow any boys or men on the site, however they identified – and received this reply.

So how do they do it?

It’s a tall order, trying to keep men out of a space. In order to help them do this, giggle now makes use of an artificial intelligence facial bone-structure recognition technology to determine the sex of users.

Under FAQ’s on their website, they explains how this works:

“Each time a new user attempts to register on the app, they are asked to take a “selfie.” This image is then sent via an API call to their partner, Kairos, a face-recognition AI company, “with an ethical approach to verification, that reflects our globally diverse communities”.

The Smithsonian’s ‘T’he Secret in the Cellar’ webcomic explains the differences that are most commonly found between male and female facial structure.

Kairos analyses this image, determines the likelihood of it being male or female in less than a second, and reports back to giggle, whose ‘image confidence level’ is set at 95% for a female. The algorithm even detects pixel-level patterns so can tell if a potential user is taking a photo of a photo. (Tip, don’t take your giggle  photo with a white background.)

In 2020 Grover reported that half of the applications were from men trying to get past the software detection, with one man trying an astonishing 48 times.

“They’re enjoying the verification selfie to see if they can get past it. They can’t. Giggle is boy-free.” Sall told Fain last year. She has faith in the software.

This week, she added on Twitter, There are many males who claim to be on Giggle who, simply, are not. “

 

The giggle umbrella

During the development of giggle, Grover says she fought for transwomen to be able to use the app. “We created onboarding so they wouldn’t be misgendered; we really did everything we could to be as welcoming as possible”.

Initially, the Giggle umbrella encompassed transwomen, the FAQs section of Giggle’s website reading:

“Trans-girls are 100% welcome on giggle. Giggle’s “gender verification” onboarding process is a gatekeeper to stop men from getting on to the platform, not girls or those who identity as girls. If you are at all concerned with the possibility of being misgendered, you are welcome to contact giggle HQ for manual onboarding. Giggle both fully supports and recognises gender identity and will never discriminate.”

This policy didn’t stop transactivists  from organising a pile-on.

The first ‘trans attack’ as Sal describes it, involved thousands of self-defined ‘transwomen’ creating profiles saying things like,  ‘kill TERFs’ and ‘TERFs need to be raped”.

Fake reviews were left for the app and Grover was called names including transphobe, racist, bio-essentialist, eugenicist.

“Every horrible thing that you can imagine. So we very quickly sat around and educated ourselves about what was happening.”

“This girls-only app uses AI to screen a user’s gender” scoffed The Verge. “What could go wrong?”

Well, their reporting, for a start. It is not a user’s gender that the AI process detects – it is their sex.

After doing some research, Garner describes the resulting decision to make giggle a female only space as a “no-brainer.”

 

“I don’t have a choice in how misogyny is dealt to me. I can’t Self ID out of it.” tweeted Grover in July 2020.

Many people would have caved under the pressure, but Sall is not taking any shit from anyone. Far from shutting up, she has never been more vocal.

“I wish that there was no misogyny, no sexual harassment, no assault, no rape, no FGM, no murder, that every person in the world felt safe around each other, that women didn’t fear men and that men didn’t exert power over women. But that is just not the world we live in.”

In September 2020, Sall told Graham Linehan: “TERF is just the new version of bitch, slut, whore, any of that…we’ve survived those we’ll survive this one too…  Single sex spaces will prevail. They will win. Women have been handed nothing, we’ve fought for everything we’ve got and we’re not giving up anything without a fight.”

 

“Us women are vagina-owners, we’re birthers, we’re pregnant people, vulva-havers, and any time I’ve reached out to anyone about this I’ve been told it’s to be inclusive. I don’t think it is.” she told Sky News Australia in February 2021. “TERF is a word that’s being used to scare women and to silence women. It’s a completely misogynistic word… there’s no word that’s been invented for, for example, heterosexual men who don’t date transwomen… people saying ‘shut up TERFS’: if you replaced the word ‘TERF’ with ‘woman’ they wouldn’t get away with it…. it’s a way to censor us and in a sense it’s working…. We want to be able to use to word woman, to have female-only spaces and female-only sport. We’re not asking for a crazy amount of stuff.”

Last week, Giggle launched “Giggle Talk,” a new social media feed in the style of Facebook or Twitter. It works with hashtags, grouping posts on topics such as #menopause, #periods or #cutepuppies. Users can post photos and create forums. This could be huge.

How it started, how it’s going.

To finish off this article, I thought I’d have a look at Sall’s most recent tweets.

We’re told “misgendering” is “literal violence”.” she tweeted this morning. “This has been accepted as “fact” by many people. Then, when females tell of our need & want for female spaces, we receive actual threats of violence. These violent threats are often ignored or, even, celebrated by many people.”

Sall gives examples, screenshots of just some of the recent messages she has received.

“I have a slogan for your website Sall.” tweeted Osamafan 6ix9ine. “I think ‘put a TERF under the earth’ is both catchy & the right message for these troubled times. LMK if you like it.”

Maverick (they/them) messaged her: “Hey Sal, if you’re reading this, please end your own life as soon as possible. Thanks!”

Randomdog (he/him) added: “Important addendum: in the most painful way you can imagine. No easy ways out for the scumfucks please.”

 

On January 21st Sall penned an open letter to the media. Part of it is quoted below; you can read the whole thing here.

“Giggle is used in 88 countries around the world. We have users in countries where female rights are virtually non existent. All of these women, plus women in the USA, Australia, UK and Europe, use Giggle to connect in a safe, private and female environment.

Giggle is 100% inclusive of all females. We have users in their 60s and 70s. Grandmothers. We have users in their 20s. New mothers. Women who are not mothers. Domestic violence survivors. Lesbian women. Women who want friends for exercise together. Women looking for roommates. Women need support. Women of all different races, regions, religions. Women of every different political affiliation. The only thing our users have in common is… they are female.

To me, that is the story that should get attention. But it does not.”

 

You can sign up for giggle at the app store here or at Google play here.

 

 

 

 

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Wrestling with Reality – the birth of Gabbi Tuft

I woke up late today. Glancing at the snow outside, making a quick coffee and sliding back under the duvet, I opened Twitter on my phone to see that wrestling legend Gabe Tuft aka Tyler Reks has actually been a woman all along. Who would have guessed it?

Gabe had posted a press release on Twitter, serenading his ‘long awaited gender reveal’.

The press release revealed that Gabe had been ‘wrestling with a secret persona dwelling deep within him. This is a persona he has been hiding in the loud silence of his soul since childhood. Finally, with the blessing of his loving wife Priscilla, Gabe is ready to reveal who he really is. “He” is now known as “She”: A beautiful, wise, witty and wonderful woman called “Gabbi.” 

Comments on his Twitter account flew in, congratulating him on his ‘brave step’ on ‘living his truth’ and ‘living his best life’. ‘Girl, you’re a goddess’ commented one. ‘You are gorgeous!’ added another.  Other comments included, ‘You are so brave and an inspiration to all’ and ’embrace who you truly are.’

Two days to go

Looking through Gabe/Gabbi’s social media accounts, the viewer sees that there has been a carefully choreographed countdown to this ‘reveal’, involving playing cards from the hearts suit, numbered down from 10 to the Ace.

Even Gabe’s young daughter is involved: the three-days-to-go photo shows a beautifully shot portrait of her smiling between her parents, clutching the three of hearts. Did she know the significance of the playing card when she posed for the photo with her mummy and daddy, I wondered?

So what makes a macho self-described ‘Alpha male’ believe that he has actually been a woman all along?

Wrestling with Reality

In an effort to try to understand, I scroll through Gabe’s Instagram, watch the video there and listen to the second podcast in the ‘Her’ series, where Gabe talks with his wife Priscilla. Priscilla describes herself as a reiki master, energy healer and clairvoyant. She tells listeners that she is willing to use female pronouns for her husband when he is ready but currently refers to him as ‘he’ and ‘Gabe’.

Gabe created a ‘coming out’ video in December 2020 but didn’t make it public until February 2021. ‘Why would I want to transition to female?’ he asks, explaining that his feelings are linked to putting toys up his T-shirt to pretend he was pregnant, age four, and trying on his mum’s clothes age ten. About three years ago he says, he started ‘exploring his feminine side in the bedroom and dressing up’. Eventually, removing the wig and make up would make him cry. We discover that Priscilla, his wife of 18 years, eventually felt unable to cope with the cross dressing in the bedroom, telling him tactfully ‘I am not sexually attracted to females’.  Gabe appears to have considered this explanation to be reasonable.

In the ‘Her’ podcast, Gabe introduces himself as “Founder of Body Spartan, former WWW superstar Tyler Rex, motorcycle road racer – lot of boy stuff there,” concluding, “I am currently in the process of transitioning from male to female.”

“So what does that mean?” probes Priscilla.

“What do you mean, what does that mean?” replies Gabe, with a laugh.

“You had the whole world.” says Priscilla, who appears to perfectly balance the combined roles of supportive wife and perceptive therapist. “You’ve got a fitness model wife, a successful business, a happy little third grade daughter, our dream home: what feels dissonant to you about that? Why would you want to change everything? What makes you ok not being a man any more?”

Gabe says he is tired of being a provider. Over the course of the podcast he tells us more, including the following extracts.

“I’m tired of striving, trying to leave a mark on this planet. It feels like failure…  I needed to be the alpha dog, the alpha male…  I had to let the ego die…  I don’t want to fight anymore… I’m doing it for me because I feel like this is who I’ve always been… I don’t wanna fight any more, I don’t want to struggle…  I don’t wanna be muscular, I don’t wanna be masculine, I wanna be a passable female.”

“Why?” inquires Priscilla, gently.

“I wanna look in the mirror and feel confident, I wanna feel pretty…  I wanna be accepted in that gender…  last night I had that top on and I looked at my back and I thought, I look like a guy…  I  don’t wanna look like a guy,” said Gabe, who is 6ft 3″ and at his heaviest weighed 280lbs.

“You were born so beautiful,” says Priscilla, wistfully.“Why do you want people to see you as a female?”

“I think it’s because that is my authentic self.” replies Gabe, seriously.

Gabe is very open about his life and transition. We learn that he took steroids in the past, and specifically that he took testosterone again when he was attempting to ‘kill’ (his words) his alter-ego, Gabbi. Priscilla refers to the ‘beast that has to come out’ when Gabe takes steroids. “You always think you can control the beast,” added Gabe, who told his wife he had stopped cross-dressing but slipped out and dressed up behind her back. Priscilla knew about this because she is clairvoyant and spirits tell her things.

“I thought you knew it was ok for you to dress up,” Priscilla tells him, adding, “You were not being nice at this time, you were being mean.” He contradicts her. He was being silent he says, not mean.

Priscilla says, “He hit his head for a living for so many years that he forgets a lot of things.”

“Guns all over the house, 3,000 rounds in the garage, our house is set up like a crow’s nest,” observed Priscilla. “Nobody has more firearms and ammo than you Gabe.”

“I’ve got three pistols, I’ve got all the guy stuff.” acknowledges Gabe cheerfully, adding that he has a gun licence to open carry and never goes anywhere unarmed.

Gabe tells us that his brother committed suicide by shooting himself in the head and Priscilla says she ‘sensed suicide energy’ coming from Gabe when he tried to stop cross-dressing.

“It was like a shotgun shell and I was waiting for you to explode.” she says. “There was no life in his eyes. He had left the building.”

Priscilla tells listeners that she has had past issues in their relationship with co-dependency and subservience. We learn that ‘spirit’ had told her there would be an accident if her husband felt guilty. Gabe agrees that he was a suicide risk. He says he keeps a gun on the top shelf in his closet, and he would look at it and imagine shooting himself.

At one point Priscilla tells listeners that she’s going to reach out to the local LGBT centre.

“I’m scared to talk to them but this is my role now,” she says, addressing her own feelings for the first time in the podcast.

Gabe cuts across her and begins talking about how much weight he’s lost.

Towards the end of the podcast Gabe says:

“I would rather die than not live my life as a woman.”

After a long pause Priscilla says softy, “And so it is.”

Another pause and she adds,  “I guess we stop there. If you have the love of your life in a space where they don’t want to go on, it is delicate… and the only option for us is to support them and hold space for them with unconditional love. Those are the hard things to talk about.”

As her voice breaks, Gabe chimes in, “On that note, I’m going to go and paint my nails. They’re dead.”

You can hear Priscilla and Gabe’s podcasts here.

In the glare of the media

Women’s Voices shared the ‘Extra Exclusives’ clip on Twitter, which you can see here. Priscilla gazes at Gabe throughout, smiling and silent, dropping her eyes only when he tells interviewer Billy Bush that they no longer have sex.

Gabe inclines his head, waves his silver nails and speaks in a little girl voice which is very different to the voice he uses in the podcasts with his wife.

“There’s probably a bunch of people that look at you and think ‘if she can do it then I can do it!” declares Bush, ostensibly without irony.

Gabe agrees, says he hopes sharing his story “will be a ray of hope that keeps somebody with us, that keeps them alive, that makes them think ‘yes, I can do this too.’

Priscilla smiles and her white teeth sparkle.

Classic autogynephillia

What we are not supposed to talk about is autogynephillia, a word derived from the Greek for ‘love of oneself as a woman’.  Autogynephillia, a term coined by Ray Blanchard, is ‘a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female’,  referring to “the full gamut of erotically arousing cross-gender behaviors and fantasies”.

In her 2019 interview with Ray Blanchard, Louise Perry reports “Autogynephiles are typically sexually attracted to women, although they may also identify as asexual or bisexual. They are more likely to transition later in life and to have been conventionally masculine in presentation up until that point.”

This is perhaps the ultimate narcissim.  When men choose not only to transition but to splash that transition all over social media and the press, it suggests that they have little awareness or concern for how their choices may confuse and damage their offspring or humiliate and devastate their partners. In contrast, women are expected to make endless a sacrifices for their children and partners. At one point in the podcast Gabe comments to Priscilla that their daughter is in the adjacent room. “I will go to her if she needs anything. You can be yourself.” she says, gently.

Where are all the middle-aged woman suddenly finding their ‘authentic’ selves, and the husbands smiling, supporting and affirming?

Does it really help a late-transitioning man to suggest to him that he will ever really be perceived as a woman? Or will he have enough affirming people around him to preserve the fragile eggshell of the illusion?

Why do I care?

To those who ask me that, I would counter question with ‘why do people have so much trouble seeing how incredibly insulting this is to women?’  When men can say they are women it creates a ripple effect that we ignore at our peril. Where does it leave women, especially young women who are uncomfortable performing femininity?

When a man is heralded as stunning and brave, as holding some mysterious essence of womanhood that can be expressed through long hair, a low-cut top, giant boobs and silver nail polish, what is a young woman who rejects or lacks these attributes supposed to think? That she is somehow less of a woman than he?

A woman is not a giant Barbie doll. These words may be hurtful to some but we, as women, are hurt every time a man is affirmed for believing these trappings and adornments can actually make him female.

Sometimes there are more important things than being nice.

Gabe describes his transition to Gabbi as becoming ‘unashamedly, unabashedly me… I truly became limitless and allowed my authentic self to come into the light.’ But not too much light.  The wig, fake breasts and layers of make up would suggest otherwise.

‘The outer shell may change but the core remains the same.”

Is that what womanhood is? An outer shell? Is that what is now meant by authenticity? Gabe is not alone in suggesting so. In fact anyone suggesting that men can become women asserts that womanhood is little more than an outer shell, that a woman’s biology is insignificant, irrelevant, unworthy of mention. We all know how demonised a woman becomes should she claim the definition of woman is ‘adult human female’.

There is more to consider here than the feelings of autogynephillic men. We should not be surprised when the loving wives of gun-carrying suicidal husbands smile and smile and support and support.  How about we consider the feelings of the children who grow up seeing their daddy parodying womanhood?  The media has no time for their stories and the public has no inclination to listen. They are just women and children, and middle-aged transition is a story about men.

So when I say “Can we stop now please?” my intention is not to dehumanise or mock anyone. I am just trying to encourage us all to see further than the brave transwoman who has found her authentic self.

“What does society say to a little boy?” asks Priscilla. “Do not rock that plastic baby. Pick up your damn pellet gun and go shoot some squirrels. Man up. Boys don’t cry.”

“As boys, anything feminine is for girls and we don’t touch that or else we get beat up.’ says Gabe.

Now there’s something we should be fighting to change.

 

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