Gender change

Gender change ▪️ Graffitti and yachts ▪️ Trust deficit ▪️ Curious murder ▪️ Gen Alpha

Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known as Elagabalus – who ruled the Roman empire for just four years, from 218 AD to his assassination, aged 18, in 222AD – has been outed. North Hertfordshire Museum in England has relabelled its display about the Roman emperor after concluding that he was, in fact, a trans woman. The museum will now refer to Elagabalus with the female pronouns of she and her.

The decision was taken after research showed that the classical texts revealed that the emperor, who had a reputation for sexual promiscuity, once said, “call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.”  Cassius Dio, a senator and contemporary of Elagabalus, writes in his historical chronicles that the emperor was married five times – four times to women, and once to Hiercoles, a former slave and chariot driver. Dio also says that, in this final marriage, the emperor “was bestowed in marriage and was termed wife, mistress, and queen”.

Mind you, not all historians agree that Elagabalus was a woman. In fact, Cambridge University classics professor Dr Shushma Malik says that many claims about him and others cannot be taken at face value and were made by people who were extremely hostile to them. Malik says that, in those days, pronouns were often changed to weaken political figures and undermine them. Sort of, like the fake news and fabrications so prevalent on social media today.

Others contend that, as well as being perhaps the gayest emperor of all, Elagabalus also forms an important figure in trans history.  Of course, it is difficult to assign modern conceptions of gender and sexuality to ancient figures, but the facts present a young person clearly with a gender identity we would today consider non-binary, or perhaps transgender. When we say queer people often grow up feeling different from their peers, this is exactly how Elagabalus must have felt. They (a gender-neutral pronoun probably describes Elagabalus best) were eastern, an Arab from Syria, a follower of the sun god cult of Sol Invictus.

There’s a story related by Cassius Dio who writes that Hierocles, Elagabalus’s charioteer, was jealous of Aurelius Zoticus, who was the hungest athlete in Rome. Elagabalus had sent out messengers to find the Roman with the largest appendage. So, when the Emperor wanted to try him out, Hierocles drugged Zoticus so he couldn’t get it up to top Elagabalus, disappointing the emperor who banished him from Rome!

Photo: AP/Robin Rayne

From the perspective of trans history, Elagabalus’s sexual orientation is fascinating. They often wore make-up, wigs, and dresses, often used female pronouns, and offered vast sums to any doctor who could perform bottom surgery. It is unlikely that the young emperor invented the concept of gender affirming surgery. So, they must have somehow heard about this being performed elsewhere in the classical world.

When we consider the hell on earth trans people are subjected to around their own affirming healthcare nowadays, it’s interesting to consider the practice is at the very least two millennia old – hardly the social experiment we call it today.

Graffitti and yachts

Moviment Graffitti has expressed deep concern over the government’s strategy to attract more superyachts to Malta, as well as its plans for land reclamation. The activist group asserted that the coast and sea should not be exploited for private interests, emphasising that these areas are vital for public enjoyment. The NGO said it strongly opposes anything that “prioritises the interests of the rich over the general public”.

The group contends that Malta’s lands and waters should not be exploited for the benefit of a few at the expense of public access and enjoyment. It questions the compatibility of the growth of the superyacht industry with the green transition. It argues that superyachts, in addition to occupying substantial space, pollute both the sea and air, and damage natural biodiversity.

Graffitti is correct is in its assertion that regulatory action frequently fails. We sorely need better regulations involving the design of policies, rules, and laws that are thoroughly supervised and supported by the credible threat of enforcement.  People are fed up of vested interests riding a coach and horses through loopholes in the regulations, and are even more furious when the State does not immediately close them.  However, it is not the case that development should stop until we have better regulations in place.


The Rio Declaration makes it clear that development cannot be stopped and should be accessible to every society in the world. Yet, some people still pose the questions of development and the environment in an either/or context, though there is plenty of evidence that a country can decouple the growth of GDP and the growth of environmental pollution or destruction. After all, until quite recently, we Maltese dumped raw sewage into the sea; today we treat it.  So, it does not mean that more people and homes producing sewage automatically causes more pollution. Again, a higher population and more economic activity require more electricity generation, but pollution control technology enables us to reduce emissions.

It is ironic that some environmentalists, along with some climate deniers, share the belief that we must trade off economic growth and environmental protection.  In reality, we can and must accomplish both. A reason that we cannot abandon economic development is that most people in the developed world and in Malta like the way they live and will not give up their way of life. Asking them to do so dooms environmental advocates to political marginalisation and failure.

Malta is probably the only country in the world where a body of people say that growth in GDP should be stopped.  They are encouraged by some intellectuals who only egg them on for partisan political purposes and would soon sing a different tune if their favourite party were elected. Their cry is taken on board by some dishonest politicians who have no intention of foregoing GDP growth if ever elected.

Lack of economic development inevitably leads to political instability and the potential for violence. The path to environmental protection and the enjoyment of public spaces is not through weak economic growth, but through economic growth that avoids gratuitous environmental destruction.

Trust deficit

A Eurobarometer survey conducted last October has shown that the Maltese, along with the Greeks, are the third least likely to trust their public broadcaster. Only 35% express confidence in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), compared for example to the Finns (71%). Private TV, which in Malta includes two stations owned by political parties, is only trusted by 26% of Maltese, three points less than the EU average.

If you ask me, these statistics are not surprising. Whether the results will change policy at State level is a moot point, even though I cannot understand for the life of me why various government through the years have spent millions on a public broadcaster which lacks trust. Those expenditure of those millions is not at all cost-effective if news favourable to the government of the day is not trusted or is only trusted by the already-converted. 

Clearly, one cannot trust a public broadcaster that is controlled by the government of the day.  I don’t. If I wish to know anything, I read the news as reported on-line by two or three newspapers and comments thereon by opinion writers or bloggers who, I have learned through experience, can be trusted to interpret the news in a relatively balanced manner. Of course, I don’t in the least expect everybody to do the same, but then to each according to what they deserve.

If any government were really serious about increasing trust in public broadcasting, it would emulate, for example, the Finns, who have five pieces of legislation regulating their national broadcaster, Yle.  The public broadcaster is managed by a non-departmental public body and controlled by a parliamentary governing council. Politicians play no role in appointing or dismissing its journalists. The council includes representatives from the fields of science, art, education, business, and economics.

Curious murder

Many murders have been the result of a love affair gone wrong — people hiding big secrets and getting bloody revenge. We think of things like jealousy, money, hate, and sometimes thrill-chasing when we think about motives for murder.But to murder “out of curiosity” is just incredible.  It happened recently in South Korea, where a 23-year-old woman who was obsessed by crime shows and novels, decided to kill a teacher for that very reason.

The woman, an unemployed loner who scored highly on the police’s psychopath tests, had used an app to contact more than 50 people who conducted English lessons at home, until she picked on her victim.  She then dressed in a school uniform and went to the victim’s home, stabbing her more than 100 times, dismembered the body and dumped the remains in a remote park.

Photo: NEWS1

It is not the first murder committed for a bizarre reason.  A Georgia teen, Kevon Watkins, took things too far in the middle of a heated argument over the household wi-fi password.  During an argument over the password change between Watkins and his mother, his sister Alexus stepped in to protect her mom and cool things down.  Kevon and Alexus tussled and fell to the floor.  Alexus was held in a chokehold for about 15 minutes and wound up dead.

There’s a strange thing about death. In our worldly lives, whenever we are escaping from somebody (a bully or an enemy), we always check our backs to see if our follower is catching up with us.  Anything and everything that we run away from is always behind us. Death is perhaps the only exception. A greater part of our life is spent in escaping death, but in our feverish attempts at getting away from death, we only get closer and closer to our inevitable demise, which, instead of nabbing us from behind, waits patiently for us to reach it, and then leaves us with no choice but to surrender.

Hardly any consolation for being nabbed by Death out of curiosity.

Gen Alpha

An ExpressVPN survey in the US and the UK has revealed that 50% of children aged four to 13 use social media, while only 25% of parents said they allow them to do so.   This already highlights the problem that many children are spending  a lot of time on social media without their parents knowing.  The survey also revealed that children spend an average of 28 minutes daily on social platforms, ranging from 21 minutes clocked by four-year-olds to 45 minutes daily by 13-year-olds.

Quite rightly, most parents (59%) were most worried about their child being bullied online.  Other concerns included children being groomed by an online predator; fears that children might be exposed to offensive content; and risks posed by harassment by other users.  These are real risks, since 22% of the children surveyed admitted that they had been bullied online, 17% said that a stranger had asked then which school they attended, and 14% revealed that a stranger had asked them for their home address.

In Malta, Charles L. Mifsud and Rositsa Petrova had reported on certain facets of this situation in their ‘Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology – The National Report for Malta’ in 2017.  Some surprising findings included that most children surveyed were actively using digital devices since they were one year old, many children used their parents’ devices, children were using digital devices more frequently than their parents thought, and the use of digital devices was highly supervised by parents.  Parents were mainly concerned about online safety and access to violent games, as well as about the balance between the use of digital devices and other activities which had a bigger potential for educational and creative development.

Psychiatrist Mark Xuereb has warned about the repercussions of addiction to the use of a mobile and time spent on the Internet, including obesity and suicide.  He has asked parents not to forget that “internet addiction is one of the three criteria that leads to suicide in adolescents and young people”.  By cutting themselves off from society and neglecting themselves, young people risk developing suicidal tendencies.   Xuereb has urged parents not to allow young children to spend more than two hours a day on social media, as established by the World Health Organisation.

Now we have Gen Alpha – meaning anyone born between 2010 and 2024 – who have had screens shoved in their faces since birth. We are breeding and raising iPad kids.  You see them everywhere: in restaurants, playgrounds, and social occasions at home and elsewhere. It would appear that parents find it increasingly difficult to pay their kids enough attention and converse with them.  Fearing that their kids will not behave or act bizarrely, they find it easier to give them the iPad and make them shut up.

Ryan Lowe, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, says that excessive use of digital devices means that children “are not learning the basic skills of patience and containing themselves long enough to manage something difficult or frustrating.” This not to mention that, according to behavioural and neuro-developmental optometrist Bhavin Shah, more children are becoming short-sighted than ever before, they have underdeveloped motor skills, and a difficulty in spatial awareness.

Do parents really want this for their kids?

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