This week is going to kick my ass, and the blog is one of the only things that can give. That’s okay, though. You don’t always need my brilliant pearls of wisdom. You particularly don’t need them on issues where others are speaking up for themselves. The transphobia coming out of some British feminist circles–and the retrenchment that happened when it was pointed out–are an excellent case in point. A few articles you’ll want to read:
I was in the bath when I decided to write you a letter. I was feeling depressed. I’d had a long day and a long week at work and I got home to read some of the comments other journalists had made about your departure from Twitter. “Bullied off by a bunch of trannies” was a popular one. “But there’s always stupid journalists writing nasty things about trans people,” pointed out my partner, wondering why I was so upset by your Twitter comments. Suzanne Moore, I told him, is not stupid. She’s the very opposite. I admire her.
I didn’t think your New Statesman article was so bad. I wouldn’t have outright called you a transphobe, that’s unhelpful, but your use of transsexual as a noun was problematic. It’s akin to referring to someone as “a black”, “a gay” or “a cripple”, and I doubt you would ever do that. When I saw you weren’t taking people’s complaints seriously, my first reaction was to Tweet you with images of Brazilian trans women, “murdered trannies”. There are plenty of them, online, if you know where to look.
I don’t want to bash you. But I would like you to understand why so many trans people were angry.
The joke, as I attempted to explain to people, was that I looked like a man in a dress. But the way they saw it, I was mocking trans women as looking like men in dresses, simply by looking like a man in a dress. Individually, Zinnia and I managed to explain this to those who would be willing to listen. When I calmed down a bit, I apologized not for doing what I did, but for irresponsibly posting it without the very necessary context, thereby setting into motion the inevitable consequence of appearing to be another one of those transphobes, of which there are more than plenty.
Those who were willing to listen, LifeInNeon included, agreed that while I certainly could not have expected to be perceived as anything other than a transphobe, this was not bigotry and mostly a horrible mistake. I hold myself and no one else responsible for whatever offense I caused, and I hold the authors of the death threats and no one else responsible for their violent behavior. That’s the end of that.
Due to my experience, I have a unique understanding of what Suzanne Moore must have endured when her words went roaring through the trans activist circles online.
Burchill’s intervention came at the end of a long week, and new readers will need context. There was coverage of the charges being brought against Dr Richard Curtis before the General Medical Council for his practice in the trans community. It raised the issue of the appalling ignorance of many GPs and other doctors not only on specifically trans-related healthcare issues, but the general healthcare of trans people.
At this point Suzanne Moore reprinted in the New Statesman a piece about female anger that complained, among other things, that women were expected to look “like Brazilian transsexuals”. A lot of people seem not to get why this upset most of the trans community.
In the first place there’s the implied dichotomy between women on the one hand and Brazilian trans women on the other – as if Brazilian trans women are somehow not women. But far more important is the fact well over a hundred Brazilian trans women were murdered in the last year alone. The failure of the mainstream press to cover the worldwide war on trans people is a significant failure – one of the major trans community events for the last few years has been the International Trans Day of Remembrance.
Even though Moore has some trans friends, I don’t expect her automatically to think of that point. In an ideal world, she would have recognised the problem with what she had said, and we could all have moved on.
Last week thousands of transgender people, sick and tired of suffering systemic and chronic abuse at the hands of an institutionally transphobic medical profession, decided we were going to tell the world about it.
Or at least the bit of it that reads Twitter.
It was relatively successful. Lots of people looked at the stories of routine and pointless abuse, abuse for its own sake, and were shocked.
So what did our intrepid press do? Did they decide to run daring exposés of this systemic abuse? Bring justice to a minority denied it for decades? Campaign to stop further abuse from happening?
No, they didn’t do any of these things. Noticing that it looked like a bit of a laugh, and the the doctors were getting away with it, they apparently decided to join in themselves.
So far we have the Guardian, Observer, Telegraph and today the Independent joining in (apparently we should be able to take a joke as our “shoulders are broad enough”). Interesting to note that this is mostly the broadsheets too. I await the contributions of the Times and Financial Times with interest. What will it be? A hilarious witty take on how trans women have deep voices, and are ugly, and how we have hairy arms, and smell and are stupid?
All of them are worth reading. You will recognize a fair number of the problematic behaviors talked about from other messes that started small.
Update: And one more, which puts this in a historical perspective I’d only picked up in bits and pieces:
But what happened as a result of that is marvelous. The entirety of Twitter said “no more”. The Guardian commentators said “no more”. 90% of Independent readers said “no more”. For the first time since Boys Don’t Cry, the reality of transphobia was brought to the eyes of everyone. Lynne Featherstone, the strongest trans ally ever to be a minister, called for the sacking of her and the editor of the Observer for publishing it. Instead of wanting to cry, I was uplifted by the amount of support we got for once.
To be honest, though, I don’t think it should’ve been taken down, as the Observer editor did. It feeds into Burchill et al’s victim complex, as if they’re the truly oppressed people, when her views were printed in not one, but two newspapers. It allowed the transphobes on the right to attack the “politically correct brigade”, to protect “freedom of speech”. It changed the debate, and now we feel lost again.
Because it seems to be a naked ploy, a “I’m sorry I got caught” message, from the Guardian, who are probably the worst newspaper for transphobia. It’s expected from the right. It hurts when it’s from the left. To see Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel push their “feminist” transphobia, over years and years.