The crass hypocrisy of Julie Burchill


Guest post by Heather McNamara

So, who’s heard of Julie Burchill and her “censored” article?

Coming to the defense of her maligned feminist friend, columnist and author Julie Burchill wrote an article about trans women. Apparently, her friend Suzanne Moore’s latest article contained a faux pas. In Burchill’s words:

She wrote that, amongst other things, women were angry about “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”.

At best, this is simply a poorly constructed byproduct of the aged-out argument that idealized beauties are expected to be voluptuous in ways white women can’t achieve (Brazilian!) and skinny in a way that cis women can’t achieve (transsexual!) simultaneously. It juxtaposes the hyperfeminized (big boobs!) and masculinized (skinny hips!) to demonstrate the absurdity and impossibility of beauty ideals.

It’s aged out because modern feminists can generally agree that however rare these body types are, shaming the women who possess them as plastic and/or masculinized is just repackaging the same old worms. Moore’s statement was poorly thought out. It was also a microaggression. It was clearly not intended to upset or dismiss transsexual people, but to make a cheap and thoughtless argument. The problem was that she completely disregarded trans people in doing so. She decided that their opinions or their audience was not worth acknowledging and that their identities were therefore free and available to use as a brazen and absurd example of what not to be.

Not surprisingly, some trans people didn’t like this. Moore was apparently harassed quite a bit on Twitter and felt forced to delete her account. Julie Burchill to the “rescue!” I won’t bother going into the specifics of the article, because it’s all ugly. There’s some stuff about bed-wetting and bad wigs and a hilariously sophomoric display of Burchill’s feeble grasp of How Words Work. For example:

having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff

Why but Burchill rhymes with Churchill, so if I call her Burchill, am I calling her a wrinkly old white guy who hates Lady Astor? What an idiot.

It was originally published in The Observer, but the editor didn’t take long to realize their mistake and took it down. Of course, any editor worth their salt wouldn’t have published it to begin with, but don’t tell that to Toby Young! Why he was so offended at this “censorship” that he chose to republish this snot on The Telegraph, proving that British and American conservatives have at least one thing in common: they really have no grasp of the concept of censorship at all.

But why did Burchill do this? To defend Moore’s honor? I once found myself in Moore’s position, and I can sympathize… almost.

Not too long after my marriage went downhill and my ex lost his main source of income in the flailing economy, I was forced to take a job – literally any job I could get. My skills and experience were pretty okay, but at every job I applied for, I was competing against literally hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in my area. It was taking forever and I had children to feed. I was about to get evicted. So, I took a job I wouldn’t otherwise take at a call center that hired anyone that came through the door: felons, addicts, anyone.

Every day after work, I would apply for more jobs, but for a while I was stuck there. Well, as anyone who has seen any of my videos on Zinnia’s channel or any of our live shows on BlogTV knows, I present in a fairly masculine manner. I stand well above average for a woman at 5’10”. I’m also very obviously a lesbian, and it didn’t take long for my coworkers to notice, but I am not trans. I do identify as a woman. As one of the few people at the office who didn’t show up to work on a lot of drugs every day, I was also fairly successful.

I worked my way up a rank fairly quickly and soon found myself on a level that very few women in that office ever achieved. My coworkers and bosses were all men. This privilege of being promoted, I was often told, had something to do with my “being one of the guys.” Never mind my performance, I guess. There were frequent jokes about how “manly” I was. They called me by my last name rather than my first. I think this was all meant as showing respect by defeminizing me. As a feminist, this was extremely offensive, but driven to feed my kids and not really in a position to hire a lawyer, I kept my mouth shut.

One day, we came to work and discussed the dress code. They were tightening it up, they said, and men would be required to wear collars and slacks. Somebody asked about women’s blouses. Could women wear shirts that didn’t have collars? Of course, they conceded. Women’s blouses are appropriate. I asked if I could wear shirts without collars. They said no. Somebody made a joke that I would look like a man in women’s clothing. I grimaced quietly.

So, along comes Halloween and there’s a costume contest at work. I thought it might be a good idea to up the ante, so to speak, on their crap. I put on one of my old dresses from back when I used to try to look femme. I did not shave my legs and had not in over a year at that point, so I let my fur fly. I also stuffed some tissue in my bra and put on some makeup to look like a five o’clock shadow and some chest hair. I wore a pink feather boa. I was a bad drag queen. My trans girlfriend thought this was hysterical. So did I.

I did not make much money. We rarely had enough to survive. In the absence of the resources to hire a lawyer and draw any real kind of line, I’d asserted my femininity and shone a spotlight on the absurdity and inappropriateness of my coworkers’ jokes. I felt liberated and empowered for the first time in a very, very long time. I carved a pumpkin with a feminism symbol on it and took a picture sans the boa, which was itchy by then. I posted it on reddit.

At first, the thread went fairly well. People thought it was funny. Then, somebody pointed out that this was transphobic. There was much anger. A trans woman who goes by the internet handle LifeInNeon wrote an essay about how offensive I was. This essay become quite popular. My inbox was filled with death threats and sundry vitriol. I was humiliated and exhausted. I responded defensively. Because this was an empowering statement of my gender during a time when I had very little to feel good about, I would not apologize.

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. People can be really awful. Over a year later, I still sometimes get replies to old reddit comments about how I’m a transphobe. People still post that picture whenever they disagree with me, their version of the ultimate ad hominem.

But however vitriolic and sometimes violent those who responded to me may have been, I would never resort to transphobia. I would never denigrate an entire group of people who are just trying to go about the business of living their lives and achieving the same amount of respect that even Moore and Burchill implicitly receive with crass, base insults about the genitalia of an entire group of people, most of whom probably have no idea who Moore even is.

Did Moore have to apologize to every single person who ever got offended or sent a rape or otherwise violent threat? No. Frankly, I’m not a fan of demanding remorse. Apologies taken are not the same as apologies given. But when you’re calling yourself a voice for equality and social justice, there are some basic rules that people will generally expect you to follow, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that, while you may mess up, and may not always practice what you preach, you at least have some kind of idea of what you’re preaching.

I wouldn’t say that I necessarily handled my personal debacle with the utmost of grace and dignity, but I can say with certainty that Burchill’s handling of Moore’s debacle was beyond the pale. Burchill claims she did this in the spirit of feminism, aggressively claiming women’s voices in a sea of men, in which she includes trans women. But what she’s demonstrated is that her version of feminism has less to do with equality of the sexes, and more to do with making sure sewage just rolls a little further downhill than herself. Armed with the same body-shaming, shallow insult tactics that have been used against women since the beginning of time, Burchill is nothing more than a common hypocrite, and would do well to remember that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

Comments

  1. Zoe says

    I remember that costume. I have to admit, I was upset about it, not so much the costume, but the defensiveness. I abhor threats, but I did add my voice to the general clamor. So, it’s true, in that way, these situations are similar. But, the difference is, you always treated the people who were arguing against you as people, you took the time to listen even when you were upset and defensive, and you learned from the mistake. Suzanne Moore did none of these things. Julie Burchill went out of her way to do the opposite of what you did. They actively showed that their belief in equality was a sham, and that their version of feminism is only for themselves. So, while you’ve earned my forgiveness and even admiration, they will never have either; only scorn and a vague sense of shame that they can so blatantly claim the same beliefs as myself without being challenged to uphold them.

  2. says

    I would say that people who utter death and rape threats are automatically excluded from being owed an apology.
    But you’re doing it all wrong. You can’t admit that you made a mistake, this is FtB! ;)

    I think your example shows a dilemma feminist women often find themselves in: Desperately strugeling against male domination we unintentionally step on trans*people in order to keep our heads above the water.

    • says

      Unintentional? Well,as long as you make a good-faith effort not to, I don’t see we have room for complaint.

      You see, some Trans* people are feminist women too. We have to be just as careful not to step on trans* people who are not.

      I’m not sure we do a very good job of that.

  3. Jef says

    Moore’s error did not end with the orginal line. I can certainly see how a large number of comments in a Twitter feed could quickly look like a mob but there is really no excuse for putting up a straw man of the complaint and glibly dismissing Trans issues “I dont prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women Intersectional enough for you?” or attacking an entire group of people “!) People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.” as Moore did.

    To paraphrase a comment I read elsewhere:
    If you step on someone’s toes by accident, the sensible and grown up thing to do is to apologise. You don’t start shouting about how you don’t believe in toes, and anyway their feet should have been travelling in the same direction as yours because where you’re going is a much more important destination.

  4. Nepenthe says

    Sidenote: ~48% of Brazilians identify as White (which, granted, is a lot more broad than the American definition of White), so she didn’t even get that implication right.

    • Francisco Bacopa says

      That’s because south of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo del Norte there were at times something like the opposite of the “one drop” rules common in the US. A measure of white at the right timemade you white whatever your skin color.

      But as far as anti-transwoman stuff coming from the feminist side, I just don’t understand it. There aren’t really that many of them and they often have interesting perspectives on things. Make it a part of the narrative.

  5. resident_alien says

    Once upon a time,Julie Burchill was readable,occasionally hilarious.
    Unfortunally,she coke-burned her brain to a crisp.She even found Jesus,for pity’s sake!
    I am long past the point of being able to take that woman seriously.

  6. says

    ‘It was originally published in The Observer, but the editor didn’t take long to realize their mistake and took it down.’

    The realisation engendered by the 1700+ (last time I looked), predominantly vitriolic comments? But what would the editor expect in response to a vitriolic piece from a vitriolic author? Maybe the rapidly rising numbers made it fear a dwindling readership.

  7. gshelley says

    I saw the piece yesterday and was astonished that the Observer let something as bigoted and unpleasant get through. The comparison to the Black and White Ministrels was particularly odd. The obvious implication was that just as the black and white minstrels weren’t actually black, just white people pretending, then trans women aren’t actually women, just men pretending, but underneath that was the assumption that this would be in any way relevant to Usain Bolt. Saying “Pretend black people telling Usain Bolt how to run is ridiculous” carries the obvious implication that real black people telling him how to run would be fine.

    • says

      Odd? In what way? She’s done it before in the Guardian. In 2001.

      The best reason for their continuing existence is that they demonstrate how very stupid men look, in fact, when they dress up as women. In the context of panto, this is perfectly appropriate. But for the rest of them, I see no difference between transvestite entertainers and the late Black and White Minstrels. They’re both extremely offensive, and I don’t understand why one is beyond the pale and the other totally acceptable in enlightened circles.

      And, yes, I know that they’re not the same, but may I say that I feel even less patience with transsexuals. Male to female transsexuals are Michael Jackson to the transvestites Ali G;

      She, and the Guardian, have form here.

  8. Eileen Calder says

    I am an Irish Woman – should I feel offended that you use the expression “Beyond The Pale” No, because I know you have absolutely no notion of the origin of this phrase. I am not offended but even if I was I would respect your right to exercise free speech and offend me. I would not call you an Anti-Irish racist and demand that your article was censored.

    I AM actually offended at the term “Cis Woman” and “Non-Trans Woman” you might as well call me a “Non Male” Some of Julie’s hyperbole was OTT but her basic points were valid. Suzanne was treated abominably as was Julie’s other friend and colleague who is a feminist activist by the transgender community.

    I am sorry that you responded to bullying by self-flagellation. It sounds to me like you were the victim and not the aggressor, being bullied by humourless and cruel men/ex men. As a feminist and Woman’s Rights activist – that offends me very much

      • Eileen Calder says

        You may call yourself whatever you please but I reserve the right to object to being called a “Cis Woman” What is your problem with that? I have a right to be called a “woman” just as black people have the right to be called “Black” and not “Non-White” I am prepared to treat any person who has had, or intends to have the appropriate medical procedure to modify their sexual organs as the gender to which they ascribe themselves. I also would campaign for their human rights not to be discriminated in law. This however is not enough for some of you.
        Tough Shit Paddy/Patricia Because that is as far as I am prepared to go.

        • says

          I have a right to be called a “woman” just as black people have the right to be called “Black” and not “Non-White”

          So how exactly would you refer to people who aren’t trans? “Not trans”? That would sound rather like “non-white”.

          • Eileen Calder says

            How about this ………………..”Trans-Woman” and “Woman”……………it is you who seem to have the need to differentiate. If it doesn’t have testicles and a penis and acts like a woman then SHE is JUST THAT “A WOMAN” as far as I am concerned.

          • says

            How about this…… “Non-Trans Woman” and “Woman”?

            I can understand someone objecting to the “cis-” prefix. But not if they ever use the “trans-” prefix too.
            It’s like objecting to “ante-” but being fine with “post-“.

        • says

          So call yourself “a woman,” but while you’re at it, call a trans woman simply “a woman” too and if it ever becomes necessary to differentiate yourself, say, for the purpose of discussing ovaries or what the hell ever, then be prepared to qualify your label to the same degree you feel you must qualify theirs. No more and no less.

        • danah gaz says

          “.”Trans-Woman” and “Woman””

          How about no?

          How about, trans women are women, too.

          How about, you stop insisting on “othering” trans women, who have enough problems as it is, and stop insisting that we “other” ourselves.

          How about you find something better to be offended about, than the idea that trans women are not less than you?

      • Eileen Calder says

        “Beyond The Pale” originated as a British Colonial phrase to denigrate the “natives” its use as a derogatory term began in Ireland and was used in the same way as the Romans would have used the term Barbarian. If you do not understand where “The Pale” is/was and your source of research is Wikipedia there is little point in further discussion. It is irrelevant anyway – just as Ms Moore’s throwaway light-hearted comment was to the issue at hand.
        Anyway the point is that I do not take a psycho every time someone uses the phrase or when they talk about “Irishman’s Cuttings” “Having a Paddy” or referring to a police/prison van as a “Paddy Wagon” etc etc ad nauseum.

        Suzanne might well have just used the term “Page 3 Model” or Hollywood Superstar intsead of “Brazilian Transexual” We live in a culture of complaint where victimhood is worn like a badge of honour, its easy to spend your whole damned life being offended if you are a woman and want to be offended. Why would Transexual woman feel they should be treated any differently from other women?

    • Zoe says

      Feminism that is only for certain women, is a hollow feminism. And any “feminist”, you included, who claims to be able to determine who women are, who faces oppression at the hands of sexism, and who qualifies for protection and advocacy:

      You make me laugh.

      The more you, and Burchill, and Bindle (Moore’s other friend), and Greer, and all the rest, the more you try to differentiate between trans women and other women, the more you show that your idea of woman really is what you’re born with, that you’re so-called “feminism” isn’t at all, it’s essentialism. It is exactly the sexism you claim to fight.

      As for “cis” and “non-trans”, do you also take exception and “white” and “non-black”? Do you feel the need to differentiate people from “those others with different skin so they aren’t people”? You are falling back on the language of racism, the language of homophobia, and the language of sexism. It’s not becoming.

    • gshelley says

      Do you have a source to show “Suzanne was treated abominably”?
      The only one I have seen shows she was treated very politely by one person and responded abonimably, at which point more people started criticising her
      Twitter conversation

      I loved your piece on anger – except for the shock transphobia (“a Brazilian transsexual”) – why on earth did you include it?

      why include it at all? It’s v weird & leaves a v nasty taste. Trans women deserve solidarity, not implicit shaming

      and after a couple more polite attempts to show her language was innapropriate

      I dont prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women Intersectional enough for you?

      Which seems to have come out of nowhere. And even if it hadn’t, even if she had been hounded by dozens of people, it would still be totally innapropriate.

      • Eileen Calder says

        So it was polite and OK to publicly call Suzanne Moore Trans-phobic and claim she was “shaming” transsexual people?

        • says

          Yes, of course. It’s accurate, isn’t it?

          Screen shots are at http://storify.com/leftytgirl/suzanne-moore-timeline-of-trans-misogynistic-twitt

          1) Cis-feminist A takes cis-feminist B to task over a mildly questionable remark about Trans people,one I consider inconsequential (though cis-feminist A doesn’t).
          2) Cis-feminist B proceeds to spew transphobic remarks.
          3) Cis-feminist B then blames the “Trans Lobby” for bullying her.

          It’s a bit like:
          1) Lutheran takes Catholic to task over a debatable remark concerning Jews.
          2) Catholic spews anti-semitic remarks.
          3) Catholic then blames the “Jewish Lobby” for bullying her and all Christians

          “Anti-semitism is your term. I have problems with anything Jew actually”

          Transphobia is your term. I have issues with trans anything actually.

          I dont prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women Intersectional enough for you?

          I dont even accept the word transphobia any more than Islamaphobia ..

          People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.

          .

  9. says

    Yeah, I gotta say, five o’clock shadow and stuffed bra? Basically blackface. Definitely ill-advised. I’d be pissed if my girlfriend did that. But then, I’m not /your/ girlfriend, and I don’t know your situation.

    You’re right, of course, that there’s a serious difference in the defense of your actions: Your defense was an apology, not a further offense.

  10. one_of_teh_Kats says

    Heh, I remember that picture and the endless scrolling down of comments. That was you? Personally, I didn’t give your costume more than half-a-seconds’ glance before scrolling the comments section while lightly chuckling. Your’s was not an offense – bad taste to some maybe, but offensive is pushing it. No call for the torches and the pitchforks in my humble opinion.

    Now this furor on the other hand… Moore. What you did skip over was the fact her comment was originally called out by a cis woman on twitter. Instead of acknowledging the faux pas, or any of the numerous other choices, she decided to go down an even more defensive (or maybe offensive) path. That is where she stepped in it and got herself in trouble. Not the comment itself, but her offensive remarks following. Check out Guttersniper’s link there for more in-depth coverage…

    And what is there to say about Burchill that others have not already said ad infinitum, and will be commenting on for months to come?

    But you are right, and actually used the very same word I myself was using about the whole affair, and exclusionary radical feminism in general – hypocrisy. But what part of that oh-so-specific subsection of that subset isn’t about that; leaning into the existing (and loathed) power structure to oppress others like it is a zero-sum game? However, you bring up a very valid point – the trans* community as a whole needs to be above that level, otherwise, we are no better than those who would keep us down (and in our place, damn uppity…) In other words, we would be just as hypocritical as they are. This means threats have no place at all – threats of violence of any kind – should be abhorred, avoided and as publicly chastised/flogged right along with the phobic ones. For those that disagree, let me point out that you make us all look bad, those against us look like martyrs and set back the cause of equality for years at a time by making them. The British weren’t pushed out of India by violence, but by shame and condemnation of a grand scale. While not at the same level, the parallel is apt I think.

    Honestly though, after going through the depths of despair following this entire saga and feeling like I have been dredged through slime reading the comments from the public, I am ready to move on from this massive block of transphobia and say let it stand as a monument to how trans* individuals are viewed from the trans-exclusionary hold-outs and their sycophants. We will never actually get an apology, given or taken. To have called them out publicly on their BS (which I have left to better and more eloquent minds) is about all we really can do.

    People making threats however? Yeah, they can go rot in some dank hole for eternity. While I personally didn’t make any, you have my sincerest apologies and shame from me for my communities behaviors.

  11. Sassafras says

    I’m glad you included the explanation for the costume here. I’m not active on Reddit so someone sent me the link to the photo, I was like, “That’s some shit” and then never heard your explanation. It’s good to hear the background and it makes a lot more sense now and that’s a relief.

  12. 1982 says

    I admire your humility in taking that flack but I must say – OH FOR GOODNESS SAKE. It was a JOKE! Jesus Christ. If Judith Butler’s arguments mean anything at all, isn’t it that you should create ‘gender trouble’ by playing with the performance of gender?

  13. Kimiko Lotus says

    One Halloween, I decided to go a KKK Member…was it offensive to some people, probably. As a black girl who was always the ONLY black girl when I was in school, I have dealt with my fair share of racists. I grew up in the town next to the Klan’s stronghold in the 1920’s, and the racism still lingered in there like a massive fart in the 90’s. I’m sure many people would be really offended by my costume choice, but to me it is like the ultimate revenge….just think of how many Klanspeople I had the potential to give heart attacks to, lol.

  14. says

    It’s supposed to start at 6:30 sharp, but I doubt it will.Don’t keep me waiting long.Opportunity knocks but once.I want to take a walk along the river bank, singing my favorite songs.I can’t afford a new car.The best-known movie awards are the Academy Awards.The best-known movie awards are the Academy Awards.Do you accept credit cards? Love me,love my dog.I have just heard from my sister, Mary.

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