It’s just over a day since Julie Burchill’s hateful tirade appeared on the Observer (click here for a mirrored PDF copy) – and while I’m shocked that such blatant slurs and threats were published in a paper that considers itself liberal, I am glad that there is already such an outcry against it. Trans people are routinely vilified in popular journalism, and all too often, this is accepted and normalised – so this widespread reaction is truly heartening.
I spent some of last night with Kelley Temple drafting the official statement from the NUS Women’s Campaign – that’s my small contribution to the stand against this hatred. (Click here to read it.) Well, that, and this blog entry – where I ask you, dear reader, to sign a petition and do some extra reading.
As a writer, of course I believe in freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is not a free pass to spew vitriol without criticism – and Burchill’s article is one of the most hate-filled screeds it has been my displeasure to read. As a member of the LGBTQ community herself, Burchill should understand how damaging words can be – how normalising hate speech against an oppressed group goes a long way towards further entrenching the violence and exclusion they already face. Burchill may have a right to her opinions, but if you agree that those opinions should not be legitimised by the platform of a respected national newspaper, please take a moment to sign this petition of objection. You can also write to the editor on stephen.pritchard(at)observer(dot)co(dot)uk and register your feelings with the Press Complaints Commission, should you choose.
It is particularly saddening that all of this has served to overshadow ‘#TransDocFail’ – the online outpouring by trans people regarding the abuse and discrimination routinely perpetuated against them by medical professionals, in response to the witch-hunt against trans practitioner Dr Richard Curtis. (For details, see articles by Jane Fae and Sarah Brown.)
Anything else I may have to say about this has already been said, far more eloquently, by the trans writers in the following links:
Once you decide that some people’s lives are not real, it becomes OK to abuse them; for people without the outlet of writing for a national newspaper, it becomes OK to shout things in the street, or worse. The trouble with Burchill’s list of negative epithets for trans people is that she legitimises the basic currency of hate speech. Trans people are one of the very few minorities who some progressives feel entitled to mock and misrepresent – but then Burchill parted company with the left a long time ago. By now, she has parted company with common decency.
What I would ask Moore and Burchill is this: do you think that what you’ve written makes it more or less likely that an elderly trans woman living on a housing estate will get jostled on the stairs by her neighbours? Or that a teen trans man will be punched in the street? It’s not anger-fuelled tweets, but that provocation, done with malice by people who should know better, that is the real bullying.
This is particularly disappointing when such writing comes from lesbian, bisexual and/or feminist writers. You’d think that women who have experienced sexism and homophobia might have some level of empathy for others who face prejudice, harassment and threats of violence on a regular basis. You’d think that they might understand that this isn’t just about the “other”, but members of their own community: trans women who happen to be gay, bisexual or queer; trans people who happen to be feminists.
… The concept of intersectionality probably offers us the best possible way out of this mess. It’s been somewhat savaged by Burchill and Moore (and studiously ignored by Bindel) during this particular debate, as they argue that it’s an unnecessarily complex, academic idea. But intersectionality doesn’t have to be complicated. Intersectionality is, at its core, the idea that (aside from a very small number of individuals who are spectacularly well-off or badly-off) we are all oppressed, and all privileged… Burchill, Moore and Bindel all attempt to rank the oppression of women against the oppression of trans people, suggesting that the former have it harder than the latter. This simply doesn’t make any sense, as both women and trans people are oppressed, and some women are trans.
There is nothing progressive about linking anger to cruelty, to bullying, to an attempt to dominate others. The anger displayed this week by several cis journalists has done nothing to break down systems of prejudice, discrimination and hatred – it substitutes one victim for another, one master for another, but leaves the system itself in place. Equality, by its very nature, cannot be partial or piecemeal. Discrimination does not limit itself to the oppression of a single group – and many people find themselves discriminated against in more than one way. Attempting to attack only one form of oppression leaves oppression itself still standing – what is needed is an attack at its very roots, the notion that ‘this person or these people is/are less than my person and my people’. This is intersectionality – and this is where we need to harness our anger. There is an anger born of resentment, fear, ignorance and petty-mindedness – but also anger arising from compassion, kindness and, in its broadest sense, love.
Yes – I’m angrier than I have been in a long, long time – and I plan to turn it to good use – as do many others. Write a post, write an article – write to your local MP and to your usual newspaper. Make a song, or a vlog – call a debate at your university, start an outreach project. Cis people – do something to educate yourselves about trans issues – read a book, a blog, watch a documentary, google ‘Trans 101′. Trans people – reach out and help cis people who want to learn. But whatever happens, we can’t allow things to stay as they are – and we can’t allow hurt and resentment to bring us down. So, please – get angry, and stay angry – and let that anger build something better for all of us.
It’s been another long day for me. Once again I’m reminded of the wallpaper in my mind; that ever-present knowledge that trans people are objects of ridicule in public life, things to be referred to and smirked at, not real, valid living human beings with fears and weaknesses and hopes and dreams and all the other things that you and I and every one else on the planet feels.And I find I don’t want to be angry; I don’t want you to be just another person making off comments about trans people. I want you to be Suzanne Moore, my hero. You’re so much better than the article Julie Burchill wrote in your defence. But I want people to stop ridiculing people like me – and I want today to be the day they stop.
And finally, because I can’t resist linking to such a beautiful and humane piece of prose, and because it is still so relevant to those who persecute trans women (and other trans people) in the name of ‘feminism’ – who perpetuate oppression in the name of resistance against it – please read go and read all of Ruth Pearce’s lyrical letter ‘to those who would attend RadFem2012’:
In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.
In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.
In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.
In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.
In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets if I transition after my A-levels.
In me, you see a forceful male penetration into women’s spaces.
In you, I see a hundred tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.
In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.
In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.
In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.
In you, I see friends who have been beaten or raped before being told by authority figures that they brought it on themselves.
In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.
In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.