A Kerfluffle in Londinium

Last weekend the Guardian published a huge pile of the most vile shit transfolk could imagine. Not that we haven't read it before, but it was shocking that we have its return in 2013. From Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology, wherein she desribed transpeople as "Frankensteinian" and living in a "contrived and artifactual condition" to Daly's phD student Janice Raymond's The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male from 1979, to Julie Bindel's exorbitant transphobia, we've seen a steady march of transphobic self-proclaimed feminists.

Purported feminist Julie Burchill wrote an editorial about transwomen so vile that the Guardian's Observer withdrew the article from the Internet and editor John Mulholland published an apology:

We have decided to withdraw from publication the Julie Burchill comment piece 'Transsexuals should cut it out'. The piece was an attempt to explore contentious issues within what had become a highly-charged debate. The Observer is a paper which prides itself on ventilating difficult debates and airing challenging views. On this occasion we got it wrong and in light of the hurt and offence caused I apologise and have made the decision to withdraw the piece. The Observer Readers' Editor will report on these issues at greater length.

--John Mulholland

The article generated a lot of reaction.

Over the weekend, the UK’s Guardian published an editorial about transgender people that crossed a bunch of lines. It’s not really worth repeating the things that the author wrote, but they included the sort of slurs that, if used against, say, black people or women, would make your eyes pop out. The Guardian has since removed it, but it was full of “N-word” level stuff, with an editorial tone dripping with self-righteous, “if you don’t want to be called these things, stop being the way you are” privilege.

--Dan Solomon

The actual editorial was republished in the Telegraph. Burchill claimed to be supporting her friend Suzanne Moore, who wrote a piece about women being "angry about having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual". British transwomen took exception to that flippant remark, especially because it came right on the heels of another of the seemingly endless murders of transwomen in Brazil. The transwomen demanded an apology, which Ms. Moore was not willing to provide, and there resulted a complete mess of a "discussion" via Twitter.

Rather there was this from Ms. Moore:

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

Ms. Burchill felt that defending her friend required the following snippets:

I nevertheless felt indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chick’s clothing.

To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?)) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do. Educated beyond all common sense and honesty, it was a hoot to see the screaming-mimis accuse Suze of white feminist privilege; it may have been this which made her finally respond in the subsequent salty language she employed to answer her Twitter critics: "People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them."

We know that everything we have, we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.

To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.

Back to Mr. Solomon:

Here’s why I take transgender issues personally…

Because I or someone I love might get cancer at some point, and a trans person who is capable of discovering the cure is otherwise occupied defending their right to exist.

I live in a world that needs leadership, and a smart, tireless trans person who should maybe be President is busy arguing that they deserve basic human respect.

I want to drive a fucking flying car someday, and the trans person who might invent it is stuck responding to Guardian editorials that treat them like they’re subhuman.


Solomon goes on:

Compassion is good, but compassion also means that it’s always someone else’s struggle.

But these fights aren’t anyone else’s struggle. They’re mine, too. They belong to all of us because the only way the world ever gets better is when people are able to use their talents to make better things for the rest of us to enjoy. And that doesn’t happen much when those talented people are busy fighting for their own survival.

I know that I’m never going to cure cancer or discover a process that converts carbon emissions into funk-soul hits from the ’70s or whatever. But I can speak up when things like that Guardian editorial go out into the world. That way, someone who’s exhausted from having to constantly assert that they have a right to exist can relax for a minute when they see that there are other people who have their backs, and go do whatever else it is that they want to do. That’s the world I want to live in.

Petra Davis at the NewStatesman also responded.

An international movement is building that links trans liberation with feminist organising. Based around activism and campaigning on grassroots issues and connected through social media, it draws on a rich history of queer and feminist theory while avoiding the binary, male-female thinking which has made some parts of the feminist movement hostile to trans people. For those more interested in the commonalities between feminist and trans campaigning, a host of Tumblrs such as Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project and Facebook groups such as Feminists Against Transphobia and Feminist: Discuss are creating both transgender space that is explicitly feminist, and feminist space that is explicitly trans inclusive.

Ariel Silvera was born and raised in Argentina and is a feminist trans activist and writer. She has been working the past 10 years in Dublin.

In England in the eighties when [feminists] were having wars over kink and porn, Irish women were trying to smuggle condoms from Northern Ireland, trying not to get sent to Magdalene laundries, and trying to escape husbands they could not divorce. In Ireland divorce was illegal until 1995 and homosexuality was illegal until 1994. Who has time to be transphobic? [In Dublin currently] there are more trans people who are feminists, outspokenly and publicly so, and there are more feminists who are willing to engage in trans issues.

--Ariel Silvera

At a demonstration this week against the Observer's decision to publish Julie Burchill's scathing dismissal of trans people, people of all genders and ages gathered to protest against transphobia. "I'm here in solidarity with my trans brothers and sisters," says one older woman in the Guardian's video of the event. "Feminism is about working for equality with all minorities and marginalised people."



The Guardian video of the protest is here.

And Simon Lillistone at The Yorker provided:

Perhaps what can be rescued from the rubble of this fiasco of communication is a raised public awareness of the plight of transsexual people and a renewed public dialogue concerning the reality of oppression and discrimination which many people continue to face in their daily lives. Moore and Burchill need to realise that if they expect others to consider their plight with respect then they must do the same.

There are members of the trans community who now want nothing to do with feminism. And that's a shame as far as I am concerned. We transwomen can coexist with feminists, even with lesbian separatists. But it takes a lot of work and a willingness to share our experiences and search for common ground. The hard work will mostly be on the part of us transwomen and the willingness on the part of the feminist community, that's true, but that's the nature of imbalance of power.

When this sort of divisiveness erupts in public, it strengthens the resolve of those who are working against both these communities. It undermines the moral high ground from which the feminists speak and it strengthens the resolve of those who believe in spreading violence against transwomen.

Nobody benefits.




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