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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 Lesbians and 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.

Originally posted to TransAction on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 10:03 AM PST.

Also republished by LGBT Kos Community and Invisible People.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The question most of you will no doubt have... (33+ / 0-) how this concern you.  I had a lot of trouble apparently trying to explain that on Friday evening.

    That is always the problem those of us who are the canaries in the coal mine have in convincing others that if we can be treated the way we are, it is only a few short steps to you being treated similarly.

  •  How such nauseating garbage (15+ / 0-)

    was published in the first place, the apology notwithstanding.

    The Observer is a paper which prides itself on ventilating difficult debates and airing challenging views.
    That isn't good enough. It is one thing to "ventilate difficult debates", it's quite another to give voice to bigotry and hate under whatever guise the bigot is purportedly writing or speaking. I am sick to the toes of publications and networks giving hate speech credence and calling it balance. When it comes to promoting hate, there is no balance. It is simply promoting hate.
    •  eh (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rserven, Avilyn, cai

      I entirely agree, but I would like to add that there's a commonwealth strain of transphobia (and a commonwealth strain of pro trans activism, too!) that are a bit different than the US variety, I think.  The Guardian is a longtime voice of the moderate left, including second wave feminists who actually did good work for women's rights while carrying the anti-trans torch all the while.  The result is that you will find feminist attacks of great virulence-- sometimes actual attacks(!), but more often shit like this -- on trans folks in the UK, in Australia, and in Canada.  The Vancouver Women's Rape Center/Kimberly Nixon case, not very far from where I grew up, is a good example.  While the editors are surely getting the message now (also, unfortunately, the message that this sells papers), I could easily fill a page of links to stuff like this in commonwealth countries.  I don't know why this sort of thing is more acceptable in that normally much more tolerant context, but it is.  In a wide swath of the UK feminist press, hating on trans folks is good press.  On the other hand, in the UK proper, trans people have actual legal protections that -- shy meeting some brilliant British trans chica with a hot accent and forming a civil partnership -- I will never have.   To me this crap reads differently when it is sour grapes against the backdrop of a historic victory.

      It is also worth noting that in those countries, trans rights has not gone full on genderqueer like here in the US.   We've chosen to have a very inclusive trans rights movement here.  I think this has made the rhetoric more friendly to broad feminist movements, but has arguably diluted the specific appeal of specific legislation intended to cover a few thousand people in need.  As a result of brave and tireless work focused on trans rights -- directly so  -- trans people in Great Britain can have their gender recognized by the UK government and have some civil rights protections which I do not believe will exist in the US in my lifetime (or maybe ever).  It was a stunning victory in 2004, the biggest in my life anywhere in the English speaking world, and the little hairs on my arms stand up just thinking about it.  

      But that context - all of it and more -- are  part and parcel of how something like this tripe ends up in the pages of the Guardian. There's also the deep working class roots of the Guardian, which sometimes I think gives them a desire to seem truculent and "down to earth" in ways that are not always well advised.

      They know they went over the edge this time, but I give 'em a year before another nasty Blindel piece shows up.  To their credit, they employ a lot of pro-trans folks too, and there will be a price.

      ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

      by jessical on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 08:42:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Though " I might be next" is, in the end, a (12+ / 0-)

    compelling argument, if it is one's only argument it is deficient. Going along with hatred, or opposing it only out of self-interest is a symptom of a lack of empathy and compassion to a degree that is a real threat to one's psyche and one's ability to interact rationally with one's fellow human and with society at large. One saddled with such a deficiency needs to do whatever it takes to overcome it.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 10:34:06 AM PST

  •  Civil rights are human rights (12+ / 0-)

    And bigotry is bigotry. For the first time, I'm going to use cis- in the rest of my comments.

    It is past time that cis-people understand that the "ick" factor they have just learned to overlook for gay men and lesbians applies to trans-people as well. "Ick" for Jan Morris? "Ick" for Chaz Bono? NO. PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE, and each of us deserves that same respect. Period.

    -7.75, -8.10; Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Dave in Northridge on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 10:51:27 AM PST

  •  Suzanne Moore made an unfortunate rhetorical (6+ / 0-)

    choice in her original article (which I tracked down out of curiosity), unfortunate not just for its whiff of transphobia, but for how it distracted from her actual point about the erosion of women's rights.

    She didn't seem to understand that what she thought of as a throwaway line was a throwaway bit of dehumanization -- ignoring the real plight of real Brazilian trans women, as you say.

    (And it's not like you have to reference trans women to make a point about the unrealistic beauty expectations women face.  Tina Fey remarked, amidst a list of other characteristics such as Caucasian blue eyes and Asian lack of body hair, that women are expected to have the hips of a twelve year old boy.  Which really captures the point well: the majority of women, including trans women, physically cannot look that way.)

    Moore then made the classic internet blunder of doubling down.  Everyone makes mistakes.  If you retract quickly, with apology, it usually gets forgiven.  But people feeling under siege tend to double down, and if you double down, then the ire (rightfully) spreads.

    As for Burchill, her column was just a vomitous mass of ugliness.  If I were Moore, I would be wincing and wishing my "friend" had never come to my "defense."  (Or, as it is often said, "Stop being on my side, you're making my side look awful.")

    Of course, it's possible Moore does not see anything wrong with what Burchill wrote.  In which case, she is just stealth vile.

    © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

    by cai on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 03:07:00 PM PST

  •  I was thinking that this sounded more like (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rserven, Steveningen, jessical, Avilyn

    something the Telegraph would publish. And then I clicked on the "actual editorial" link, and, sure enough, the Telegraph republished it.

    "It doesn't matter what I do....People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live."--Newty

    by Vico on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 05:59:59 PM PST

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