The latest shit storm to hit the UK progressive blogosphere is an ‘article’ (diatribe) in the Observer by Julie Burchill, about how ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’. It was the sort of transphobic hate-speech you’d use as as a theoretical example to demonstrate what transphobic hate-speech looked like. It was finally taken down, but I think republished on the Telegraph website because of ‘free speech’ issues. (Sidenote: one of these days I am going to spend some time and energy working out a way to explain that free speech =/= right to a privileged high-profile platform. I have free speech. I post stuff on my blog. Doesn’t mean I feel I have the right to be printed in national newspapers. Though if anyone would like to, that’d be awesome?) I’m not going to link to it, but it’s pretty easy to google, and there’s a very well-written letter to the Observer here, and a good summary plus some further reading material here at The F Word. I would strongly advise reading all of it.
ETA: Jezebel has done a round-up that is also brilliant, complete with appropriate gifs. Feel free to share more links in the comments, if you find something else worth reading.
So what do I have to add? Well, very little. I’m a privileged cisgendered white girl, and I know it. I don’t really blog about my gender identity. Or rather, I do. I take it as a given. I try to use non-gendered language when I can, and usually I’m writing about very specific personal experience, so it’s less relevant, but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always do a great job of it. I don’t talk about non-binary gender issues because the simple fact is I don’t feel qualified, and I would much rather anyone reading this went off and read some amazing trans* and genderqueer blogs instead of my clumsy summaries. I have gay and lesbian friends. I have trans* friends. I have genderqueer friends, and friends whose gender identities do not fit neatly into any particular label. This does not make me qualified to talk about gender issues, and though I like to think of myself as an ally (don’t we all), I know that there are gaping holes in my knowledge, that I am going to slip up sometimes, and that it is not my place to discuss it.
And yet, even with all of that, here’s what I’m going to say about Julie Burchill’s piece. It is hate speech, pure and simple. I am heartened by the fact that so many people outside of the LGBT+ community have acknowledged that it is hate speech, and that it eventually got taken down. It is full of disgusting, vitriolic, downright violent sentiment, and it got the response it deserved.
But I don’t doubt for a moment that Julie Burchill genuinely believes it. And the thing is, if you read it closely (which I don’t advise if you’re having a bad day), you see that she’s not really talking about trans* people at all. She’s talking about men. Men in dresses, men who want to ‘cut their dicks off’ (that’s a direct paraphrase of a tweet by Suzanne Moore), men who are pretending to be women in order to enter her feminist space.
In her mind, a trans woman is a man. And that makes everything she says from that point onwards impossible to argue with, because that basic premise is so entirely detached from reality there’s no way to persuade her. She is wrong. She is so appallingly, horrifyingly, dangerously wrong. But she is wrong in such a way that I don’t think there’s any space for dialogue here. It’s like those people who argue that black people are just biologically less intelligent than white people, or that the Holocaust never happened (oh look, I just broke Godwin’s Law, deal with it). The point is, when someone is starting from a point of view that just doesn’t make any sense, anything that comes after that is… irrelevant.
That’s not to say I think we should be ignoring it. It is hate speech, it should not have been published, and she deserves to be vilified for what she wrote. Maybe the strong wave of anti-transphobic sentiment is a good thing, long-term? I don’t know, nor do I feel it’s my place to offer an opinion. But Julie Burchill will not change her mind, just like Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel will never change their minds. To them, trans women are just men who want to invade their special exclusive feminism, and I can’t see them ever going back on that.
That is not any kind of feminism I want to be part of. And while I try very hard to stay away from defining what feminism is or isn’t for other people, in my mind, that’s not really feminism at all? Burchill has yet to learn both that trans women are women, and that feminism isn’t just about women anyway – it’s about groups that lack privilege, whether due to gender identity, sexuality, race, class, disability, or anything else.
The one thing her original article has done is get feminists and progressives from all over to state loudly and publicly that this woman does not speak for us. She certainly does not speak for me. And I think that’s important. I just wish we didn’t need to say it in the first place.