When news reached So So Gay of Julie Burchill’s hateful rant, ostensibly written in defence of ‘friend’, Suzanne Moore, this morning, we were literally left speechless by what we read. We therefore asked trans activist, singer-songwriter and all-round So So Gay favourite, CN Lester, to give us their thoughts.
I haven’t been this angry in a long time. I suspect that many trans people, and the people who love and support us, are feeling the same way.
For those who haven’t been keeping tabs on the week in media transphobia, it started in a small enough way. Suzanne Moore, in an otherwise excellent piece on the necessity of anger, included the throwaway line: ‘We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.’ An unfortunate turn of phrase – transsexual as a noun (akin to ‘the gays’ or ‘the blacks’), the demarcation of ‘transsexuals’ from women, the propagation of the sophistry that all trans women have a certain body shape (tip – trans women are just as likely to look like Lea T as cis women are to look like Naomi Campbell) and the insensitivity of using Brazilian trans women as an example when so many are murdered each year. Moore responded badly to online critique, some people (cis and trans) responded badly to her responding badly, a further piece was published that did nothing but make things worse and, finally, Moore quit Twitter. There are two excellent posts about what happened here and here, and I would advise everyone to read both.
The situation certainly wasn’t helped by Julie Bindel’s assertion that a ‘trans cabal’ were ‘running a witch hunt’, but the shit really hit the fan this morning, when the print edition of The Observer and The Guardian website ran a defence of Moore by Julie Burchill entitled ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’, with the painfully ironic subheading ‘It’s never a good idea for those who feel oppressed to start bullying others in turn’. A clean copy is here, for anyone who’d like to read the entire thing without giving traffic to The Observer. Essentially, it was a collection of playground taunts, featuring a deliberately disingenuous portrayal of a feminist movement which includes trans people, likening trans women to the Black and White minstrels, calling trans people ‘shemales’, ‘trannies’, ‘shims’, ‘screaming mimis’, ‘bed-wetters in bad wigs’, invoking the old ‘cut your dick off’ trope and ending on a not-so-veiled threat. Not that most people expected any better from Julie Burchill – but the fact that The Guardian Media Group would be happy to publish a piece of what many people are describing as unadulterated hate speech should beggar belief.
It should. But, for many activists working against transphobia, it doesn’t. Because this week also saw mainstream media coverage of complaints against Richard Curtis, a doctor trusted and relied upon by many trans people – and almost complete silence on the outpouring of stories of abuse, mistreatment and malpractice at the hands of doctors that was #TransDocFail. Sarah Brown, the Cambridge City Councillor, suggested that trans people share their experiences with the medical profession on Twitter – what followed was the revelation of a national, systemic failure of care that should have been the business of every newspaper in the country. To date, I have heard it covered on local radio, and picked up by a few online LGBT news agencies – which, to be frank, is par for the course when it comes to trans issues in the press. Where was the coverage of the largest survey of trans people’s mental health, which showed how vulnerable trans people are to suicide, suicide attempts, depression, abuse and daily discrimination? Where are the critiques of the bigotry trans people face in employment and education? Where are the articles decrying the bullying of gender-variant teenagers by teachers and fellow pupils alike? The coverage of global violence against people who transgress traditional gender norms? Pushed aside, presumably, to make space for the usual fare of gruesome transition stories, prurient scandal-mongering about ‘chicks with dicks’, ‘before and after’ photo montages that ‘prove’ how inauthentic we are and stinging little jokes, here and there, that bolster the opinion that trans people are pathetic, unattractive and threatening. Underwhelming work from the ‘trans cabal’, wouldn’t you say?
Online rudeness (or offline, for that matter) is never something to be condoned – but, given what so many trans people face on a daily basis, it’s surely fair to point out that if you’re going to kick people when they’re down, you might want to be prepared for when they start kicking back.
But, still, where does it leave us? Appropriately, I believe, with the questions raised by Moore’s original piece – where is our anger, what value does it have, and what can be done with it? Not to allow it to take us down the road trodden by Burchill and her supporters (both tacit and vocal) – but to a far more radical conclusion. There has been a backlash in these journalists’ pieces against the term ‘intersectionality’ – a claim that only the overly educated have the time or the means to understand such a complicated term. But I would turn instead to the ever relevant, frequently quoted words spoken by one of feminism’s most valuable contributors to the idea of intersectionality – Audre Lorde: ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’. 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.