The events which culminated in Julie Burchill’s shocking article in The Observer in 2013 (re-published by Toby Young of The Telegraph after the original article was taken down) has revealed a nasty bigoted underbelly to mainstream politics and, in particular, a type of so-called feminism which is promoted in the media. The very fact that transphobia of such ignorant venom was ever written by some-one who calls themselves a left-wing feminist, never mind published by a self-named ‘liberal’ newspaper, is absolutely horrifying. Why do they hate transpeople so much?
It all began with Suzanne Moore’s essay in The New Statesman where she argued that women are put under pressure to have ‘the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.’ When challenged to justify or explain what she meant by this an array of progressive columnist/commentator friends came to her defence – dismissing this as a small aspect of what was otherwise a brilliant feminist article. Yet neither Moore nor her defenders actually have explained what she did mean by this comment – which sits uncomfortably and incongruously within her argument – if it was not a transphobic jibe. Instead it seems as though we were being asked to overlook this little offhand comment and that it was outrageous that poor Suzanne was being held accountable for her words, despite the fact words are indeed her very trade and bigotry, although it may mask itself as such, is never little nor offhand.
And of course, during the back and forth discussion that followed on Twitter, Suzanne confirmed that behind this so-called throwaway admission she does indeed ‘have issues with trans anything actually’ and that she doesn’t ‘prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women’. With a frightening Bernard Manning-esque arrogance she proudly declared that she ‘use(s) lots of ‘offensive’ words’ and if people are offended that is their own ‘prerogative.’ Then, as if she hadn’t shown enough contempt for the general public who dare to express a differing opinion, she leaves us with no doubt of what her position is:
“People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me.”
Yet still she is defended. Owen Jones in particular rallies to support Moore in light of this ‘disproportional’ criticism on his usual, however bizaar grounds that ‘some have the attitude that the “near enemy” (the impure left) are a big threat than the “far enemy”’. Let us be clear, a bigot is a bigot, where-ever they have positioned themselves for comforts’ sake. Not only does such an approach show an arrogance and lack of respect for the ordinary folk these people purport to represent (how dare we lowly unpaid feminists and socialists criticise the authority of the professionals?) but is shocking in the way in which it supports clear unadulterated prejudice. Moore’s comments by this stage are not cryptic or complicated. When probed specifically on the ‘cut their dick off’ phrase, Jones declares that “it’s a statement about macho men lecturing her on feminism!” At the very best this reflects an absolute and unforgivable (possibly wilful) ignorance.
Finally, Julie Burchill’s tirade that followed smashes any cover of ambiguity to hide behind, when she issues her frightening warning;
“Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment, and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.”
The level of hatred, the vitriolic language, the ridiculous ill-founded claims of transpeople as a group (‘they’ are this, ‘they’ all do this – sound familiar?) and the aggressive threat is nothing less than spine chilling. Even her fellow columnist friends have now distanced themselves.
Anger can be a good thing. Oppressed people everywhere feel anger at injustice and exploitation. Anger at discrimination. Anger at our disenfranchisement. Anger at abuse and our lack of autonomy over our own bodies. Anger at not being able to determine our own identity – for being persecuted for difference or non-conformity. Yet, anger, directed towards groups of human beings, our allies, our comrades, our sisters and brothers for no particular reason, is not feminism, is just bigotry. Moore and Burchill have scoffed at the notion of ‘intersectional’ politics and parodied transpolitics as an overly academic distraction. Yet it is because of the intellectual inadequacies of their type of feminism that they find themselves in the unjustifiable corner they are now in. ‘Intersectional’ derives from longstanding debates, and indeed criticism of/within, the feminist movement, which were/are about trying to understand the world we live in. In particular, black feminists, like Audre Lorde, pointed out that refusing to acknowledge the complicated interaction of the whole host of oppressions that an individual experiences, leads to an exclusive white middle class feminism. For all the talk about the ‘chauvinist’ critics of Moore, nothing is more chauvinistic and ignorant than a political approach which is not interested in displaying the many different ways in which people experience their bodies and gender.
The insistence of referring to men who have cut their dicks, reflects most clearly this thuggish approach. Personally, I don’t know of any men who have casually cut their dicks off, although I see no reason to take a moral stance on the subject. However, I presume what is meant by this is transwomen – WHO ARE WOMEN, our sisters. Why is it so upsetting to let people define themselves? Moreover, in light of the fact transpeople often face horrific discrimination and prejudice, the only proggressive stance is to stand in solidarity with their struggle. Despite the flippant remarks made by Burchill and Moore about ‘solidarity’, that is indeed what it is all about. Luckily we are not a ‘small group’, as has been implied. There are many of us who understand what solidarity means. We may not have a column in the bourgeois press but we stand shoulder to shoulder (all self-defining genders and none) against every form of oppression. And, right back at ya Burchill, we will overcome.