In case you missed it, for almost a week now there's been a jolly olde shitstorme a-brewing between a couple of British feminists and a whole lot of angry trans activists and allies. It started off innocuously enough—it could have begun and ended with a whimper if certain parties hadn't been such unyielding, bigoted babies (but more on that in a minute). Last Tuesday, journalist Suzanne Moore published an essay about "the power of female anger." In it, in the service of a mediocre metaphor, she referred rather clumsily (but plausibly with no ill intent) to trans women:
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.
Now, I think it's fair to acknowledge that for a lot of non trans people, this reference might not immediately jump out. Moore's meaning is clear—the modern "ideal woman" is a tall, thin, bronzed, busty impossibility—and, I suppose, the stereotype of a "Brazilian transsexual" conveys that image tidily (though, obviously, ugh). But to anyone even rudimentarily versed in the current social justice dialogue, the statement has some very clear problems:
1) Stop trafficking in shitty stereotypes to make your point. It's selfish and dehumanizing and gratuitous. Stop. Trans women in Brazil are actual individual human beings—a staggering number of whom are murdered every year just for existing:
The "Brazilian transsexual" stereotype was available to Suzanne Moore because of trans women from Brazil seeking refuge from violence and murder.
2) If you're going to throw a marginalized group under the bus, you might take a second to research that group's preferred terminology.
3) Trans women are women, and to say otherwise makes you sound like a batty old dinosaur. It is extremely othering and exclusionary to hold up trans women as a counterexample to "real" women. It's also in poor taste to exploit an excluded group when you're part of a famously insular and privileged group yourself (high five, fellow middle class white feminists! Now DON'T HIGH FIVE ANYONE ELSE).
4) This isn't a nuanced or particularly novel point anyway—it's a cheap punchline. I can tell because if I were editing Moore's piece, my eye would catch, jarringly, on "Brazilian transsexual" and instinctually change it to "Brazilian trans woman." Then I would realize that the phrase, "not having the ideal body shape—that of a Brazilian trans woman," no longer works, because once you humanize the image, Moore's point makes no sense. Her terribly pithy bon mot relies entirely on our eagerness to gobble up stereotypes, our titillation at the "strangeness" of non-cis bodies, and our refusal to look at the human realities of trans women in Brazil. Hence, gross.
But all of that could have been chalked up to carelessness and haste—it could have be solved with a "Hey, be more careful, lady!" and an "Oops, my bad!"—if not for what happened next. Which was Suzanne Moore and her mates down the pub going absolutely apeshit.
First, a reader (and fan of Moore's work in general) approached her respectfully—out of concern, not anger—on Twitter:
@suzanne_moore I loved your piece on anger - except for the shock transphobia ("a Brazilian transsexual") - why on earth did you include it?— Jo (@jonanamary) January 8, 2013
@suzanne_moore calling someone "a transsexual" is like calling someone "a gay" - really creepy. "Trans woman" would've been better but...— Jo (@jonanamary) January 8, 2013
@suzanne_moore ... why include it at all? It's v weird & leaves a v nasty taste. Trans women deserve solidarity, not implicit shaming.— Jo (@jonanamary) January 8, 2013
Fair enough. Now, at this point—Choose Your Own Adventure!—Moore had three options. Option 1: She could have acknowledged her misstep, explained her intent, attempted to find common ground with this group to which she obviously doesn't relate, and pledged to be more careful with her language in the future. Option 2: She could have said nothing and moved on with her life. Option 3: She could have gone on a mortifying, defensive, sorry-not-sorry tirade about how men who chop their dicks off aren't real women and I'mma let you finish but Suzanne Moore is like the #1 greatest feminist EVARRRRRRRRRR of all time [drops-mic].
SO YEAH SHE WENT WITH OPTION 3 BECAUSE OKEY DOKEY.
@jonanamary I use the word transexual. I use lots of 'offensive' words. If you want to be offended it your prerogative.— suzanne moore (@suzanne_moore) January 8, 2013
The idea of a feminist writer using the old "I'm sorry you're offended"/"Quit being so oversensitive, fatty" gambit against a fellow feminist (especially about something as basic as transphobia) is such a turncoat move that it makes me want to benedict this chick right in the arnolds. The fact that you don't personally relate to someone's point of view does not render their point of view invalid. In fact, it probably means that you have some thinking to do. We are flawed. This is how we evolve, and we should approach our evolution with grace rather than defensiveness. We don't have to be perfect, we just have to try.
Undeterred, our intrepid reader gave it one more shot:
@suzanne_moore "offence" isn't the problem. Transphobia is. Transphobia *kills*. & intersectional feminism *demands* that we be in…— Jo (@jonanamary) January 8, 2013
@suzanne_moore …solidarity with trans* women & their cause. Pretty basic stuff. V disappointed that you delib misunderstood my point.— Jo (@jonanamary) January 8, 2013
And then THIS HAPPENED.
I dont even accept the word transphobia any more than Islamaphobia You are using 'intersectionality' to shut down debate. Its bollocks.— suzanne moore (@suzanne_moore) January 8, 2013
!) People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.— suzanne moore (@suzanne_moore) January 8, 2013
Ohhhhhhhh, okay, got it. You're bananas. You're terrible. Right. This whole conversation was a waste of time.
Back before all of that shit happened (remember earlier, at the top of the post? We were so young then!), I could have given Suzanne Moore the benefit of the doubt—that she was just inexperienced at writing about trans folks and grasped innocently for an easy metaphor. But clearly the people who took issue with Moore's "Brazilian transsexuals" statement were 100% correct, probably more correct than they'd even realized: she does have major issues with the trans community. They sensed something, and they were right. It's like the shittiest scavenger hunt ever. (Congratulations, you found the turd in the pile of needles! Your prize is getting yelled at.)
And things—astoundingly—only got worse from there.
Moore's gal pal Julie Burchill took to the pages of the Sunday Observer (sister paper to the very liberal Guardian) to defend Moore's honor against those terrible, horrible
bullies human-beings-fighting-to-be-treated-like-human-beings. Coulierically titled "Transsexuals should cut it out," Burchill argues that Moore is being unfairly "monstered" on Twitter and instead everyone should shut up because menopause, or something.
Here are the worst bits, and some gifs, because really there really are no words:
With this in mind, I was incredulous to read that my friend was being monstered on Twitter, to the extent that she had quit it, for supposedly picking on a minority – transsexuals. Though I imagine it to be something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep, as Denis Healey had it of Geoffrey Howe, 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 chicks' clothing.
To my mind – I have given cool-headed consideration to the matter – a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I'd imagine the Black and White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look. That rude and ridic.
I must say that my only experience of the trans lobby thus far was hearing about the vile way they have persecuted another of my friends, the veteran women's rights and anti-domestic violence activist Julie Bindel – picketing events where she is speaking about such minor issues as the rape of children and the trafficking of women just because she refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing right now.
The reaction of the trans lobby reminded me very much of those wretched inner-city kids who shoot another inner-city kid dead in a fast-food shop for not showing them enough "respect". Ignore the real enemy – they're strong and will need real effort and organisation to fight. How much easier to lash out at those who are conveniently close to hand!
She, the other JB and I are part of the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (I know that's a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as 'Cis' – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they're lucky I'm not calling them shemales. Or shims.) 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.
Shims, shemales, whatever you're calling yourselves these days – don't threaten or bully us 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.
Welp, that's pretty much the most disgusting, embarrassing, divisive thing I've ever read in my life. It's bare-faced hate speech, ladies—the kind of language that misogynist trolls use against us, to trivialize and derail and silence feminist discourse, every day—and the call is coming from inside the house. Inclusiveness (or intersectionality, if you're not turned off by big, intellectual words like Suzanne Moore is) is the future, not prissy divisiveness. But if that's how you old bats want to play this, then you're shitty feminists and shitty people and we don't want you anyway. Catch up or go home.
This morning, Observer editor John Mulholland decided to pull Burchill's piece and all of the ensuing comments. He explains his reasoning and offers a brief apology here:
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.
Um, okay. And maybe next time the Observer's editors will think twice before presenting unhinged scribblings out of some woman's burn book as one side of a legitimate "debate."