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The Guardian Says Edited Judith Butler Interview Was Response to 'Failure' in Editorial Standards

The paper deleted an entire section of the interview because of what it described as its “failure” to fully investigate the content of a question

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On September 7, The Guardian published a wide-ranging interview with Judith Butler, philosopher and author of the groundbreaking book Gender Trouble, which explored the concept of gender as performance. The interview was conducted by queer historian Jules Joanne Gleeson and revisited the impact of Butler’s ideas about gender more than 20 years after the book’s initial run. But after publication, The Guardian deleted an entire section of the interview on the relationship between the far-right and TERFs because of what it calls its “failure” to fully investigate the content of a question. Gleeson’s question was about the recent protests outside Wi Spa in Los Angeles, where patrons say they were victims of indecent exposure.

In the interview, Butler explained that much of what has always been controversial about their work continues to be controversial as part of an ongoing fight to preserve rigid gender binaries:

“The anti-gender ideology movement, a global movement, insists that sex is biological and real, or that sex is divinely ordained, and that gender is a destructive fiction, taking down both “man” and “civilization” and ‘God’...This movement is at once anti-feminist, homophobic and transphobic, opposing both reproductive freedom and trans rights. It seeks to censor gender studies programs, to take gender out of public education – a topic so important for young people to discuss.”

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The deleted section focuses on a continuation of these same ideas in response to the question, “It seems that some within feminist movements are becoming sympathetic to these far-right campaigns. This year’s furor around Wi Spa in Los Angeles saw an online outrage campaign by transphobes followed by bloody protests by the Proud Boys. Can we expect this alliance to continue?”

“It is very appalling and sometimes quite frightening to see how trans-exclusionary feminists have allied with right-wing attacks on gender,” Butler explained, going on to say in a three-paragraph long that “The terfs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) and the so-called gender-critical writers have also rejected the important work in feminist philosophy showing how culture and nature interact...in favor of a regressive and spurious form of biological essentialism. So they will not be part of the coalition that seeks to fight the anti-gender movement.”

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Hours after the interview was published, The Guardian deleted both the question and response. In a statement to Jezebel, The Guardian explained:

“On 7 September 2021, the Guardian edited a Q&A with Judith Butler as one question, posed by the Guardian, failed to take account of new facts regarding the incident at Wi Spa, which emerged late last week after the interview took place and the piece was written.

In light of those developments, the question regarding Wi Spa in the interview should have been reviewed again prior to publication, but this did not happen. This is a departure from our usual editorial standards.

“We have not censored Judith Butler but addressed a failure in our editorial standards. This particular question omitted the new details that had come to light, and therefore risked misleading our readers. For that reason we decided to remove both the question and Judith Butler’s answer. As it was only this one question that referred to the Wi Spa incident in LA, the rest of the Q+A remains in place. Judith Butler has written for us several times in the past.”

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The “new facts” to which the paper is referring is the arrest of Darren Agee Merager on five counts of indecent exposure in connection with the events that transpired at Wi Spa. Yet the “furor” to which Gleeson is referring is the fact that far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys organized at protests outside the spa, resulting in 40 arrests and the assault of one journalist with a bat, a facet of the story that has not been refuted.

According to a statement Gleeson provided to Jezebel, after the interview’s publication, editors at The Guardian suggested that the interview include details of the arrest in connection to Wi Spa be included as a “correction” to the story or look for another solution. Gleeson, however, says she was uncomfortable condensing the complicated story into a small correction:

“I explained that I was very wary of feeding into an agenda which twins trans women with sex predators (as I’ve said, it’s still unclear if the person now arrested for public indecency is even a trans woman, or will even face trial). This now seemed a very hard affair to condense into a little correction note.”

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Gleeson says she proposed a revised question with a new example, but that The Guardian chose instead to delete the entire question and response.

Jezebel has reached out to Judith Butler for comment and will update with any response.