A brief summary. Suzanne Moore wrote a column in the New Statesman. In it she made what I’ll unhesitatingly call a “poor decision” to invoke the image of a “Brazillian transexual”. People objected. Instead of apologising, she doubled down, and some of the things she went on to say on Twitter were… really appalling. Abuse went both ways.
Good things came out of it. Stella Duffy wrote a post which generated a lot of useful constructive discussion. She followed it up with what I found a much better one, talking about what she’d learned. There was this response. And I found it good to be reminded that it actually wasn’t all that long ago that I didn’t know what “cis” meant, and I hadn’t heard of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
And then Julie Burchill wrote a piece [trigger warning for stunning transphobia] that would be in stiff competition for “stupidest most offensive thing ever to appear outside of 4chan”, and The Observer decided to publish it. Today they undecided to publish it, and of course this being the internet, it’s vanished without trace.
I think the Burchill piece is actually hugely useful. It’s the very simple answer to the question, “Why are these people so angry?” Why did people react so strongly to the Moore piece? Because it was written against a background where people feel okay saying things like:
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.
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.
On the other hand, this is going to be the last website to pretend there aren’t jerks in any demographic, including trans* activists. I’m not tone-argumenting, it’s just a fact from years of experience at web moderation that the best results come when people try to express themselves reasonably even when they’re offended, and people try to listen and respond even when they’re angry.
People like Burchill and Bindell and Greer and our own Rosemary McLeod should be challenged on their transphobia. Their attitude that it’s distracting from the “real issues” and their refusal to acknowledge their own privilege is… well, it’s ironic to say the least.
But there are a whole bunch of other people, people like Stella Duffy, who are prepared to listen and to learn. We all had to learn at some stage, and we should offer others the same patience and help we needed.
Girl on the Net put it better, talking about a time when she was Called Out by a transwoman:
But I promise you this: I will never deliberately say hateful, horrible things that ignore my privilege and make life harder for you. I will always try to empathise and – if you correct me – I’ll try to clarify what I’m saying, or apologise if I’m wrong. If you tell me about my mistakes I can correct and clarify. If you call me a hateful psycho bitch-whore, I’ll never fucking learn.